maryland county bans political junkets to israel

maryland county bans political junkets to israelfrom jewish daily forward: 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 attention given to lobbying trips to Israel has caused a number of organizations to make a formal separation between their lobbying arm and the branch in charge of sponsoring travel to Israel. Groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have founded subsidiary organizations that deal with taking lawmakers, officials and journalists to Israel. As accompanists for trips to Israel, other organizations now have dedicated staffers who are not registered lobbyists.