Does Your Congressperson Represent You — Or Israel?

Steny Hoyer

Steny Hoyer

In this time of economic austerity, when jobs are being slashed and Americans are fearful about their future, the Congressional recess is the time for our elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents and servicing the people they are paid to represent.

Instead, this August one out of every five representatives will be taking a junket to Israel, compliments of an affiliate of the Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but still clocked in on the taxpayer’s dime.

Americans who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings evaporate because Congress can’t seem to get it together deserve an explanation of how this crisis will be solved. Following the recent debt debacle, the public is hungry for information about the mysterious 12-person “super committee” that will slash over one trillion dollars from the federal budget. But instead of opening their doors to their constituents, 81 members of Congress will be getting briefings from Israeli government officials, touring historic religious sites, and perhaps “seeking a salty dip in the Dead Sea.”

Representative Steny Hoyer, who is leading the Democratic delegation, said he is pleased members of Congress have this opportunity “to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.” One has to wonder whether our elected officials are more concerned about the stability of Israel or the well-being of American families.

aipace delegation

AIPAC delegation

Not surprisingly, trip expenses are being paid by an affiliate of the all-powerful AIPAC lobby, the American Israel Educational Foundation. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that Israel is kept on the U.S. dole, with $3 billion of US taxpayers’ dollars a year going to the Israeli military. Without AIPAC and the financial contributions to Congressional campaigns made by its affiliate organizations, our representatives would be freer to speak out against funneling precious taxdollars to this already wealthy nation. This junket goes to show that those who claim AIPAC has a stranglehold over our Congress are not far off the mark.

Going on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel is the moral equivalent of using an Anglo-Boer travel company to visit apartheid-era South Africa. Although they claim to be visiting leaders “across the political spectrum”, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC will not be giving these 81 Congresspeople a fair and balanced view of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

  • They won’t observe one of the weekly demonstrations in Bi’lin or Nabi Saleh, where Israeli soldiers routinely tear gas and arrest non-violent protesters. They won’t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing.
  • They won’t spend a few hours at a checkpoint to witness how Palestinians are detained, abused and humiliated, or how this “thriving democracy” forbids Palestinians from driving on Jewish-only roads.
  • They won’t go to Gaza, where 1.5 million people are suffering under an unbearable siege, unable to travel freely, conduct business transactions across borders or even rebuild their homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion.
  • And they won’t likely be visiting the burgeoning tent cities in Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently camped out protesting the lack of affordable housing, gas and food.

With the disapproval rate for Congress at a record 82%, now is not the time for our representatives to pander to AIPAC. Now is not the time for “free” junkets to Israel—with an implicit promise of $3 billion of our taxdollars in return. Now is the time to stop the free fall of the American economy. If our representatives want to earn more respect from the American public, they better prove that their allegiance is not to a foreign government or a group that lobbies on behalf of a foreign government, but to their constituents back home.

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace. She encourages you to contact your congressperson and ask where they will be this August recess. Call 202-224-3121.

Republished with the author’s permission from AlterNet.


  1. Jay Levenberg,Esq. says

    I can’t say “Here we go again” because I have said it too many times before. If Congress spends 3 billion a year on Israel, the least our representatives can do at AIPAC’s expense is see what they get for our money. WE have a President that treats Israel like a naughty step-child and even insults the Prime Minister of Israel whenever he gets the chance. Fortunately, Congress sees things differently. I am getting very tired of the liberals in this country that have nothing better to do than stick their heads in the sand and say we should stay out of world affairs. Such isolationist tendencies would make FDR cringe if he were alive to see what is happening to his party. Israel should be promoted as a democracy in an area of despots. I am glad our congress goes there. They always learn a lot.

  2. Hadassa Gilbert says

    A. The congress people making the trip will not be able to miss the demonstrations that are taking place inIsrael every day. Unlike in neighboring Syria, these demonstrations are not met with lethal opposition from the government.

    B. Between Medea Benjamin’s anti- Israel rant and AIPAC’s immoral co-opting of the AmwricanJewish position onArab-Israeli relations is JStreet, a group of American Jews fighting for a two state solution that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and eventual prosperity for all. (Palestinians and poor Israelis included )
    I suggest that everybody who is inclined to side with Benjamin on this issue go to the JStreet web site and consider their position.

    • Hadassa Gilbert says

      A. The congress people making the trip will not be able to miss the demonstrations that are taking place inIsrael every day. Unlike in neighboring Syria, these demonstrations are not met with lethal opposition from the government.

      B. Between Medea Benjamin’s anti- Israel rant and AIPAC’s immoral co-opting of the AmwricanJewish position onArab-Israeli relations is JStreet, a group of American Jews fighting for a two state solution that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and eventual prosperity for all. (Palestinians and poor Israelis included )
      I suggest that everybody who is inclined to side with Benjamin on this issue go to the JStreet web site and consider their position.

      P.S. My congressman does not represent my views on Israel. His position is much closer to AIPAC’s than mine. However, if I am forced to choose between Benjamin’s position and AIPAC’s, I’ll choose AIPAC. I am afraid that people like Benjamin are eventually going to force people like me to make that choice.

  3. says

    My Congressperson REPRESENTS ME WHENEVER she SUPPORTS imperfect but democratic and indeed progressive ISRAEL, vs neighboring regimes’ terror and repression and militant Islamist regression.

    Benjamin’s rant is yet another misdirected ‘progressive’ excursion into foreign affairs. These excursions rarely go to any land in white Europe, black Africa, brown America, or yellow Asia or even tribal red America – whether to examine their problems or the USA role or lessons to be learned from their successes and adapted here at home.

    Even less do these excursions focus on the USA’s enabling role for the most repressive and bloodiest tyrannies, like those of Assad and the Ayatollahs and the N Korea Kims. For these regimes the prime survival-enabler has been the studied inaction and pseudo-actions (deliberately dragged-out would-be ‘engagement’, and maybe further dragged out imposition of half-hearted sanctions) of our own USA government under ‘our’ erstwhile hero Obama.

    In fact, these excursions rarely go to any foreign corner of the world at all other than maybe where Americans are fighting (e.g. now Afghanistan) and – for sure – Israel.

    Not content merely to join others in obsessing about Israel, Benjamin does so in a way that egregiously falsifies and misleads. I’m saddened for us both: I recall once voting for her for statewide office. Never again.

    Sure, Israel is an imperfect living democracy, complete with its own temporary demonstrations and resulting temporary – but, contra Benjamin’s implication, not permanently ‘burgeoning’ – tent cities.

    Despite Benjamin’s knee-jerk lingo about ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’, Israel no longer occupies either Gaza or the populous parts of the West Bank. But, more important than that fact are two others. First, Israelis do not want to be occupiers, but for survival the country MUST effectively control access to all territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

    The remnant occupation is the far-lesser-evil alternative to utterly risky defense lines – as has been learned only too well in the wars of survival in 1948, 1967 and 1973 against a coalition – of Arab and other Islamic nations and regimes – which now include Hamas and, until proved otherwise, PLO. Motivated primarily by Islamic supremacy doctrines [which allow no local Jewish sovereignty, and in some cases not even individual Jews], these regimes are all still formally at war with israel or openly call for her immediate or two-staged extinction.

    Let’s be specific about risky lines. In area (and even somewhat in shape), Israel matches about the 6% of California comprising LA+Orange+SD counties. As a map exercise, you can overlay Southern California and our coast with the Mideast and the Med coast. If you put Tel Aviv on my home town of Long Beach, then Beirut, Damascus, and Amman are no further away than are Santa Barbara, Bakersfield and Victorville. And in each case the Mideast terrain barriers (mainly the parallel ranges which sandwich the Jordan rift valley) are less formidable than ours (mainly the San Gabriels). Yes, Israel is quite small and some of her unrelenting enemies are very near. Contra Benjamin’s rhetorical skepticism, if nothing else the AIPAC trip will inevitably make that all-important fact very real for the participants.

    Benjamin laments the Israeli ‘invasion’ of Gaza but has no lament for – or lesson learned from – its cause: the thousands of rockets launched on Israel towns and countryside by the controlling Hamas regime. After Israel withdrew entirely from Gaza in 2005, thereby giving Palestinian Arab nationalists a clear chance to focus on and demonstrate economic and political progress toward an independent coexisting state, the world and Israel were rewarded instead with the rocket attacks.

    Contra Benjamin, Gaza is NOT now ‘under siege’. Restrictions on goods and people movement owe to Israel’s defense precautions. Almost all civilian goods CAN enter and leave Gaza. Yes, rebuilding of some homes in the preferred material – concrete and metal (for rebar) – is difficult because Hamas appropriates those very materials – and sometimes intended housing sites as well – instead to build rockets and bunkers, as well as preferential housing for its high honchos. Israel has accordingly restricted imports of those materials.

    Contra Benjamin, apparently anyone in Gaza with a visa to a foreign land CAN travel. To be sure, their supposed friends in Arab and other countries – including the USA – haven’t exactly rushed to grant immigrant or even travel or visas to long-time Gaza residents, but all sorts of UN and NGO functionaries keep coming and going in order to maintain and enhance the 61-year-old world-financed (mostly by western, scarcely by Arab countries) welfare bureaucracy according to which – unlike any other place in the world – most Gazans and their descendants unto the thousandth generation are accounted inherently meritorious aid-entitled refugees.

    The USA’s $3 billion in annual military ‘aid’ to Israel is largely a stimulus for our own defense contractors. It is almost all spent in the USA. The aid dates mainly from the 1980s, when Israel withdrew from the Sinai to enable the peace agreement with Egypt. The aid is intended to enable Israel, within her thus-reduced defensive depth, to still maintain credible deterrence vs the coalition of her enemies. Similar annual USA military aid to Egypt has been intended as an inducement to Egypt to keep the peace rather than rejoin the coalition.

    Benjamin complains about billions allegedly wasted and also lists places and events that the AIPAC trip won’t visit. We could better start at home. Besides tens of billions wasted on bailouts, we have our own list of won’t-visits that could be drawn up for Congressfolk on a typical junket here to Southern California and nearby states:

    * They won’t observe the condemned conditions in our jails and state prisons. They won’t spend time with families grieving over losses in gang wars enabled by the utterly failed prohibition and ‘War on Drugs’.

    *They won’t spend hours at border and interior immigration checkpoints and airports where immigrants and even American citizens will be detained if not harassed.

    *They won’t go to Juarez and other Mexican border towns which in effect are under unbearable siege, with people unable to travel freely and often unable to conduct secure business transactions even at home, let alone across the borders, and have little hope of ever restoring modest fortunes destroyed by police-cartel wars enabled by the USA obsession for a War on Drugs.

    *They won’t be visiting today’s overt or hidden Hoovervilles of the homeless and unemployed who have yet to get trickle-down help from the OBushma stimulus, bailout and subsidy programs targeted to the banks and the polluting industries.

  4. Eugene Hernandez says

    I am convinced that my SFV Congressmen, Howard Berman( who has publicly stated that his purpose in Congress is ” to defend the IDF” and Brad Sherman who has made it a Federal law to prosecute any person who engages in Humanitarian aid for Gaza a crime are really representing Israel not Sherman Oaks.

  5. Ted Radamaker says

    Those Congressmen who are not invited to go on these trips are, mostly, those that have already been sufficiently indoctrinated with Israeli propaganda.

  6. anonymous says

    The “Global Exchange” promotes building bridges between all people…except Israel is excluded. This smells like anti-semitism to me.

    • Pam Siegel Zarte says

      I agree with anonymous. This is palestinian/ anti semitic propaganda. It is full of distorted information & out right un truths.

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