American Israel Education Foundation Pays for Fifty-Three Congressmen to Visit Israel
By Jonah Gellman/Contributing Writer
The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a branch of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), paid for fifty-three Congressional representatives to visit Israel at the beginning of August. AIEF lobbies for AIPAC, raising the moral question of whether or not AIEF is using its status as an educational foundation to provide paid trips to American decision-makers in order to persuade them to join their cause. This is controversial because “the House banned groups from paying for extended trips” nearly ten years ago, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Is this paid trip likely to alter the opinions of these fifty-three Congressional representatives?
Each Individual’s trip lasts around five days and accumulates a total cost of approximately $10,000, causing these policy-makers to feel indebted to Israel. Eighteen Democrats met with Netanyahu on August 7th, which is a reason for concern. How can the Palestinian cause be properly represented in Congress when 18 Democrats are accepting an all-inclusive trip to Israel funded by AIEF? The answer is that the current American political atmosphere allows for the continuance of a positive US-Israeli relationship while the US, for the most part, neglects the current dire needs of Palestinians.
Charlie Crist, a Democrat from Florida and one of the 53 guests, recounts visiting “key strategic sites including defense and technology projects; the Gaza, Syrian, and Lebanon borders; the Golan Heights; Jewish, Christian and Islamic Holy sites; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum.” The goal of these visits is to create a more comprehensive “understanding of the security, diplomatic, and economic issues vital to the region and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Over a dozen Latino-American leaders also accepted the opportunity to visit Israel; Celina Vasquez, a government professor at Blinn College, is one of them. She expressed her enthusiasm for the trip, thinking about the new perspective and worldview that she would acquire because “both groups have ‘struggled for self-determination and for a right to exist.” Her acceptance letter stated that the primary objective is for participants to “return to the United States better informed and able to serve as advocates for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” which some might fight to be controversial. Although she met with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, the overarching goal of the program is designed to enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship while disregarding the needs of millions of Palestinians.
Omar Baddar, the Deputy Director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C., weighs in on this issue. He is also a political analyst who has appeared on the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Sky News and more. He is the former Executive Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts and the former Director of the Palestine Cultural Center for Peace in Boston.
Baddar stated that the estimated $10,000 cost per Representative trip to Israel is not likely to completely alter a policy maker’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Baddar stated that those who allowed themselves to go on this trip generally understand that they are witnessing only one side of the issue; and therefore, are not going to be persuaded to change their opinion. This is likely due to the fact that most of the visitors are already supporters of Israel. Rather, Baddar claims that these decision makers are capitalizing on the opportunity to enjoy a free trip to Israel. I also believe that these Congressional representatives are aware of Israel’s biased trip, but their self-awareness enables them to remain firm in their beliefs throughout their week-long trip. In essence, each Congressional representative is not likely to shift his/her opinion due to this $10,000 vacation.
Baddar also provided a glimmer of hope for the future of Palestine. He stated that Israel likely invited Latino-American leaders in an attempt to maintain Israeli support in the future generations. However, American youth and, in particular, young liberals are becoming more aware of the Palestinian struggle. This is reducing Israel’s previously high degree of bipartisan support in the US. Therefore, Israel reached-out to Latino-American leaders to try and solidify their support because they have, historically, voted toward the left.
Baddar believes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Israel to cover up its actions against Palestinians because there is more diversity within the American Jewish community and those that speak out for their community.