GOP rep seeks to block Tlaib's congressional delegation trip to West Bank

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, wore a traditional Palestinian dress called a thobe to take the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol this month.

Washington — A Republican congressman from Texas wrote Thursday to every Democratic House committee chair seeking to block U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib's planned delegation trip to the Palestinian territories.

The first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, Tlaib indicated Thursday she has no intention of backing away from plans to lead a delegation of House members to the West Bank.

The Detroit Democrat's aim is in part to "humanize" Palestinians and would include a stop in the tiny farming village where her grandmother lives.

"I look forward to working with leadership and other colleagues to ensure this necessary trip moves forward," she said. 

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, is concerned such a taxpayer-funded trip would threaten the U.S.-Israeli relationship and wants committee chairs to deny any requests to authorize such a delegation.

He targeted committee chairs because they're responsible for approving official delegations, as well as the members who participate in them. 

"Allowed to proceed, this action could undo years of goodwill built by the foreign policy and Israeli-American communities," Babin wrote in his letter

"To signal to our most threatened ally in the region that the United States Congress sanctions an official trip to visit Israel’s nemesis would be an exceedingly dangerous path forward."

U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas

Babin describes Tlaib as an "outspoken" supporter of the movement to boycott, divest and impose sanctions on Israel, and derides the "personal vitriol" behind her profane cry this month to impeach President Donald Trump — "both ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values."

"Please consider the damage that a yet unexperienced and overly caustic Member of Congress may cause to Israeli relations, or the perceptions of our own Jewish-American citizens," Babin wrote. 

Tlaib said the letter was "disappointing but not surprising" from Babin during the fourth week of an ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government.  

"It’s disappointing that during a historic government shutdown, my colleague from Texas, Congressman Babin, would send a letter full of falsehoods and fear-mongering rhetoric to attempt to block my plans to take a delegation to Palestine," Tlaib said.

"Rep. Babin has a history of supporting discriminatory policies, including President Trump’s Muslim ban — a degrading executive order."

Tlaib spokesman Denzel McCampbell pushed back against Babin’s implication that visiting the Palestinian territories is a threat or danger to anyone. 

“But again, this seems to be in line with his anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions,” he said.

Tlaib, 42, is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. She hails from southwest Detroit, but her father grew up in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem, and her mother on a farm in the West Bank.

She has said her family in the West Bank and her visits there influenced her crusade for equality, wanting her relatives to have access to health care and education without traversing checkpoints.

"The trip to Palestine is to show my fellow colleagues how life is for Palestinians. This is an essential aspect to ensure we are making well-rounded decisions on legislation that may impact them, including protections of civil rights and equality for all people — something Congressman Babin may have an issue with comprehending," Tlaib said Thursday. 

"Right now, I'm focused on taking action to reopen the government. I hope Rep. Babin does the same."

Tlaib's delegation would pose a contrast to the annual delegation to Israel organized by an arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel group.

"I just know that trip is not going to go meet with my grandmother. I was going anyway because I want to go see her," Tlaib told The Detroit News last month.

"You don't get to really get to know the Palestinian people unless you go and share and break bread, and you sit down and see what it means to live the way my grandmother's living right now."