Rep. Bryan Steil made his first trip abroad as a U.S. congressman last week, the same time that Israel was refusing entry to two of the Republican’s Democratic House colleagues.
President Donald Trump had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from entering the country.
Steil’s office responded to Gazette requests for information about the trip but ignored requests for comment on the situation with Tlaib and Omar.
Both congresswomen are outspoken critics of Trump and Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Both are Muslim. Some have called Omar anti-Semitic for insensitive comments earlier this year.
Rep. Mark Pocan, the Democrat representing a district next door to Steil’s 1st Congressional District, was sharply critical of Netanyahu’s action, calling it disrespectful to Congress.
As events unfolded Thursday and Friday, Tlaib agreed not to promote boycotts against Israel so that she could visit her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Israel granted her permission to enter.
Later Friday, Tlaib said she would not travel to Israel to be silenced and treated like a criminal, and that is not what her grandmother would want, according to the New York Times.
Steil was traveling with more than 70 members of Congress.
“The purpose of the trip is to strengthen the United States’ bond with Israel and for members of Congress to learn and discuss issues impacting Israel and the region,” according to a statement from Steil’s office.
The trip was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a U.S. group that lobbies the government on behalf of Israel.
“Not one cent comes from American taxpayer funds or the Israeli government,” according to the Steil statement. “The trip is organized in full compliance with all ethics and disclosure rules.”
Steil’s visit included meetings with Netanyahu, military leaders and experts on Middle East relations.
U.S. delegation members had the opportunity to meet with leaders of the Palestinian Authority and with leaders of the Blue and White political alliance that opposes Netanyahu, according to Steil’s office.
Steil also toured “the security fence,” the controversial wall between Israeli territory and Palestinian land, as well as the Golan Heights and Israeli borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.