A supposed congressional fact-finding trip to Israel last summer included a late-evening nude swim in the Sea of Galilee by a Kansas congressman, Republican Kevin Yoder. That incident, which came to light this week, raises issues of taste and propriety, but also more-serious questions about lawmakers' travel.
One is the proper use of a lawmaker's time. No one can argue against members of Congress traveling overseas to inform themselves on key topics. Israel is certainly one of these, although the trip would have made more sense if it had included visits to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
This trip and another like it involved about 80 representatives and included briefings by Israeli officials. But the visits also featured what were essentially tourist visits to Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and the Sea of Galilee.
Congressional recesses, such as the one during which the Israel junket occurred, are an opportunity to speak with constituents at home. When lawmakers aren't in Washington tending to the people's business, they should be making good use of their time back in their districts.
The most disconcerting issue raised by the trips to Israel and similar visits to Turkey, which last year involved 178 representatives and aides, is who pays for them. The Israel visit was funded by an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies Congress heavily on Israel's behalf.
It is hard to imagine that anyone can accept hospitality of this sort without incurring some obligation. Official trips, paid for with congressional funds, can make sense. Questionable recess junkets financed by special interests may be legal, but raise other serious issues.