A state senator in Michigan has apologized to her Arab and Muslim constituents for a recent visit to Israel with her fellow lawmakers.
Sylvia Santana, whose district includes part of Detroit. as well as Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, with a high concentration of Arab Muslims, posted the apology on social media.
“I recognize my presence on this trip has sparked anger and disappointment by many in the Arab/Muslim community,” she wrote.
“For this, I truly apologize, seek your forgiveness and hope that you will understand that I had no malicious intent. There is no perfect combination of words that I can offer that truly reflects the feelings in my heart. My only goal was to learn about this region of our world and to improve my understanding of matters related to Michigan.”
Santana described the visit as an “annual trip offered to state lawmakers to learn more about Michigan’s relationship with Israel.”
An official with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, David Kurzmann, confirmed in a statement to the Detroit Free Press that the federation facilitated the trip for several lawmakers.
Osama Siblani, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Dearborn-based Arab American News, said in a Facebook post that the trip took place at the end of July. He reported that a meet and greet at the Arab American-owned Custard Company in Dearborn on Aug. 7 was canceled after the trip became known.
“The news about Santana’s visit to Israel shocked and angered the Arab American community, to say the least,” Siblani wrote. “Santana’s visit constitutes a slap in the face to the Arab American community who has been supportive and respectful to the Senator.”
Santana’s district overlaps with that of Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has continued to come under fire for antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, including recently speaking at an art show in Detroit advocating Israel’s destruction.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for the metropolitan Detroit area, told CBS News Detroit that it was important for lawmakers to visit the Jewish state.
“Everyone should go. It’s the holy land. Whether you like who’s the state now … maybe you preferred it when it was under the Ottomans or the Crusaders or the Romans, but whoever it is, everyone should visit, and I like to encourage everyone to visit,” he said.
A group of 24 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives is in Israel this week, led by House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York and previous House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the delegation to his Jerusalem office on Monday, thanking the lawmakers for their fight against antisemitism and the false accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state” and for supporting Israel’s security. Netanyahu also personally thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for his administration’s efforts “to expand the circle of peace.”
Ahead of the trip, Jeffries said that the Israel visit would allow for House Democrats to “reaffirm our commitment to the special relationship between the United States and Israel, one anchored in our shared democratic values and mutual geopolitical interests.
“We will learn ways Congress can continue strengthening this alliance and enable peace and stability between Israel and its neighbors. As we listen and learn, we reiterate our ironclad commitment to the safety and security of Israel and to the existence of Israel as a prosperous and Jewish, democratic state,” the congressman continued.