Yoho traveling to Israel with other new lawmakers

Published: Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho will travel to Israel during this month's congressional recess along with other freshman lawmakers.

Citing security concerns and directives from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office, Kat Cammack, Yoho's chief of staff, declined to comment on why the Gainesville Republican was traveling to Israel, where he would be traveling while there and whom he may meet with.

But Cammack did say the trip is privately funded; it's sponsored by the American Israel Political Action Committee, or AIPAC, the powerful lobby in Washington that promotes Israel's interests in Congress.

Yoho is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Cammack referred additional questions to Cantor's office as well as AIPAC, but said Yoho would be willing to discuss the visit when he returns.

David Kreizelman, a spokesman for AIPAC, said in an email that these "educational seminars" are offered in non-election years to provide freshman lawmakers an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and critical issues facing American policymakers in the Middle East.

While any legislator with the desire to participate can do so, the "vast majority" of participants are freshmen, he said.

Kreizelman added that the agenda for the trip covers prospects for peace in the Middle East and regional strategic threats.

While in Israel, Yoho and others will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, military officials, academics, journalists and "everyday citizens." They will also visit "historic and strategic sites."

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Tuesday that three Floridians were among a Democratic delegation numbering more than 30 that was headed to Israel this week.

That trip was funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, an organization closely tied to AIPAC, the newspaper reported.

The Times identified Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach as one of the Democratic lawmakers going to Israel. Frankel is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In a press release, Frankel said the Democrats would "focus on strengthening the strategic U.S.-Israel relationship."

She and other lawmakers plan to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The group would also tour the Gaza border, Golan Heights and Israel's northern border with Lebanon as well as an Iron Dome battery, part of Israel's anti-missile defense system.

One thing Yoho has in common with his overseas-bound Democratic colleagues is support for tougher sanctions against Iran. Yoho, Frankel and Democratic Reps. Patrick Murphy and Joe Garica — both of South Florida and who were identified by the Times as traveling with Frankel — all co-sponsored and supported the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act.

The measure, which passed the House last week by a 400-20 margin, accuses Iranian leaders of "gross violations" of human rights against their own people and argues that Iran could be a "direct nuclear threat" to the U.S. and its allies if it acquired nuclear weapons.

The bill, which is now being considered by the Senate, expands existing economic sanctions on Tehran and seeks to impose new ones for alleged human rights abuses.

The measure, among other steps, would compel countries that do business with Iran to cut the amount of oil they purchase from the country by up to 1 million barrels a day and penalize other countries for economic exchanges with Iran.

The bill was one of AIPAC's top priorities.

When it passed on July 31, the group issued a statement saying: "The House today sent a strong message to the Iranian regime — America will not reduce pressure on the Islamic Republic until it changes course on its nuclear program.

"Now that the House has taken forceful action, AIPAC urges the Senate to move quickly on its own version of sanctions legislation. The window is rapidly closing to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability."

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