PH Quickie: "See AIPAC's version of Israel or live to regret it"

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-XX) sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the AIPAC trip for freshman Congress members in August 2017. (Saguy Moran)

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-XX) sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the AIPAC trip for freshman Congress members in August 2017. (Saguy Moran)

Every odd-numbered summer, AIEF, the American Israel Education Foundation, offers an all-expense-paid trip to every freshman member of the House of Representatives.

“Offer” may not be a strong enough word.

A piece in the Intercept Thursday – “An Invitation You Can’t Refuse: how Rep. Steny Hoyer makes sure AIPAC’s Israel junket is well attended” – offers numerous examples of the strong-arm techniques the Israel lobby uses to persuade wide-eyed Congress members to drink the Koolaid.

Perhaps most stunning was this charge against Rep. Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader and travel agent for the Democratic contingent to Israel:

Hoyer, according to former members of Congress who have resisted the pressure to join AIPAC’s delegation, uses his power over the House floor agenda to coerce participation. A member who refuses an invitation can find it difficult to have their bills brought to the floor for a vote.

“His senior staff lock down cooperating members by getting their bills to the floor and punishing non-cooperators,” said one former representative who rejected the invitation. “I was tortured for a decade because I refused to go on that trip and went with [liberal Israel advocacy PAC] J Street instead.”

The pressure begins long before Congress is sworn in.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was one of several top Democrats who spoke at AIPAC's 2019 annual conference; others included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (Photo: Youtube/Screengrab)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was one of several top Democrats who spoke at AIPAC's 2019 annual conference; others included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (Photo: Youtube/Screengrab)

AIPAC’s modus operandi

Hoyer’s team is known to hound candidates about the AIPAC trip during their campaigns, when their need for contributions and endorsements may make them vulnerable.

Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, who is no longer in office, recalled numerous phone calls and visits from constituents “strongly encouraging” her to take the trip. She stood her ground, declining the AIPAC excursion but accepting an invitation from J Street. She was able to see more of the Palestinian territories, speak to Palestinians about the impact of the occupation, and gain a more balanced perspective than AIPAC guests.

One high-ranking Jewish Democrat who took the AIPAC tour said there was plenty of sightseeing, but the rest was “propaganda.” He has encouraged this year’s batch of freshmen to go on the “far more useful” J Street trip instead.

One would be hard-pressed to find a sitting legislator willing to go on record about the AIPAC trip to Israel. Those in the Intercept article with the most to say chose anonymity, citing “the power of Hoyer and AIPAC to retaliate.”

One former AIPAC employee and legislative assistant to members of Congress is outspoken about AIPAC’s power. MJ Rosenberg spoke candidly in the wake of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s tragic (but accurate) “Benjamin” tweets

I sat in AIPAC staff meetings at which the political director discussed whom “we” would be supporting in this campaign and whom “we” were going to “destroy” in that one.

Watching what the lobby and its acolytes, in Congress and out, are saying about Omar would cause anyone in politics to think long and hard before saying anything at all about Israel, other than the effusive statements of praise AIPAC wants. And that is the lobby’s goal: to ensure that Congress never questions Israel about anything, that it just shuts up and keeps the billions of dollars in aid coming. And above all, without conditions, like requiring Israel to take steps to end the occupation, the blockade of Gaza, or to grant equal rights to Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

What to do?

AIPAC is only doing its job as a foreign agent. The organization is not to blame (except in that it assists in the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people) – our government has allowed this control to go on unchecked. Rosenberg has a solution:

It is time to require AIPAC to register as what it is: a foreign agent. It will still be able to advocate for Israel, but as an Israeli lobby, which admits to getting its marching orders from the Israeli government. What it would not be able to do is direct campaign money to politicians. Let’s see how many vice presidents, senators and representatives show up at its conferences then. Let’s see how many of its Israel-right-or-wrong resolutions pass the House 435-0. Let’s see if presidents are still afraid to say what they think about the occupation and the denial of democratic rights to Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Congress members should boycott the AIPAC junket (“skip the trip”), and instead join Palestinian American Rep. Rashida Tlaib on a trip to the West Bank – where they can see the results of America’s $134.8 billion of aid to Israel (this number includes the $3.8 billion “requested” in 2019).

Then our legislators can begin to form rational, compassionate policy that ends injustice instead of perpetuating it.