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Vargas aides feted by Israel, Vargas defends ally

General Atomics drones sent to Japan, maybe for last time

Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan.
Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan.

Juan vs. Rashida

Kyle Bligen, a staffer for South Bay Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas, took off September 3 on a free eight-day junket to Israel, thanks to the American Israel Education Foundation, according to a September 23 disclosure filing with the Clerk of the House. The group is a non-profit affiliate of pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The travel expenses for the trip were $6019, lodging cost was $2322, and meals ran $1223, with “other expenses” reported as $3375, per the document.

Juan Vargas: sends staff on junkets to Jerusalem.

“My boss serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” the aide wrote. “In my position as Legislative Assistant, I advise him on matters pertinent to national security, international economics, and foreign policy. Israel is a trusted trade and defense partner to the United States. This experience will provide a hands-on understanding of the domestic factors that influence Israel’s economic and defense ties with the United States.” In Jerusalem, Bligen was put up at the Mamilla Hotel, at a nightly cost of $412. “A favorite of visiting diplomats and tastemakers, the Mamilla Hotel sits just beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate,” says the website Hotels Above Par. “Opened in 2009, it’s a member of the Set Collection, whose chic sister properties include Hotel Lutetia in Paris, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, and Hotel Café Royal in London, among others.”

A similarly gratis trip provided by the American Israel Education Foundation to James Diossa, the Democratic nominee in November’s race for state treasurer of Rhode Island and widely traveled ex-mayor of Central Falls, has drawn scrutiny by election foes, along with that state’s Common Cause chief John Marion. “Quite a few” of Diossa’s trips “are from entities and governments that appear to be in the business of currying favor with public officials,” Marion told the Boston Globe in an October 21 dispatch. “Some examples Marion pointed to include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the consulate general of Mexico in Boston, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s version of a diplomatic outpost.”

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Another Vargas staffer, chief of staff Larry Cohen, ventured to Israel on a tour paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation from June 25 to July 3. Cohen’s transportation expenses were $7113, along with lodging costs of  $2171, meal expenditures of $1198, along with “Total Other Expenses” of $4569. “The trip is in Israel to educate participants about the U.S.-Israel relationship,” according to Cohen’s July 17 disclosure report of the free travel. 

In Jerusalem, Cohen was put up at the Inbal Hotel, per the filing. “This consistently award-winning 5-star hotel has added two floors and 51 new suites and rooms for a total of 331,” says a May review by the website Israel21c.org. “There’s a new fitness and spa complex with swimming pool and a new kosher chef restaurant.

Rashida Tlaib: not pro-Israel, just pro-gressive.

The hotel’s existing rooms also were renovated.”

In September, Vargas attacked fellow House Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan after she was quoted telling a pro-Palestinian gathering that “among progressives, it has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.”

Responded Vargas in a September 21 tweet: “It’s not progressive to advocate for the end of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. It’s not progressive to oppose the life-saving Iron Dome. Supporting the only democratic state in the Middle East IS progressive.”

War and a La Jolla drone

Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan, raising the profile of U.S. surveillance efforts amidst growing military tensions with China and North Korea.

“Kanoya Mayor Shigeru Nakanishi signed off on the drone deployment in July, citing its importance to national defense, despite residents’ concerns about potential accidents or crimes involving U.S. personnel,” according to an October 24 report by the Stars and Stripes news service. “The Reaper is primarily a surveillance aircraft but can carry an inventory of weapons, including Hellfire missiles and Paveway laser-guided bombs, according to the Air Force. The Reapers at Kanoya will be configured for surveillance ‘and can’t be equipped with weapons,’ according to a document from Japan’s Ministry of Defense posted on the Kanoya city website.”

According to an October 25 account by the Air Force Times, the drone’s new assignment in Asia may represent the beginning of the end for the MQ-9 line. “The service hopes to shrink its Reaper fleet from 351 to 276 aircraft by the end of fiscal 2023 and stop production altogether. It fears the aircraft could become easy targets for Chinese air defenses in a potential war and wants to funnel that money toward higher-priority acquisition programs.”

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan.
Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan.

Juan vs. Rashida

Kyle Bligen, a staffer for South Bay Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas, took off September 3 on a free eight-day junket to Israel, thanks to the American Israel Education Foundation, according to a September 23 disclosure filing with the Clerk of the House. The group is a non-profit affiliate of pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The travel expenses for the trip were $6019, lodging cost was $2322, and meals ran $1223, with “other expenses” reported as $3375, per the document.

Juan Vargas: sends staff on junkets to Jerusalem.

“My boss serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” the aide wrote. “In my position as Legislative Assistant, I advise him on matters pertinent to national security, international economics, and foreign policy. Israel is a trusted trade and defense partner to the United States. This experience will provide a hands-on understanding of the domestic factors that influence Israel’s economic and defense ties with the United States.” In Jerusalem, Bligen was put up at the Mamilla Hotel, at a nightly cost of $412. “A favorite of visiting diplomats and tastemakers, the Mamilla Hotel sits just beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem near the Jaffa Gate,” says the website Hotels Above Par. “Opened in 2009, it’s a member of the Set Collection, whose chic sister properties include Hotel Lutetia in Paris, the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, and Hotel Café Royal in London, among others.”

A similarly gratis trip provided by the American Israel Education Foundation to James Diossa, the Democratic nominee in November’s race for state treasurer of Rhode Island and widely traveled ex-mayor of Central Falls, has drawn scrutiny by election foes, along with that state’s Common Cause chief John Marion. “Quite a few” of Diossa’s trips “are from entities and governments that appear to be in the business of currying favor with public officials,” Marion told the Boston Globe in an October 21 dispatch. “Some examples Marion pointed to include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the consulate general of Mexico in Boston, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan’s version of a diplomatic outpost.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Another Vargas staffer, chief of staff Larry Cohen, ventured to Israel on a tour paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation from June 25 to July 3. Cohen’s transportation expenses were $7113, along with lodging costs of  $2171, meal expenditures of $1198, along with “Total Other Expenses” of $4569. “The trip is in Israel to educate participants about the U.S.-Israel relationship,” according to Cohen’s July 17 disclosure report of the free travel. 

In Jerusalem, Cohen was put up at the Inbal Hotel, per the filing. “This consistently award-winning 5-star hotel has added two floors and 51 new suites and rooms for a total of 331,” says a May review by the website Israel21c.org. “There’s a new fitness and spa complex with swimming pool and a new kosher chef restaurant.

Rashida Tlaib: not pro-Israel, just pro-gressive.

The hotel’s existing rooms also were renovated.”

In September, Vargas attacked fellow House Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan after she was quoted telling a pro-Palestinian gathering that “among progressives, it has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.”

Responded Vargas in a September 21 tweet: “It’s not progressive to advocate for the end of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. It’s not progressive to oppose the life-saving Iron Dome. Supporting the only democratic state in the Middle East IS progressive.”

War and a La Jolla drone

Eight MQ-9 Reaper drones, made by La Jolla-based General Atomics, along with a 150-person Air Force support crew, are being deployed in southern Japan, raising the profile of U.S. surveillance efforts amidst growing military tensions with China and North Korea.

“Kanoya Mayor Shigeru Nakanishi signed off on the drone deployment in July, citing its importance to national defense, despite residents’ concerns about potential accidents or crimes involving U.S. personnel,” according to an October 24 report by the Stars and Stripes news service. “The Reaper is primarily a surveillance aircraft but can carry an inventory of weapons, including Hellfire missiles and Paveway laser-guided bombs, according to the Air Force. The Reapers at Kanoya will be configured for surveillance ‘and can’t be equipped with weapons,’ according to a document from Japan’s Ministry of Defense posted on the Kanoya city website.”

According to an October 25 account by the Air Force Times, the drone’s new assignment in Asia may represent the beginning of the end for the MQ-9 line. “The service hopes to shrink its Reaper fleet from 351 to 276 aircraft by the end of fiscal 2023 and stop production altogether. It fears the aircraft could become easy targets for Chinese air defenses in a potential war and wants to funnel that money toward higher-priority acquisition programs.”

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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Comments
1

Hey Juan Vargas, How can you call Israel a democracy when millions under their jurisdiction are unallowed to vote or travel freely? You are an AIPAC tool. Did your staffer get out of his 5 star hotel to go see how the Palestinians live?

Nov. 4, 2022

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