In May 2009, Congressmen Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) wrote to President Barack Obama about U.S. policy toward Israel. Their staff sent the letter as a PDF but forgot to change the name of the file to something other than "AIPAC Letter Hoyer Cantor May 2009.pdf."
AIPAC stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group widely recognized as one of the most effective at lobbying Congress, and a group that consistently promotes the positions of the rightwing party of the Israeli government. AIPAC also has the distinction of having lobbied against accountability for an Israeli attack on a U.S. ship and in favor of leniency for a man convicted of selling U.S. secrets to Israel. In a separate case, six years ago, two AIPAC employees were indicted for obtaining U.S. secrets from a U.S. military employee who pled guilty. After powerful Congress members like Jane Harman (D., Calif.) lobbied on their behalf, the charges were dropped.
That's what it means to be an effective lobby group: having your way. Need sanctions on Iran? You got em. Support at the United Nations for illegal settlements in Palestine or a blockade and bombing of Gaza? Not a problem. In fact, it would be our pleasure to provide the weapons needed, whether it's for bombing Gaza, bombing Lebanon, or killing Turkish and American peace activists on an aid ship as happened last year. We'd be honored, and don't let cost be a consideration! That would be an insult in these times of huge budget surpluses in Washington! (Warning, this paragraph contained sarcasm.)
We give $3 billion in "military aid" to Israel every year, more than we give to any other country. This is justified by the need to protect Israel from all the other countries in its region, most of which we also give or sell arms to. Last fall, when pressure was building in Washington to cut off foreign aid spending, Congressman Cantor proposed making an exception for Israel that would help guarantee it $30 billion over the next decade by hiding that funding in the U.S. "defense" budget. That proposal didn’t fly, but neither has any funding of Israeli weapons been cut.
Is there any spending here in Virginia that Congressman Cantor has defended this tenaciously? Would there be if we could afford it?
Cantor is listed on Maplight.org as the top recipient of campaign money from "pro-Israel" groups in the U.S. House of Representatives, having taken in over $200,000. These groups, most of them affiliated with AIPAC, dump tens of millions of dollars into U.S. elections each cycle. And they certainly appear to get what they pay for. In February, continuing a decades-long pattern that has made the United States the leader in U.N. vetoes, President Obama instructed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to veto and overrule the other 14 Security Council members' backing of a resolution condemning as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The problem here is more specific than the wild-west financing of U.S. elections. The problem is that the interests of the Israeli government, far from always representing the Israeli people, in no way represent those of the American people or the people of Virginia. Our views may align or diverge. But the Israeli government's hostility toward Iraq or Iran, Lebanon or Palestine, or to independent democratic rule in Egypt and the rest of the region, need not be our own. That should be for us to decide, open to foreign input, but free of foreign financial pressure. AIPAC raises its money in the United States but advances the agenda of a foreign nation, diverging often from the majority views of both Americans at large and Jewish Americans in particular.
Later this month, Congressman Cantor will be a featured speaker at AIPAC's annual conference in Washington DC, but over 100 peace and justice organizations will be holding a counter-conference called "Move Over AIPAC." I wonder if Eric Cantor will get the message.
David Swanson is an author and blogger in Charlottesville, VA.