Rep. Balint Joined House Dems on August Trip to Israel | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News » Politics

Rep. Balint Joined House Dems on August Trip to Israel


Published August 22, 2023 at 7:27 p.m.

Rep. Becca Balint shaking hands with Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority - COURTESY OF REP. BALINT'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy of Rep. Balint's Office
  • Rep. Becca Balint shaking hands with Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority
U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) visited Israel earlier this month with 23 other Democratic House members and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of mass protests that rocked the country.

The August 6 to 13 trip was hosted and paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable organizational arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

In an interview on Tuesday, Balint said the political coalition that Netanyahu leads is “extreme right-wing,” and criticized its “so-called judicial reforms” that led to extended protests.

“It’s anti-Arab, anti-LGBTQ,” she said. The coalition is in favor of “some of the most extreme kinds of settlements in the West Bank. And I have real deep concerns about that.”

Still, Balint said she saw the visit as an opportunity to bring those concerns directly to Netanyahu and his administration.

“It’s not lost on me that we give a lot of aid to Israel,” said Balint, who sits on the House Budget Committee. “It was important for me to try to get as much information from different perspectives … because it is so complicated.”

The group, led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), also met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party and Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

The delegation visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum; the Western Wall; and the Old City of Jerusalem, according to Balint’s office. They also met with LGBTQ activists and Adnan Jaber, a Palestinian peace activist and entrepreneur. The group visited the Lebanese border and toured a battery of the Israeli air defense system known as the Iron Dome.

Balint and the delegation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog - COURTESY OF ISRAEL HADARI
  • Courtesy of Israel Hadari
  • Balint and the delegation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog
“I was on this trip with people who absolutely disagree with me,” Balint said. “And we had very spirited conversations about the judiciary, about the situation in the West Bank in Gaza in terms of the settlements writ large ... I want to be in those conversations, and I don’t want to be dismissed as someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. And I think Vermonters expect me to do my homework.”

Balint said she considered canceling the trip to deal with flood recovery but realized she wouldn’t miss any town halls or Vermont visits from Biden administration officials.

“Flood relief is going to be the work of my office for the next few years,” she said. “That’s the most important work that we are doing. And in the end, I decided that I’m going to be asked to weigh in on issues related to Israel and funding, and I need to be more educated.”

Balint is Jewish; her grandfather was killed during the Holocaust.

The trip abroad was Balint’s first since her election last November. She made no public mention of it until Seven Days asked about it on Tuesday. AIPAC, meanwhile, made 20 different videos featuring other reps who attended; some of them tweeted and issued press releases about the visit.

Balint said she, her staff and Vermonters are focused on the flooding and flood recovery. “When you look at what we were putting out on social media … we’re trying to be really sensitive to the fact that that is the most important thing for a broad section of my constituents,” she said.

During her trip, her social media accounts posted about flood resources, plus photos of her visiting the National Weather Service in Burlington and the Vermont Air National Guard in South Burlington. A spokesperson, Sophie Pollock, acknowledged that those photos were taken on August 1.

“It is always a privilege to visit our service members in uniform at the @158FighterWing,” Balint’s account tweeted on August 8, along with photos of her and Guard leaders.

Pollock said Balint often attends “five events in one day,” so the office will save some photo ops and put them on social media at later dates. The intent of those messages and photos “was not to mislead anyone,” Pollock said. “That’s just how we spread out our content.”

On Tuesday, Balint said she’ll return to Israel in February for a visit sponsored by J Street, a more progressive pro-Israel group that endorsed her.

Her recent trip gave her "a much broader understanding of the geopolitical factors but also issues related to culture and politics and agriculture," Balint said.

Correction, August 23, 2023: A previous version of this story included the wrong date the Guard and National Weather Service photos were taken, due to incorrect information provided by Balint's office.

Related Stories

Speaking of...