Archive: September, 2011

Visiting the Office of Congressional Ethics About AIPAC Junkets to Israel

By Medea Benjamin

Two members of CODEPINK, Tighe Barry and myself, along with Grant Smith from IRmep had a meeting with three lawyers from the Office Of Congressional Ethics (including the OCE’s director) about the complaint we submitted regarding AIEF/AIPAC trips to Israel. We walked them through our complaint, including the growing body of evidence that AIEF functions more as a lobbying slush fund than a legitimate charitable nonprofit.

OCE explained the rules from their more narrow perspective. They said that while AIPAC might be taking advantage of every loophole, the trips may not be illegal. OCE explained that without documentable “factual evidence” of wrongdoing, they won’t initiate an investigation— and that it is up to us to provide that evidence.

Such evidence could include proof of AIPAC lobbyists contacting members to arrange the trips, AIPAC lobbyists traveling with members on the same jet liner, or AIEF “retaining or employing a lobbyist.” The OCE’s definition of a lobbyist is extremely narrow—and AIPAC claims to employ only nine such individuals on its domestic disclosures.

While OCE agreed that AIPAC may quite likely have had a hand in these trips, and may even be overstepping the lines of legality, we simply need more proof to trigger OCE action.

When we revealed the fact that AIEF has no employees, that 66% of its board are also AIPAC directors, and that the trips were organized by AIPAC staff, OCE claimed that was not illegal. Employees, if they are not registered lobbyists but simply “work for” a lobbyist group, are allowed to “volunteer their time” to work for AIEF. We were told that it is also legal for the executive director of AIEF to have his salary paid by AIPAC (which is the case now), because he is not a registered lobbyist. If any of the AIPAC lobbyists were involved in any aspect of the trip, that would be illegal, but this would also be pretty much impossible for us to prove. (And OCE clarified that if any proof were obtained illegally/or involved attorney/client privileged information, they would not be allowed to accept it as evidence.)

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Congress Sees Middle East Through AIPAC-Colored Glasses

During August recess this year, 81 members of Congress went on a junket to Israel funded by the Israel lobby group AIPAC (well, funded by the American Israel Education Fund, but they are really one and the same) to “learn first-hand about one of our closest friends and allies.” While the representatives insist they got a balanced view, their itinerary belies that claim: 95% of their time was spent hearing the Israeli government point of view, with only one token meeting with Palestinian reps.

CODEPINK has filed a complaint with the Congressional Ethics Committee stating that these trips—and the upcoming ones scheduled for December–violate the Congressional prohibition on traveling with a lobby group. We feel these Potemkin voyages are part of AIPAC’s grand plan to control and monopolize Congress, which is not just unethical, but dangerous. Their bias reinforces a disastrous U.S. policy of unconditional support for Israel that obstructs peace and runs counter to our national interests.

At a recent Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, entitled “Promoting Peace? Reexamining US Aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA)”, we got a glimpse of what happens when Congress views the Middle East through AIPAC-colored glasses. Here are a few of examples of their tunnel vision:

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