Slamming a loophole in an anti-corruption law which has allowed the pro-Israel lobby to influence U.S. lawmakers, the grassroots social justice organization CodePink filed a complaint Thursday over the recent AIPAC-funded trip Democrats and Republicans in Congress took to Israel.
Forty-one Democratic lawmakers just returned from the country. Republicans are still in Israel on a trip sponsored by the American-Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the non-profit organization created by the pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC.
According to CodePink, the trips violate the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (HLOGA), the 2007 law enacted to bar lobbyists and organizations that employ lobbyists from paying the travel expenses of members of Congress.
As CodePink co-founder Ariel Elyse Gold explained in a video posted to Twitter, an exception written into the law—known as the "AIPAC loophole"—has allowed the powerful lobbying group to create the AIEF and send members of Congress to Israel through the non-profit, while paying for the trip and controlling what lawmakers see while they are in Israel.
"There's really no difference between AIPAC and their 501(c)(3), AIEF. They share millions of dollars exchanged between the two of them," said Gold, holding a sign reading AIEF = AIPAC. "Their staff is paid by AIPAC...They're in the same building, working off the same money. Same agenda."
WATCH: @ArielElyseGold and @medeabenjamin just stopped by @AIPAC’s DC office after filing a complaint with the Committee of Congressional Ethics about AIPAC funding illegal propaganda trips to Israel for members of US Congress. #SkipTheTrip pic.twitter.com/aWkpjCPncs
— CODEPINK (@codepink) August 14, 2019
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CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin noted that the regular congressional trips to Israel are shrouded in secrecy and that members of Congress are exposed only to the Israeli government's side of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
"These congresspeople are our public officials who are being taken by lobbyists to a foreign country for the purpose of increasing support for Israel—a country that already receives $3.8 billion a year of our tax dollars," said Benjamin in a statement. "When we try to get AIPAC, AIEF, or even members of the Congress to tell us who is on the trip or what the itinerary is, we are denied this information. This devious exploitation of the law and this lack of transparency are unacceptable and we call on the Office of Congressional Ethics to take action."
.@CODEPINK files ethics complaint re AIPAC’s congressional junkets to Israel. We want to know which congresspeople are on the trips, what is the itinerary and how can a lobby group legally offer free trips to congresspeople. https://t.co/AIooaR1kq4
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) August 15, 2019
While the 2019 congressional trip did meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, CodePink noted, members "did not travel to the most problematic places in the West Bank, such as the city of Hebron where checkpoints exist within the city and walkways are divided between Israeli Jews and Palestinians."
CodePink praised 30 members of Congress who opted not to participate in the AIEF trip, including progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
"I hope that with the next [freshman] class, we will no longer have to go this route because the Office of Ethics will put an end to such unethical behavior," Gold said.