Mike Coogan writes: Public differences between members of Congress and AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) have largely been papered over in recent weeks, but there remains a palpable sense of frustration with AIPAC’s legislative policy agenda on Capitol Hill.
The unprecedented dearth of support for parts of AIPAC’s legislative agenda this year may be a sign the façade of invincibility surrounding the Israel lobby is beginning to erode. In the case of ‘The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013’ (S. 462, H.R. 938), members of Congress appear to have defected en masse; weeks after introduction, the Senate version has only 15 cosponsors.
Numerous public reports and off-the-record accounts from legislators and staff signaled that the brazenness and late release of the Israel lobby’s legislative demands blindsided both individual members and various committees. Provisions appeared tone deaf and legally problematic, even among Israel’s strongest supporters.
One such proposal, buried within AIPAC’s long list of legislative demands, was language proposing that Israel be included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. The seemingly innocuous provision is easy to miss among a litany of other alarming proposals, including a tripwire provision to drag the U.S. into an Israeli initiated war with Iran, an exemption of Israel’s annual military aid from sequestration cuts, and a vague but certainly problematic ‘strategic ally’ designation.
Shortly before its annual policy conference, AIPAC made known that it wanted Israel to be included in the Visa Waiver Program, and officials requested that adjustments be made to the program’s requirement that Israel ‘extend reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States.’
According to off the record accounts, AIPAC officials told members of Congress that there would need to be flexibility on this legal requirement to accommodate Israel’s ongoing discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-Americans who attempt to travel to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Behind closed doors, members of Congress and legal counsel alike balked at the idea that Israel be allowed in the program but remain exempt from the reciprocity requirement. Attorneys for both individual members and committees privately advised that complying with the request would be a flagrant violation of certain U.S. laws barring discrimination, and would undermine the U.S. government’s call for the equal protection of all its citizens traveling abroad. [Continue reading…]