Republicans' bare cheek on Israel trip


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The Independent Online

Nobody needs to be reminded that the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land has special significance to Christians as the place where Jesus walked on water. Now, however, a new historic marker may need to be erected on its shores: "Here in 2011 swam a gaggle of inebriated US Republican Congressmen, one in the buff."

Only now being publicly written into the scriptures of the American conservative right, the incident was serious enough to warrant a probe by the FBI. Investigators were on the trail in particular of Kevin Yoder, a member of the Tea Party freshman class of 2010, whose dip into the waters was of the skinny variety.

Breaking the news of the FBI investigation, which has since been dropped without any charges being pursued, reported that 20 members of a distinguished delegation visiting Israel a year ago this week partook in the ill-advised paddle after being dined (and clearly wined) at a waterside restaurant in the town of Tiberias. They included several Congressmen, a few wives and also a handful of senior aides from the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

The vivid canvas now being painted by the media – participants seemingly waded in either fully clothed or in a state of semi-undress while Mr Yoder, from Kansas, decided to don his birthday suit – is an embarrassment for the Republican Party and particularly its right flank, not normally known for restraint in dispensing opprobrium for non-conventional social behaviour.

It unfurled just as Republicans struggled to distance themselves from Todd Akin, an ultra-conservative Congressman from Missouri now running for the US Senate, who at the weekend defended his position of opposing abortion even in cases of rape, suggesting that women who are violated rarely become pregnant.

Mr Yoder tried to limit the damage with a statement issued to Politico, the effectiveness of which was hard to assess. "A year ago my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee. After dinner I followed some members of Congress in a spontaneous dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit," he said.

The trip, from 13 to 21 August last year, was organised by the American Israel Education Foundation, which has ties to the highly influential pro-Israel Aipac lobbying organisation in Washington. The cost of looking after Mr and Ms Yoder alone has been estimated at over $20,000 (£13,000).