Thursday, September 3, 2009
The best congress AIPAC can buy
Many Americans who thought that the health care debate was important must have wondered where their congressmen were in early August during the first two weeks of the House of Representatives recess. It turns out they were not hosting town hall meetings or listening to constituents because many of them were in Israel together with their spouses on a trip paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Fully 13% of the entire US House of Representatives, 56 members, traveled to Israel in the largest AIPAC-sponsored fact-finding visit by American politicians ever conducted. And the leaders of the two congressional groups, 25 Republicans for a week starting on August 2nd followed by 31 Democrats beginning on August 13th, were drawn from the top ranks of their respective parties. House Minority whip Eric Cantor headed the Republican group and House Majority leader Steny Hoyer led the Democrats.
Cantor and Hoyer are longtime enthusiasts for Israel and all its works. In January, when Israel was pounding Gaza to rubble and killing over a thousand civilians, Hoyer and Cantor wrote an op-ed entitled "A Defensive War," which began with "During this difficult war in the Gaza Strip, we stand with Israel." Why? Because "Instead of building roads, bridges, schools and industry, Hamas and other terrorists wasted millions turning Gaza into an armory." Hoyer and Cantor, clearly noticing a militarization of the Gaza Strip that no else quite picked up on, also affirmed that Israel occupied the moral high ground in the conflict, "While Israel targets military combatants, Hamas aims to kill as many civilians as possible." That Hoyer and Cantor were completely wrong on this vital point as well as others, in fact reversing the truth, has never resulted in an apology or a correction of the record from either lawmaker.
And there’s more. In May 2009, Cantor and Hoyer teamed up again in a congressional letter sent to their colleagues in congress. The message described how Washington must be "both a trusted mediator and a devoted friend to Israel" because "Israel will be taking the greatest risks in any peace agreement." AIPAC couldn’t have put it better. In fact, AIPAC wrote the missive since Cantor and Hoyer apparently needed a little help to get the message just right. The actual source of the letter was revealed when the document was circulated with the file name "AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf," which the intrepid congressional duo had failed to change before sending out.
The August congressional junkets were paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is a non-profit foundation that is part of AIPAC. The non-profit foundation part means that the trip to convince already acquiescent congressmen that Israel needs more aid and special treatment was more-or-less subsidized by the US taxpayer. Taking congressmen to Israel to make sure they understand the issues properly is not exactly new, but the scale and seniority of the recent visits sent a clear message to President Barack Obama that he should not pressure Israel in any way or he will face bipartisan opposition, opposition that he will not be able to overcome. It appears that Obama might have already received the message loud and clear if the rumors that he will harden his line on Iran and soften his approach to Tel Aviv to permit Israeli settlement expansion are true.
The current Israeli government line as regurgitated by AIPAC is an attempt, aided and abetted by the congressional visitors, to shift the narrative. According to AIPAC and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, the settlements have nothing to do with the issue of negotiating peace so Israel should be able to continue to expand its occupation of Arab East Jerusalem without any restraint while permitting "natural growth" in the other West Bank settlements. Israel claims to be willing to talk peace with the Palestinians while decrying that there is no one to talk to. Tel Aviv and its cheerleaders in Washington insist that the real threat to peace in the Middle East is Iran, which is seeking a nuclear weapon and will use it to bomb Israel and arm terrorists to attack the United States.
Eric Cantor was fully on-message, prepping his group by writing an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on August 3rd. He wrote that "Israel is not only a democratic ally and our only true friend in the Middle East; it is also a vital pillar of US national security strategy…Israel has a right to accommodate the natural growth of its population…excessive handwringing over natural growth is a diversion from the main threat in the Middle East: Iran." If the line sounds familiar, it should as it is straight out of Israel and AIPAC’s playbook garnished with its ridiculous pretense that Israel is some kind of strategic asset and an eternal friend.
Cantor and Hoyer’s lawmaker colleagues apparently benefited greatly from their travels, which included a visit to the illegal West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe to express solidarity with the heroic and widely misunderstood Israeli settlers. According to Cantor there should not be any confusion about who is doing what to whom in the Middle East. In describing the purpose of the trip, he noted that his Republican colleagues were eager to learn about "…the challenges on the ground in the Middle East, especially those challenges faced by Israel." He then returned to his script, describing the situation in more detail and expressing his concern about the "…focus being placed on settlements and settlement growth when the real threat is the existential threat that Israel faces from Iran and the impending nuclearization of Iran."
During the trip itself, Cantor could hardly shut up about how much he loves Israel and its policies, no matter what those policies are. When two Arab families were evicted from their homes in Jerusalem, resulting in a worldwide protest that included criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Cantor discovered another way to look at the situation. He complained about Clinton, "I’m very troubled by that, because I don’t think we in America would want another country telling us how to implement and execute our laws."
Cantor’s travelmates evidently agreed with his rosy view of all things Israeli. Steve Scalise marveled at "all the things that the people of Israel have been through," while Louie Gohmert pressed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for a commitment to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, apparently oblivious to the fact that the status of a Muslim or a Christian in a Jewish state would be somewhat precarious. Leonard Lance called for working together against Iran while Mike Coffman noted that the Obama Administration failed to comprehend "the magnitude of this threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons." Perhaps Coffman and Lance should read some of the intelligence that the US government produces at great expense which reveals that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
Congressman Pete Olson reported that he had known in "his head" how important the relationship with Israel was and, after three days, knew it also in his heart. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been to Israel seven times and is the author of numerous pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian resolutions in the House, called Israel "our US ally against the violent extremists" and twittered to her constituents a gushing account of her "amazing dinner with soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces. Courageous young men…"
Hoyer, who has been to Israel a dozen times, led the cheerleading for the Democrats. The House Majority leader contradicted his own party’s president in finding that the settlements were not a "big issue" hindering a peace agreement, noting that they should be a "subject of negotiations." The real problem for Hoyer was completely predictably the Palestinians, specifically the "unwillingness of Abbas to sit down now." Hoyer also declared Jerusalem to be a "unified city" under Israeli control and reiterated Congressman’s Gohmert’s demand that the Palestinians recognized Israel as a Jewish State, neither of which is US policy. Shelly Berkley, who has never met an Israeli she didn’t like, put it more bluntly, "The goals of this trip are to express Congress’s solidarity with the State of Israel and to find out what Israel’s needs are." Representative Kendrick Meek welcomed his opportunity to visit Israel to help him "make better decisions as a member of congress."
President George Washington counseled explicitly against getting involved in the quarrels of foreign nations. What would he think of Hoyer and Cantor and the drones that followed them to Israel on a "fact finding" trip paid for by the Israel Lobby? Words like "disloyalty" come to mind immediately, but the AIPAC trips targeting congress are signs of a deeper problem. Many congressmen undoubtedly display knee-jerk support for Israel either because it is career enhancing or because they are afraid not to. Those who truly believe that Israel’s interests are of paramount importance and that the United States ought to go to war on its behalf should perhaps find another line of work. If they retain even a shred of decency and love of country, it is time for Cantor, Hoyer and others like them to go away. They should leave quietly but do so quickly. The well-being of the United States and its citizens demands it.