A few months ago, we were forced to endure a long, miserable, national conversation where a bunch of people pretended that the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC had no influence on American politics. A new Intercept story sheds some light on just how untrue that is.
More specifically, the Intercept reports about House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s longstanding pressure campaign to get freshmen Democrats on board with a regular congressional trip to Israel organized by his office and sponsored by AIPAC. This has been apparently going on for at least a decade, as one-term Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy reported that she was told that “everyone is going except for you” when she first got to Congress in 2009.
“I would say that I was ‘strongly encouraged’ to take the AIPAC trip,” Kilroy told the Intercept.
It gets worse. Per the Intercept (emphasis mine)
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. A member who refuses an invitation can find it difficult to have their 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.”
One Democratic staffer, also asking not to speak on the record, described the pressure from Hoyer as indirect, explaining that Hoyer’s team would continuously ask freshmen members during their campaigns — at a time when they desperately need party support — whether they’d be attending the AIPAC trip.
10 years later, according to the Intercept, the pressure to go on the trip—which a Jewish Democrat described to the site as “half Chamber of Commerce, and half propaganda”—has ramped up. It appears it’s working, too: adding up various counts, as many as 23 Democratic freshmen could be going on the trip. The Intercept noted that neither Hoyer nor AIPAC responded to requests for comment, but that a spokesperson for the more liberal pro-Israel group J-Street, which also organizes a trip to Israel, told the outlet that members deciding which trip to go on “sometimes face pressure to join the AIPAC trip instead.” (I have also contacted both AIPAC and Hoyer and will update this post if I hear back.)
Oh, and if you had any doubts about how normal and accepted this all is, the website notes that Hoyer organizes the trip along with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader. Yes, the same Kevin McCarthy who tweeted a wildly anti-Semitic ad last year and then shrugged it off while demanding that Rep. Ilhan Omar be marginalized within her caucus.
At this year’s AIPAC conference in D.C., Hoyer launched a thinly-veiled attack on Omar, whose comments about AIPAC launched a firestorm earlier this year. Among other things, Omar referred to “the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” after which she was accused of alleging that members of Congress were forced to have dual loyalty, an anti-Semitic trope.
“I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically,” Hoyer said. “So, when someone accuses American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty, I say: Accuse me. I am part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel. I tell Israel’s detractors: Accuse us.”
We get it, Steny. We get it.