HELENA – U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, who’s been conducting a “Montana jobs tour” during Congress’ August break, is taking his tour on a different route this week – to Israel.
Daines, Montana’s freshman Republican congressman, left Sunday for a week in Israel, as part of a trip with 25 other members of Congress, sponsored by a charity tied to one of the nation’s most prominent pro-Israel lobby groups.
Daines said the group will be meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and learning more about U.S.-Israeli relations and Mideast peace talks.
He also said in a statement Monday that he’ll be discussing “the important role that Montana companies play in American-Israeli economic relations.”
Daines mentioned that Sonju Industrial Inc. of Kalispell has joined Raytheon to work on a missile-defense system for Israel.
When asked what other Montana companies did business with Israel, Daines’ office said the U.S. trade representative listed $1.5 million in Montana exports to Israel in 2012. That’s a tiny fraction of the $2.5 billion in international exports from Montana last year.
The trip is being financed by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a charity affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the primary pro-Israel lobby in the country.
AIPAC had a $68 million budget for the fiscal year ending last September.
The website for the American Israel Education Foundation (AEIF) says it funds educational seminars to Israel “for members of Congress and other political influential.”
The trips “help educate political leaders and influential about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through first-hand experiences in Israel, briefings by experts on Middle East affairs and meetings with Israeli political elite,” the website said.
Daines was invited by AEIF to come on the trip, said his spokeswoman, Alee Lockman. He’ll return home Sunday.
Daines won election as Montana’s only congressman last year, defeating Democrat Kim Gillan 53 percent to 43 percent to win an open seat.
Some Republicans are pushing Daines to run next year for Montana’s open U.S. Senate seat, which is being vacated by Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who is retiring after six terms. Daines has said he’s considering the race, but hasn’t decided.
Daines, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, also said Monday that U.S. national security interests are “directly tied with Israel’s.”
“It is critical that I work to maintain relationships abroad that will in turn keep Americans safe here at home,” he said.
But Daines also stressed the economic ties between Montana and Israel, saying he wants to ensure Montana and Israel maintain “positive economic partnerships for years to come.”
Lockman said while Daines visits Israel, he’s looking to see where “additional opportunities” might exist to sell Montana goods and products.
Before leaving for Israel, Daines made stops last week in eastern Montana, Bozeman and Butte on his jobs tour, talking with business people, educators and government officials.