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Congress’ Dirty [Seven] Dozen on Aipac All-Expense-Paid Israel Junket

congressional Israel junket

Democratic Congressional porkers at Aipac's trough meeting Pres. Peres

Pork may be treif, but not when it’s dished out by the pro-Israel lobby.

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 47 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 (unconfirmed)
Steny Hoyer D-5 MD
Jesse Jackson Jr. D-2 IL
Erik Paulsen R-MN
Stephen Fincher R-TN
J Randy Forbes R-VA
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
Kathy Castor D-11 FL
Terri Sewell D-7 AL (not confirmed)
Anne Marie Buerkle R-25 NY
Judy Chu D-32 CA
Hank Johnson D-4 GA
Bob Dold R-10 IL (unconfirmed)
Blake Farenthold R-27 TX
Mike Fitzpatrick R-8 PA
Tom Reed R-29 NY
Kevin McCarthy R-22 CA

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.

Finally, there is the ethical and legal dimension of the junket that is deeply disturbing.  Congress members are not allowed to take such trips if sponsored by groups which employ registered lobbyists, which Aipac does.  So to get around the law, Aipac established AIEF as a 501c3 which has no lobbyists on its payroll.  In fact, AIEF has NO employees on its payroll according to its IRS 990 report.  Aipac “lends” AIEF its staff to organize these grand tours of the Israeli heartland.  Because members may accept trips from non-profits, they can do a legal end around ethics laws by lining up at the AIEF trough for a generous feeding.

So what does $700,000 buy for a lobbying group these days?  It buys tons of meaningless ‘sense of Congress’ resolutions that buttress every wild-eyed pet project and policy Aipac is peddling.  These resolutions prove nothing to anyone except that they give Aipac’s donors a sense of their own power in wielding clubs over their captive Congressional audience.  I suppose for the group these junkets are an insurance policy in case Bibi and his far right government ever really need Congress’ help in swatting away a real threat to Likud hegemony–like a UN vote for Palestinian statehood or a concerted international BDS campaign which gained traction and posed a significant financial threat to Israel.  Then Aipac could pull out all the stops to obstruct Obama (if he ever dared to do such a thing) from crossing Israel in a truly serious way.

If there was ever a thing that the Israeli-Arab conflict does NOT need it’s 80 members of Congress braying their ignorance and eternal fealty to Aipac at every turn whether during a junket or back in the halls of Congress.  Instead, they’d be far better off staying home and studying ways to raise revenue and reduce a bloated military budget in order to rein in the nation’s deficit.

UPDATE: We’ve only identified 39 of the 81. Please contact any Congressional wonks among your friends. We should be able to display all 81 of these porkers at Aipac’s trough. The NY Times has run a story which glosses over opposition and interviews or quotes no one opposing the trips. But at least they ran the story.

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  • yankel August 14, 2011, 3:04 AM

    If one tries to isolate one crucial factor to account for the vastly different treatment dished to the two Master-Race-Democracies (the late Apartheid Republic and the live and kicking Greater-Israel), it boils down to the fact that the pro-Apartheid lobby, mighty as it was, has never attained a complete, unquestionable stranglehold on American politics.

    The perks showered on the politicians you named above are not their true motive for participating in such junkets. The fact is that in order to survive in American politics, these guys have to show their ugly faces in such occasions. Or else.

  • mudder August 14, 2011, 3:46 AM

    These possible additional names are purely guesses on my part:
    Kathy Castor D-11 FL 4th from left
    Terri Sewell D-7 AL 7th from right
    Hank Johnson D-4 GA 3rd from right
    Walt Minnick D-1 ID 2nd from right

    • mudder August 14, 2011, 3:50 AM

      Oh…that can’t be Minnick–he retired.

    • mudder August 14, 2011, 4:06 AM

      The FB page of Israel in Miami confirms Kathy Castor’s presence.

    • mudder August 14, 2011, 4:54 AM

      Ann Marie Buerkle R-25 NY is going too, according to auburnpub.com

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 5:37 PM

      Thanks for this info.

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 10:02 PM

      That’s definitely Hank Johnson. I compared his Congressional website photo to the one here & it’s him for sure. We’re up to around 36 ID’ed.

    • mudder August 15, 2011, 10:27 AM

      Here is the evidence on Ann Marie Buerkle:
      “Buerkle held several events in the 25th Congressional District this weekend and has at least one event scheduled for Monday. She will also take some time this month to take a trip to Israel. Buerkle will be one of 81 members of Congress visiting Israel this month.”

      http://auburnpub.com/news/local/article_82bebaac-c618-11e0-878d-001cc4c002e0.html

  • Leonid August 14, 2011, 4:57 AM

    What’s the different between the AIPAC funded tour, and the J Street funded tour which took place a year ago ?

    Where you showing the same critique then as you are now ?

    • Grendal August 14, 2011, 5:50 AM

      “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. ”

      Good for you. It’s good to know our taxpayer dollars are not going to pay for this trip.
      As Leonid stated I wonder why you weren’t as interested in the Soros funded J Street junket?

      • Sam Smith August 14, 2011, 6:10 AM

        Along the same line, I don’t understand the claim that “the $8,000 spent on their behalf should be an embarrassment both to their constituents and those Israelis”. This money is donated by private individuals, who have a right to do with their money as they please.

        • User August 14, 2011, 9:06 AM

          Um was it a tax deductible contribution?

        • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 5:56 PM

          Of course have a right to do what they wish. But if they seek to ‘buy’ a Congress member for Israel they deserve no tax deduction. Nor should a member be allowed to accept such a gift. There are strings attached. Always are.

        • weindeb August 15, 2011, 12:16 AM

          “This money is donated by private individuals, who have a right to do with their money as they please.” I bet that a certain five members of the U.S. Supreme Court would thoroughly agree with this profound assessment. After all, such monetary self-expression encourages and supports the willing whoredom of this flock of leaders in the service of a nation whose arrogant violation of international law damages the reputation of its patron, the very nation this flock is sworn to serve, enhance, protect, etc. Hope our sheep are fed kosher – you know, keep it clean.

      • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 9:24 PM

        First, our tax dollars ARE paying for the trip in the form of a tax deduction offered to the fatcat donors paying for the junkets. Second, I’d much rather taxpayers pay for these trips & have some control over what members can & cannot do on them.

        George Soros didn’t fund the J Street trip. He has funded J Street, but not specifically the junkets. And if you continue posting information that is more slogan than fact, your comment privileges may be reduced. This is not a point scoring hasbara debate. This is a serious discussion venue in which facts are prized above vacuous rhetoric.

        And btw, J Street’s budget is about 10% of Aipac’s overall. I’m far more worried about Aipac’s hegemony over political debate than J Street’s.

      • Scott August 15, 2011, 1:16 PM

        It’s good to know our tax dollars weren’t used for this trip? Do you realize how the monetary system works in this country?

        Taxpayers pay their taxes, which goes to the folks in charge of the federal reserve, then it’s loaned back to the government (with interest, of course), then Congress appropriates between 8-10 billion of that to Israel, Israel uses some for social issues and weapons, then funnels a portion of it back to AIPAC so it can be used to bribe lawmakers on behalf of a foreign nation.

        So yes, taxpayers ARE paying for this. Use your noggin, man!

        Beyond that, we’re on the verge of a depression here, Congress should be going back to their districts/states to meet with the folks who elected them, not run off to a FOREIGN COUNTRY. This is very close to a treasonous act, in my opinion.

        Anyone who is found to be on this trip should be promptly voted out of office in the next election, because they’ve made it quite clear that people from a foreign nation are more important than the people who put them into office. That the worries of Israelis are more important than the worries of Americans. That’s UNACCEPTABLE behavior from an elected official.

        These political action committees have hijacked our government and it’s high time they were all put out of business. Legislators should be accountable to the people, not to some foreign or corporate lobby. It’s legal bribery, plain and simple.

        • Richard Silverstein August 15, 2011, 4:38 PM

          That’s a lame, erroneous characterization of how things work. The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion/yr plus other sums for weapons & other matters. But $10 billion/yr? Unlikely. And Israel certainly doesn’t give Aipac anything. There are more than enough wealthy pro Israel Jews to provide that $70 million w/o tapping Israel. That country certainly provides the lead for Aipac on what it’s agenda should be, but often Aipac is far more right wing than even the Israeli gov’t in its policies.

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 9:15 PM

      There is a huge difference. First, J Street (which I am not a supporter of generally) conducted tours that were much more balanced. Congress members met a wider ideological & political range of guests. They heard much broader political views expressed.

      But in general I think junkets stink. I’d much rather politicians be allowed to raise money specifically for such trips & that they have to spend this money to go on them. There should be very clear definitions of what type of trip is permissible & what isn’t. What type of group may run such a group & what may not. I don’t think lobbying groups of any sort should sponsor such trips. I’d much prefer if Congress itself organized the trips for its members so the trips would be controlled by Congress rather than an interest group.

      I should add that I’m absolutely not opposed to Congressional trips to Israel. In fact, I welcome them. But I think that the trips should be controlled by the Congress member & not by Aipac.

  • weindeb August 14, 2011, 5:03 AM

    Obviously, through this and other methods of prostituting our patently willing politicians in this show of bipartisan ass-licking, AIPAC helps demonstrate that America’s 51st state, unlike each of the other 50, is far more powerful in affecting our foreign affairs. Yes, and as Yankel has said, “… these guys have to show their ugly faces in such occasions.” And of course given their cowardice and pathogenic toadyism, they will do so on this and other less obvious occasions. Equal-opportunity hasbara all the way, international law, morality and American welfare be damned!

  • dickerson3870 August 14, 2011, 5:24 AM

    RE: “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. ~ R.S.

    FROM ALISON WEIR, 08/11/11:

    (excerpts)…81 Congressional representatives from all over the country, led by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are traveling to Israel this month…
    …No other lobby on behalf of a foreign country comes anywhere near to controlling such wealth or taking so many of America’s elected representatives on a propaganda trip to their favorite country.
    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.
    A staff member of one representative participating in this month’s junkets said the representative had no choice. If the Congressional rep didn’t go on the trip, the rep would be targeted by AIPAC, large quantities of money, including massive out-of-state money, would be raised for the opponent in the next election, and quite likely the representative would be defeated. The staffer said that the Israel Lobby is far too powerful to ignore and that American voters have no knowledge of what’s going on.

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/weir08112011.html

  • Bessam August 14, 2011, 1:27 PM

    If more congresspersons travelled to Iran, rather than accepting whatever hateful rhetoric emerges from Israel’s MFA to be be gospel about Iran, it’s possible the US could establish a foreign policy that reflects American values, not Israel’s phobias.

  • dickerson3870 August 14, 2011, 3:34 PM

    RE: “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.” ~ R.S.

    ALSO SEE: Robbing Peter to Pay Israel ~ By Josh Ruebner, Foreign Policy in Focus, 08/12/11

    (excerpts) Nearly 20 percent of the constituents of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) live under the poverty line, and nearly 15 percent are unemployed…
    …During this August congressional recess, Rep. Jackson, Jr. should be at home, meeting with constituents…
    …Instead, the politician is proudly gallivanting around Israel, in one of three separate congressional delegations heading there this month on all-expense-paid junkets organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a so-called charitable affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the myriad pro-Israel lobbying outfits.
    In total, 81 representatives, nearly one-fifth of the entire House, will participate in these jaunts, which, according to The Washington Post, include “a round-trip flight in business class for lawmakers and their spouses (that alone is worth about $8,000), fine hotels and meals, side trips, and transportation and guides.”
    Of course, these congressional delegations are not all fun and games. Members of Congress will be expected to sing for their lavish dinners by honoring President Bush’s 2007 pledge to provide the Israeli military with $30 billion of tax-payer-funded weapons between 2009 and 2018. So far, proposed increases in military aid to Israel have been spared from the budgetary chopping block by President Obama and a compliant Congress that treats Israeli militarism as more sacrosanct than medical care for seniors. This despite the fact that Israel misuses the funds, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians living under its illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
    According to aidtoisrael.org, constituents in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district will be asked to cough up an astonishing $53 million in federal taxes as their pound of flesh for the Israeli military during this 10-year period. With this same amount of money, each year the federal government instead could give 650 low-income families housing vouchers, or retrain nearly 900 unemployed workers for green jobs, or fund early reading programs for nearly 1,600 at-risk children, or provide primary health care to more than 43,000 uninsured people in Rep. Jackson’s congressional district…

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.fpif.org/articles/robbing_peter_to_pay_israel

  • weindeb August 14, 2011, 3:48 PM

    Written by Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University, an interesting piece in today’s SALON, “The freedom-seekers America ignores”, mentions our 81 political sycophants in succinctly laying out some fundamental Palestinian history vis à vis Zionism from the Balfour Declaration to the present. The link for this essay is as follows:

    http://www.salon.com/news/israel/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/08/14/khalidi_israel

  • Miriam August 14, 2011, 5:50 PM

    Last night I spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify, one by one, who’s who in that large group photo. I’ve been really ticked off that despite the 25 group photo published in a few places only a handful of names have been mentioned, over and over again, like Jesse Jackson Jr for instance. Despite due diligence I could only discern 8 of the 2 dozen in the photo though searching high and low for any source listing the 2 travel groups.
    It should NOT be this difficult to learn who has traveled to Israel with Hoyer and Cantor.

    Thanks Richard for providing the link to Legistorm and also to @ weindeb and @ dickerson for the article links.
    thanks also @weindeb and @ dickerson for your article links.

    • Richard Silverstein August 14, 2011, 8:52 PM

      Pls share w. me/us the names you’ve identified. I’d like to ID all 81 if possible.

      • Miriam August 15, 2011, 10:57 AM

        I stumbled on this same group photo late Sat.pm – I enlarged it to max size & was able to identify about 6 of them fairly easily by searching web for ‘clues’ by using overt characteristics such as: gender, skin/hair color, glasses hats, age groups–also, my handy dandy 2011 Cong.directory/C-span helped.
        The “blondes” are plentiful and were harder to differentiate, but the only name you’ve not got on yr list already that i ca add is the woman 3rd from right, Rep Judy Chu D-Ca.

        The men (w/exception of Jesse Jackson Jr & Hank Johnson) eluded me. I’d hoped by now there’d be a complete published list.

        Their apparent”shyness” informs readers that Reps know better but fail to do better- hiding instead of “just saying NO” & not taking the bait. So just add Judy Chu…

      • Bob Mann August 15, 2011, 5:20 PM

        All the names will be made public within two weeks of the end of the last trip. No sleuthing necessary!

        • Richard Silverstein August 15, 2011, 5:25 PM

          Yeah, afraid sleuthing is necessary. I want to nail ‘em while they’re still in Israel & make ‘em have to explain themselves fr. the moment they get off the plane.

          • Bob Mann August 16, 2011, 6:15 PM

            Well, no, sleuthing will not be necessary in a few weeks as all the names will be made public.

            That was my point.

            But, yes, if you feel it is important to know the names before they get off the plane then that would require some detective work.

          • Richard Silverstein August 16, 2011, 7:53 PM

            We’ve ID’ed 43 so far. 38 to go!

          • Ben August 20, 2011, 4:22 PM

            I think “explain” would involve elected officials agreeing with or cowering in fear before someone who thinks terms “nail ‘em” demands respect. I don’t think you, Josh, Allison or their acolytes are going to get any “explanation”. But if your mind is made up, it doesn’t really appear like you need one.

        • Miriam August 15, 2011, 5:47 PM

          I submit that “all the names” should have been made public as soon as they announced they were planning to take such a large number of elected officials out of the country.

          All such events should be made public …just as we often know when/where the President is going to travel….these, mostly freshman elected reps, should be named..

          It’s called open democracy….you know, the kind of thing the govt’s attempting to shove down the throats of others. To be answerable to their constituents and the American people.

          • Bob Mann August 15, 2011, 6:04 PM

            They didn’t all go at once. From what I have read, I believe it was at least three separate trips.

            I am pretty sure that the actual constituents of those Congresspeople who are taking the trips could probably get that information if they contacted their offices.

            I don’t believe that any of them are trying to hide the fact that they are over there or trying to take the trip in secret.

            In fact, I would imagine that some of them plan to use the trip as an illustration of something positive about themselves (for a variety of possible reasons).

      • mudder August 15, 2011, 6:34 PM

        Move Over Aipac reported on its earlier list http://www.moveoveraipac.org/2011/08/representatives-going-on-an-israel-lobby-junket/
        that Mazie Hirono D-2 HI was in attendence. I assume that she must be the 4th from the right rather than Judy Chu D-32 CA. It can be very difficult to identify people from photos–I too spent about an hour on this project. I don’t know how Move Over Aipac made its list.

  • Adam Neira August 14, 2011, 11:44 PM

    There is nothing wrong with these congressmen and women going on a visit to the State of Israel. The two countries share more things in common than differences. They are natural allies.

    Blessings for their trip !

    • Richard Silverstein August 15, 2011, 12:58 AM

      THere certainly is something wrong when it violates Congressional ethics rules as the funding of this trip does.

    • Terry Shepard August 19, 2011, 4:30 PM

      But for those of us who have studied and know the true meaning if zionism, it is a nightmare

  • James Winstanley August 15, 2011, 10:34 AM

    Add one more: Representative Michael Grimm – R-NY

  • Bob Mann August 15, 2011, 2:36 PM

    The Turkish Coalition of America organized a similar trip just this past July for US Reps to visit Turkey and meet with government representatives and policymakers there at a cost of around $6,000 per person as well.

    They are also a non-profit group whose donations are tax deductible.

    In fact, all-expense-paid trips to Turkey, paid for by various Turkish-American groups are taken regularly by groups of US lawmakers.

    I’m not sure why these trips to Israel would run afoul of ethics rules but the trips to Turkey would not.

    In both cases, they are sponsored by groups that themselves are not officially lobby groups, but are affiliated with them.

  • Leo August 15, 2011, 7:40 PM

    Yeah, that’s Judy Chu from Los Angeles; she was wearing that same outfit at a big rally in LA last year against AZ SB1070. I thought she showed some character standing up for immigrants, but being a lapdog for AIPAC after the bombardment of 1500 Palestinians in the 2008-2009 massacre is outrageous.

    • mudder August 15, 2011, 8:12 PM

      Although I don’t doubt your’s and Miriam’s assessment that that is Judy Chu, where is Democrat Mazie Hirono hiding in the photo? Days before the photo was published, Move Over AIPAC said she was on the trip.

      • Richard Silverstein August 15, 2011, 10:26 PM

        A Hawaii resident called her office & a staffer told the caller that Hirono is not on the trip. This is confirmed by Michael Brown of IMEU, a reputable source. That’s why I’ve marked Hirono as unconfirmed. I don’t think she’s there at all.

  • Al August 19, 2011, 5:09 PM

    Herrera’s office is denying it. I’m trying to find out more.

  • Tom August 22, 2011, 3:30 PM

    When was the last time 81 Representatives went to any one of our fifty States?