As it does every two years, the education foundation of America’s pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, took new members of Congress to Israel this month for a week-long tour of the Holy Land.
The itinerary — the borders with Syria and Lebanon, the Yad Vashem memorial, Masada, etc. — for the 22 Democrats (who returned Tuesday) and 36 Republicans (who are still there) was pretty much the same as on prior trips, according to a source with knowledge of the trip.
But the discussion this year was a bit different from all other years because it occurred in the shadow of the critical congressional vote next month on the U.S.-Iranian nuclear deal reached in Vienna in July.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and opposition leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, we were told, “though they made it clear they were not asking anyone to vote a certain way” — absolutely no lobbying here — “laid out their case” about how the deal was an unmitigated disaster. (Several Democrats on the trip, including House Democratic whip Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, in role of scout leader, are as yet uncommitted.)
The tour, as usual, stopped in Ramallah to talk with Palestinian Authority leaders about peace prospects, a two-state solution and so on. (There are now about 400,000 settlers on the West Bank.) The Iran nuclear deal did not come up.
The briefings by Ambassador Dan Shapiro were also “incredibly similar” to prior years, we were told, although there was discussion this time about the nukes deal and how the civil war in Syria was affecting the situation in the Middle East.
Given the ever-present possibility of brawls breaking out, Republicans and Democrats usually travel on these trips separately. But this time the groups, which also included some spouses, overlapped for a day and journeyed together by bus to the Gaza border and then to dinner at the embassy.
Everyone got along pretty well, we hear. Of course, they’re still a bit new to town.