Whose Congress and State Department?

August is generally a quiet month for news, but riots in Britain, continuing conflict in Libya and Syria, and concerns that Israel and the United States might be preparing some military moves against Iran have generated a bit of unease. Israel has also decided to take advantage of the summer holidays to help along the peace process by building another 1,600 housing units in what used to be called Arab East Jerusalem. No surprise there, as the Israeli government announced its plans when peripatetic Vice President Joe Biden visited last year. You might recall that Joe got tough with the Israelis at that time by refusing to have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who repaid the favor by dressing down the president and allowing Congress to grovel before him on a state visit in May.

But what happens in the Middle East will eventually have to be resolved in the Middle East, even if the incumbent in the White House sometimes thinks otherwise. After all, the Israel-Palestine conflict ultimately will have to be worked out by Arabs and Jews even if a collateral result is trashing America’s reputation and depleting its treasury along the way. Likewise, America will someday have to figure what its genuine interests might be and act accordingly after the soldiers and money run out. Then it will be lights out for international regime-change, democracy-promotion, nation-building, and peace-processing.

Two recent news stories relate to the United States government and how it has been corrupted by its deference to Israel and wasted tax dollars pandering to the Lobby, almost as if it cannot help itself.

The first story, that 20 percent of the House of Representatives will be spending its recess holiday on American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tours of Israel, does not seem to have made the mainstream news, though it has been reported extensively in the alternative media, including this site. The visits are on top of a previous tour by more than 20 congressmen in April, and yet another group will be going in December. The current tours, one consisting of 26 Democratic congressmen headed by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, and two others of 55 Republicans, one led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are ostensibly intended to provide Congress with a “deeper understanding” of the situation in the Middle East. For “deeper understanding” one might easily substitute “Israeli viewpoint.”

Less reported than the visit itself has been the comportment of the congressmen while in Israel, which has been something akin to unconditional surrender. Hoyer, a committed Christian Zionist who is on his 12th trip to Israel, reassured Israelis that Washington’s financial challenges “will not have any adverse effect on America’s determination to meet its promise to Israel.” Hoyer means that it will be okay to cut Medicare and adversely affect the commitment to America’s elderly, but Israel’s $3 billion plus per year, largely used to buy weapons that it does not need, will be untouched. He also gave the green light for Israel to build its new houses in East Jerusalem, a viewpoint that runs counter to what the White House is apparently saying but which might just as well be a signal to the Israeli government that Washington does not really care if the houses are built or not. Or that it certainly doesn’t care enough to do anything about it with an election coming up next year.

Both Hoyer and his Republican counterpart Eric Cantor took the opportunity to warn the Palestinian leadership that Congress will eliminate all aid if it goes ahead with plans to declare statehood at the U.N. in September. Some might recall that in November 2010, Cantor met privately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged that the Republican Party would serve as a “check” against any unwelcome initiatives by President Obama. At the time Cantor was not yet majority leader of the House, but his offer to support a foreign leader against the president of his own country went unchallenged and did not impede his political ascent.

The second story comes from Hillary Clinton’s State Department, where the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has awarded a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) “to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East. This grant will enable MEMRI to expand its efforts to monitor the media, translate materials into ten languages, analyze trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and glorification, and increase distribution of materials through its website and other outlets. Through translations and research, MEMRI aims to inform and educate journalists, government leaders, academia, and the general public about trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Middle East and South Asia, thus generating awareness and response to these issues.”

Supporters of Israel would no doubt argue that congressional visits to Israel are not necessarily bad and that it is completely proper to look into anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The problem is that it is difficult to discern a genuine United States interest in such goings-on, which are symptomatic of the special treatment of Israel and Israeli interests in general all across the government. Such treatment frequently comes with a price tag attached for the rest of us. What possible interest do the American people have in anti-Semitism in Asia? Why are congressmen drawn to Israel like moths to the flame, so much so that fully 10 percent of all international trips made by congressmen are to Israel?

Critiquing the two stories separately, the sponsored trip to Israel is not free in the sense that it is part and parcel of the dominance of Congress by Israeli interests. Congressmen are, in theory at least, elected by their constituents and handsomely compensated to do what is beneficial for the United States, not for a foreign country. But the Israel Lobby knows that it is a good investment to take a new congressman on an all-expenses-paid visit to Israel where he will be educated in Tel Aviv’s view of the Middle East and the Muslim world. If the congressman is alert to the politics involved, he will understand that openly sympathizing with Israel’s “plight” will result in financial and media support back in the U.S. and he will welcome AIPAC’s position papers that tell him how to vote on key issues. If he balks, he will be made to understand that opposing measures favored by Israel could result in his being confronted by a well-funded challenger when he seeks reelection. That kind of stick-and-carrot persuasion makes it easy to produce a tame congressman who will give you his vote, because he knows that crossing the Lobby is asking for trouble.

The second story, about MEMRI, the recipient of the State Department grant, is also of interest. Why is it important? After all the money probably amounts to what most people on Capitol Hill regard as chump change, certainly not enough to buy a wheel off the F-35 air-superiority fighter, which comes in at a cool $133 million per unit. The Pentagon has ordered 2,443 of them, and they sure will come in handy if Canada tries to invade. But just like the untouchable Pentagon budget, it is more important to recognize the political context of the MEMRI contract, that the money is being provided at a time when every other program is being cut. It is a token of commitment on the part of Hillary Clinton and her cohorts, revealing a constituency that she and the White House consider to be so important that it must be appeased. Among other things, the never-ending search for anti-Semitism serves as confirmation of the perpetual victimhood of the state of Israel, justifying whatever action Tel Aviv chooses to take to “protect itself.”

Clinton describes herself as a liberal Democrat, but MEMRI is a neocon stronghold, so what gives? What we are seeing is the neoconization of foreign policy across the board and in both political parties, much of it driven by Israeli citizens or dual nationals. MEMRI was founded by former Israeli intelligence officers and once included Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-born  Zionist who is now ensconced at the Hudson Institute, a leading neocon think tank. Her husband, David, who was born in Switzerland, was a foreign policy adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Many believe that MEMRI has been agenda-ridden from the start, occasionally mistranslating and cherry-picking the most extreme press reports to support an anti-Arab agenda. Thanks to Hillary Clinton, it is now being funded by the United States government to begin a hunt for anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers worldwide. It will certainly find them, even if it has to be inventive to do so. One might well ask why the State Department is wasting money tracking such people all over the globe and what benefit the American people will derive from the search, but don’t expect an answer any time soon.

Americans who like Israel and everything that pertains to it are certainly free to express their views, but there is something unseemly and even grotesque about the continuous promotion of foreign interests ahead of those of the United States. MEMRI produces material that supports the propaganda line of the Israeli government as well as domestic Islamophobes, while AIPAC is a lobby dedicated to maintaining uncritical U.S. government support for a foreign country.

It can be argued that Washington entered into at least one foreign war because of the many groups, including AIPAC and MEMRI, that are part of the Israel Lobby. Hillary Clinton just might consider a better use for the $200,000, and the congressmen who accept the junkets and who will vote at Israel’s beck and call should be asking themselves whose interests they are really serving. George Washington famously warned about entangling foreign alliances, but one suspects that Hillary Clinton and those who surround her are too busy looking forward to heed the past. And what would our first president think about the 81 congressmen  going off to obtain guidance from a foreign government? He would probably think it unimaginable, in the Republic that he helped establish, that the people would not rise up in anger and throw the bums out. Would that it were so.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.