Massachusetts lawmakers will continue to get the chance to float in the Dead Sea, attend special ethnic food tastings, view Jesus’s birth site and generally get whisked around Israel — all expenses paid.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston says it is not backing down from providing free Israel junkets to legislators while at the same time lobbying them on Beacon Hill on issues ranging from state social service funding and transgender rights to Israel’s interests.
It points to the State Ethics Commission’s rejection this month of a complaint from Massachusetts Peace Action alleging that the state senators and state representatives who accept the $4,000 trips are violating state conflict of interest laws. The group is critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
“JCRC is comfortable with the fact that our practices are in compliance with the laws of the Commonwealth,” said Jeff Landis, the group’s spokesman. The Council runs a legislative trip once a year.
The issue flared up late last year when state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg led a group of nine of his colleagues to Israel on truip arranged by JCRC. Just weeks earlier, the Senate, at JCRC’s urging, unanimously passed a resolution putting the legislative body on record opposing the divestment campaign against Israel that Massachusetts Peace Action and other groups are pushing.
The Ethics Commission, without investigating the facts, accepted the senators’ disclosures statements that the trip met the requirements for being a “legitimate public purpose.”
Meanwhile, JCRC is also taking part in the ongoing debate on Beacon Hill over legislation that would require the state to divest its pension fund from companies that boycott Israel.