Israel receives record number of congressional "tourists.
full legislative plate right now, since
aid to Israel appears secure for the
upcoming fiscal year and lawmakers
already passed several resolutions
is been a miserable few years
Israel and calling on the
for the Israeli tourist industry,
to do more to end terror-
but one group is traveling to
Israel in record numbers: mem-
But major pro-Israel groups are
bers of the U.S. Congress.
the recess to lobby on behalf of
By Labor Day, more than 60 mem-
in a foreign aid bill urging
bers of the House and Senate will have
the Bush administration to do more to
traveled to the Jewish state over the
fight Iran's nonconventional weapons
summer, more than 10 percent of the
total, most with mainstream pro-Israel
Pro-Israel lobbyists around the U.S.
groups as guides.
also using the recess to build sup-
The summer travel blitz has includ-
for the Syria Accountability and
ed several high-profile trips, like the
Lebanese Sovereignty Act, which
recent headline-producing visit of
already has the backing of more than
House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-
half of both Houses but faces strong
Texas, who provided a political coun-
opposition from the Bush administra-
terweight to the Bush administration's
push for its Mideast road map — a
In recent weeks, a number of law-
plan that requires concessions from
makers have jumped to the defense of
both Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel amid hints the State Department
But it also included some low-pro-
wants to punish Israel for its contro-
file missions, like this week's bipartisan
versial security fence by reducing the
trip led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
$9 billion in loan guarantees passed
the former presidential candidate. On
earlier this year.
board with the veteran lawmaker are
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,
both House and Senate members,
among others, is working on a con-
including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-
S.C., Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison,
supporting Israel on the
R-Texas, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-
issue. More than 30
Wash., Rep. Harold Ford, D-
House members have
Tenn., and Sen. John Sununu, R-
signed a letter authored
N.H., the only member of the
by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-
Senate with Palestinian ancestry.
N.Y., opposing the use
The delegation is focusing on
of loan guarantees as a
Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruc-
tion, but its itinerary also takes the
But Americans for
official travelers to Israel, where the
Peace Now (APN) is pushing in the
status of U.S. peacemaking will be
opposite direction, urging the adminis-
Tikkun's insistence on international
high on the agenda.
tration to "ensure that settlement-relat-
peacekeepers and on U.S. pressure for
Also in Israel: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.,
ed expenditures, including subsidies
a settlements freeze.
D-Ill., often a critic of Israeli policies.
and costs of the security barrier's route
Jackson is traveling with a Chicago
deviations into the West Bank, are
deducted from loan guarantees made
"It's hard to really understand the
available to Israel in the coming years,
issues confronting Israel unless you
as per the letter and the spirit of the
visit and see first hand," said Howard
Congress scattered to the winds,
Kohr, executive director of the
"The fence is hot, and it's going to
Washington is largely depopulated in
American Israel Public Affairs
a big issue when people visit their
these dog days of August.
Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel
representatives," said a leading pro-
lobby group. "To see how small Israel
Israel lobbyist. "The assumption is the
advantage of the lull in activity here to
is and how packed in she is with her
issue will be very volatile when
Arab neighbors is an eye-opener for
Congress gets back."
many members of Congress."
Pro-Israel lobbyists are also talking .
An AIPAC-affiliated group, the
Palestinian Prime Minister
take up after the extended vacation.
American Israel Education
Abbas' refusal to crack
Pro-Israel activists don't have a very
Foundation, recently sent 29 House
JAMES D. BESSER
Democrats to Israel, mostly freshman
members who were visiting Israel for
the first time, with veteran Rep. Steny
Hoyer, D-Md., serving as den mother.
A group of 18-22 of their GOP col-
leagues are on their way, with Rep.
Eric Cantor, R-Va., the only
Republican Jew in the House, point-
ing out the sights.
Kohr praised the congressional trav-
elers for being "willing to take time
away from their families to travel to
Israel — particularly at a time when
few other people are traveling there."
One Jewish group on the left is less
enthusiastic about the pro-Israel travel
The Tikkun Community, the
activist group built around the maga-
zine by the same name, is targeting the
freshman members of Congress who
visited Israel under the auspices of a
group affiliated with AIPAC.
According to an action alert by the
group, the lawmakers were "indoctri-
nated with the perspective of the
Israeli right-wing." The group is urg-
ing members to visit lawmakers and
"present a different view of the Middle
down on terror groups like Hamas —
and urging lawmakers to consider
revisiting the question of direct aid to
his Palestinian Authority.
The administration is expected to
seek even more than the $200 million
in direct aid that President Bush
authorized earlier this summer; major
pro-Israel groups will urge lawmakers
to demand strict conditions on any
new aid, including language requiring
Abbas to take the kind of anti-terror
action mandated by the road map that
he has so far shunned.
It's not just the explosive Middle East
that's on the summer recess agendas of
Jewish groups. A number of big-ticket
domestic issues will hit Congress after
Labor Day, and lobbying is hot and
heavy from all sides.
As usual, church-state and religious
liberty controversies are front and cen-
ter in the domestic realm.
The House has passed reauthoriza-
tion legislation for the popular Head
Start program that includes controver-
sial provisions repealing prohibitions
against religious employment discrimi-
nation by Head Start groups.
Jewish church-state groups say that
will lead to job discrimination using
government money, a dangerous
precedent; Orthodox groups support
the move, saying it will allow groups
that want to retain their religious char-
acter to participate more equitably in
government funding programs.
Activists representing both positions
are lobbying hard over the summer
break when lawmakers are back home.
A similar ideological division is in play
on the issue of a school voucher plan for
the District of Columbia. Proposals are
pending in both chambers.
Liberal Jewish groups say the pro-
gram would divert millions of dollars
to private and religious schools and
put a big dent in the church-state wall;
Orthodox groups contend voucher
programs will provide genuine "school
choice" for parents and provide com-
petition that will ultimately improve
education for all students.
The D.C. voucher battle is especial-
ly hot because the city's Democratic
mayor, Anthony Williams, reversed his
position and announced support for
vouchers earlier this year.
A number of Jewish groups have
also jumped into the messy battle over
the nomination of Alabama Attorney
General William Pryor to the 11th
Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Critics say Pryor is an extremist on