Israel, here we come! US Congress on holiday

Kvetching About Congress’s Big Trip to Israel
By John Hudson, The Atlantic Wire

For critics of the Israeli government, news that 20 percent of the U.S. Congress is heading to the Jewish state during the three-week recess is a pretty clear sign that the U.S. does not use an even hand in the Middle East. While many members of Congress scheduled visits to the Palestinian territories as well, the Israel trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group affiliated with the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They signed up 55 Republicans and 26 Democrats, with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer leading the Democrats and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor leading a cohort of Republicans. The first group is scheduled to arrive today. The large group of vacationers (The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg says the numbers “seem even higher than usual”) didn’t go unnoticed in the foreign affairs blogosphere.

“Action alert! Call your representative & ask them where they are during recess- in their districts or in #ISRAEL!?” tweeted Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink. Not wasting a moment, right-wing firebrand Andrew Breitbart first employed his signature hate retweet and then went straight for the ad hominem attack. “What’s not to H8 about sickening Code Pink? Jodie Evans, come clean on how you got & are spending your mega-millions! … Code Pink… is partially funded by leader Jodie Evans’ dead mega-capitalist hubbie!”

Taking a more measured approach, foreign affairs bloggers Jeff Blankfort and Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss employed sarcasm to make a point:

“This is just another example of how we are living in inflationary times. In 2009, the year before the last election there were only 55 members of Congress going to Israel during the August recess, 25 Republicans followed by 30 Democrats. This brings up the old joke: “Why doesn’t Israel want to become the 51st state? Because then it would only have two senators.”

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels at Commonweal got a little sarcastic herself. “Will they fit in visits to Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, I wonder?” Meanwhile, the pro-Israel blog Israel Matzav, home to an American expat living in Israel was ecstatic. “The Congress is coming, the Congress is coming!” read the headline. “Welcome to Israel, folks. And if you want to hear from an American blogger who grew up in Boston and last lived in the US in New Jersey, please send me an email.”

The Congress is coming, the Congress is coming!
‘Carl in Jerusalem’, Israelmatzav blog

There’s a Congressional recess ahead, and for many Representatives, Israel (where they are less likely to be asked about the United States’ financial problems) is the place to be. 55 Republicans (for whom trips to Israel are becoming de rigeur) and 26 Democrats are heading here over the next few weeks. For those of you who don’t do math, that makes 81 or more than 20% of the Congress.
Most of the representatives are freshmen congressmen, with 47 – or fully half of the freshmen Republicans voted into office in 2010 – making the trip.

For many of them, this will be their first trip to Israel.

The week-long trips are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which brings large delegations of congressmen here every other August.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) will head the Democratic delegation, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) will lead one of the Republican groups.

Hoyer, in a statement, said he looked forward to “returning to Israel to continue learning firsthand about the evolving security situation in the Middle East, the deep challenges facing Israel, and the role the US can play in the region during this time of uncertainty.

I’m pleased members of Congress have this opportunity to study American interests in the Middle East and gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.”

The delegation will visit both Israel and the West Bank, and is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Among those on the delegation arriving Monday are Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., Ohio’s Betty Sutton, and Pennsylvania’s Mark Critz.

In a related development, The Israel Project will be bringing a group of 18 Washington-based ambassadors from Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America to Israel on Monday for a weeklong tour and high-level meetings. Like the congressmen, they will also go to Ramallah, for a meeting with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Among the countries represented on the trip are Albania, Barbados, Belize, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Macedonia, St. Lucia and Uganda.

Some of these countries have been mentioned by officials in Jerusalem as likely candidates to either vote against, or at least abstain, when the vote on Palestinian statehood comes before the UN in September.
Welcome to Israel, folks. And if you want to hear from an American blogger who grew up in Boston and last lived in the US in New Jersey, please send me an email.

I wonder if this includes all the Representatives coming here for Glenn Beck. Heh.

Who’s paying for Congress to summer in Israel? Liberal foundations that give halls to Princeton and Yale and fund Human Rights Watch
by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss

The center of student life at NYU is a striking building called the Kimmel Center on Washington Square. Martin and Helen Kimmel have given NYU millions. The Kimmels also give tons of money to the Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of African Art, Habitat for Humanity, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Sidwell Friends School, and Human Rights Watch too.

Yesterday the Washington Post said that 81 congresspeople are going to Israel this summer “courtesy of the AIPAC lobby”– as if we have the bad old right-wing Israel lobby to blame.

But that’s a delusion. It’s people like the Kimmels, the heart and soul of the liberal Jewish establishment. The Kimmels give big-time to the American Israel Education Foundation, the AIPAC spin-off that funds charities and pays for congresspeople to travel to Israel. The Kimmels gave $3.5 million to the American Israel Education Foundation, or AYE, over several recent years, according to the Form 990s that their family foundation has provided to the government.

Indeed, my search of 990s shows that the AYE is getting tons of money from the same people who fund good liberal institutions. I’ve looked at about a third of more than 300 federal filings of charitable contributions to the AYE in recent years; and the pattern is clear–many people who give to liberal causes like abortion right also pay for Israel junkets.

The Abby and Mitch Leigh Foundation gave the Abby and Mitch Leigh Hall to Yale University’s music school. It also gives generously to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which took on the Bush Administration on abortion policy. Well, the Leigh Foundation has given $35,000 to send your congressperson to Israel.

Or the Wilf Foundation. It gave Princeton University a lovely new brick dormitory called Wilf Hall, which is under construction. And meantime the Wilfs have given $150,000 to the AIEF, according to government filings.

Consider the Arlene and Daniel Fisher Foundation– the Fishers love the arts. They give money to the Actor’s Fund, the Roundabout Theater and the Manhattan Theatre Club, where young friends of mine have done workshop productions. But they also gave $175,000 to the American Israel Education Foundation, which is paying for congresspeople to learn how great Israel is.

Or Margaret and Richard Lipmanson Foundation. It gave the liberal group the ACLU $10,000 one year– and the American Israel Education Foundation $30,000.

Or the Long-Island-based Susan and Leonard Feinstein Foundation. It helps liberal causes, education and the arts– Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the American Ballet Theater, Nassau Coalition Against Domestic Violence, NYU School of Medicine. But the Feinstein Foundation gave $450,000 to the American Israel Education Foundation over eight years.

Yes, the American Israel Education Foundation gets hundreds of thousands, millions even, from right-wingers. Sheldon Adelson gives it money, for instance. There are many obviously-conservative Jewish-oriented foundations in the lists of AIEF givers. Susan Wexner’s foundation funds AIEF and also the David Project and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

And Haim Saban, the “ardent Zionist” toymaker, gave $8 million to the American Israel Education Foundation over two years and more than $6 million to the Friends of the IDF (Israeli army).

Saban was also giving millions to Bill Clinton’s Presidential Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

And that’s the point. When you comb through the lists of people who are paying for 1 out of 5 Congresspeople to spend their recess in Israel this summer, many of them are the heart and soul of the liberal Jewish establishment. And apart from the political corruption question– why is a Congresswoman in Israel not her home district this August as the economy disintegrates?– these donor lists speak to a larger cultural issue: the inability of the liberal establishment to address the Israel/Palestine issue in a liberal fashion.

When Princeton, and Yale, and NYU, and Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Ballet Theater, and the Manhattan Theatre Club and the ACLU are getting huge gifts from these foundations, do you think they don’t know which side their bread is buttered on?

Comments (for the rest of the v56 comments, click on headline link)

Exiled At Home August 11, 2011 at 10:34 am


Thanks for this post. As a fairly conservative libertarian, I have been appalled at the naivety of the left, many of whom see unbridled support of Israel as a largely right-wing conception, a Republican issue, when in fact support of Israel is not only a massively bipartisan agenda, but also an issue that brings in financial support from ideologues across the political spectrum. When such fiercely partisan enemies can come together nearly unanimously in support of Israel, it’s worrisome. The sooner Progressives begin to examine their own camp’s complicity in this quagmire, the better for all of us.

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