Of course, Congressmen deserve a break. They need to relax and spend time with their families just like any other working stiff. But those 81 Congressmen aren't exactly on vacation. They're on a junket funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, a supporting organization of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As AIPAC is a special interest group -- pro-Israel hardliners who support expansionist policies -- it is unlikely that the Congressmen will be getting a clear-eyed view of the country.
With perks like all-expenses-paid trips for government employees, it's no surprise that Israel is the largest single foreign recipient of U.S. aid. Israel receives three billion dollars worth of aid annually from the United States. America has committed to giving Israel a whopping 30 billion from 2009-2018. It's worth adding that Israel is not using these dollars to build schools or help the needy. Rather, the funds come in the form of weapons that are used to maintain the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
And what are American taxpayers getting in return?
In his article, "Friends Without Benefits," Matthew Yglesias gives a succinct answer: "Israel does us no favors and is no use to us."
The Congressmen's trip to Israel illuminates this point. Not only is it useless to the American people, it's a distraction during a time when taxpaying U.S. citizens need and deserve the full attention of the representatives they elected.
As Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, puts it,
"This August break is for Members of Congress to be at home, meeting with constituents to hear about our concerns. They should be listening to our anxiety about the economy and thinking through ways to dig us out of the financial mess they've created with their corporate giveaways, tax breaks for the wealthy and lax regulation of unscrupulous banks that are forcing people out of their homes with fraudulent mortgage documents."
While the disappearing act these 81 Congressmen have pulled is reprehensible, it's not surprising.
After all, this is the same Congress that showered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with standing ovations as he stood and spoke one half-truth after another. This is the same Congress that took the unusual move of breaking its own rules to pass a resolution about foreign policy -- wasting time and energy that could have been spent on pressing domestic issues.
So, no, this trip isn't shocking. It's just one more outrageous example of American politicians putting special interest groups ahead of the dire needs of the American people.