81 House members touring Israel


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A total of 81 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be touring Israel this month.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, is leading a trip of 26 Democrats that landed Monday in Israel.

"I look forward to returning to Israel to continue learning firsthand about the evolving security situation in the Middle East, the deep challenges facing Israel, and the role the United States can play in the region during this time of uncertainty," said Hoyer, who has led multiple such trips in the past.

The delegation will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The trip is paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, the nonprofit educational affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The foundation is similarly funding two separate trips by 55 Republican House members in the subsequent two weeks led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader.

The GOP delegation is reportedly top heavy with freshmen brought to office by the Tea Party sweep in the 2010 election. Pro-Israel groups have stepped up their outreach to such lawmakers, who favor heavy budget cuts, in a bid to maintain across-the-board support for the $3 billion Israel receives in annual defense assistance.

Both groups will meet with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Separately, The Israel Project is bringing to Israel 19 Washington-based ambassadors from an array of small to midsize nations in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Far East. The ambassadors will meet with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as with some of the U.S. Congress members and officials invested in Palestinian economic development.

The Israel Project has launched a campaign against the expected bid for Palestinian statehood recognition at the United Nations next month. The group is emphasizing that economic development serves Palestinian needs better than the U.N. bid.

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