The Democratic delegation poses for a group shot.

Congresswoman Haley Stevens speaks about her experience in Israel and the impact her first trip to the country had on her.

“Phenomenal.” That’s what Congresswoman Haley Stevens, D-Mich., says of her first trip to Israel. She was one of 41 Democratic members of Congress, led by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer earlier in August on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to the Jewish state. Stevens’ mother, Maria Marcotte of Birmingham, accompanied her on the trip.

Stevens, who represents Michigan’s 11th District, said the trip was jam-packed and included stops in Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Ramallah and the Lebanon border. A memorable moment was when she and her mom put notes in the Western Wall. “I used every minute there,” Stevens said. “I’d heard so much about this amazing and beautiful country. It was such a rich experience.”

Stevens said she was most surprised by the close connections of so many diverse populations in Israel.“It’s a meeting place and a meeting of the minds. It reminded me of being in summer camp,” said Stevens, who ran into fellow Bloomfield Hills resident Bluma Schechter in the hotel elevator and chatted for a while.

“I saw firsthand how Israel’s geography impacts strategic and national security decisions that get made. I saw the terror tunnels, which reaffirmed for me the severity of Israel’s situation in terms of national security,” she said.

Rep. Haley Stevens with her mom, Maria Marcotte

While there, Stevens met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as opposition leader Benny Gantz. “I got to spend a good amount of time with the prime minister,” she said. Stevens was chosen by the delegation to ask a question. “I began by talking about Israel’s mobility sector as well as the rebound of the auto industry in Michigan and how it proliferated economies of scale for us, and he lit up when I talked about the Israeli companies who were our partners,” she said. “Then I asked him about the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia. He talked about how the relationship has been enhanced since Saudi Arabia’s new approach to diplomacy based on economic concerns. For example, Saudi Arabia opened its air space to a commercial Israeli flight. That would have been unthinkable four or five years ago.”

Stevens added that she engaged in bipartisan activities as well, especially those related to policy. As a representative of the Great Lakes state, she signed up for the water policy session. “Colleagues from California and New Hampshire were there to listen to a presentation on purification and desalinization,” she said. “It was fascinating to learn about the technology and the investment made by public and private partnerships.”

While in Israel, Stevens said she talked with young leaders about the challenges Israel faces and how tikkun olam, repairing the world, is bridging some divides. “The trip reaffirmed my commitment to a two-state solution,” she said.

She is disappointed that President Trump’s peace plan (which will be released after the Sept. 17 Israeli election) did not include any congressional input. “I’m frustrated by the avalanche of tweets that tend to circumvent discourse,” she said. “After visiting Ramallah, it stressed, for me, the need for expertise in this process, such as my colleagues Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider have.”

Deutch, D-Fla., is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, where he is a champion of Israel’s security. Schneider, D-Ill., introduced the bipartisan resolution opposing the global BDS movement that passed this summer.

Galit Sasson, senior water treatment engineer at Israel National Water Company, and Rep. Haley Stevens

Stevens spoke out against Israel’s decision to bar entry to representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who had planned their own trip. She added that she “strongly opposes the BDS movement and all attempts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, and I encourage all to join me in the chorus to disavow these actions.”

As to President Trump’s declaration that Jews who voted for Democrats were being “disloyal,” Stevens said the comment was “frustrating and hurtful and has no place in the political dialogue.

“As members of Congress,” she added, “we need to be clear to call out anti-Semitism when we see it. We want to unify the party and the country. The majority leader carries forward our principles: Israel has the right to exist. It has the right to defend itself, and we remain committed to a two-state solution.”

She said the visit to Israel was transformative for many of her colleagues. “It allows for such a better understanding of the issues and allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

“There’s so much to celebrate about Israel and the U.S. Israeli relationship,” she added. “Incredible things are happening. I choose to use my time being positive.”

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