For years, freshman Democratic lawmakers have faced pressure to attend an AIPAC sponsored trip to Israel, where they were denied access to Gaza and other territories controlled by Israel.
The pressure remains stronger than ever today, reports The Intercept, even as Israel’s mideast policy is increasingly questioned.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) assured AIPAC that this year the trip would be as well attended as it has been previously. “Like many of you, I’ve traveled to the communities in the south of Israel that have endured rockets and tunnels. I’ve traveled with over 150 of my fellow Democratic members of Congress to meet with those who live under the constant threat of terror,” he said in an April address to AIPAC.
“This August, I will travel with what I expect will be our largest delegation ever – probably more than 30 Democratic members of Congress, including many freshmen,” Hoyer added. “They will see first-hand the threats and challenges faced by Israel and its people as well as their extraordinary courage and achievements. It has been – and continues to be – the platform of our party and the priority of our Democratic caucus that ‘a strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism.’”
The Intercept traces the ways that AIPAC’s influence may be starting to wane. For example, when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was besieged by accusations of anti-Semitism, Democrats stopped short of officially condemning her on the House floor. She also remains on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“AIPAC’s inability to make that happen was an additional setback for the organization, which only heightens the importance of a successful trip,” writes The Intercept.
Yet, the trip remains a must, thanks in large part to Hoyer — who has resisted calls by members to take part in a trip organized by the reformist group J-street.
“Hoyer, according to former members of Congress who have resisted the pressure to join AIPAC’s delegation, uses his power over the House floor agenda to coerce participation,” writes The Intercept.
“A member who refuses an invitation can find it difficult to have his or her bills brought to the floor for a vote. “His senior staff lock down cooperating members by getting their bills to the floor and punishing non-cooperators,” said one former representative who rejected the invitation. “I was tortured for a decade because I refused to go on that trip and went with J Street instead.”
But some of the most prominent new members of Congress are avoiding the AIPAC trip.
“Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, announced late last year that she would be skipping the AIPAC trip and instead leading her own delegation to the West Bank,” The Intercept writes. “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York announced she’d be skipping the trip as well.”