Maryland bans Israel junkets

Ban on Political Junkets to Israel Deals Blow to Lobbying Efforts - Forward.com:

Washington - In a challenge to one of the most powerful lobbying tactics used by the Jewish community, a county in Maryland decided last week that local legislators could no longer go on sponsored trips to Israel.

Montgomery County’s ethics commission decided last month that council members are prohibited from traveling at the expense of the local Jewish community, even when funding is indirectly provided by a private foundation. A trip planned months in advance was subsequently canceled.

“We were stunned by the commission’s decision,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, which organized the trip.

In an e-mail to a Montgomery County legislator, the ethics commission wrote that “the routing of monies through a lobbyist organization to provide travel services makes the gift unacceptable.”

The decision has such weight because sponsored trips to Israel are widely used by Jewish groups both nationally and locally to build support for Israel among non-Jewish leaders and to cultivate one-to-one relationships between American and Israeli leaders. On a national level, the trips have recently come under scrutiny amid the scandals surrounding Washington lobbyists and their relationships with lawmakers. The Montgomery County decision now brings the dilemma to the local level, as communities face the need to adjust to the changing winds in Washington and growing concerns about the power of lobbyists.
Someone needs to campaign to make the ban nationwide.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.