by Medea Benjamin
In this time of economic austerity, when jobs are being slashed and Americans are fearful about their future, the Congressional recess is the time for our elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents and servicing the people they are paid to represent. Instead, this August one out of every five representatives will be taking a junket to Israel, compliments of an affiliate of the Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but still clocked in on the taxpayer’s dime.
Americans who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings evaporate because Congress can’t seem to get it together deserve an explanation of how this crisis will be solved. Following the recent debt debacle, the public is hungry for information about the mysterious 12-person “super committee” that will slash over one trillion dollars from the federal budget. But instead of opening their doors to their constituents, 81 members of Congress will be getting briefings from Israeli government officials, touring historic religious sites, and perhaps “seeking a salty dip in the Dead Sea.” Representative Steny Hoyer, who is leading the Democratic delegation, said he is pleased members of Congress have this opportunity “to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.” One has to wonder whether our elected officials are more concerned about the stability of Israel or the well-being of American families.
Not surprisingly, trip expenses are being paid by an affiliate of the all-powerful AIPAC lobby, the American Israel Educational Foundation. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that Israel is kept on the U.S. dole, with $3 billion of US taxpayers’ dollars a year going to the Israeli military. Without AIPAC and the financial contributions to Congressional campaigns made by its affiliate organizations, our representatives would be freer to speak out against funneling precious taxdollars to this already wealthy nation. This junket goes to show that those who claim AIPAC has a stranglehold over our Congress are not far off the mark.
Going on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel is the moral equivalent of using an Anglo-Boer travel company to visit apartheid-era South Africa. Although they claim to be visiting leaders “across the political spectrum”, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC will not be giving these 81 Congresspeople a fair and balanced view of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They won’t observe one of the weekly demonstrations in Bi’lin or Nabi Saleh, where Israeli soldiers routinely tear gas and arrest non-violent protesters. They won’t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing. They won’t spend a few hours at a checkpoint to witness how Palestinians are detained, abused and humiliated, or how this “thriving democracy” forbids Palestinians from driving on Jewish-only roads. They won’t go to Gaza, where 1.5 million people are suffering under an unbearable siege, unable to travel freely, conduct business transactions across borders or even rebuild their homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion. And they won’t likely be visiting the burgeoning tent cities in Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently camped out protesting the lack of affordable housing, gas and food.
With the disapproval rate for Congress at a record 82%, now is not the time for our representatives to pander to AIPAC. Now is not the time for “free” junkets to Israel—with an implicit promise of $3 billion of our taxdollars in return. Now is the time to stop the freefall of the American economy. If our representatives want to earn more respect from the American public, they better prove that their allegiance is not to a foreign government or a group that lobbies on behalf of a foreign government, but to their constituents back home.