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The Israel Lobby’s Return to Congress

You might think that twenty percent of the American Congress going on all-expense-paid, week-long junkets to a foreign country – paid for by a lobby for that country – would be considered newsworthy. Especially when the top Congressional leaders of both parties are leading the trips.

You would be wrong.

81 Congressional representatives from all over the country, led by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, aretraveling to Israel this month. Most are freshmen Congressmen and include half of all the freshmen Republicans voted into office in 2010.

The week-long trips are being paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which was created in 1990 as a supporting organization of AIPAC, America’s major pro-Israel lobbying organization, and is located in the same building (AIEF, which is only one of numerous organizations pushing pro-Israel policies, has an annual budget of over $24 million with an even larger endowment.

This is an extraordinary situation. No other lobby on behalf of a foreign country comes anywhere near to controlling such wealth or taking so many of America’s elected representatives on a propaganda trip to their favorite country.

Not all those going on these trips are enthusiastic. The wife of one Congressman who made a similar trip some years ago said that she and her husband had never been exposed to such pressure in all their lives. She said that at one point on their trip, her husband – a normally extremely tough man – was curled up in a fetal position.

A staff member of one representative participating in this month’s junkets said the representative had no choice. If the Congressional rep didn’t go on the trip, the rep would be targeted by AIPAC, large quantities of money, including massive out-of-state money, would be raised for the opponent in the next election, and quite likely the representative would be defeated. The staffer said that the Israel Lobby is far too powerful to ignore and that American voters have no knowledge of what’s going on.

It’s no surprise that voters are unaware that their Congress people are being propagandized and pressured by a foreign lobby. Their news media almost never tell them.

The Associated Press, America’s number one news service, has decided not to report on a lobbying group taking 81 representatives to a foreign country in order to influence their votes.

Even though the trips are being reported by news media in BritainIran,IndiaIsraelLebanon, and elsewhere, AP has decided to give it a pass. When contacted about this, an AP editor in Washington DC said they knew about the trips and were “looking into it.”

Taking a similar tack, the New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, CNN, ABC, et al, failed to inform Americans about the trips. (The Washington Post, after the story was posted throughout the blogosphere, finally covered it belatedly on page 13. The CBS website had a story on the situation, but CBS news made no mention of the junkets on-air.)

The only AP stories on the subject are scattered local stories about individual Congress people. For example, AP’s Chicago bureau reported that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is taking part, without reporting that he was one of 81 representatives accepting these all-expense-paid junkets, and that his trip was being paid for by the pro-Israel lobby.

A few other American media reported the story in interestingly diverse ways:

Washington DC’s Politico covered it twice; the Atlantic’s AtlanticWire posted a story on people who were “kvetching” about the one-sided nature of the junkets, while emphasizing that some of the reps were also going to meet with some Palestinian leaders, but failed to report that this will apparently account for only a few hours out of the 7-day trip. LA’s Jewish Journal was remarkably forthright, reporting that “the congressional reps will be getting the dog and pony show,” and Commentary gloated at the “astonishing” number of representatives going on the trip, noting that “Congress is the backstop that gives Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the ability to say ‘no’” to the President of the United States.

While Commentary claims that the willingness of Congressional representatives to go on all-expense-paid trips by one of the country’s most powerful lobbies “is a good reflection of American public opinion on the Middle East,” this is actually not accurate.

Surveys find that an extraordinarily strong majority of Americans – typically between two-thirds to three-quarters – do not wish the U.S. to take sides on Israel-Palestine.* Such widespread desire for neutrality is particularly noteworthy given that U.S. news media across the political spectrum are consistently highly Israeli-centric in their reporting.

It is quite likely that such voters would be unhappy to learn that a foreign lobby has such power over their elected representatives, leading them to give the favored nation, one of the smallest and wealthiest countries on the planet, over $8 million per day of American tax money when the U.S. is in the middle of a financial crisis.

Perhaps that’s why AP and others don’t tell them.

* * *

* Two thirds want the United States to “lean toward neither side” – Brookings: “Attitudes Toward the Middle East Peace Process: Surveys of Arab and Jewish Opinion in Israel and Public Opinion in the United States”.

71 percent favor not taking a side – World Public Opinion: “International Poll: Most Publics–including Americans–Oppose Taking Sides in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”.

65 percent favor not taking either side – CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. May 24-26, 2011. Adults nationwide.

“Although more Americans show sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians, a strong majority has consistently felt that the US should play an even-handed role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since December 1998, Gallup and other organizations have asked respondents many times whether the US “should take Israel’s side, take the Palestinians’ side, or not take either side.” Strong majorities have consistently said the US should take neither side. In July 2000, 74% endorsed this position. Shortly after September 11th, 2001, this number dropped to 63% (Israel’s side rising to 27%) then recovered to 70% in early November (Israel’s side 20%). Israel’s military actions of April 2002 had little impact on this majority view. CNN/USA Today/Gallup found 71% in April for the US taking neither side” – World Public Opnion: “Israel and Palestine”.

Alison Weir is president of the Council for the National Interest and executive director of If Americans Knew. She can be reached atcontact@cnionline.org.

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Alison Weir is executive director of  If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. An excerpt of her book was published in the March 21-23, 2014 issue of CounterPunch. Upcoming book talks can be seen on the book’s website.

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