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Pro-Israel group skirts Congress trip regs


From time to time, the Palestine Center distributes articles it believes will enhance understanding of the Palestinian political reality. The following article was published by UPI on 12 September 2011.

“Pro-Israel group skirts Congress trip regs”

A watchdog group said a pro-Israel group funded travel to Israel for U.S. House members through a loophole in a congressional rule barring such arrangements.

The watchdog group Public Citizen said dozens of lawmakers, family members and staff went to Israel this summer for seven-day tours paid for by the non-profit arm of the pro-Israel lobbying group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Roll Call reported Monday. The cost was about $10,000 a person.

The biennial trips are underwritten by the American Israel Education Foundation, which shares leaders, employees and funds with AIPAC, Roll Call said.

“The purpose of the 2007 travel restrictions was to remove these types of sponsored trips. Most of these trips tend to be nothing but an extension of lobbying,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, one of the advocates who helped Congress draft travel rules. “[But] when it came to negotiating the travel rules regarding privately funding trips, a huge gaping loophole was written in to exempt non-profits. … I call it the ‘AIPAC loophole.'”

An AIPAC spokesman told Roll Call the organization doesn’t comment on congressional travel and did not provide the publication an AIEF contact who could comment.

The American Israel Education Foundation has been a big spender on congressional travel during odd-numbered years when it sponsors trips to Israel, records indicate. The Aspen Institute, a non-profit think tank, also is a top sponsor of congressional travel, spending more than $600,000 in the past several years, but the institute doesn’t lobby, Roll Call said.

“When I was first trying to draft this provision, I was convinced it couldn’t be regulated and wanted to ban privately sponsored travel altogether,” Holman said, but “Aspen Institute convinced me these trips could be worthwhile if [the organization] had no lobbying entity.”

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