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Why one-fifth of US representatives went to Israel this summer

The record delegation of 81 congressmen, whose expenses were paid by an AIPAC affiliate, is seen as a circling of the wagons just weeks ahead of a UN vote on Palestinian statehood.

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US House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, (D-MD) speaks at a press conference in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, on August 10, 2011.

Debbie Hill/UPI/Newscom/File

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Back in May, Congress lavished 29 standing ovations on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a resounding demonstration of solidarity just days after a very public clash between the Israeli leader and President Obama.

There’s been a follow-up act this month: a record delegation of 81 US representatives to Israel. The virtual airlift of more than a fifth of the House, funded by affiliates of America's powerful Israeli lobby, is seen as a circling of the wagons just weeks before an expected Palestinian statehood vote at the United Nations.

With Israel facing the potential of increased isolation from the UN move, the congressional show of force sends a clear message to the White House to stand by the Jewish state. It also sends a warning to Palestinian officials that Congress will cut off hundreds of millions in annual aid if they follow through with plans for a unilateral declaration of statehood backed by the UN, analysts say.

"It's like coming here on the eve of the [1967] Six-Day War. Israel is isolated and under diplomatic threat," says Akiva Eldar, a diplomatic columnist for the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper. "[Netanyahu] wants to send a clear message: 'Don’t mess around with me. Congress is with me on both sides of the aisle.' "

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