81 members of Congress are preparing to arrive in Israel on a week-long visit sponsored by the the American Israel Education Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the politically powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., wields a tremendous amount of influence over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and regularly sponsors trips to Israel for U.S. Congress Members. It’s estimated that between 2000-2005, The American Israel Education Foundation spent more than $950,000 on congressional travel. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that the $3 billion a year Israel receives in military aid does not diminish. Estimates indicate that Israel receives over $8 million a day from the U.S.
While both Israeli and American citizens struggle to afford health care, housing, and education, Israel is using U.S. tax dollars to: man over 700 checkpoints and road blocks within the West Bank; use tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to quell nonviolent protests; construct a separation wall; uproot thousands of Palestinian olive trees, some of which are thousands of years old; imprison Palestinian minors; demolish Palestinian homes with American-made bulldozers; and implement a perpetual blockade on the people of Gaza.
The first of 26 Democrats arrive on Monday (Aug 15) and they will be followed by 55 Republicans, 47 of whom are freshman members.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stated, “I am pleased to be bringing so many of our new Members of Congress to Israel…The United States and Israel share similar core values of democracy, human rights and a strong national defense. These shared values contribute to our strong relationship and allow our two countries to work closely together to protect the interests and security of both of our nations. By visiting Israel in-person, Members will better understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and our role in promoting stability in this critical region.”
Most major U.S. news agencies have either ignored this topic altogether or buried it in the back pages of their papers (EDIT: Aug 16 NYTimes Article). Reports from staffers indicate that though some Congress members are reluctant to participate in this trip, they feel AIPAC is too powerful to ignore and doing so could target their removal from Congress. The pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is frighteningly powerful. Though there are many reasons to doubt the scrupulousness of U.S. involvement in the Israeli Palestinian peace negotiations, it is this one that solidifies my belief that the U.S. is an absolutely inappropriate mediator. Its hands are tied by political and economic alliances and by a lobby so strong that U.S. Congress members are concerned about losing their seat should they dare to go against the grain.
This is not honorable politics. It’s a circus ring moderated by a group who directs policy to meet its own interest and persists in parading U.S. politicians around Israel on these thinly veiled propaganda junkets.
Overlooking the fact that following one of the most dramatic political battles in recent history that spurred concerns of a double-dip recession, Congress members ought to use the recess to meet with their constituencies and focus on sorting out the downward spiral of the U.S. economy…the blatant favoritism this tour promotes is maddening.
It is unlikely that U.S. Congress members will tour the demolished homes of Palestinians or witness the violent reaction of the IDF to nonviolent protestors. Nor will they speak with Palestinian minors who have been imprisoned for stone throwing while their Israeli counterparts throw stones, glass, trash, and sewage at Palestinian civilians with little to no intervention. They will not see the thousands of Palestinians lined up at 4:00 in the morning outside of Bethlehem’s Checkpoint 300, waiting to cross into Jerusalem to pray at their holy sites.
While the members of Congress are touring Masada, a Jewish symbol of resistance against the Roman army, they will never see the resistance that is happening here and now on the part of the Palestinians. When you see the control of the pro-Israel lobby and the propaganda being spewed forth, it’s not hard to understand why Americans honor the resistance of one people while simultaneously frowning upon the resistance of another against the same style of oppression and injustice.
Gazing upon such hypocrisy, Theodore Roosevelt’s words reverberate through my being,
“Like his fellow statesmen he failed to see the curious absurdity of supporting black slavery [oppression], and yet claiming universal suffrage for whites [all] as a divine right, not as a mere matter of expediency. He had not learned that the majority in a democracy has no more right to tyrannize over a minority than, under a different system, the latter would to oppress the former.”
The ideals of freedom and justice, spoon-fed to me as a child, punish me. I cannot gaze on this farce of a democracy without wincing.