GOPers launch lawmakers’ Israel missions

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Twenty-five Republican and 31 Democratic members of the U.S. Congress are traveling to Israel during their August recess.

The GOP mission, which began Monday, is being led by House of Representatives Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Jewish Republican in the Congress. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will lead the Democratic trip, which begins Saturday.

The American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is financing both missions.

The GOP lawmakers met Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and participants on both trips are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, along with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

In an Op-Ed in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Cantor wrote Monday that both trips would send a "crucial message to the Israeli people: Congress’ commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship remains steadfast," and that differences over a settlement freeze shouldn’t obscure the "big picture" — the threat from Iran.

"This trip is an excellent opportunity to study American interests in the Middle East and gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved," said Hoyer in a statement.

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