81 House Members Enjoy Hiatus In Israel

by James M. Wall

Eighty-one members of the US House of Representatives—about 20 percent of the total membership—are enjoying a late summer week-long, all-expenses paid trip to Israel.

This hasbara (propaganda) trip happens every other summer (in non-election years), but this year’s excursion to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea comes at a time when voters back home are not thinking about Israel. They are worried about their under-water mortgages and disappearing 401Ks.

Instead of returning immediately to their home districts to answer questions about the US economy, 81 House members are flying to Tel Aviv to demonstrate their loyalty and devotion to a foreign power.  They are hoping, of course, as they bolster their standing with AIPAC, that financially-stressed voters will not be told that the 81 are enjoying an all expenses paid visit to Israel.

So far, the main stream media (MSM) has protected them. The only way to find out if your congress person is living in Israeli luxury for a week is to call his or her office and ask. The MSM has not bothered to identify the 81, except when a single member is mentioned in a fawning local feature story.

Allison Weir describes this bi-annual summer all-expenses hiatus trip as “extraordinary”, because “no other lobby on behalf of a foreign country comes anywhere near controlling such wealth or taking so many of America’s elected representatives on a propaganda trip to its favorite country”.

Weir, writing for the Anti-War blog, notes that most US media outlets ignored the story.

I could not find a complete list of the 81. Since this is not a Codel (congressional delegation) trip, the House website does not  offer any help. Phillip Weiss’ Mondoweiss found a picture released to the media from the Israeli Embassy, with no names attached.

Weiss assumes the picture is that of the Democratic delegation, since Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer shares front row honors with Israeli President Simon Peres. The picture is large enough for constituents to look for familiar faces.

(Sunday Update: Richard Silverstein, a dogged researcher who has been writing the liberal Jewish blog, Tikun Olam, since 2003, has identified 33 names on the list of 81.)

(Monday Update: Silverstein’s blog, for the moment, is off line. The original Silverstein posting of Tikun Olam with the 33 names is reprinted, in part, at the end of this posting as a Comment.)

The Washington Post provides the names of three Democratic travelers,  Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Betty Sutton (Ohio) and Mark Critz (Pa).

Otherwise, according to a survey by Weir, the Main Street Media has been respectfully silent and protective on the matter of the 81 who used their time away from Washington to visit sites holy to Jews and Christians, and to listen to lectures by Israeli leaders. Here is what Weir found in her survey:

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 Britain, Iran, India, Israel, Lebanon, and elsewhere, AP has decided to give the story a pass. When contacted about this, an AP editor in Washington, D.C., said AP knew about the trips and was “looking into it.”

Taking a similar tack, The New York TimesUSA TodayFox News, CNN, ABC, et al., failed to inform Americans about the trips.

When the Chicago Tribune learned that Jesse Jackson, Jr., was on the Israeli trip, it treated the visit as a human interest, feel good, story.

The Tribune used a short item from the Associated Press to inform its readers that Jackson was traveling abroad to evaluate how well Israel was handling US tax dollars which Jackson and his colleagues so generously send to Tel Aviv.

The Tribune story is a case study for a Journalism 101 class on how not to write a story involving a major congressional figure. Here is the soft story the Tribune ran on August 7:

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is headed to Israel for an eight-day visit. Jackson’s office says he leaves Sunday and returns Aug. 15.

The Illinois Democrat is scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as he discusses what he calls “the quest for a lasting peace in the region.” He has meetings set with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, prime ministers and others.

Jackson says he’s looking forward to learning about Israel’s business and commercial sectors as well as the latest tools and technology the country is using in its fight against terror.

The trip is being arranged and paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation, a privately funded charity.

And that is all Tribune readers know about the journey of the 81. The AIEF is a “privately funded charity”? Nothing about the AIPAC parentage of the “charity”, and nothing at all about Jackson’s large number of traveling companions.

Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, reports that in spite of the media’s protective cover, at least one Jackson constituent, is on the case.

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 [Reuben adds] 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.

This year’s hasbara trip involved three separate delegations, two Republican and one Democratic; no bipartisanship here after those ugly DC scenes involving the debt ceiling.  The 81 members will visit with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was last greeted enthusiastically by 29 standing ovations when he spoke before a joint session of Congress earlier this year.

The Jerusalem Post was quick to assure American tax payers that no US tax dollars would be used on the trips. (“Move along folks, nothing to see here”.)

All expenses for the 81 members and any spouses and staff members who choose to travel, are covered by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), better known as AIPAC’s education arm. We know all about AIPAC, but what is this AIEF?

The AIEF was created in 1990 as a supporting organization of AIPAC, America’s foremost pro-Israel lobby. Financial support for AIEF, a non-profit organization, comes from tax-exempt contributions, most notably from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

AIEF, according to its mission statement, “provides grant monies to educate opinion leaders about the U.S.-Israel relationship, to expand public awareness about issues affecting the Middle East and to encourage participation in public affairs, especially by students on college campuses where anti-Israel propaganda is rampant.”

So, strictly speaking, no direct US tax dollars are funding the 81 House members on their summer outing. But it is also true that the members are traveling on round-trip first class airline tickets ($8,000 per traveler) and enjoying an all-expenses tax-free paid trip with funds from a US tax-free non-profit organization.

But the question lingers: Do these transactions meet the requirements of the US tax code. The answer, from Legistorm, a website that tracks congressional travel, suggests that these clever partners, AIEF, which is in the education business, and AIPAC, which lobbies on behalf of the state of Israel, have found themselves a convenient “sleight of hand” tax loophole.

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.

AIEF’s partner, AIPAC,  reports that in 2009, it very generously contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF.

Legistorm also reports that two years ago, during the 2009 summer congressional recess, AIEF sent 50 lawmakers and staff members from both parties on a fully funded trip to Israel.  Included in the 2009 delegation were House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who returned with this year’s even larger delegation of 81 House members, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who had business in Iowa and did not make it to Israel this August.

How tight is the Israel Lobby’s grip on Congress? What keeps these elected representatives coming back, year after year, like so many obedient children making their mandatory holiday visit to visit aging parents?

Allison Weir discovered one poignant story about an earlier traveler:

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.

There have been several internet hints that a few of the 81 will try and escape their Israeli minders long enough to cross over into the Occupied Palestinian Territories where they hope to experience the Palestinian narrative.

That could be a risky move, not for security reasons, but for their return flight home.  It is an abrupt shift from El Al Business Class to a middle seat in Coach. What happens to the campaign contributions these “escapees” had hoped to gain from making the trip in the first place?  These funds will dry up, quickly.

For their troubles any “escapee” who is exposed by the hasbara police, will still have the enormous advantage of bringing home pictures and memories of talking to real Palestinians, not Uncle Toms.  Inshallah, they will also bring back to the voters, a congress member with a heightened sense of self-worth.

The picture at top of  US House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, is from the Atlantic Wire.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East Politics, Religion and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 81 House Members Enjoy Hiatus In Israel

  1. Patricia says:

    For shame! Chicago writer, Stephen Lendman, wrote that the participants are not likely to experience Israeli daily state of terror of Palestinians: It’s planes bombing Gaza; extreme unaddressed needs of over 1.6 million besieged people, Palestinians, Muslim and Christian; fishermaen intercided, at times shot at sea; Israeli snipers murdering farmers in their fields; IDF incursions into Palestinian communities to terrorize; almost daily arrests, detention & harmful treatment in Israeli prisons; children beaten and arrested; peaceful protests attacked viciously; bull dozed homes and disposed residents; Israels obscene separation wall that steals about 12% Palestinians land; severe repression,poverty and misery of millions of Palestinians whose only offense is not being Jewish. If the Congressman don’t go AIPAC will target them for removal. Israel receives over $8 million a day from the US.

  2. judy neunuebel says:

    Utterly disgusting. These members of Congress are a disgrace and should be unelected.

  3. Dwain Epps says:

    I certainly agree with Patricia and Judy. This enforced media silence is especially deafening now when revelations of the Murdoch media empire’s widespread abuses of wiretapping, telephone “hacking” and bribery of police and politicians in Britain, has brought universal condemnation and led to the overnight closing of the UK’s largest circulation “news”paper. AIPAC manipulation of elected officials in the US is by no means new of course. Perhaps it has become so commonplace that it no longer fits the U.S. major media’s definition of “news”. One courageous journalist was brave enough to take it on a quarter-century ago. Edward Tivnan’s book, “The Lobby,” published in 1987 by Simon and Schuster (New York) deserves new attention in the light of this latest “hasbara” exercise. One must wonder how long American voters will put up with having their definition of “democracy” replaced by that of Mr. Netanyahu and his followers in the “only true democracy” in the Middle East. Probably for a long time if the U.S. media continues to exercise such self- censorship. Thanks to you, Jim, for calling their bluff.

  4. Robert H Stiver says:

    As I grit my teeth in indignation, frustration, and shame for the position in which our country finds itself (in total subservience to the dictates of a foreign nation and its domestic acolytes), I thank Jim for his typically spot-on reporting.

    Re “The Jerusalem Post was quick to assure American tax payers that no US tax dollars would be used on the trips.”, what about this calculation? — I believe each congressperson is paid 175,000 tax dollars per year; that’s $14,583 per month. One week (7 days–less than this junket by one day) is $3,645. $3,645 x 81 = $295,245; let’s round it off to $300,000. Are not U.S. taxpayers shelling out $300,000 in salary costs for this exercise in genuflection to the Zionist state of Israel? (Note: the “81” do not include senators; I’ve seen no verifiable reports, but I wager that there are numerous senators also paying fealty….)

  5. Fred says:

    That our Congress people want to keep sending billions of dollars to Israel at a time when the American people are facing draconian cuts in vital programs, is a disgrace beyound measure. What we can do is let all our friends and family members know this is happening, and flood our Congress people with protests. We must support candidates who put the American people above Israel. That this even has to be said, shows how craven our nation has become. Spread the word about this.

  6. wan says:

    I am very much bothered by the cover up that is taking place by the American media. The American people must demand, and it their right to find out what the leader is their district is doing. Is the House member working for the American people or for Israel?

  7. wallwritings says:

    Robert, thanks for these additional calculations as to the costs of salaries to US tax payers. I, too, wondered about the absence of senators in the groups, but since I could find no evidence of any on the trip, I concluded that this hasbara project is intended primarily to reach the newer members of the House. It is also the case that House members must stand for reelection every two years, not six, as is the case for senators. Besides, senators don’t like to travel in large groups. When they go to Israel they tend to do alone, with staff or with one or two senate colleagues. Different status, different culture. Jim Wall

  8. Sam Jones says:

    Supporting an untouchable foreign aid package of over $3 billion a year to Israel (an industrialized nation whose economy has been prospering) while Americans face severe cuts to social services (including health care and education). Serving a political allegiance that directly and indirectly exposes American servicemen and women to increased danger, while compromising America’s ability to seek its political and economic interests with a host of other nations. Giving 29 standing ovations to the head of a foreign power as he publicly challenges and insults the President of the United States. Let’s call this behavior what it is….TREASONOUS. defending a foreign power in the halls of our legislative

  9. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Thank you for exposing the infamous 81 Congressmen and women for this sophisticated high-level bribery that indocrinates the “guardians of democracy” about the justification for conquest, apartheid, and tyranny.
    The admirable “cost calculations” do not start to include the damage they do to US interests every day that passes. The real impact will last for decades to come.

  10. Nahoon says:

    These obnoxious congressmen are slaves of Israel and will continue to destroy our country. This also proves to me that Israel has not occupied only the State of Palestine, but also our Capitol and White House. These Congressmen and senators are shameless creatures and are vultures and predators to our financial system. I question and wonder those idiot Americans who continue to vote these bastards time after time to elect them, who are loyal to a foreign country than USA, Israel in fact is leached on our economy and way of life.

  11. Jane Adas says:

    “visit sites holy to Jews and Christians”: Why do you not also mention the presence of sites holy to Muslims? Jane

  12. wallwritings says:

    Jane, Your point is well-taken. There are, most certainly, sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, that the 81 could, and should, visit. I did not intend to exclude Muslim sites. My posting refers only to Jewish and Christian sites, quite frankly, because I was assuming that the Israeli hasbara guides want to appeal to the 81 House members’ specific interests, which, considering the fact that the 81 are traveling on an AIPAC-endorsed tour, would, most likely, not include travelers with interest in Muslim sites. Jim

  13. Laurie says:

    If the representatives “have nothing to hide”, why aren’t their names publicized? And the writer was so very on target say that the U.S. giving $8 million dollars a day to Israel for the purpose of domination is not only obscene but against every Christian, Muslim and Jewish ideology of treatment of their fellow human beings. Not to mention our own education, health and welfare systems that are falling into ruin. The U.S. is going the way of every other empire that has existed….into oblivion. Once the sun never set on the British Empire…remember?

  14. mary says:

    I live in CA 10 (John Garamendi). I heard that a section of Rebuilding the American Dream was told that they couldn’t see him this August because he was “on a retreat.”

    I had already been told that he was in Israel; I called his office to register my umbrage, and was told that he was on a “factfinding trip” and that he had been ordered to go by Mr Boehner, I said they were not going to find many facts in Israel, and when were they going to Palestine? Didn’t think so.

  15. Sam Jennings says:

    We now know that we must all sign a petition for Palestinian statehood in September, 2011.

  16. wallwritings says:

    As of Monday morning, August 15, Richard Silverstein’s original posting of his blog with 31 names of the 81 members of Congress traveling in Israel, is no longer available on line. I don’t know why, but Richard has had trouble in the past with his blog. Here is a portion of the original Silverstein posting:

    From Richard Silverstein’s blog:

    81 members of Congress are now in Israel on an all-expense paid junket sponsored by Aipac’s nominally non-profit American-Israel Education Foundation. The value of the trip for the member and spouse is $8,000, meaning Aipac is forking over nearly $700,000 to fund this massive hasbara undertaking.

    In the interest of transparency and knowing where our tax dollars are spent, I thought it would be important to list every name of every junketeer so their constituents can know that their member is on the pro-Israel gravy train. Here are the 33 I’ve discovered so far (please add more in the thread below):

    Mo Brooks R-5 AL
    Eric Cantor R-7 VA
    Russ Carnahan D-3 MO
    Steve Chabot R-1 OH (went last month)
    David Cicilline D-1 RI
    Yvette Clarke D-11 NY
    Mark Critz D- 12 PA
    Scott DesJarlais R- 4 TN
    Chuck Fleischman R-3 TN
    John Garamendi D-10 CA
    Kay Granger R-12 TX
    Michael Grimm NY-13
    Janice Hahn D-36 CA
    Jaime Herrera Buetler R-3 WA
    Mazie Hirono D- 2 HI
    Steny Hoyer D-5 MD
    Jesse Jackson Jr. D-2 IL
    Patrick Meehan D-7 PA
    Kevin McCarthy CA-22
    Gwen Moore D-4 WI
    Bill Owens D-23 NY
    Steven Palazzo R-4 MS
    Ed Perlmutter D-7 CO
    Tom Price R-6 GA
    Peter Roskam R-6 IL
    Loretta Sanchez D-47 CA
    David Schweikert R-5 AZ
    Adam Smith D-9 WA
    Steve Southerland R-2 FLA
    Betty Sutton D-13 OH
    Scott Tipton R-3 CO
    Allen West R-22 FL
    Frederica Wilson D-17 FL
    Kevin Yoder R-3 KS

    A terrific website, Legistorm, tracks such junkets and offers a listing of all Congress members and staffers who’ve gone to AIEF’s trough for Israel trips. It also lays out the specific costs of each trip. AIEF’s $26 million annual budget gives you a good idea how much is spent each year on this lobbying boondoggle.

    What I find ironic is that Congress has just spent weeks dodging one of the worst economic bullets to hit the U.S. since the 2008 financial meltdown. And it did a piss poor job of dealing with it. So now that they failed so miserably at doing their jobs here in Washington, they’re going to reward themselves with some much-needed sun, fun and hasbara on Tel Aviv beaches and in Israeli government conference rooms. In their briefings, which are ostensibly “fair and balanced,” here’s who they won’t be meeting: leaders of the J14 protest movement which is sweeping the Israeli street; Hamas, which represents approximately one-half of the Palestinian electorate; or Israeli Palestinian community leaders (or MKs).

    Astonishing, that these wise and learned solons are traveling all the way to Israel to learn about the nation’s needs and how they can help keep Israel strong. Yet they won’t have a single meeting with J14 activists. Not to mention that the $8,000 spent on their behalf should be an embarrassment both to their constituents and those Israelis who are so desperate to maintain their middle-class status in the face of Israel’s continuing budgetary squeeze, that they’ve turned to the tent protest movement to express their increasing desperation. But guess who isn’t likely to hear much of anything about all this? Steny and Eric and all his good buddies.

    Jim Wall

  17. Peter G. Mann says:

    I called all three offices of my two US Senators and House member today.
    I got no direct responses.

    One said “Not at liberty to tell the schedule of the Senator”.

    Another one said they didn’t know and that I could check next month to learn of travels in August

    Third one “I will get back to you”.

    Peter Mann

  18. leah hurst says:

    We all have to talk with everyone we know about this and help our country wake up and stop suporting the Israeli government in their cruel actions against Palestinians. Sad,sad, and terrible that we Americans are allowing this to happen! Thanks to all of you Leah

  19. Bill Gepford says:

    What more can be said than what has already been said above. Thank you Jim for your perseverance. In my vocabulary, what these congresspeople are doing is a a crime that needs to be brought to a court of the people, not to paid lackeys of Israel.

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