U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, is apologizing for embarrassing his supporters by swimming naked at the holy site of the Sea of Galilee while on a fact-finding mission to Israel.
Yoder, 36, has not been charged in the Aug. 18, 2011, incident when he and about 20 other lawmakers and staff members jumped into the water. Politico reported Aug. 19 that he was the only one among them who wore no clothes in the incident, said to be under review by the FBI.
“I feel incredibly remorseful that I have caused embarrassment to my constituents and I have caused folks who believe in me to be disappointed,” Yoder told The Kansas City Star on Aug. 19.
Yoder had been scheduled to participate Monday (Aug. 20) in a discussion of energy policy at an oil and natural gas industry convention in Wichita but he did not attend.
Some Christians consider the Sea of Galilee a holy site because they believe Jesus walked on water there. Swimming in the lake is permitted but public nudity is not allowed, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“If someone walks around the beach naked, that’s an offense,” Rosenfeld said in Jerusalem. He said no official complaint had been made against Yoder, but that it was possible he could still be charged even a year after the offense was committed.
“If that kind of incident takes place and someone makes an official compliant, we’ll investigate,” Rosenfeld said.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon called Yoder’s behavior “inexcusable” and said if the incident had occurred in Kansas, he would be forced to resign. She stopped short of calling for him to step down.
“I’m astonished these people think they can go on these junkets like this and no one will know what they do,” Wagnon said.
The Aug. 13-21, 2011, trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charity whose mission is to provide grants for educational programs and conferences, and to educate politicians and influential people about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
“The gravity of the situation and the actions I’ve taken are not lost on me, and I feel certainly regret at what has occurred,” Yoder told The Kansas City Star.
He said it was dark and he was in the water for only about 10 seconds.
“Part of the reason I made that decision at that moment was there was really nobody in the vicinity who could see me,” he said. “I dove in, hopped right back out, put my clothes on and, regardless, that was still not the behavior people expected out of their congressman.”
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the senior Republican on the trip, was furious about the swimming and scolded delegates for their behavior.
Yoder’s sole opponent in the upcoming general election is Libertarian Joel Balam, of Overland Park. Yoder served in the Kansas House from 2003 through 2010 and was chairman of its Appropriations Committee. He also is a former University of Kansas student body president.
In February 2009, Yoder, then the Appropriations Committee chairman, was cited by the Kansas Highway Patrol for speeding and refusing to take a breath-alcohol test following an early-morning traffic stop on a state highway in the Lawrence area. He later pleaded guilty to refusing to take the test and paid a $90 fine.
The traffic stop briefly caused ruffles during his successful 2010 run for Congress, but Yoder’s campaign said he’d refused to take the breath test because he’d passed another field sobriety test and wasn’t driving under the influence.
Wagnon promised that Democrats would field a strong candidate against Yoder in 2014 and would remind voters of the incident.
“I’m just sorry I don’t have anyone running against him, and it isn’t for lack of trying,” Wagnon said.