One-fifth of the US Congress is currently in Israel on a free trip sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation, an affiliate of the largest Zionist lobby in the US: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.Although accepting free trips from lobbyists is illegal for Congress members under US anti-graft and corruption laws, the trips to Israel have been granted a special exception by the Congress.
The Congress members, led by Representative Steny Hoyer, will receive briefings from Israeli government officials, tour historic religious sites and receive a guided tour around Israel by Israeli tour guides intent on promoting Israeli policies in the region.
Critics of the trips argue that in addition to the issue of graft, the tours are extremely one-sided and may even provide the Congressmembers with factually false information and history, thereby misinforming their perception of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
There is no part of the tour that allows the Congressmembers to travel to the Palestinian side of the Israeli-constructed Wall independently to meet with refugees and others living under Israeli military occupation since 1967. They will, however, meet with the US-supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term of office ran out two years ago, but who has thus far refused to hold new elections.
Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink for Peace, one of the groups organizing against the Congressional trips to Israel, wrote, ‘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.’
She says the tour is extremely biased and one-sided, despite the claim that the Congressmembers will visit leaders ‘across the political spectrum’. Benjamin adds, ‘They wonâ€™t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing. They wonâ€™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 wonâ€™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. ‘
Many Americans have argued that the $3 billion in direct aid and $3 billion in indirect aid provided to Israel each year by the US Congress would be better spent reviving the declining US economy.