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Scott Walker avoids scrutiny on Israel ‘listening tour’

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. Several hundred Republican activists are gathered to hear from almost a dozen declared and potential presidential candidates including Walker. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is wrapping up a five-day “listening tour” through Israel, his first visit to the U.S. ally. But don’t ask the Republican White House prospect where he went, whom he listened to or what was said as he shapes his foreign policy.

Walker isn’t taking questions. And his aides refused to disclose his itinerary or the identities of his traveling companions.

As Republicans criticize Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton for limiting public scrutiny, Walker has adopted a similar strategy on what may be the most significant international fact-finding mission of his political career. His staff confirmed a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of several high-level meetings — only by referring to a picture of the two shaking hands posted on Twitter.

He said before leaving that he’d talk about his trip when he was back in the U.S.

On the Democratic side, Clinton has answered only a handful of questions from reporters since launching her presidential bid a month ago. Her campaign events are tightly scripted and allow for limited public access.

At a town hall in Nevada on Wednesday, Republican rival Jeb Bush on several occasions chided what he called Clinton’s limited interaction with voters and the press since launching her campaign.

“You can’t script your way to the presidency, put yourself in a protective bubble and never interact with people — only talk with people that totally agree with you, have it all scripted out,” Bush said. “That’s not going to work. That’s not very sincere.”

Yet Bush was pressed by a voter at the town hall for dismissing the relevance of questions about the Iraq war as hypothetical. The voter asked Bush whether such questions are fair game, considering that his own presidential aspirations are hypothetical at this point. He hasn’t announced his candidacy.

“Talking about the future is more than fair,” Bush said. “Talking about the past, saying how would you have done something after the fact is a little tougher, and it doesn’t necessarily change anything.”

Walker has limited foreign policy experience heading into an election already focused on America’s position. Like some rivals, he’s working to bolster his resume on the foreign policy front. He stumbled rhetorically at times during a more public European tour earlier this year, perhaps explaining why he’s relying on his own social media for getting the word out on his travels in Israel.

Beyond Netanyahu, tweets from Walker and his staff confirm private meetings with the Israeli minister of intelligence, legislative leaders, chairman of the Jewish Home Party and the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Other posts show photographs of him, wearing a yarmulke, at significant local stops, the Western Wall among them.

The trip was paid by Walker’s political organization and the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose board includes Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Walker’s staff said Adelson did not accompany him. Tweets confirm the coalition’s executive director, Matt Brooks, who is close to Adelson, was on hand.

Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, put out a statement Wednesday saying he had met Walker the day before. The statement gave few details about their talks.

Steinitz, who is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, gave Walker an “up to date picture” on Israel’s objections to the emerging multinational nuclear deal with Iran, the statement said.

It also said Steinitz, a former finance minister, and Walker shared their enthusiasm for passing two-year budgets.

Walker spokesman AshLee Strong said the trip has been “an incredible spiritual and cultural experience” for Walker and a chance to hear about Israel’s concerns about “the future of our alliance and identify ways to restore the ruptured bonds between our two countries.”

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Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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