Saturday, February 24, 2007


Branded as 'educational,' these trips offer Israeli propagandists an opportunity to expose members of Congress to only their side of the story.

By Jim Abourezk
SIOUX FALL, S.D. - Democrats in Congress have moved quickly – and commendably – to strengthen ethics rules. But truly groundbreaking reform was prevented, in part, because of the efforts of the pro-Israel lobby to preserve one of its most critical functions: taking members of Congress on free "educational" trips to Israel.

The pro-Israel lobby does most of its work without publicity. But every member of Congress and every would-be candidate for Congress comes to quickly understand a basic lesson. Money needed to run for office can come with great ease from supporters of Israel, provided that the candidate makes certain promises, in writing, to vote favorably on issues considered important to Israel. What drives much of congressional support for Israel is fear – fear that the pro-Israel lobby will either withhold campaign contributions or give money to one's opponent.

In my own experience as a US senator in the 1970s, I saw how the lobby tries to humiliate or embarrass members who do not toe the line.

Pro-Israel groups worked vigorously to ensure that the new reforms would allow them to keep hosting members of Congress on trips to Israel. According to the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, congressional filings show Israel as the top foreign destination for privately sponsored trips. Nearly 10 percent of overseas congressional trips taken between 2000 and 2005 were to Israel. Most are paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, a sister organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the major pro-Israel lobby group.

New rules require all trips to be pre-approved by the House Ethics Committee, but Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts says this setup will guarantee that tours of Israel continue. Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported consensus among Jewish groups that "the new legislation would be an inconvenience, but wouldn't seriously hamper the trips to Israel that are considered a critical component of congressional support for Israel."

These trips are defended as "educational." In reality, as I know from my many colleagues in the House and Senate who participated in them, they offer Israeli propagandists an opportunity to expose members of Congress to only their side of the story. The Israeli narrative of how the nation was created, and Israeli justifications for its brutal policies omit important truths about the Israeli takeover and occupation of the Palestinian territories.

What the pro-Israel lobby reaps for its investment in these tours is congressional support for Israeli desires. For years, Israel has relied on billions of dollars in US taxpayer money. Shutting off this government funding would seriously impair Israel's harsh occupation.

One wonders what policies Congress might support toward Israel and the Palestinians absent the distorting influence of these Israel trips – or if more members toured Palestinian lands. America sent troops to Europe to prevent the killing of civilians in the former Yugoslavia. But when it comes to flagrant human rights violations committed by Israel, the US sends more money and shields Israel from criticism.

Congress regularly passes resolutions lauding Israel, even when its actions are deplorable, providing it political cover. Meanwhile, polls suggest most Americans want the Bush administration to steer a middle course in working for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.

Consider, too, how the Israel lobby twists US foreign policy into a dangerous double standard regarding nuclear issues. The US rattles its sabers at Iran for its nuclear energy ambitions – and alleged pursuit of nuclear arms – while remaining silent about Israel's nuclear-weapons arsenal.
Members of Congress may not be aware just how damaging their automatic support for Israel is to America's interest. At a minimum, US policies toward Israel have cost it valuable allies in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world.

If Congress is serious about ethics reform, it should not protect the Israel lobby from the consequences. A totally taxpayer-funded travel budget for members to take foreign fact-finding trips, with authorization to be made by committee heads, would be an important first step toward a foreign policy that genuinely serves America.

• Jim Abourezk is a former Democratic senator from South Dakota.

source: Christian Science Monitor:


UN envoy hits Israel 'apartheid'

A UN human rights envoy has compared Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to elements of apartheid.

The UN's Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, describes the regime as being designed to dominate and systematically oppress the occupied population.

Mr Dugard is a South African professor of international law assigned to monitor Israeli human rights abuses.

He has extensively studied apartheid in South Africa and has compared it to what he saw under Israeli rule.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN secretary general to present reports on human rights to the organisation.

Their findings do not represent UN policy.
In a new report, Mr Dugard says: "Israel's laws and practices certainly resemble aspects of apartheid".

He points to what he describes as "unashamed discrimination" against Palestinians in favour of Israeli settlers.

"It is difficult to resist the conclusion that many of Israel's laws and practices violate the 1966 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination," says the report.
"House demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are carried out in a manner that discriminates against Palestinians.

"Throughout the West Bank, and particularly in Hebron, settlers are given preferential treatment over Palestinians in terms of movement (major roads are reserved exclusively for settlers), building rights and army protection and laws governing family re-unification".

The report ranges widely over the events of the past year and focuses on the Israeli military assault on Gaza during the summer.

This came after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier, who they are still holding.
The army also described its campaign as an effort to stop the firing of crudely-made rockets from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns and villages.

Militant groups like Islamic Jihad often describe these attacks as retaliation for army raids and killings.

During the reporting period, two Israelis died and 30 others were injured in these random Palestinian attacks on civilian targets, and Mr Dugard says that they clearly constitute war crimes.

'Controlled strangulation'
But his report also condemns the two Israeli offensives launched to counter the missile threat from Gaza.

Four hundred Palestinians died, and some 1,500 were injured - many of them civilians. Three Israeli soldiers were killed.

Mr Dugard says that this was a "grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate" response that led to the army committing "multiple war crimes".

He also criticises the very tight controls that Israel maintains over the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza.

These add to the poverty-stricken territory's chronic economic problems - contributing to mounting levels of unemployment and desperation.

Mr Dugard says that Israel is imposing a policy of "controlled strangulation" that is helping to give rise to a failed state on its doorstep.

The Israelis argue that their border controls around Gaza are necessary for security reasons.
Militants have attacked crossing points in the past, and a suicide bomber recently emerged from Gaza and killed three civilians in the Israeli resort city of Eilat.

And more broadly, Israel has dismissed Mr Dugard's report as being one-sided.

A foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said that it was a product of what he called "rank politicisation" of the UN's human rights apparatus.

"This is the promoting of partisan, one-sided political attitudes which frankly don't serve the interests of anyone who is seriously interested in human rights," Mr Regev said.

source: BBC: