Bowser visits Israel despite criticism

Photo courtesy of The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington

Mayor Muriel Bowser is visiting Israel this week, despite a letter that circulated before her trip demanding that she cease partnerships with the country.

The letter, signed by 50 organizations and 500 individuals, calls Bowser and other officials’ participation in the trade mission “both a shameful endorsement of Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians and a slap in the face to DC residents.”

Bowser went to Israel to “attract technology firms, establish educational partnerships, and promote Washington, DC as a destination for investment and tourism,” according to the Office of the Mayor’s website. Council members Anita Bonds and Brandon Todd are also on the mission.

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for a comment.

But Ron Halber, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who is accompanying the mayor, said he does not think the mayor has been swayed by the letter.

“[The letter] seems to be mostly radical,” he said by telephone from Israel. “People are right to issue their opinion, and the mayor is clearly thrilled to be here.”

In a statement on her website, Bowser said, “Going on this mission to Israel gives our entire delegation the opportunity to explore innovative strategies for strengthening Washington, DC’s economy through tourism, technology, health care, and more.”

Bowser also spoke at Cyber Week at Tel Aviv University, as part of the mission’s goal to bring Israeli technology companies to Washington.

“This is a mayor, who, when she got elected, promised to put D.C. back on the map as an international destination,” Halber said. “She’s governing with skill and with intelligence and with strategic vision and I think she’s delivering on her promise for economic development.”

Andrew Kadi, a member of Occupation Free DC, which signed the letter, said District officials should not have a special relationship with a country “that is notorious for its human rights violations.”

Kadi, whose family members are Palestinian citizens of Israel, said he wants Bowser to focus instead on local issues and Washington residents.

“Now she’s going to recruit Israeli tech companies to D.C. … given the way people reacted to Amazon,” Kadi said, “people are aware that these companies come at the expense of rather than to the benefit of the people who have lived here for a long time.”

Halber said the letter’s demand to focus on local issues rather than invest abroad is anti-Israel propaganda.

“I think [that demand] doesn’t make sense. The mayor is investing locally by coming to Israel. She’s trying to persuade Israelis to invest in Washington,” Halber said.

Scott Brown, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace-DC Metro and Occupation Free DC, said those groups have not opposed Bowser’s trips to countries other than Israel. The reason is that their main focus is Israel.

“That being said, if there was a protest of a trip to another country that was also violating human rights … I think we would be happy to join that coalition,” Brown said.

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