Foreign Policy Blogs

American Politicians Undress to Impress in Israel


This week, the big story regarding Republican lawmakers and their inappropriate outfits in Israel has centered around a group of approximately thirty members of a GOP House delegation, their staff and their families drinking and taking a swim in the Sea of Galilee. The incident took place almost exactly a year ago, but has just came to light. Assuming that all of the staffers and family members were 18 years of age at the time, it sounds as if no laws were broken. Of course, if it hardly the face that a diplomatic delegation wants to be showing the region or the world. Unfortunately, one member of the House chose to push things a tad farther and immersed himself fully unclad into the water on which Jesus is said to have walked. Eric Cantor, the senior most member on the delegation did not partake in the festivities, but upon hearing about them was very upset. It has been reported that he “rebuked” the delegation stating that “they were distracting from the mission of the trip.”

Apparently the FBI opened an investigation into the matter, but has since closed the case.

But there’s another story coming out of Israel this week regarding a member of the GOP and his questionable choice of wardrobe in the Holy Land. NY State Senator David Storobin was in Israel and paid a visit to the Syrian border. While there, he stood on top of a tank, donned a full IDF uniform, put a gun in his hand and smiled for the cameras. He was accompanied, in full military garb, by his Chief of Staff. His office then wrote a press release and made the picture public.

In the press release, he stated that “Israel shares a border and a region with multiple dangerous countries” and “Thank G-d for the brave men and women in the Israeli armed services that stare down this danger to protect Israel every day.” He even offered to send a high-res image of the photo to anyone who was interested.

The picture created some controversy and Storobin’s office responded thusly:

As Israelis know all too well, the Syrian border is a hostile area. Visitors there are required to don a uniform and carry a gun. Even members of the Knesset do so. There are snipers on the other side. If they see an unarmed person not in uniform, they may assume it’s a leader of some kind, and that person could be a target. [Emphasis added.]

There are many problems with this response and I will address them below individually. First of all, it is simply false. I have been to this area several times, and I have never been asked to put on an IDF uniform. I know many others who have been to this area, the same goes for them. Many American politicians – both Democrat and Republican – have been to this area, and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have ever donned an IDF uniform. If they have, they have not released pictures of themselves to the public doing so. And not only is it not “required” to don a uniform and carry a gun, it is hard to imagine that it is not against IDF regulations for a soldier to allow a civilian to handle their gun, much less put on their uniform.

Storobin claimed it was required. He could have stated that this was for camouflaging purposes. If there are snipers on the border looking to shoot anyone in their sites, putting on a camouflaged uniform may aid with protection. Of course, these snipers do not exist; there have been no cases of snipers attacks coming from this region, at least not in recent times. But at least it would have been a somewhat plausible argument. It would not have explained why he was carrying a gun. (Is Storobin a trained sniper himself? Is Israel really just handing out guns to anyone on the border and telling them that if shots are fired, aim and shoot?)

If it was a dangerous area, why was Storobin standing on top of a tank? He was not there to patrol or secure the area. He was there, at best, to witness the situation. If the Israelis were so concerned about his safety that they “required” him to wear a uniform and carry a gun, would they not have thought to limit his exposure by putting him inside the tank, instead of on top of it?

All of these issues raise many questions about the true nature of this photo op. But really, it is the last sentence of the short statement that caused me pause. Storobin argues that there are Syrian snipers just over the border and that “if they see an unarmed person not in uniform, they may assume it’s a leader of some kind, and that person could be a target.” Let’s be clear, this “war zone” in which he was standing is a tourist destination. Birthright Israel take their participants on Jeep trips in the same area. American politicians regularly visit the location. It has even been reported that Israelis are taking family vacations – with their kids – to this area to listen for, and to try to get a glimpse of, the fighting happening across the border.

Yet Storobin says that not wearing a uniform makes one a target. It is this sentiment that I feel warrants some measure of reflection.

Last month, Mitt Romney made big waves when he went to Israel and said that the reason that Israel as a nation has been so successful, in comparison to its neighbors, had to do with its culture.

The statements by Romney and Storobin are very different and should not be lumped together. But they do seem to offer some context into a very particular world view, one where Arabs (Palestinians for Romney and Syrians for Storobin) are inferior (Romney) and perhaps even monsters (Storobin).

In any war zone, soldiers will die. In any war zone, civilians will die. Even children. The U.S. is guilty of it. Israel is guilty of it. Every nation with an army is guilty of it. It is a very unfortunate part of war. But we have to assume that these are oversights at best and horrific mistakes at worst. What Storobin is saying however is that Syrians would ignore soldiers, fully armed, riding around on tanks and then shoot a civilian if accorded the opportunity.

It is a dark take on the “enemy” if there ever was one.

Follow me on twitter @jlemonsk



Josh Klemons
Josh Klemons

Josh Klemons has an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in the Middle East from American University. He has lived, worked and studied in Israel and done extensive traveling throughout the region. He once played music with Hadag Nachash.

He now works as a digital storyteller/strategist with brands on finding, honing and telling their stories online. Follow him on twitter @jlemonsk and check him out at

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