WASHINGTON – Rep. Artur Davis,D-Birmingham,is traveling in Israel this week with 28 other congressional Democrats in an effort to better understand Israel's relationship with the United States and to inspect the military,economic and political situation in Israel.
Davis,whose 2002 primary defeat of 7th District incumbent Earl Hilliard was funded in large part by pro-Israel donors,joined 11 other freshman members of Congress and four other members of the Black Caucus for the trip,led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer,D-Md. The delegation also includes Rep. Bud Cramer,D-Huntsville.
It is the largest congressional delegation to ever visit Israel.
“This trip is a fact-finding mission that will allow me to better understand the history of the Middle East and the pursuit of peace in the region,” Davis said in a statement.
He said he envisions restoring the relationship between African Americans and Jews that emerged during the civil rights movement,and the trip will enhance progress toward that goal.
Corey Ealons,Davis’ press secretary,said his boss did not make the trip to Israel out of an obligation to campaign donors,but rather to glean a greater understanding of Jewish culture and history.
Ealons said if Davis had felt obligated to pro-Israel donors he would have taken a much more aggressive position on the war with Iraq.
“He consistently brought into question whether it was actually necessary to go in,” Ealons said.
He said the strongest supporters of Israel would have unequivocally supported the war with Iraq,indicating that Davis has taken a position independent from pro-Israel interests.
From 2001 to 2002,Davis received $206,595 from pro-Israel individuals and political action committees,according to the Center for Responsive Politics,a non-profit,non-partisan organization that monitors campaign contributions.
The money from pro-Israel donors was almost triple the donations Davis received from the next-highest group,those in the securities and investment business,who gave $84,400.
Shelia Krumholz,research director with the Center for Responsive Politics,said the flood of pro-Israel funding for Davis' campaign resulted from Hilliard's pro-Arab stance.
Davis also received $625,877 of his contributions from out of state,including $280,717 from the New York metropolitan area,while $193,503 came from in state.
Davis raised $1,567,429,but not all of the money can be clearly labeled in-state or out-of-state. Hilliard raised $812,164.
Krumholz said much of the Davis campaign's out-of-state money may have been from pro-Israel groups,but a large part of campaign contributions cannot be clearly labeled along ideological lines.
The out-of-state influx is typical for a campaign that takes on a national issue like U.S.-Israeli and U.S.-Arab relations,Krumholz said.
The Democratic delegation left Saturday for the one-week trip. The visit includes meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,members of the cabinet and the Knesset (Israel's parliament) and possibly Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.
The delegation is also meeting with defense and economic experts,peace process negotiators and leaders from religious and political groups. The members of Congress planned to visit Jewish,Christian and Islamic holy sites,among other stops.
The trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation,a supporting organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,which is a powerful force in Washington.
The trip marks the first visit by Davis to a foreign country as part of a congressional delegation.
Ealons said he did not know of any specific questions Davis wanted answered through the trip,but saw it as a “chance to go and be exposed” to Israel firsthand.
The Democratic trip comes on the heels of a visit by House Majority Leader Tom Delay,R-Texas,who reaffirmed his strong support for Israel during his visit. A delegation of 22 Republican members of Congress is planning a trip in a few weeks,also sponsored by the AIED.
The delegation is touring Israel as fresh tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority arose over the release of more than 300 Palestinian prisoners Wednesday. Palestinians wanted more prisoners released and said that many of those released had served most of their prison terms already.