The American Israel Public Affairs Committee's foundation hosts a biennial trip to Israel for House Democrats and Republicans, and this August recess is no exception.
But this year there are two notable differences. For one, this is the first time in anyone's memory that the Democratic and Republican trips overlapped, if just for a day, as Democrats were preparing to return to the U.S. and Republicans were just arriving. Lawmakers celebrated the occasion on Aug. 10 with a bipartisan tour of the Iron Dome air defense system, and the senior members of each delegation — House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. — released a joint statement:
“Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of our colleagues toured an Iron Dome battery, a key pillar of Israel’s military defenses. During the summer of 2014 as Hamas indiscriminately launched rockets at civilian population centers, the Iron Dome protected innocent lives by intercepting roughly 90 percent of Hamas’s rockets. As we visited the towns of Ashkelon and Sderot near Gaza, we saw firsthand that without the Iron Dome, many more people would have lost their lives. Congress stands united with Israel, not only in support of its Iron Dome defenses, but also in preserving Israel’s security and ensuring the safety of its people. In these dangerous times, Israel can always be certain that the American people are by their side.”"This is the first time that the Democratic and Republican trips to Israel have overlapped," Hoyer's spokeswoman, Katie Grant, told CQ Roll Call, "and the two senior members on the trip thought it important to highlight this joint visit and bipartisan support for Israel.”
The political context surrounding this year's congressional trips to Israel is also significant, as a vote on President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran looms in the very near future.
Welcomed today Democrat members of Congress. Spoke of the unbreakable bond between the US & the State of Israel. pic.twitter.com/sZTVLjGQbZ— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) August 5, 2015
Republicans are by and large united in opposition to the negotiated framework for disarming Iran, citing concerns it would not adequately protect Israel, an ally, let alone the rest of the world.
A senior House GOP aide told CQ Roll Call in an email Wednesday that McCarthy and other Republicans in the delegation met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day to discuss, among other issues, "the growth of Iran's malign influence in the region."
Dozens of House Democrats haven't yet stated positions on the deal, including many — Hoyer among them — who participated in last week's tour through Israel.
But organizers and participants have stressed that outsiders shouldn't read too much into the visit's timing. The American Israel Education Foundation — the philanthropic arm of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee — did not invite members for the express purpose of swaying votes against the Iran nuclear agreement.
"The trip helps inform members of Congress about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences in Israel, briefings by experts on Middle East affairs and meetings with Israeli political leaders," a source with AIPAC insisted.
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