Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is ultimately not participating in a controversial party trip he helped organize to Israel, a senior member of the delegation confirmed to Haaretz on Thursday.
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Priebus was supposed to have come to Israel to head the 60-member RNC delegation, whose trips have received funding from the American Family Association, a conservative Christian organization described as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Dennis Prager, a conservative Jewish radio talk show host who described his role in the delegation as “lecturer in residence” said that Priebus had notified the members that he would not be able to join them because he had to attend a funeral back in the United States. The group arrived in Israel on Sunday for the all-expense-paid nine-day trip, and Priebus was scheduled to join them a few days later.
“I don’t believe he lied in that he had a funeral,” said Prager, “but I don’t know if he would have come if it weren’t for the funeral.” Asked if the RNC chairman had begged off because of the controversy sparked by media reports about the trip, Prager said: “From my perspective, I think it would have been a wrong decision if that were the reason. I don’t think it would have been wise, I don’t think he’s unwise, and I think he understands it just invites more attempts to demonize the Republican Party, which is exactly what I think is involved here. I think it would be very foolish to give in to this demonization. Does he think otherwise? How can I know?”
Earlier this week, the AFA distanced itself from its former spokesman who had made statements described by critics as anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist. The spokesman, Bryan Fischer, had said, among other remarks, that America is a Christian nation in which Jews and Muslims are not entitled to constitutional protection for their religious expression.
Prager said he completely supported the decision to cut ties with Fischer. “The second I heard what he said, I said that if he really said those thing they’re repugnant,” he said. “Everybody here thinks they’re repugnant. Frankly, I can’t believe that a human being in the 21st century would say such things. It’s mind-blowing.”
The Jewish talk show host said he had never heard of Fischer before, nor had he had any dealings with any other representatives of the AFA. “This is all brand new news to me,” he said.
The person responsible for raising money for the RNC trip was David Lane, the director of the American Renewal Project, an endeavor housed in and financed by the AFA. Lane is a longtime evangelical Christian political operative.
According to Susan Prager, the wife of Dennis Prager who joined the delegation as well, the financing for the trip came from private donors and not directly from the AFA. She said the money funneled through the AFA because the organization has 501C status, and it can therefore be written off for tax purposes.
The group has spent most of its time in Israel touring the Galilee, Golan Heights and Jerusalem. Prager, who has not been with the group every day, said that to the best of his knowledge, its members had not traveled to the West Bank.