Hank Johnson took free trip to West Bank before he likened Jewish settlers to 'termites'

Rep. Hank Johnson meets with members of the Atlanta Jewish Committee, including director Dov Wilker, far right.

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Rep. Hank Johnson meets with members of the Atlanta Jewish Committee, including director Dov Wilker, far right.

Two months before U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson found himself in hot water for comparing Jewish settlers in the disputed West Bank to "termites," the Lithonia Democrat and his wife embarked on a six-day trip to the territory funded by a pro-Palestinian group.

MIFTA, an organization that advocates for an independent and democratic Palestinian state, and the nonprofit American Global Institute picked up the more than $13,000 tab for the five-term congressman and his wife, DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, to travel to Ramallah and Jerusalem in late May along with a handful of other House Democrats.

As we wrote in this morning's paper, the trip was allowed under House rules. It was billed as an opportunity to meet with "Palestinian officials and business and community leaders to learn more about the regional economy, politics and culture."

But the timing is tough for Johnson, who recently embarked on a listening tour with leaders of the Atlanta Jewish community in a bid to build trust with a key constituency that helped get him elected in his DeKalb-centered district.

“Because the congressman has a broad range of policy ideas and proposals that he has crafted into legislation and introduced, he believes travel and the exchange of ideas are an important part of the job,” a spokesman said more generally about Johnson's traveling.

Johnson isn't the only Georgia congressman to travel to the West Bank over the last two years.

Three Republicans -- U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter, Barry Loudermilk, Rick Allen -- and their wives stopped in Ramallah last summer as part of a week-long trip to Israel that was underwritten by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity closely affiliated with the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.

According to the nonpartisan LegiStorm, which collects data on privately funded lawmaker trips, the West Bank was the second most popular international destination for members of Congress and their staffs in 2015 and 2016, coming in behind Israel. Groups spent more than $1.6 million to send lawmakers and their staffers there.

Explore Read more about Georgians' privately-funded travel here.