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NC Congresswomen under fire for quietly visiting Israel amid war

From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with North Carolina U.S. Reps. Kathy Manning, Valerie Foushee and others during their visit to the country last week.
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with North Carolina U.S. Reps. Kathy Manning, Valerie Foushee and others during their visit to the country last week.

Two Democratic members of Congress from North Carolina are facing criticism for a recent visit to Israel where they met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.S. Reps. Kathy Manning of Greensboro and Valerie Foushee of Orange County spent several days in the country last week. The trip was sponsored and paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group that has funneled large campaign contributions to Manning, Foushee and most of North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

While Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a press release about the trip — including video of the meeting with Netanyahu — neither Manning nor Foushee initially announced the visit or posted about it on their social media channels. The trip was first reported in North Carolina by Indy Week.

The local chapter of the group Jewish Voice for Peace criticized the trip, telling its members to call Foushee’s office in protest.

“We are driving calls to her offices ALL DAY to condemn her recent actions and urge Foushee to stay true to her December calls for ceasefire,” the group said in a social media post.

The group also staged disruptions Thursday night during a joint fundraiser for Foushee and U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh.

“Disruptors disguised as guests spoke over the Congresswomen's speeches and approached them as they mingled, demanding an end to U.S. military funding for Israel,” JVP Triangle said in a news release.

Foushee posted a statement about the trip after Indy Week’s story was published Monday.

“Fostering diplomatic dialogue and facilitating de-escalation efforts is the only way to reach a bilateral ceasefire, ensure the release of all remaining hostages, alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and achieve the ultimate goal of a permanent two-state solution,” she wrote. “To ensure long-term stability and security in the region, we must use diplomacy as a tool to bring both sides to the table for meaningful negotiations towards a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement.”

Asked why Manning never announced the visit, spokeswoman Gia Scirrotto said in an email that “that is per our office policy not to disclose her whereabouts.” Manning has, however, posted photos of her visits to multiple events around North Carolina in recent weeks.

Her only public statement about Israel in recent days came in response to the country’s strike that killed seven aid workers distributing food in Gaza for the charity World Central Kitchen; that statement was less critical of Israel’s action around the incident than comments made by President Joe Biden’s administration.

Manning was one of North Carolina's biggest recipients of campaign funding through AIPAC last year, even as looming redistricting made it less likely she would seek reelection in a district redrawn to favor Republicans.

AIPAC bundled contributions totaling about $226,000 from its supporters to Manning. That’s more than a quarter of the total amount her campaign received in 2023, campaign finance filings show.

AIPAC directed relatively few contributions to Foushee’s campaign last year, but it was a major player in the 2022 primary when the former state senator defeated Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, the first Muslim woman to hold office in North Carolina and a frequent critic of American support for Israel in the Gaza war.

Foushee’s campaign benefited from about $2 million in AIPAC spending and donation bundling in the 2022 election.

The group has been similarly supportive of U.S. Rep. Don Davis, a Democrat from Greene County who is now seeking reelection in the state’s only swing district. AIPAC backed his 2022 campaign and has bundled a total of $156,000 in contributions for his reelection bid so far.

AIPAC also bundles contributions to all of the Republican members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation, as well as to Ross and Democratic U.S. Rep. Wiley Nickel. The only members of the U.S. House from the state who aren’t featured on AIPAC’s list of “pro-Israel candidates” are U.S. Reps. Jeff Jackson and Alma Adams of Charlotte.

Across the country, the group says on its website that it “supported 365 pro-Israel Democratic and Republican candidates in 2022 with more than $17 million.”

It’s currently urging its supporters to sign a petition to “urge your members of Congress and the White House to continue to stand with Israel as it destroys this terrorist threat.”

During last week’s trip, Netanyahu told Manning, Foushee and other members of Congress present that “you've been long-time friends of Israel. You're great supporters. It's very important for us to maintain bipartisan support at all times, but especially in these trying times.”

Both Foushee and Manning’s office released additional details about the trip in response to a request from WUNC.

In addition to Netanyahu, they met with Speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog and families of the Israeli hostages in Gaza. They also visited several of the sites where Hamas killed more than a thousand Israeli civilians during its attack on the country last October.

And they visited northern Israel to learn about attacks from Hezbollah; Manning’s office said that visit had to be cut short due to rocket fire.

A more detailed schedule from the trip was not released.

“I’m unable to share the itinerary to ensure the safety of individuals on future, similar trips,” a Manning spokeswoman said.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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