U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., is in the second week of a privately funded trip to Israel with 17 other Democratic House members.
The trip is being paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that regularly sponsors what it calls education trips to Israel for members of Congress. The group is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israel lobbying group, and hosted 19 Republican House members on a similar trip earlier this month. Hodes spokesman Bergen Kenny said the trip is Hodes' first to Israel and his wife, Peggo, is accompanying him.
She called it "a high-level, diplomatic trip meant to educate and build relationships between Israeli and American officials. As the only democracy in the Middle East, the congressman views Israel as a crucial U.S. ally.
"It's a good chance for these members to see first hand and speak first hand with officials there and learn about Israel's position and the Palestinian position and both of their cultures, and then bring back what they learned to Congress," Kenny said.
While the new Democratic House has imposed its own rules limiting privately funded travel while new ethics legislation awaits President George W. Bush's signature, Kenny said, "This is completely within the bounds of the ethics legislation that passed the House.
Kenny said that previously, "any kind of privately funded travel was allowed and there was next to no oversight. Now, not only is lobbyist-funded travel forbidden, but lobbyists are not allowed to go on the trip or travel with members of congress. As an independent, charitable non-profit, AIEF qualifies and was approved by the House Ethics Committee last week."
Kenny said that during the August recess trip, Hodes and the other congressmen will meet with the current Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, former prime ministers Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu and others.