The relatable Minnesota freshman taking on Congress

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) is a spirits and gelato entrepreneur, a father and now a newly elected congressman. He’s also the descendant of Jewish refugees who fled to the United States to escape pogroms in eastern Europe.

Phillips is most often seen as the relatable millionaire-next-door — a successful businessman from a well-to-do family who is still down-to-earth and accessible. During his 2018 campaign for Minnesota’s third district, Phillips drove around the neighborhood in a restored 1960s milk truck.

His Jewish identity is at the core of his politics, and he’s willing to invoke that when necessary. In March, Phillips demanded an apology from fellow Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar after she charged that American supporters of Israel have “allegiance to a foreign country.” A month earlier, responding to another controversial antisemitic comment by Omar, Phillips said that she had “propagated dangerous and destructive stereotypes of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” 

Just months into his freshman term in Congress, Phillips took action to combat the many faces of hate — of Jews, of immigrants, and of “the other.” During a press conference in the basement of the Capitol in April, while introducing a resolution condemning white nationalism, Phillips took time to reflect on his great-grandparents’ journey. It was a quiet moment away from the chaos of the Hill and the fights for attention. 

“I come from an immigrant family,” he told the small group of journalists gathered, recounting how his great-grandparents told him of their parents fleeing persecution to find refuge in the United States. 

Yet Minneapolis was far from a safe haven for Jews at the time, Phillips recounted in an interview with Jewish Insider. The Minnesota lawmaker was told stories in his youth of the “horrid antisemitism” that his great-grandparents worked hard to fight against. 

“I have very distinct memories of my great-grandparents reminding me of my eventual responsibility to advocate for those whose voices are quieter or resources are limited, and whose opportunities are not as significant as my own would be one day,” he recalled.

Minnesota Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Dean Phillips make their way to the Supreme Court for a rally in April.

Tom Williams/CQ

Minnesota Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Dean Phillips make their way to the Supreme Court for a rally in April.

Phillips is surprisingly Minnesotan. It can be hard to reconcile the Midwest twang and aw shucks attitude with someone who casually recounts his family’s close relationship with former Vice President and former Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey.

Phillips’s life is also one marked by tragedy. When he was six months old, his biological father was killed in the Vietnam War, widowing Phillips’s then 24-year-old mother. A photo of his father in his army uniform, the black-and white exposure yellowed with age, sits in a frame on a shelf in the congressman’s Washington, D.C. office. 

That understanding of loss informs, in part, his view on foreign affairs. Phillips recalled a town hall meeting held earlier this year in Edina, Minnesota, where he was asked a question by a mother of an active duty soldier deployed in the Middle East. 

“She specifically mentioned Iran and her fear — which is, by the way, on the mind of every single person serving in the military and their families right now,” Phillips said. “Every decision that is made, just down the street from here, and even in these buildings, will affect the lives of potentially millions of people, we have to be aware of that.”

Phillips is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He expresses strong support for Israel, and says there were elements of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that he supported, but he was troubled by the sunset clause. He stresses international cooperation, reinforcing positive relationships with allies and working across party lines. 

Phillips defines himself as center, or left-of-center politically — joking that his position as center-fielder in the congressional baseball game is a metaphor for his values. Walking this line is important for Phillips, who beat out a Republican incumbent in 2018, and represents both millionaires and refugees in his district. 

Sitting in his D.C. office, Phillips brings out a silver-tarnished, rotary telephone, engraved with “J.P.J Phillips,” the initials of his great-grandfather, “from H.H.H” — Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

The silver rotary phone that then-Minneapolis mayor and future U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey gifted to Jay Phillips, the congressman's late grandfather.

Laura Kelly

The silver rotary phone that then-Minneapolis mayor and future U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey gifted to Jay Phillips, the congressman’s late grandfather.

The two worked together to develop Mount Sinai Hospital in Minneapolis, Phillips recounted. It was the first hospital to allow staffing positions for Jews and other minority groups, mostly African-American, and a more accessible health care option for those who would have been turned away from other hospitals or asked to pay upfront. 

“Hubert Humphrey gave my great-grandparents this phone in 1967… and the notion was that my great-grandfather could use that phone to call Hubert Humphrey when necessary,” Phillips explained. “Now I have this phone, reminding me that I always have my phone open to people who need to call me for that same line of communication.”

Phillips said he plans to join the Black-Jewish Caucus, a bipartisan initiative launched in early June. 

“I’m excited by that because, back to my upbringing, the same great-grandparents I’m talking about, would share often with me how the Jewish community and the Black community in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, would walk hand in hand, literally, down Plymouth Avenue after the riots in the late 1960s,” he recalled.

Phillips’s interest in politics began young. He jokes that his grandmother Pauline, the blunt, often tounge-in-cheek columnist Dear Abby, anointed him a Democrat at age 11.

“I remember, for the first time, watching the election returns in 1980… that was the first time in which the political seeds, I guess you could say, were planted in me — by my grandma,” he said.

He interned for Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) when he was in college but then went into the family business. “I recognized that I would not begin my career in Washington or in public life, but that if one day — if the opportunity perhaps arose, or the need existed — that I would stand up.”

Despite being heir to the fifth-generation Phillips Distilling Company, he hit the ground at entry-level, making deliveries and working in the production plant and warehouse before becoming the company’s chief executive. In 2012, he co-invested in the start-up and premium gelato company, Talenti. In both companies, he said, the notion is about providing “an affordable luxury.” The Distilling Company brought Belvedere Vodka to the U.S., Talenti brings gelato. 

“We zigged when others zagged,” he said, “and we took good care of people along the way and that was a hallmark of how we did things.”

And after 25 years working for the family business, Phillips felt the call of political life. 

“During the 2016 [presidential] election campaign, I was so appalled and disgusted, and frankly embarrassed for our country — relative to the tone and tenor of that election — and of course the outcome concerned me deeply,” Phillips explained.

“My daughters that night, who were 18 and 16, Daniella and Pia — their reaction left an indelible mark on me,” he continued. “They were fearful, they shed tears, they expressed fear, and the next morning I woke up and at the breakfast table, I promised them that I would do something. I raised them to be participants, not just observers, and I felt the responsibility to put my feet in the street, if you will, and that’s exactly what I did.” 

Rep. Dean Phillips in his office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington D.C. in mid-June.

Laura Kelly

Rep. Dean Phillips in his office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington D.C. in mid-June.

Phillips says entering politics was “the best decision I ever made in my life. That’s what inspired me. There was a moment [on election] night that I thought, I can no longer just watch. I have to be a participant.”

The freshman congressman says one of his priorities is getting special-interest money out of politics. To that end he opted to forgo all donations from Political Action Committees or other campaigns. Phillips is asking for this type of pledge from all members, though he concedes he’s in a better position to refuse big money than his colleagues.

“I understand why not everybody is in the same position that I am, but it does not mean that it’s not possible for every single one of the 535 to do it the same way,” he said. “That’s a choice. And it is possible, and I raised over $5 million from individuals in my last campaign.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, a non-profit political research organization, Phillips donated about $1.35 million to his own campaign and raised over $3 million from large individual donations, and about $1 million from small donations of $200 or less.

Phillips said a radical shift is needed in the barriers to entry and the amount of money necessary to run a campaign. 

“I think the biggest problem is it shouldn’t take that amount of money, even close to that amount of money to succeed in a race for Congress,” he said. “I think we have to address the money in politics, period, so we’re not just providing access to those of great means or those connected to great means.”

Phillips says that serving in the 116th Congress is the best job he’s ever had. He’s a member of the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of about 40 members who work to find bipartisan solutions on legislation, “which is the best hour I spend every single week.”

His campaign slogan, and the sign that hangs outside his office door, proclaims “Everyone’s invited.” It’s his promise and ethos to focus on personal interactions rather than wars of words over social media.

Later, over email, I asked Phillips what advice he would seek from his grandmother, in her role as “Dear Abby.”

He wrote, “Dear Abby — Every time I turn on the TV or go online, people are yelling and screaming at each other about politics. How can we disagree without being disagreeable? — Disappointed Dean.”

“Dear Disappointed Dean: Meeting more in-person and Tweeting less would be a very good start.”

Rashida Tlaib: Some members of Congress didn’t really understand anti-BDS resolution

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said on Wednesday that some of her colleagues don’t understand much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tlaib said at least one member of Congress joined the resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel simply because so many other members had signed on. 

“When you say one- or two-state [solution], they don’t know what you’re talking about,” the congresswoman said, addressing a briefing on Capitol Hill organized by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). “I had a colleague ask me what the blockade in [Gaza] means… Another person actually signed onto the anti-BDS bill not understanding, but because they saw so many colleagues on there they said it must be important.”

The bill, a House resolution condemning BDS, passed with a near unanimous vote on Tuesday night, but caused internal conflict among some Democratic members of Congress.

Tlaib, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) are co-sponsors of a resolution that affirms the right to boycott and is viewed as a counter-effort to the anti-BDS bill. 

In her remarks Wednesday, Tlaib stressed that activists for Palestinian rights should engage with members of Congress.

“It gives us a tremendous opportunity for our cause, for human rights, and it’s going to make Israelis safer too,” Tlaib said Wednesday. “It’s not just about us, it’s about the whole country. And I got to tell you, they’re waiting for you to talk to them, they’re waiting for you to teach them.”

The AMP event focused on Israel’s treatment of U.S. citizens, specifically case studies of Americans and Palestinian-Americans either killed or injured by Israeli forces. Tlaib, addressing the event, spoke about restrictions on travel of U.S. citizens. Last week, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. issued a  statement ensuring that no member of Congress would be denied entry into Israel out of respect for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Tlaib and Omar, who plan to travel to the Palestinian Territories in August, potentially faced denial of entry into Israel for their support of the BDS movement. 

Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, often speaks about her personal experiences growing up in Detroit and draws parallels between the African-American civil rights movement and the struggle for Palestinian rights. Tlaib described Israeli policies towards Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans as segregation. 

“People don’t like it when I say that, that’s what I feel like is happening,” she said. “But that is my lens. Write about it. You want to — don’t take it out of context of the fact that yes, this is a form of othering. This is a form of dehumanization, especially when you want to say, well, some Americans deserve less rights because they are of Palestinian descent and others don’t. I think that’s wrong and I think we need to push back against those kinds of racist policies in Israel.” 

She called for a closer look at the visa waiver program between Israel and the United States for American citizens who are denied entry through Tel Aviv and rerouted through Jordan. 

“When Americans, like my mother, [are] denied entry through Tel Aviv, and have to be forced through Jordan… it’s segregation,” she said. “People say to me they go through Tel Aviv, through Ben-Gurion Airport, and they hardly see Palestinians there and I think that’s very intentional.”

De Blasio: ‘I will use my right to free speech to oppose BDS’

Democratic presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on Tuesday, telling a conference on Muslim political engagement that the first amendment protects his opinion on the movement. 

“I believe in the right to free speech, so I will use my right to free speech to oppose BDS. But I’m not telling other people they don’t have the right to free speech.”

De Blasio, speaking on a panel at the Muslim Collective for Equitable Democracy Conference in Washington D.C., was responding to a question on whether he supports criminalizing BDS, as the House of Representatives prepares to vote Tuesday evening on condemning the BDS movement. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) has called the congressional resolution condemning BDS “unconstitutional” and charged that it infringes on first amendment rights. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), has 349 co-sponsors, and has no legal prohibitions. 

Tlaib, along with Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and John Lewis (D-GA), introduced H.Res 496, affirming Americans’ rights to boycott, citing historical examples of U.S. boycotts of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the U.S. civil rights movement and Apartheid South Africa, among others.

At the gathering, de Blasio explained that he opposes BDS for being counter to achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“So I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that I’m pandering on an issue that I care about a lot,” de Blasio told the crowd. “Because I have strong views on BDS and I suspect I disagree with a lot of people in the room, but I want to tell you why.”

“Which is, and it’s not about the right to speak, it’s about the thing itself. I believe, I’ve always believed, I still believe it’s possible to have a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. I still believe, as much as that seems to be undermined in so many ways, I still believe it’s possible, I believe we have to keep fighting for that.”

Reps. Tlaib and Omar won’t be barred from Israel

Israel will allow Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) entry into the country, should they move forward with planned travel, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. said on Friday.

“Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, said in a statement. 

Tlaib is believed to be organizing a trip for congress members to the Palestinian territories, according to an invitation she shared with Jewish Insider in May. However, the organization listed as leading the trip, the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), told JI it won’t be running any programming. Joe Merante, executive director for HDI, said that no trip is confirmed until it goes through the approval process of the House Ethics Committee.

On Wednesday, Omar told JI that she looks forward to traveling to “both” Israel and the Palestinian territories in a “few weeks.” 

In 2017, the Israeli Knesset passed an amendment providing the Interior Ministry the power to deny entry to any visitor to Israel that is involved in activities or organizations boycotting Israel. 

Both Tlaib and Omar have come out in support of the BDS movement. 

Last year, an American university student was detained for two weeks before being allowed to enter Israel over concerns she supports and participates in BDS. 

Jonathan Schachter, former foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the BDS movement “bizarro” on Friday.

“I see where the BDS movement is often discussed, sort of, in progressive terms, which is sort of a bizzarro moment for me because the BDS movement idea of boycotting Israel, is actually incredibly regressive. It’s basically just taking the Arab League boycott of the ‘40s and making it current policy. Which is anything but progressive,” said Schachter, replying to a question by JI, while speaking in Washington D.C. at an event hosted by the Foundations for Defense of Democracies. 

Schachter continued that it is important not to “paint BDS supporters with too broad a brush,” that the founding ideals of BDS oppose any Jewish state in the area where Israel is, as opposed to those who view boycott as an expression of free speech. 

“I think, there are those who really understand the ideas of the founders of BDS, which was unequivocal in its opposition to the existence of Israel and then there are others who think it just sound like, a way of voting with your pocketbook, and they don’t really, they’re not necessarily aware of those things. If the idea is to make peace between Israel and Palestinians I don’t think BDS is the way it’s going to be achieved any more than I think that any of these other counterproductive things are going to move things forward.”

Rep. Omar will travel to Israel, Palestinian territories

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said she’ll be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in a few weeks, calling it an opportunity to learn more about the situation on the ground, “occupation,” and best ways forward on a two-state solution.

“I am going in a couple of weeks and so I’ll learn more,” Omar told Jewish Insider on Wednesday. “But truly, everything that I hear points to both sides feeling like there is still an occupation.” 

When asked where she will visit the Congresswoman replied “both,” seemingly referencing Israel and the West Bank, and directed questions about logistics to her office. 

Omar spoke with JI following a markup on the House Foreign Affairs Committee which discussed a number of Israel related bills, and where she expressed her support for a resolution affirming U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We must really address that [occupation] and make sure that as we push forth a two-state solution, that we acknowledge that and fight any attempts to stall this process and make sure that there is an opportunity for both sides to fully recognize each other’s dignity and to live peacefully.”

At least five bills related to Israel passed through the HFAC committee on Wednesday, including Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Karen Bass’s (D-CA) resolution supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-IL) resolution opposing the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. 

Omar said she supports the two-state solution resolution but opposed the anti-BDS measure.

“If we are going to condemn violent means of resisting the occupation, we cannot also condemn nonviolent means,” Omar said during the committee mark up, and referenced her recently introduced resolution with Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) that documents the history and constitutional right of Americans to boycott. 

“Well, she’s entitled to her opinion,” said Schneider, who authored the resolution, regarding his colleague from Minnesota. “I’ve been very clear. BDS is hateful, BDS oppose two states, BDS is antisemitic at its core. That’s why it’s important to speak out.”

Anti-BDS resolution divides Democrats

Progressive Democrats are charging that a congressional resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a violation of First Amendment rights. 

A bipartisan bill opposing the movement is expected to advance through committee next week, paving the way for a vote on the House floor, and dividing Democrats. 

“The core of the bill… is suppressing people that criticize the country,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) told Jewish Insider on Thursday. 

Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, has tweeted that the bill is unconstitutional. 

About 69 Democrats have yet to sign on the bill, which will be marked up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee next week. Among those holding off on signing include Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.

“I think there are a lot of people, and it’s not just progressives, who feel that this issue is being used by Republicans to try and divide Democrats,” Jayapal told JI. “And that comes from people who oppose BDS. I’m not sure this is the right time to be bringing that resolution forward.” 

Many members of the Progressive Caucus have already signed on to the bill, while some of those holding out are not part of the caucus.

The resolution was authored by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). 

Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-CA), who is also withholding his signature, said he’s consulting with groups concerned about freedom of speech violations before deciding to sign on to the resolution. 

“I have not endorsed the BDS [movement]… but I am concerned about conflicts with the First Amendment.”

Proponents of the resolution say that charges of unconstitutionality are unfounded. 

“It’s very hard to have an unconstitutional resolution,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). “Freedom of speech starts with the representatives of the American people. We have a constitutional right to express our views. So, it’s very hard to see how a resolution could violate the constitution. It’s very hard to find a constitutional scholar that thinks that Schneider’s bill raises any issues. So I don’t know what she’s concerned about.”

The resolution — which condemns the global BDS movement for opposing the existence of Israel, and says it is destructive of efforts toward a two-state solution — has 336 co-sponsors.

Can Congress work with Jeremy Corbyn?

How would the election of Jeremy Corbyn as U.K. prime minister be received by members of Congress? The Labour leader and the party as a whole continue to be dogged by widespread accusations of antisemitism, even leading to a split in the party earlier this year when nine MPs resigned over the issue. 

On Tuesday, three Labour peers in the House of Lords — including a former general secretary of Labour — resigned from the party, stating that it was clearly “institutionally antisemitic.” Earlier this week, former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Jewish voters that the party “owes the Jewish community an unqualified apology.” 

While the successor to Prime Minister Theresa May will be decided within the Conservative Party, the prospect of a general election looms on the horizon.  

Although Corbyn became the Labour Party’s leader in 2015, several congressmen told Jewish Insider on Tuesday that they still did not know enough about Corbyn to comment on his potential premiership. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who praised Corbyn following a phone conversation earlier this year, said: “I’m not super familiar with what has been going on internally, but I do know that – there seems to be controversy there, internally in Labour… To be honest, I’m not super familiar with the internal workings, but I certainly think that all communities have to be protected and every community needs to be assured and feeling that they are safe from bigotry. I think that’s the main deal.”

Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL): “I’m afraid I don’t know enough about [Corbyn’s] history to have anything intelligent to say there. But I am horribly opposed to antisemites… We got enough of them on our side of the pond.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA): “I’m not an expert enough on it to really focus on it. I will say this, it is a global trend and problem,” he said, and referenced his sponsorship of 2017 legislation that provided additional funds to the State Department to combat antisemitism in Europe, which was signed into law in January. “But frankly, that concern in my brain has been eclipsed by antisemitism in the U.S., and I’m very focused on the rising antisemitism in the U.S.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “I know we’re trying to work with whoever the foreign leaders are, but I don’t think that’s going to happen over there, from what I read about the politics.” 

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA): “Well Mr. Corbyn needs to have a long heartfelt discussion with himself and with his party about what they stand for. And if they stand for antisemitism, then they don’t deserve, in my judgment, to govern one of the finest countries in the history of the world, the United Kingdom.” 

“Don’t interpret that as me trying to tell our friends overseas how to do their business. America has enough trouble right now paddling its own canoe. But these antisemitism allegations — and in some case facts — keep bubbling up. And I think we’re perilously close to believing there’s not only smoke but fire. Before the people of the U.K. turn over their leadership to him, he needs to answer these questions, if for no other reason, but for the U.K.’s standing in the world. There’s just no room for that kind of attitude.”

Rep. Dean Phillips: AOC’s concentration camp comments a ‘mistake’

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) said border detention facilities for migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing the border are “not” concentration camps and that conflating the two is a mistake.

His comments come in response to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) repeatedly describing the border detention camps as “concentration camps.”

“I think it was a very, very poor choice of words. I know her and I respect her and I don’t believe that her intent was to conflate German concentration camps from the Holocaust with the border camps,” Phillips said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Friday. “I think it was a mistake on her part and I do not think in her heart that it was her intention.”

The Minnesota congressman is Jewish and said that his great-grandparents fled pogroms and antisemitism in eastern Europe. Earlier this month, Phillips traveled to McAllen, Texas with Republican colleagues to see the border camps and their conditions.

“I went to these facilities just two weeks ago with five of my Republican colleagues, to see for myself. And the conditions were, to me, horrifying, an opinion shared by my colleagues. But these are not concentration camps. Any conflation of the two is an injustice, frankly, to the people who are in those facilities right now.”

On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez defended her comments calling the border detention facilities “concentration camps,” linking to an article on Twitter by ABC News citing the detention centers being described as “torture facilities.”

“Remember when the Bush administration bullied media into using their devised term ‘enhanced interrogation’ instead of the accurate term ‘torture?’” the New York lawmaker tweeted. “Well, waterboarding was torture. And these are concentration camps. Journalism should be about the truth. And this is the truth.”

Lee Zeldin challenges Hezbollah, targets aid to Lebanon

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will introduce a bill this week conditioning military aid to Lebanon in an effort to combat Hezbollah’s influence in the country.

What’s going on: Zeldin, who is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is introducing the “Countering Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Military Act of 2019,” which applies conditions to 20 percent of American military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). To comply, it must show that the government and military are working to limit Hezbollah’s role in the Lebanese army, with the U.S. secretaries of state and defense expected to “actively engage” in discussions to keep officials from the terrorist organization out of key leadership roles in the military.

The legislation cites the known extent of Hezbollah’s influence in the LAF but also the LAF’s efforts to disarm the terrorist organization along the border with Israel. A national security waiver in included to provide flexibility in extenuating circumstances.

Why it matters: The U.S. has provided at least $2.29 billion in military assistance to the LAF since 2005, calling the country’s military the “sole, legitimate defender of Lebanon.” The legislation, however, is a rebuke of Hezbollah’s influence in the country and aggression towards Israel. At least six cross-border tunnels from Southern Lebanon into Israel were discovered by the Israeli Defense Forces, with the U.N. peacekeepers confirming at least three.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said the tunnels violate the 2006 ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel, and said it took the matter to the Lebanese government.

What’s next: It’s unclear if the legislation will attract any Democratic co-sponsors, which would push along the bill in the Democrat-controlled House.

Ilhan Omar to join Black-Jewish Caucus

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will join the newly formed bipartisan, Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus, her spokesman Jeremy Slevin confirmed to Jewish Insider on Thursday.

The caucus was first announced this week by Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) with House Jewish members Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

Other founding co-chairs include Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Will Hurd (R-TX) and Chair of the Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

Rep. Omar earlier offered her support for the cause, posting on Twitter, “Last month [Rep. Jan Schakwosky (D-IL)] and I joined together to talk about the common threat of white nationalism faced by the Muslim, Black and Jewish-Americans. Glad to see colleagues follow through on working on things that unite us and not divide us,” while sharing a tweet from Rep. Wasserman Schultz announcing the caucus.

Yet Rep. Omar, who has frequently clashed with Rep. Zeldin, later tweeted support for statements by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who called Rep. Zeldin “anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian bigot.”

“Just to be clear, my endorsement of the caucus and willingness to unite our communities against the threats of White supremacy isn’t an endorsement of Zeldin’s bigotry!” Rep. Omar posted on Twitter. “Linda’s point still remains valid but my hope here is that Zeldin can learn and grow.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.