81 US lawmakers set to tour Israel

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81 US lawmakers set to tour Israel

Postby abuali » 13 Aug 2011, 17:24

One-fifth of US Congressmen have been scheduled to visit Israel over the next three weeks despite America's deepening economic crisis.



The Congressmen have announced their one-week trips, paid for by the so-called American Israel Education Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the politically powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Press TV correspondent reported on Thursday.

AIPAC is a major pro-Israeli political pressure group in the US that is widely believed to dictate US foreign policy in the Middle East. For instance, the draft of nearly all resolutions and bills passed by US legislators in Congress are entirely prepared by AIPAC, a fact often boasted by the pro-Tel Aviv lobby group on its website and propaganda publications.

The first group of 26 Democrats is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Monday.

The AIPAC-funded tour will include meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas.

The visits come amidst Washington's ongoing economic woes, which, according to President Barack Obama, is America's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“It is just outrageous that Congress is going on holiday. It is even more outrageous that they are not going home and talk to their constituents who are losing their jobs … they (Americans) want to talk to their Congress people and where are they? They are in Israel,” says Executive Director of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Delinda Hanley.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) refused to give Press TV an interview or even a comment on the mass-visit to Israel by American lawmakers.

Maryland's Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer, who will be leading the Democratic delegation, said in a statement that the purpose of the trip is to learn about “the evolving security situation in the Middle East, the deep challenges facing Israel, and the role the United States can play in the region during this time of uncertainty.”

However, Hanley argues the reason why so many American politicians are going to Israel is for supporting Israeli policies, particularly with regards to the planned Palestinian statehood resolution in the upcoming meeting of the UN General Assembly in September.

“It is the UN resolution that is [coming up] in September, and Israel is pulling out all stocks to make sure that America vetoes it,” she said.

Over half of the representatives going to Israel are freshmen, which, according to Hanley, make their political careers more fragile and susceptible to being cut short by America's powerful Israel lobby.

“They feel like they have to go on these trips and make these ridiculous votes, [otherwise] they will lose the campaign contributions [paid by the pro-Israeli lobby],” the analyst pointed out.

http://www.presstv.ir/detail/193551.html
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Re: 81 US lawmakers set to tour Israel

Postby abuali » 13 Aug 2011, 17:28

Robbing Peter to Pay Israel
By Josh Ruebner
http://www.informationclearinghouse.inf ... e28829.htm

August 12, 2011 "FPIF" -- Nearly 20 percent of the constituents of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) live under the poverty line, and nearly 15 percent are unemployed. Jackson’s congressional district, covering parts of the south side of Chicago and its southern suburbs, has been hit harder than many others by the crises plaguing the economy. Many of his constituents are looking at even more cutbacks in social services, higher prices for food and fuel, and ever scarcer jobs.

During this August congressional recess, Rep. Jackson, Jr. should be at home, meeting with constituents and proposing to them how he will help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Instead, the politician is proudly gallivanting around Israel, in one of three separate congressional delegations heading there this month on all-expense-paid junkets organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a so-called charitable affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the myriad pro-Israel lobbying outfits.

In total, 81 representatives, nearly one-fifth of the entire House, will participate in these jaunts, which, according to The Washington Post, include “a round-trip flight in business class for lawmakers and their spouses (that alone is worth about $8,000), fine hotels and meals, side trips, and transportation and guides.”

Of course, these congressional delegations are not all fun and games. Members of Congress will be expected to sing for their lavish dinners by honoring President Bush’s 2007 pledge to provide the Israeli military with $30 billion of tax-payer-funded weapons between 2009 and 2018. So far, proposed increases in military aid to Israel have been spared from the budgetary chopping block by President Obama and a compliant Congress that treats Israeli militarism as more sacrosanct than medical care for seniors. This despite the fact that Israel misuses the funds, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians living under its illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

According to aidtoisrael.org, constituents in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district will be asked to cough up an astonishing $53 million in federal taxes as their pound of flesh for the Israeli military during this 10-year period. With this same amount of money, each year the federal government instead could give 650 low-income families housing vouchers, or retrain nearly 900 unemployed workers for green jobs, or fund early reading programs for nearly 1,600 at-risk children, or provide primary health care to more than 43,000 uninsured people in Rep. Jackson’s congressional district.

Yali Amit, an Israeli-American constituent of Rep. Jackson, Jr. called his office to oppose his participation in the trip to Israel. He was told that Rep. Jackson, Jr. wants to learn what is happening there because of his position on the appropriations subcommittee that approves military aid to Israel. Amit retorted that “you can't learn what goes on there on a paid trip of a propaganda arm of the Israeli government.” And you certainly can’t learn about the devastating impact that these U.S. weapons have on unarmed Palestinian civilians, nearly 3,000 of whom were killed by the Israeli military over the last decade.

The House Committee on Ethics should open an investigation to determine if it is even legal for Members of Congress to be participating in junkets organized by AIEF. The guidelines of the committee are as bright and clear as the midday sun on a Tel Aviv beach in August. “The travel provisions of the gift rule severely limit the ability of Members and staff to accept travel from an entity that employs or retains a registered lobbyist or a registered agent of a foreign principal.” (Emphasis in original.)

Legistorm, which tracks congressional travel, explains that “even though AIPAC's primary purpose is lobbying, its nonprofit arm [AIEF] appears to provide a loophole for sponsored travel.” However, this eureka loophole that AIPAC uses does not withstand scrutiny. According to the latest publicly available tax return of AIEF, the organization has no paid employees -- an astounding feat in itself for an organization that raked in more than $26 million in 2009 and a mind-blowing accomplishment for an organization running three huge congressional delegations in one month.

An examination of AIPAC’s latest publicly available tax return reveals the sleight of hand. AIPAC reports that in 2009, it very generously contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF. In other words, a 501(c)(4) organization with registered lobbyists is paying for the staff of a 501(c)(3) organization to run congressional delegations that cannot be funded by an organization that employs registered lobbyists.

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen who helped draft the new post-Abramoff federal lobbying and ethics reform legislation signed into law in 2007, agrees that something is rotten in state of AIPAC. According to Holman, “The House ethics rules do not provide an exemption for 501(c)(3)s that are controlled and directed by a lobbying entity to pay for travel junkets for members of Congress. When the ethics rules were written in 2007 as part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), an exemption for 501(c)(3)s was written into the Senate rules – which I called the ‘AIPAC’ loophole – but the House under Speaker Pelosi stuck to strict travel rules for its members and declined to poke a comparable loophole into its ethics rules.

“Even if there were such a loophole in House rules,” Holman continues, “which there isn’t, it appears that the 501(c)(3) wing of AIPAC is little more than a front group designed to extend its lobbying activities beyond Capitol Hill. From 2000 to 2006, lobbyist Richard Kessler similarly attempted to evade the ethics rule prohibiting lobbyist- sponsored travel junkets by setting up a 501(c)(3) that he directly controlled to pay for the trips. HLOGA was passed in 2007 to end these types of evasions.”

Constituents should be irate that members of Congress accept fancy trips from AIPAC-affiliates and contributions from AIPAC-inspired political action committee (PACs) that result in the United States prioritizing weapons to Israel above our basic economic rights. And the Committee on Ethics must investigate AIPAC’s skirting of travel regulations and shut down these trips that it has until now allowed.

Josh Ruebner is the national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a coalition of 375 organizations working to change U.S. policy to Israel/Palestine to support human rights, international law, and equality. He is a former analyst of Middle East affairs at Congressional Research Service.

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