Local pols travel to Holy Land

Butte County state representatives have just returned from a weeklong visit to Israel paid for by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Assemblymen Rick Keene, R-Chico, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Redding, joined Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, for the trip that included four other state representatives.

Keene said the adventure was a “cultural exchange trip” and was about 80 percent business and 20 percent entertainment.

“We had meetings three or four times a day,” said Keene, who was invited along by Sen. Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, the trip’s organizer.

The Jewish Federation paid $3,000 for the travel and lodging costs for each legislator.

Keene defended the way the trip was funded, noting the foundation has little if any business with state government.

“They don’t lobby in California,” he said. “They have nothing before the Legislature. Their purpose was to give us their perspective of the world.”

He said if an Arab-American group offered the same thing, he’d go along.

However, the state’s political watchdog groups question such relationships.

“Politicians get weak around special interests, especially when they’re giving them the time of their life,” Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights in Santa Monica, told the Los Angeles Daily News.

Keene, who spoke to the News & Review while on a family vacation in San Diego, said he was still recovering physically from the trip half-way around the world. Israel, he said, is roughly the size of his Assembly district but has a population of 10 million, one-third of whom are non-Jewish. The immigration problems, he said, are not unlike those of this state.

“It’s a struggle over the land, and you figure how far back do you go and who claims what?”

He was able to visit the West Bank, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and cruise across the Sea of Galilee, which he said is about twice the size of Lake Almanor.

The weather, he said, was much like Southern California’s, and the food was very Mediterranean, with a lot of fish and pasta. At one point, he said, Aanestad told him he’d had it with the local fare and suggested they go to McDonald’s for a hamburger.

“It was huge,” Keene said of the burger. “It was like the size of a salad plate.”

Keene said he really hadn’t had a chance to reflect on the trip, noting it took 26 hours just to travel home.

“For me it was educational, but was a lot more grueling than fun.”