A month and a half after Israel launched "Operation Protective Edge" in response to Hamas rockets -- a military conflict that has now resulted in more than 2,000 Palestinian deaths and 67 Israeli casualties -- Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine announced plans for a fall business trip. To Israel. And he'd like you to tag along.
"I would like to invite you to join me... on the trip of a lifetime to Israel to learn about Israeli economic successes and interesting business opportunities," the mayor wrote in an email sent to Beach residents yesterday.
Levine isn't exactly shying away from the conflict, either. The itinerary includes a trip to the business that built Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense system.
Critics of the conflict in Israel questioned Levine's decision to announce the trip just as a temporary cease-fire is set to expire yet again.
"It sends a very bad message," says Audrey Bomse, an activist with the Miami Beach chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, who believes the trip amounts to an endorsement of a military operation with plenty of mainstream criticism in the U.S. and abroad. "While all this is going on, it's hardly the time to be going there and lending support."
Levine's six-day trip also includes visits to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and offers "a chance to network with senior management from various industries, to meet with local and national leaders, to promote Israeli/Miami and Miami Beach economic opportunities, and to visit some of Israel's most important cultural sites."
Along with visits to the Jewish Diaspora Museum and Miami Beach's sister city, Nahariya, also on the schedule is a stop at Rafael Industries, the manufacturer of the Iron Dome.
Neither the mayor's office nor the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce president responded to Riptide's calls Monday seeking comment about the trip. It's also unclear if any taxpayer money will go toward the journey; the news release advertises that for those wanting to join, a deposit of $500 is due with the application, with the (unspecified) full cost to be paid by September 9.
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"Seats are filling up VERY quickly," the release warns.