x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Nude dip in sea puts US Republican in spotlight

A US congressman's 10-second naked plunge into the Sea of Galilee where the Bible says Jesus walked on water prompts the kind of international attention that no politician wants.

TOPEKA, KANSAS // A US congressman's 10-second naked plunge into the sea where the Bible says Jesus walked on water prompted apologies from him, head-shaking from other Republicans and the kind of international attention that no politician wants.

Kevin Yoder, a member of the House of Representaives from Kansas, is all but certain to keep his seat despite any embarrassment arising from last year's incident in Israel because Democrats haven't fielded a candidate against him. But the freshman Republican acknowledged many of his constituents are wondering what he was thinking when he took his "spontaneous" skinny dip in the Sea of Galilee in August 2011.

Other legislators on the trip also went into the water at what's considered a holy site for many Christians, and Mr Yoder said their actions earned them a rebuke from Eric Cantor, the majority leader and top House republican. But Politico reported on Sunday that Mr Yoder was the only one who wore no clothes.

"It's certainly not an incident that I'm proud of," Mr Yoder said on Monday. "It is something that was obviously a mistake on my part, and I want folks in the district to know that I'm apologetic for it."

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and his running mate, Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan, criticised Mr Yoder's behaviour.

"I think it's reprehensible," Mr Romney said. "I think it's another terrible mistake by individuals."

Joan Wagnon, the Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman, called Mr Yoder's behaviour "inexcusable" and said if the incident had occurred in Kansas, he would be forced to resign. She later issued a statement calling for him to step down.

Congressional records show that at least 22 Republican congressmen and staff members were on the eight-day trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity affiliated with AIPAC, America's pro-Israel lobby. The group's schedule included meetings with the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and more than two dozen other events.

The swimming occurred after a dinner at a restaurant. Mr Yoder said it was dark and members of the party jumped into the Sea of Galilee individually, not as a group. Mr Yoder said he and his wife, Brooke, who was with him, had wine with dinner, but "alcohol did not play a role".

"It was a spontaneous moment where other members of Congress were jumping in," he said. "I made the mistake of diving in. I was in for about 10 seconds and got back out."

Swimming in the lake is permitted but public nudity is not allowed, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. He said no official complaint had been made against Mr Yoder, but it was possible he could still be charged even a year later.

"If that kind of incident takes place and someone makes an official compliant, we'll investigate," Rosenfeld said in Jerusalem.