Trips to Israel take politicians beyond hearsay and headlines

It’s one thing to pass judgment on Israel from the comfort of one’s West Coast living room. It’s quite another to see Israel up close and get a firsthand look at the Middle East conflict — and hopefully a better understanding of it.

That sort of perspective is precisely what the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Israel study tours are designed to do. For three decades, the JCRC has taken elected officials and community leaders to Israel, where they meet face to face with senior policymakers and thinkers, both Israeli and Palestinian.

It’s the kind of on-the-ground experience that builds informed opinions and better understanding. And that can only be good for Israel.

In our cover story this week, local and statewide office holders describe their trip experiences. Most admit that before traveling, they knew little about the region beyond screaming headlines.

Most claim that the tours changed them profoundly, both personally and professionally.

JCRC is not the only agency that hosts tours. J Street, AIPAC and other national Jewish organizations spanning the left-to-right spectrum also sponsor fact-finding missions to the region.

Naturally, those who support Israel hope that the visitors come away with a sympathetic view of Israel and its challenges. However, the best of these trips, including the JCRC junket, also include meetings with Arab and Palestinian leaders, and even trips to the West Bank to meet with people there.

This allows for a deeper view of the conflict, and a more mature understanding.

We have already seen results from these trips. In the Bay Area, all attempts to pass BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) resolutions at city councils and college campuses have been defeated. Statewide, California has passed one strong Iran divestment bill, with another not far behind.

And of course, academic and economic ties between California and Israel have grown stronger over the years. That is no accident. It comes about thanks to a smooth interface among business, government and academia.

Show California leaders Israel and they come away sold on the Jewish state.

As the article points out, funding for some of these subsidized trips has for the moment expired with the halting of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. Though JCRC leaders are confident new sources of funding will emerge, it’s not yet a done deal.

We hope and expect that Bay Area Jewish philanthropists will recognize the enormous benefits derived from these trips, and will quickly step up to help fund them.

Our thanks to these organizations for making sure Bay Area leaders see Israel up close and personal.