You may have followed the recent news stories about past and upcoming Israel trips by Massachusetts public officials — paid for by local lobbying groups. We’re going to talk more about this at our “A NEW DAY?” conference next Saturday, which we hope you can attend.
Here are the recent Boston Globe stories:
Of course, we know that these all-expense-paid junkets are an important part of the pro-Israel political machine that influences public policy in our country. What is new is the media spotlight on this practice, which has been operating quietly for many years. Scores of other public officials have been on these trips previously.
But the Boston Globe has since been silent on the issue and has refused to publish any of the many letters we know they have received. We don’t doubt that this has been at least in part due to strong pushback from local pro-Israel organizations.
You can get around this blackout by writing letters or op-eds to your community newspapers. A sample that has been submitted in a Boston neighborhood below may provide you with a model.
It is always helpful to mention any local politicians who have accepted thee lobbyist-paid trips. And of course you can also contact them directly to protest.
Here are some of those involved.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg (Amherst)
State House Room 332
phone: 617 722 1500
State Senator Ben Downing (Pittsfield)
State Senator Anne Gobi (Spencer)
State Senator John Keenan (Quincy)
State Senator Barbara L’Italien (Andover)
State Senator Karen Spilka (Ashland)
Senator Michael Barrett (Lexington)
Senator Eileen Donoghue (Lowell)
Senator Richard Ross (Wrentham)
Senator Dan Wolf (Harwich)
We also know about these Israel trip participants from last year.
Josh Zakim (Trip Chair)
Please call or email your elected representative – and write something if you can!
— Jeff Klein
SPECIAL-INTEREST JUNKETS UNDERMINE OUR DEMOCRACY
What do Dorchester State Rep Dan Cullinane, Boston City Councilors Timothy McCarthy, Josh Zakim, and Tito Jackson, Quincy State Senator John Keenan, Congressional House members Seth Moulton and Katherine Clark have in common?
They all recently accepted paid junkets to Israel sponsored by special interests who lobby the State House and the Congress. And they are not alone. Over the years scores of state and local officials, legislative staffers, labor, and community leaders have gone on similar all-expense-paid trips to Israel, with business-class flights and accommodation in deluxe four-star hotels.
Former Governor Patrick, who went on at least two trips to Israel during his term, and other public officials often justify them as “trade missions.” However, Massachusetts exports to Israel are negligible compared to our major trading partners like Canada, the UK, China, Germany and Japan. In fact Israel ranked number 27 in trade with Massachusetts, behind Malaysia, India, the Philippines and Turkey – countries we don’t hear much about from our elected representatives. Israel’s actual contribution to our state’s $460 billion economy is vanishingly small.
Of course, these trips are really about politics, not business. Special interests cover the cumulative hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for the junkets, whose aim is to indoctrinate civic and political leaders with a one-sided uncritical view of Israel. But in a sense all the citizens of Massachusetts are paying the price.
If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a foreign policy, then Israel, with a population smaller than New York City’s, would seem to play an outsized role. Last month’s State House resolution supporting Israel was only one of numerous bills regularly addressing issues of importance to that country and its local backers.
A few years ago, the same special interests pressured our legislature to mandate divestment of Massachusetts assets from foreign companies doing business with Iran, despite testimony from the head of the State Retirement Board that it would cost millions of dollars for our pension funds to implement. The Iran divestment idea was first floated by Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and later pushed by local pro-Israel lobbyists. Its eventual passage counted on the votes of many legislators who had accepted paid junkets to Israel.
On the Federal level the conflict of interest is even more extreme. Nearly every member of Congress has been on privately-funded propaganda trips to Israel and the result is a never-ending stream of biased resolutions in favor of Israel that has made the US government an international laughing stock. And it costs us lots of money too.
At more than $3 billion in annual payments from American taxpayer funds, Israel is by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid, far outstripping what is spent for genuinely needy countries. This week Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Washington seeking an increase of US aid to $5 billion annually. Is this the best use of our scarce Federal government resources when there are so many unmet needs at home?
It is reasonable for public officials to travel abroad when there is a genuine policy or legislative concern. But if so, they should use public, not special-interest funds, to pay for it. Rep. Stephen Lynch, for example, has acquired substantial first-hand knowledge about the Middle East over the years through participation in official Congressional delegations to the region.
Privately-paid Israel junkets, on the other hand, may be technically legal, but they carry more than a whiff of public influence-buying. This is wrong – and ultimately it is we the taxpayers who foot the bill.