Rick Perry is talking up his travels to Israel on the stump – a line that’s likely music to the ears of an activist rabbi who made the governor’s last two trips happen.
The rabbi, Irwin Katsof, has spent years recruiting American officials to participate in lavish trips meant to strengthen U.S.-Israel economic and political ties. Perry’s travel was bankrolled by Katsoff’s investment firm, initially called Global Capital Associates, then Doheny Global Group.
In the run-up to a 2007 trip, Katsof’s firm advertised the jaunt as a networking event with world leaders. For $18,500 – airfare not included- participants could accompany Perry and his fellow travelers, former Bush administration cabinet officers John Ashcroft, John Snow and Gale Norton.
Katsof, who also founded a non-profit group called Honest Reporting that monitors the media for alleged anti-Israeli bias, first agreed to speak with POLITICO, but later declined to answer questions and hung up on a reporter when asked whether the trips were intended to curry favor with Perry.
The trips, one in 2007 and one in 2009, reportedly included meetings with Israeli business and political leaders like Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert. Participants took a sunset cruise on the Red Sea and enjoyed a “scotch and cigar bar” where participants would admire “a starry Jerusalem,” according to reports.
Katsof’s companies awarded Perry their “Friend of Zion” and “Defender of Jerusalem” awards during the 2007 and 2009 trips, respectively, in recognition of his efforts to promote the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said the 2007 trip spurred the formation of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce and “served as a catalyst to the governor’s support of Texas’ divestment from companies that do business with Iran, a main opponent of Israeli freedom.”
And she pointed out that “a large delegation” from Texas participated along with Perry (who was joined by his wife Anita Perry, their son, Griffin, and Griffin’s then-fiancé), including chancellors of the University of Texas and Texas Tech University, as well as Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, executives from multi-national energy companies and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
Perry recently cited the 2009 trip in bashing Obama’s foreign policy, saying during a July Aspen Institute forum: “When we were in Israel in ‘09 and we met with President Perez and Bibi and talked to the leaders of Israel, it is clear that this administration’s lack of focus – or lack of commitment to having a clear foreign policy – has put America in jeopardy.”