On Israel trip, Hill met new premier

On Israel trip, Hill met new premier
By: Frank E. Lockwood

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., traveled to Israel over the Independence Day recess, meeting with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other officials.

His trip also included time in Qatar, where he met with members of the ruling family.

Hill, who lives in Little Rock and represents the 2nd Congressional District, said he was one of 10 House members participating in "the first visit by the Congress to the new Bennett government in Jerusalem."

It was "the first congressional bipartisan trip since the pandemic began," Hill said in an interview Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, headed the delegation, Hill said.

"He put together the trip and chose the visit to Israel to illustrate, historically, the strong bipartisan support in the Congress for America's policy towards Israel," Hill said.

Another goal was "to meet and assess the new very narrowly majority coalition in the Knesset," Hill said, referring to Israel's unicameral parliament.

Bennett, who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, was sworn in last month as the nation's prime minister by a vote of 60-59 with one member abstaining.

In a news release, Meeks portrayed the trip as an opportunity "to explore the challenges posed by the recent outbreak of violence in Gaza; assess Israel's current security needs; and evaluate the Biden Administration's attempts to restart assistance to the Palestinian people."

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who has repeatedly been criticized for comments opponents call anti-Semitic, wasn't among the lawmakers receiving an invitation.

Omar's representatives inquired about her being added to the list, she told the Washington Post.

"It turned out that they'd already finalized it, and because of [coronavirus] restrictions, they could only take a certain number of people," she said.

During an interview, Hill portrayed the trip as productive.

Meeting with Israeli government officials, "we discussed, obviously, their goals and objectives in this new very narrow majority government," Hill said.

Topics included the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations among Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain; recent attacks on Israel by Hamas; and the threat posed by Tehran.

"Of course, both sides were firmly committed to Iran never having a nuclear weapon," Hill said.

Three Republican and seven Democratic congressmen made the trip.

"I believe this is an effort by Chairman Meeks to reassert that our policy should be bipartisan and it should be supportive of her democratic ally in ... a tough region," Hill said.

The show of unity is important, he said.

"Bipartisanship is important, generally, on foreign policy matters, so that as we speak on behalf of our country internationally, that we speak with one voice. I think that's an American tradition," he said.

Trips by groups of congressmen were once common. That changed, however, with the arrival of covid-19.

"When the pandemic hit last March, the Speaker canceled all congressional travel unless she personally approved it under some emergency basis or some national need," Hill said. "Likewise, many of our foreign partners and allies around the world have not traveled to the U.S."

The fact that Israel was the destination is significant, underlying the importance of the relationship, he added.

This was Hill's second trip to Israel.

In its 73 year history, the young nation has undergone a remarkable transformation, he said.

"Since its founding in 1948, Israel was a place that struggled to find political cohesion ... [to build] a stable democracy, defend itself and even have a functioning economy that produced wealth and higher per capita income for its citizens," Hill said.

Less than three-quarters of a century later, Israel is "thriving," he said.

"Israel today is a dynamic, entrepreneurial, innovative, technologically global leader in pharmaceuticals, in [information technology], in cyber, in military, so it's been wonderful to see the last generation reap the rewards of the two previous generations," he said.

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