HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback went on an unpublicized, eight-day trade mission to Israel in late August and early September that included a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The trip came a month after President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to serve as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. But Brownback administration officials said the trip promoted Kansas businesses and sought to further ties between the state and Israel.
The Hutchinson News reported that the state Department of Commerce said the schedule in Israel from Aug. 26 until Sept. 2 included visits to Israeli businesses and discussions, a stop at a hospital and discussions of irrigation and water treatment. The department estimates the cost of the trip at about $32,000. Brownback's office issued no news releases before, during or after the trip.
The schedule included a 90-minute meeting with Netanyahu on Aug. 30. While Secretary Nick Jordan and other state Department of Commerce officials accompanied Brownback, they were not present for the meeting with the Israeli prime minister, department spokesman Kevin Doel said.
Brownback spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said: "They discussed opportunities for Israeli companies in Kansas, and the growth of entrepreneurialism."
The Kansas governor and Israel's energy minister signed a memorandum Aug. 31 in Jerusalem encouraging cooperation in the development of technology for water treatment, oil and gas exploration, smart electrical grids and expanding renewable energy.
According to the Department of Commerce, Kansas exported more than $56 million in commodities to Israel in 2016, while buying $83 million worth from it.
The disclosure of the trip comes as Brownback is preparing for a Wednesday hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination for the ambassador's post. If he wins Senate confirmation as expected, he will step down as governor, automatically elevating fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor.
Doel said the state had been planning the trip for two years and had initially expected the trade mission to occur in January.
In July, before the trip, the department signed a contract in July worth up to $4,800 with a firm formed by Margie Robinow to help arranged the trip. She is an Overland Park businesswoman and consultant who advocated successful legislation this year to prohibit Kansas from contracting with companies or individuals boycotting Israel.
Brownback signed the measure into law in June. It was designed to slow a boycott by pro-Palestinian groups that view it as promoting Palestinian human rights.
Kansas first lady Mary Brownback and the couple's youngest daughter, Jenna, also went on the trip but paid their own way, Doel said.
Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com