There’s so little transparency about the reality of Zionist lobby sponsored trips to Israel that any sunlight is appreciated (here’s a start). This is an issue I’ve been investigating for years, including in my first book, My Israel Question (soon to be released in an updated edition in Arabic and Indonesian).
A late night in Israel that had members of Congress diving into the Sea of Galilee — one naked, others partially clothed — began with confusion about who would cover the bar tab for House Republicans, spouses and aides.
And it ended back in the United States, where the FBI questioned staff on the trip about the dinner, exactly who jumped into the water and whether anything inappropriate had happened as Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) removed his clothes, according to sources with direct knowledge of agents’ line of questioning.
The trip has gotten national attention since a POLITICO story unveiled the FBI’s involvement, Yoder’s nudity and Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) rebuke of lawmakers who had lost “focus” of the trip.
But more details are emerging from sources close to the events, painting a fuller picture of the American Israel Education Foundation’s trip that ended up become an embarrassing incident for House Republicans and the party’s leadership. AIEF is the nonprofit arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, long considered one of the most powerful advocacy groups in Washington. AIEF has sponsored hundreds of trips to Israel for lawmakers, aides and journalists since 2000, spending more than $7 millions on those trips, public records show.
The night — Aug. 18, 2011 — was the group’s first free evening the whole trip. Previous evenings included dinners with policy experts, Israeli politicians and the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Accompanying the GOP group for part of the trip was Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who has donated nearly $100 million to Republican candidates this election cycle. Adelson took them to Yad V’Shem, a famed Israeli Holocaust museum, for which he is a major donor, sources said. Adelson did not travel with the group to Galilee, participants said. An Adelson-affiliated charity donated $1.2 million to AIEF in 2006, but he is not currently a donor to the group, sources said.
The stop in Tiberias, an ancient city on the Sea of Galilee, was a time for the 40-plus GOP lawmakers and staff to relax and blow off steam. A festive dinner at Decks, a waterside eatery, began around 9 p.m., sources on the trip said. After a few hours, dinner was over, and the Republicans repaired to the bar.
After several hours of drinking, Rob Bassin, AIPAC’s national political director, paid the tab for the entire evening, which included several hundred dollars for drinks, in addition to the earlier meal. The GOP group racked up a tab of $340 to $500 on booze, ranging from vodka to wine, sources familiar with the trip said.
Steve Stombres, Cantor’s chief of staff, objected, concerned about ethics rules that prohibited the organization from paying for anything more than dinner. Stombres’s concern was so sharp that he spent the next few days collecting money from lawmakers to pay back AIEF.
Neither Bassin nor Stombres would comment for the record.
House ethics rules allow “reasonable expenses” for food and lodging but do not cover “entertainment or recreational activities,” such as late-night drinks.