11:55 am Aug. 17, 20122
State Senator David Storobin, who was elected this year to represent a heavily Jewish district in Brooklyn, recently publicized a photo of him visiting Israel's border with Syria.
The picture showed Storobin wearing an Israeli army uniform and carrying a gun.
This seemed somewhat extraordinary to people, like councilman and Republican congressional candidate Dan Halloran, who also visited Israel recently and whose aide said, of the Storobin camp, "we don't really want to have anything to do with them."
This morning, Storobin's spokesman offered an explanation: He was required to wear an Israeli uniform and carry a gun because the Syrian border is so dangerous.
"As Israelis know all too well, the Syrian border is a hostile area," the spokeman, Steven Stites, wrote. "Visitors there are required to don a uniform and carry a gun. Even members of the Knesset do so. There are snipers on the other side. If they see an unarmed person not in uniform, they may assume it's a leader of some kind, and that person could be a target."
A spokeswoman at the Israeli consulate in Washington told me she'd never heard of the protocol.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman, a Democrat who served in the U.S. military and visited Israel numerous times laughed out loud when asked if wearing a uniform and carrying a gun was required during trips to any part of Israel.
"I have never heard of it," he said. "I have visited the Syrian border."
He added, "I'm sure it's actually against Israeli Defense Force rules ... Dressing up like an Israeli soldier and carrying a weapon is not appropriate ... Military organizations don't run along with these casual lines."
Assemblyman David Weprin, a Democrat who has also visited the Syrian border in the past, also said he had never heard of such a policy.
I asked Stites in an email who required visitors to wear a uniform and carry a weapon at the Syrian border.
He responded: "That's what they were told when they went to the site."
I'll update if I get more information from Storobin's office or Israel.
UPDATE: Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat and hawk on Israel issues, told me, "I've never heard anything like that. Maybe they made new rules in the past couple of days."
UPDATE: Stites responds by email to a question about who issued the directive to wear the uniform: "IDF"
UPDATE: In a clarification of his earlier comment, Stites writes, "They were told by the IDF to wear it as a matter of safety. To me, that meant 'required.' As to whether that is an official policy or a requirement, I don't know. But if I were urged to do something like that for my own safety, I'd do it, wouldn't you?"
UPDATE: A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces just called me back and confirmed that the uniform and firearm were just for show.
The spokesman, who did not want to be named, said, "There is no such order or command or protocol" for guests to wear uniforms and hold guns when visiting the Syrian border, as Storobin's spokesman contended.
The IDF spokesman said Storobin put on the uniform and held the gun "just for the experience, to feel what it's like," and said, "I think [Storobin's] spokesperson misunderstood."
When I asked whether Storobin's holding of a weapon violated any rules of IDF, the spokesman said no, saying, "He was right next to a brigadier general" and that it was akin to when weapons are given to "new recruits and he has an instructor right next to him."