A 2011 trip to the Holy Land by a group of U.S. Congressmen, including Representative Steve Southerland (R-Florida), has come under scrutiny.
On Sunday, the political insider website Politico.com reported details of the trip in an online article. In addition to meetings with high-ranking Israeli government officials and leaders of opposition groups, the trip included a night of dinner, drinking and swimming in the Sea of Galilee, the website reported.
According to the report, the August 13-21, 2011 trip was sponsored and paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation to "… drive home the huge importance of U. S. support of Israel." Also taking part in the trip were family and Congressional staff members.
During the trip, members of the U. S. delegation met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well as other officials, the website reported.
After dinner in Tiberias on the night of August 18, more than 20 people swam in the Sea of Galilee, Politico.com reported. The Christian holy site is where the Bible says Jesus walked on water.
According to the website, some swimmers entered the water fully clothed while others partially undressed. Only Representative Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) removed all his clothes before entering the water. On Monday, Yoder admitted swimming nude and issued an apology.
Southerland, a Republican from Panama City, and his daughter were among those who took a dip at the holy site. After details of the trip became public, Southerland issued the following statement:
"As a member of Congress, the visit provided critically important insight into America's relationship with our close Middle Eastern ally. As a Christian and a father, the visit was a blessing for my 21-year-old daughter and me that we wouldn't trade for anything. At no time did I witness anything inappropriate and any effort to create a spectacle out of my participation in this trip is unfortunate and clearly engineered to score cheap political points."
Politico.com reported that the FBI looked into the incident, but the law enforcement agency has not released any information.