NEW YORK – Senior aides to leading Members of Congress visited Israel in August, under the auspices of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
The week-long trip was the latest in a series of events sponsored by the ZOA to help educate Members of Congress and their aides about issues such as the shared interests and values of America and Israel; the Palestinian Authoritys continuing terrorist war against Israel; the dangers that a Palestinian Arab state would pose to Israel; and the culture of anti-Jewish hatred and violence in the PAs official media, school textbooks, summer camps, officials speeches, and religious sermons by PA-appointed clergymen.
The visit was led by Jonathan Friedman of the ZOAs Capitol Hill office (who was born in Israel and educated at Hebrew University) and Barak Palatchi, former senior legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY). The participants were top aides to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and U.S. Representatives Phil Crane (R-IL), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Jim Saxton (R-NJ).
The trip began with a dinner hosted by Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who warmly welcomed the delegation. Mayor Olmert strongly praised the ZOAs work on behalf of Israel.
The next day, the delegation met in Jerusalem with Knesset Members Yuri Stern, Eli Cohen, and Benny Elon and received a detailed briefing on the latest developments in the PAs war against Israel.
In the afternoon, the group toured the Gush Etzion area, in the Judea region southeast of Jerusalem, and met with local residents, many of them American citizens. They also met with Gush Etzion Regional Council leader Shaul Goldstein, who described the dangers that residents of front-line communities face from Palestinian Arab terrorists.
Later in the day, they met with Minister of Infrastructure Naomi Blumenthal and learned about the problems Israel faces in areas such as transportation, energy, and water, including the threat to Israels water supply if a Palestinian Arab state is established in Judea-Samaria.
The next morning, the delegation visited the Ir David section of Jerusalems Old City, where they were hosted by David Beeri, a leader of the reclamation efforts at this historic Jewish site. That was followed by an emotional visit to the Old Citys Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, where they learned about the illegal Arab construction activity on the Temple Mount (Judaisms holiest site) which is endangering the stability of the Western Wall.
Later in the day, the Congressional aides traveled north to Haifa, where they met with Knesset Member (and Haifa resident) Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset subcommittee on strategic planning and preparedness, and former professor at Haifa University. He briefed the group on the strategic threat to Israel, including the dangers posed by Egypts massive military buildup and its purchases of missiles from North Korea, Iran, and the United Statesa subject on which he elaborated in a recent article in Commentary.
The delegation also toured the Haifa naval base with Rear Admiral E, who gave a detailed account of the capture of the Karine A, the Ship of Terror that the Palestinian Authority used to try to smuggle in 50 tons of illegal weapons earlier this year. The Congressional staffers were also given a personal tour of the Hanit, the Israeli Navys most advanced missile boat.
The staffers then visited the Golan Heights, including the world-renowned Golan Heights Winery, where they sampled the Golans finest.
The booming sounds of Israeli tank fire exercises could be heard in the background. They inspected the Israeli Armys latest armored vehicles and visited the Mount Bental outpost from which they could see well into neighboring Syria. After dinner at the Israeli Armys division headquarters, the Congressional aides were given a detailed briefing on the threat to Israel posed by Syrias continuing military buildup, as well as Hezbollahs ongoing terrorist attacks against northern Israel.
The group was joined for breakfast the next morning by Tiberias Mayor Benny Kiriati. In the afternoon, they toured the Samarian hills where they learned first-hand about the deep historical and biblical roots of the Jewish peoples connection to Judea and Samaria. Later they met with Ron Nahman, mayor of the front-line city of Ariel, and visited the College of Judea and Samaria, which is situated on a large campus in Ariel.
The Congressional staffers were unanimous in their praise of the ZOA trip. I cannot remember when I learned so much and met so many interesting and thought-provoking people in just one week, one of the participants later remarked.
It is extremely important for Congressional aides to visit Israel and learn, first-hand, about Israels predicament, said trip leader Jonathan Friedman of the ZOA. The more they learn, they more they will appreciate the need for the steps Israel is taking to defend itself.