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Column: Israeli public affairs group too influential in Washington


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INDIANAPOLIS — News that three Indiana members of Congress are among scores who have accepted free trips to Israel courtesy of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is disturbing for a reason not commonly inferred from the expose.

Not that the news is necessarily taken for an expose. Sure, it’s another instance of the weakness for freebies on the part of avowed conservatives who are quick to denounce earmarks and social spending. On the other hand, this junket can be defended as a fact-finding mission to a key area of foreign policy concern, with no bill for the taxpayers.

My concern is something aside from that debate.

My concern is with the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Not just with its power and its excesses, but with the fact there is not an American Palestinian Public Affairs Committee — or more precisely, no representative organization of the Palestinian people capable of exerting a sliver of AIPAC’s influence.

The counterpart to Israel and its American agents treating planeloads of U.S. elected officials to luxury field trips is a handful of peace activists digging into their own pockets and the meager treasuries of humanitarian groups to fly to disputed territories and hope they get in and not arrested.

The contrast would be lost on U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski, Luke Messer — who represents Bartholomew and Jennings counties — and Susan Brooks, and that’s the problem.

As far as the preponderance of the Hoosier congressional delegation, and indeed the Indiana and American political establishment and news media, are concerned, there is but one side to the bitter, volatile and strategically critical conflict in the region that two peoples claim a right to inhabit.

We don’t care to know the history of a land that has lurched from tension to turmoil in the six decades since European settlers declared hegemony over it. Instead, we embrace a narrative of modern democratic good guys fending off apocalyptic terrorism, and pour funds into their military while blaming bad leaders and primitivism for the desperate plight of the faceless thousands under occupation.

To question specific Israeli government actions is to have one’s loyalty to an ally questioned. Worse, to risk being labeled anti-Semitic — stones thrown most often from a glass house.

Walorski’s remarks about imperiled Israel were typical and could have been uttered by Gov. Mike Pence when he was in Congress. The Christian Right, never known as a champion of Judaism over here, is more gung ho for right-wing Israeli governments than is the Israeli population itself. But the blindness toward the other side is bipartisan. Ask Hillary Clinton. Ask any viable presidential candidate.

Ask Joe Donnelly. When the Democrat was campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat he won in 2012, I asked him how the U.S. might somehow, under the globally minded Barack Obama, take an evenhanded position on the Middle East.

He offered two responses. One, the absurd Israel-hatched cliché that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Two, that he had stood on a hillside overlooking a Palestinian village with an Israeli general, who told him he knew there were terrorists down there.

Well, if a general for their side says that about the other side, it ought to satisfy the guy over here who’s voting to bankroll the fighter jets and bulldozers.

Ignorance. Willful, blithe, convenient, paid for, rarely contested — virtually never by anyone who can afford to take politicians to Tel Aviv or even lunch. Much less threaten their re-election.

However one feels about the distribution of guilt and the direction of diplomacy regarding the endangered residents of Israel and the wretched denizens of Gaza and Hebron, there must be agreement we are not talking reality at the level of privilege and power.

That’s the story. Not the easy life of a Washington careerist. Rather, the hardship and hard feelings, very wide and very deep, that result from their comfortable decisions.

It’s not just about Israel’s security, Walorski said. It’s about America’s. She has no idea how right she is. It’s about the whole world’s fate. No visibility, no justice. No justice, no peace.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”

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