Amid the battle raging over whether to approve president Barack Obama's nuclear agreement with the government of Iran, a staffer for North County Republican congressman Darrell Issa headed off on a tour of Israel, courtesy of the American Israel Education Foundation.
"I advise congressman Issa in the areas of foreign affairs and trade," wrote Matthew Goulding, an Issa legislative assistant, in his July 20 disclosure statement for the June 27 through July 5 excursion.
"Israel is a very important ally and trading partner from which the U.S. benefits. This trip will help me learn more about our relationship."
The education foundation, an offshoot of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee — AIPAC for short — which styles itself as "America's pro-Israel lobby," came up with a total of $7563 for the junket, a freebie offered frequently to House members and their staffs.
Juan Vargas and Benjamin Netanyahu
Among travelers on a similar eight-day foundation excursion this past February were Michelle Dorothy, chief of staff for La Jolla Democratic congressman Scott Peters, and Timothy Walsh, who heads the office of border Democrat Juan Vargas.
A year ago, Democratic House member Susan Davis and husband Steve, noted for accepting frequent travel freebies, went along for a ten-day Israel trip.
Local officials traveling gratis have included assistant sheriff Patricia Duke.
After touching down at Ben Gurion International Airport, Goulding’s tour headed straight to dinner at Jerusalem's luxury Mamilla Hotel.
"The opening dinner features Matti Freidman, a renowned reporter with a career that has taken him from Lebanon to Morocco, Cairo, Moscow and Washington, D.C., and to conflicts in Israel [and] in the Caucasus," the itinerary says.
"Mr. Friedman is a dynamic and insightful speaker who will provide the group an illuminating synthesis of domestic political trends, current international affairs and the general state of mind of the Israeli citizens."
A regular speaker to the congressional tours, Friedman has been a longtime critic of media coverage of Israel, particularly that by the Associated Press.
In addition to more meals and tours to locales including the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights, the trip featured a lecture entitled "Understanding the Threat' of a Nuclear Iran," by Emily Landau, a senior research associate and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institution for National Security Studies.
According to the itinerary, "One cannot understand Israel's position on Iran’s nuclear development program without understanding the trauma of the Holocaust."
About a week after Goulding returned from his weeklong briefing, his boss the congressman was tearing into former undersecretary of state for political affairs Nick Burns at a July 14 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs called to debate the merits of the Obama nuclear initiative, strenuously opposed by Israel and its backers.
"Ten to 15 years from now, under this agreement, assuming that the sunny side scenario that they simply break out in peace and love for their neighbors and democracy, assuming that happens, we will be safer," said Issa, according to a transcript.
"Assuming it doesn't happen, isn't it true that Iran will be more able to build a nuclear weapon and to wage war if they choose to ten years from now? From where they are today, ten years from now, they'll be able to do that with more money and no sanctions, under the current agreement, isn't that true?"
Replied Burns, "And my answer is, their nuclear program is going to be frozen for ten years."
Said Issa, "And I appreciate your talking points. I know you were brought here with talking points. But I would just like you to answer my question. I'm trying to be very, very proactive and positive here."
Retorted Burns, "And I wasn't brought here with talking points. I came on my own volition."