Jesse Jackson, Jr. shaking hands with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on a 2003 trip to Israel
Nearly 20 percent of the constituents of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) live under the poverty line, and nearly 15 percent are unemployed. Jackson’s congressional district, covering parts of the south side of Chicago and its southern suburbs, has been hit harder than many others by the crises plaguing the economy. Many of his constituents are looking at even more cutbacks in social services, higher prices for food and fuel, and ever scarcer jobs.
During this August congressional recess, Rep. Jackson, Jr. should be at home, meeting with constituents and proposing to them how he will help them cope with their difficult circumstances. Instead, the politician is proudly gallivanting around Israel, in one of three separate congressional delegations heading there this month on all-expense-paid junkets organized by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a so-called charitable affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential of the myriad pro-Israel lobbying outfits.In total, 81 representatives, nearly one-fifth of the entire House, will participate in these jaunts, which, according to The Washington Post, include “a round-trip flight in business class for lawmakers and their spouses (that alone is worth about $8,000), fine hotels and meals, side trips, and transportation and guides.”
Of course, these congressional delegations are not all fun and games. Members of Congress will be expected to sing for their lavish dinners by honoring President Bush’s 2007 pledge to provide the Israeli military with $30 billion of tax-payer-funded weapons between 2009 and 2018. So far, proposed increases in military aid to Israel have been spared from the budgetary chopping block by President Obama and a compliant Congress that treats Israeli militarism as more sacrosanct than medical care for seniors. This despite the fact that Israel misuses the funds, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians living under its illegal 44-year military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.
According to aidtoisrael.org, constituents in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district will be asked to cough up an astonishing $53 million in federal taxes as their pound of flesh for the Israeli military during this 10-year period. With this same amount of money, each year the federal government instead could give 650 low-income families housing vouchers, or retrain nearly 900 unemployed workers for green jobs, or fund early reading programs for nearly 1,600 at-risk children, or provide primary health care to more than 43,000 uninsured people in Rep. Jackson’s congressional district.
Yali Amit, an Israeli-American constituent of Rep. Jackson, Jr. called his office to oppose his participation in the trip to Israel. He was told that Rep. Jackson, Jr. wants to learn what is happening there because of his position on the appropriations subcommittee that approves military aid to Israel. Amit retorted that “you can’t learn what goes on there on a paid trip of a propaganda arm of the Israeli government.” And you certainly can’t learn about the devastating impact that these U.S. weapons have on unarmed Palestinian civilians, nearly 3,000 of whom were killed by the Israeli military over the last decade.
The House Committee on Ethics should open an investigation to determine if it is even legal for Members of Congress to be participating in junkets organized by AIEF. The guidelines of the committee are as bright and clear as the midday sun on a Tel Aviv beach in August. “The travel provisions of the gift rule severely limit the ability of Members and staff to accept travel from an entity that employs or retains a registered lobbyist or a registered agent of a foreign principal.” (Emphasis in original.)
Legistorm, which tracks congressional travel, explains that “even though AIPAC’s primary purpose is lobbying, its nonprofit arm [AIEF] appears to provide a loophole for sponsored travel.” However, this eureka loophole that AIPAC uses does not withstand scrutiny. According to the latest publicly available tax return of AIEF, the organization has no paid employees — an astounding feat in itself for an organization that raked in more than $26 million in 2009 and a mind-blowing accomplishment for an organization running three huge congressional delegations in one month.
An examination of AIPAC’s latest publicly available tax return reveals the sleight of hand. AIPAC reports that in 2009, it very generously contributed more than $3.2 million of employee salaries to cover the staff costs of AIEF. In other words, a 501(c)(4) organization with registered lobbyists is paying for the staff of a 501(c)(3) organization to run congressional delegations that cannot be funded by an organization that employs registered lobbyists.
Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen who helped draft the new post-Abramoff federal lobbying and ethics reform legislation signed into law in 2007, agrees that something is rotten in state of AIPAC. According to Holman, “The House ethics rules do not provide an exemption for 501(c)(3)s that are controlled and directed by a lobbying entity to pay for travel junkets for members of Congress. When the ethics rules were written in 2007 as part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), an exemption for 501(c)(3)s was written into the Senate rules – which I called the ‘AIPAC’ loophole – but the House under Speaker Pelosi stuck to strict travel rules for its members and declined to poke a comparable loophole into its ethics rules.
“Even if there were such a loophole in House rules,” Holman continues, “which there isn’t, it appears that the 501(c)(3) wing of AIPAC is little more than a front group designed to extend its lobbying activities beyond Capitol Hill. From 2000 to 2006, lobbyist Richard Kessler similarly attempted to evade the ethics rule prohibiting lobbyist- sponsored travel junkets by setting up a 501(c)(3) that he directly controlled to pay for the trips. HLOGA was passed in 2007 to end these types of evasions.”
Constituents should be irate that members of Congress accept fancy trips from AIPAC-affiliates and contributions from AIPAC-inspired political action committee (PACs) that result in the United States prioritizing weapons to Israel above our basic economic rights. And the Committee on Ethics must investigate AIPAC’s skirting of travel regulations and shut down these trips that it has until now allowed.
The Ministry of International Cooperation has accepted US$2 billion in grants and loans from the World Bank under the Partnership for Development program.
Minister for Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abouelnaga has signed an agreement for a grant of US$247 million for ministry employees dealing with international and regional organizations and financial institutions. The grant comes from the World Bank’s Institutional Support Fund.
The minister will also sign an agreement for a US$330 million loan from the bank, in order to modernize the 250 km railway line between Beni Suef and Assiut, in addition to another US$100 million loan for modernizing a 200,000 acre irrigation system in the New Valley region.
The World Bank will also give Egypt a loan of US$600 million to finance the North Giza power station, and another two totaling US$219.75 million to connect the Gulf of Suez wind energy station to the main electrical grid.
Sweden is perceived as being one of the European countries most sympathetic to the Palestinians. Two years ago, some Israelis became so incensed with this alleged bias that they initiated a campaign to boycott Ikea furniture and Absolut vodka.
The reality, as I realized on a trip to Scandinavia earlier this summer, is that the Swedish government has sponsored projects that seek to confer respectability on entrepreneurs who facilitate and profit from Israel’s crimes.
Headquartered in Stockholm, the Palestine International Business Forum (PIBF) is ostensibly focused on stimulating the private sector in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a wider strategy of bringing peace to the Middle East. That “vision” sits uncomfortably with the actual track record of many of the companies taking part in the forum’s activities.
The PIBF’s founders include Yacov Gebhard, chief executive with Partner Communications, a firm that provides telecommunications services to illegal Israeli settlers and the Israeli military. The list of the forum’s corporate members, meanwhile, features such individuals as Rami Guzman, a director of Africa Israel, a company involved in the construction of Israeli settlements, and Shalom Goldstein, a coordinator for the Jerusalem section of Israel’s wall in the West Bank. (Lest we forget, that wall was found to be unlawful by the International Court of Justice in 2004).
Among the other distinguished participants in the PIBF are Moshe Goan, a part-owner of Ahava, the company that produces “Dead Sea mud” cosmetics from an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot, the bank that has provided financial support for the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem. Jacob Perry, chairman of Mizrahi Tefahot, was previously the chief of Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet. Evidently not content with having a reputation for authorizing torture of both child and adult detainees in the 1990s, he has applied fresh Palestinian blood to his hands in more recent years as chairman of Magal and as an advisor to Aeronautics, two makers of weapons used by Israel to murder and maim civilians.
The ghastly deeds of these men are at odds with the caring image that the PIBF projects. Its latest newsletter has a touching story about how it organized the first ever exhibition of Gazan flowers in Israel during April.
Eager to find out how the forum can justify this incongruity, I emailed and phoned Margit Vaarala, its secretary-general. Vaarala told me she was too busy to talk this week and couldn’t tell me when she would be available to comment. “I have just returned from vacation and have a lot of things to do,” she said.
So I called the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), an official government body that gave 19.5 million krona ($3 million) to the PIBF between January 2008 and December 2010. A SIDA spokeswoman explained to me that it has requested a new “conflict analysis and strategy” from the International Council of Swedish Industry, which oversees the PIBF’s activities.
Although the spokeswoman said that the agency wishes to see that analysis before deciding if it will release further funds, she contended that the PIBF had shown “good results” in helping to strengthen the private sector in Palestine.
This explanation chimes with the free market propaganda of the United States, the European Union and institutions they control such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. According to the narrative of these aid donors and their “technical experts”, everything will be fine if enough Israelis can be encouraged to do business with Palestinians.
Their collective worldview is so warped that they have no difficulty embracing arms dealers, torturers and other captains of industry hell-bent on dispossessing Palestinians. The truth is that these donors are not helping Palestine to prosper; they are enabling the banalization of evil.
MEMRI was cited 16 times in the so-called manifesto of Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East media watchdog closely aligned with U.S. neoconservatives and Israel’s hawkish security establishment and rightist Likud Party. The grant was awarded “to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East.” The announcement continues:
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.
Finding examples of anti-Semitism is already a robust MEMRI project and one wonders why exactly they needed the cash: According to publicly available tax filings, MEMRI had nearly $5 million in revenue in 2007 and more than $4.5 million in revenue in 2008.
What’s more troubling, MEMRI has faced accusations of mistranslating items and cherry-picking incendiary sources to portray regional media and attitudes in an overly-negative fashion. One of the most common issues has been with MEMRI’s mistranslations which appear to show anti-Semitism on thin evidence. In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert checked MEMRI’s translations of a Palestinian children’s program against those provided by the cable news channel’s own interpreters:
Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying – quote - ‘We will annihilate the Jews.’ But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us.’ MEMRI told us it stood by its translation.
In other instances, MEMRI has been accused of twisting translations to portray criticisms of Israel and its driving ideology, Zionism, as anti-Semitic. In 2006, Rima Barakat, a Palestinian and Muslim activist and one-time Republican candidate for the Colorado state assembly, wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:
Halim Barakat (no relation), a professor at Georgetown University, published an article in Al-Hayat Daily of London titled “The wild beast that Zionism created: Self-destruction.” By the time MEMRI “translated” it, the title was distorted to “Jews have lost their humanity.” Barakat objected, “Every time I wrote Zionism, MEMRI replaced the word by Jew or Judaism. They want to give the impression that I’m not criticizing Israeli policy, but that what I’m saying is anti-Semitic.” It seems obvious that MEMRI is adamant on stigmatizing anyone who criticizes Israel and/or Zionism as being anti Jewish.
In a 2002 article, then-Middle East editor of the British Guardian newspaper Brian Whitaker criticized MEMRI for inaccuracies that reflected an agenda:
As far as relations between the west and the Arab world are concerned, language is a barrier that perpetuates ignorance and can easily foster misunderstanding.
All it takes is a small but active group of Israelis to exploit that barrier for their own ends and start changing western perceptions of Arabs for the worse.
The organization was founded as a U.S. tax-exempt non-profit in 1998 by now-Hudson Institute Mideast policy chief Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American, and current MEMRI president, Israeli Yigal Carmon, a 20-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces (where he spent five years running Israel’s occupation of the West Bank) and top adviser to two Likud governments. An early archived version of the “about page” of MEMRI’s website lists five staff members, three of whom (including Carmon) have backgrounds in Israeli military intelligence. The same page lists one of MEMRI’s missions as “emphasiz(ing) the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel” — though the line has since disappeared from the website.
In addition to providing journalists and the public with translations, the media watchdog has attracted the attention of burgeoning (and closely linked) European and American anti-Muslim movements. MEMRI was cited 16 times in the so-called manifesto of anti-Muslim right-wing Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik, showing up even more when MEMRITV was included.
MEMRI’s board of directors and board of advisers read as a veritable who’s who of right-wing supporters of Israel — including many neoconservative figues and their close allies — such as Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Steve Emerson, Norman Podhoretz and Alan Dershowitz.
‘Gilad Atzmon‘s The Wandering Who? is a series of brilliant illuminations and critical reflections on Jewish ethnocentrism and the hypocrisy of those who speak in the name of universal values and act tribal. Relying on autobiographical and existential experiences, as well as intimate observations of everyday life, both informed by profound psychological insights, Atzmon does what many critics of Israel fail to do; he uncovers the links between Jewish identity politics in the Diaspora with their ardent support for the oppressive policies of the Israeli state.
Atzmon provides deep insights into “neo-ghetto” politics. He has the courage – so profoundly lacking among western intellectuals – to speak truth to the power of highly placed and affluent Zionists who shape the agendas of war and peace in the English speaking world. With wit and imagination, Atzmon’s passionate confrontation with neo-conservative power grabbers and liberal yea sayers sets this book apart for its original understanding of the dangers of closed minds with hands on the levers of power. This book is more than a “study of Jewish identity politics” insofar as we are dealing with a matrix of power that affects all who cherish self-determination and personal freedom in the face of imperial and colonial dictates.’
Professor James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, author of more than 62 books including The Power of Israel in the United States.