Mass. Senate president, colleagues to go to Israel
Goodbye, Beacon Hill. Hello, Jerusalem.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and about 10 of his Senate colleagues plan to travel to Israel in early December for what’s being billed as an economic development, cultural engagement, and government-to-government mission aimed at strengthening ties and forging relationships.
The more than weeklong journey — which could include one-quarter of the 40-seat body — is poised to take the legislators from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Haifa to areas under Palestinian Authority control, such as Bethlehem.
News of the legislators’ journey came as Governor Charlie Baker this week raised the prospect of his own trip to Israel.
The country does not rank as one of the state’s top trading partners. By dollar value in 2014, Massachusetts exported more goods to 26 other countries than to Israel and imported more goods from 17 countries than from Israel, according to data the state’s economic development office provided to the Globe.
But Rosenberg, who said the trip is being paid for by private funds and without taxpayer dollars, emphasized that there is a huge amount of economic interaction between Massachusetts and Israel and underscored the importance of “citizen diplomacy.”
“We have a lot of companies here that have outposts in Israel and vice-versa, particularly around technology,” the Senate’s first Jewish leader said in a State House interview Wednesday. “There’s lots of businesses and lots of jobs and lots of economic activity — less so on the trade side.”
The trip is being organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, a network of 42 Jewish organizations.
Jeremy Burton, executive director of the group, said the point of the trip is “for Massachusetts leaders to deepen their understanding of Israel’s politics and culture and to examine the business and economic ties that bring Israel and Massachusetts together.”
The group has organized many such trips for legislators over the years.
Israel is a top foreign destination for both state and federal lawmakers that usually carries little political risk. A Gallup poll early this year found 70 percent of American adults view Israel favorably, and 62 percent said they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the conflict in the Middle East.
Burton said that the December visit is being paid with a grant from the nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and that lawmakers would pay a “very nominal registration fee” for the trip.
Rosenberg, who said the trip will be his third to Israel, indicated his portion of the cost would come from his campaign account.
Jason Tait, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said that using campaign funds for travel is permitted if it “enhances the political future of the candidate and is not primarily personal” in nature.
Burton said the trip is set to include a mix of visits to businesses; meetings with government officials such as members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament; lectures with academics; and travel to key sites.
Baker, a Republican, has also floated the idea of a gubernatorial trip to Israel.
“I haven’t really put much thought into overseas activities,” Baker said Monday, according to the State House News Service. “The only thing I’ve talked at all about is at some point taking a trip to Israel, primarily because of the unbelievable amount tech transfer that’s going on between that country and Massachusetts in particular.”
It’s unclear if or when Baker, who took office in January, might take flight to Tel Aviv. He attended a conference of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers in Canada over the summer and has made trips to Washington, D.C., but has mostly stayed in Massachusetts.
Yehuda Yaakov, consul general of Israel to New England, told the Globe that since Baker was elected, “his side has indicated that he will be going to Israel sooner rather than later, and we’re hopeful that that’s going to happen.”
Economic development trips have faced backlash, framed as being junkets that deliver few direct results for Massachusetts.
Deval Patrick took 10 missions spanning 15 countries during his time as governor, spurring criticism that he was neglecting his duties back home with little impact abroad. Patrick defended the missions as key for economic development.