By Nadrat Siddique
The weekend of May 20 – 22 saw the annual conference of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) at the Washington, DC, Convention Center. It was a grand affair to which the 535 members of the U.S. Congress are “invited.” But such an invitation is seen by some as a pressure tactic. Conference attendees are recognized by a “Roll Call,” a lengthy public reading of their names. The implication is that no-shows will be noted for their absence in the next election. (According to Jewish Week, May 24, 2011, AIPAC was successful at drawing 10,000 delegates and “honored guests,” including 70 U.S. Senators and 270 members of the House to the conference.)
The goals of the conference, listed on the AIPAC website, included inculcating understanding among delegates of “how America and Israel are stronger together when they participate in joint military exercises and exchange intelligence” and “safer together when they share homeland security and counterterrorism techniques.”
“AIPAC has succeeded in creating an army of Israel supporters who are mobilised and constantly lobby elected senators,” wrote one AIPAC conference participant (Jewish Chronicle, May 26, 2011). Such militaristic lexicon, as well as AIPAC’s treatment of dissenters, has raised eyebrows, with some opponents of the lobby going so far as to say the AIPAC conference is a venue for exchanged allegiances among gangsters in Armani suits, the dissemination of Zionist propaganda, and the discussion of coercive and retributive measures to be used against those not willing to take a pro-Israel stance.
Special Session for Christian Zionists
The conference included a special luncheon for Black Zionists (and pro-Zionists), as well as a session for Christians, called “Understanding Christian Support for the Jewish State” geared at examining “the roots of Christian Zionism.” The latter targeted the sixty-six pastors in attendance.
Zionist Student Leaders in Attendance
The conference included a special session recognizing student Zionist leaders. One thousand five hundred students, most of them white, attended the conference. These included 215 elected student government presidents (numbers from AIPAC’s website). The student government presidents came from campuses including the University of Chicago, UC Berkeley, Columbia, and Vanderbilt. Interestingly, Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution, and Morehouse College, a historically black college, also had Zionist student body presidents in attendance at AIPAC’s conference.
Zionist students from the U. of Florida were awarded for “developing new models of pro-Israel leadership on and beyond their campus,” and for soliciting letters of support for Israel from campus leaders, as well as for lobbying local Congress members on “issues of concern to the pro-Israel community.” Additional student leaders at UCLA, Indiana University, the University of Oklahoma, and Liberty University received “Activist of the Year” awards in recognition of their pro-Israel political activity. The question of why they, as American students should expend such energies building support for a foreign power, seemed absent from the dialogue. One group of student Zionist leaders working on blackballing Iran to Congress was given an award. Another group of student Zionists were recognized for their efforts at countering the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state. Both the College Democrats of America and the College Republican National Committee received awards from AIPAC.
Gustafo Tactics Against a Sitting American President?
On May 19, just a few days before the AIPAC conference, President Obama mentioned 1967 borders as a starting point for co-existing Israeli and Palestinian states—a very weak position, and unacceptable to most Muslims who believe in self-determination. But apparently, even the slightest sign of “weakness” was not to be tolerated by the Zionists. On May 20, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Obama for over two hours, and it is speculated, conducted the mafia-style arm twisting necessary to get his whipping boy back in order.
Obama at AIPAC
Then on May 22, Obama reported to the AIPAC conference, meekly telling the Zionist audience, “Israelis and Palestinians will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.” Clarifying his position further, he said, “The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is iron clad.” None in the wildly applauding audience asked the question of why any policy matter in a changing world should be characterized as immutable, nor why the security of a foreign power should be of such paramount importance to the U.S.
Obama further “affirmed U.S. opposition to a Palestinian plan to seek a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Palestinian statehood in September. He vowed to help Israel defend itself, promising U.S. military assistance on missile defense and pledging to block Iranian nuclear aspirations. And he assailed a recent Palestinian unity agreement that elevated the stature of the Hamas movement, which the United States and Israel regard as a terrorist group.” (The Washington Post, May 22)
Netanyahu’s pressuring of Obama (if indeed that is what occurred—some would argue that Obama is already so pro-Israel that he needed no pressuring) is similar to AIPAC’s pressure on members of the U.S. Congress. As Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Congresswoman from Georgia, recently disclosed, every candidate for U.S. Congress must sign a pledge to support Israel, a tactic which changed shape slightly after it was made public. According to McKinney, “They were given a pledge to sign…that had Jerusalem as the capital city. You make a commitment that you would vote to support the military superiority of Israel, and the economic assistance that Israel wants, that you would vote to provide that.” (Press TV, May 22).
Obama delivered his address to AIPAC, then retreated to Europe with his tail between his legs. In the meantime, Netanyahu addressed the U.S. Congress on May 24. He delivered a resounding “No!” to all of the (very compromising) positions put out by “moderate” Palestinians. The speech was characterized by opponents as containing more lies per second than perhaps any other speech in recent memory. In the course of the 50 minute speech, Netanyahu received 26 standing ovations. Opponents protesting the speech were dealt with very brutally (see report from Ali Abunimah).
Following the AIPAC conference and Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, thousands of AIPAC lobbyists descended upon Capitol Hill to further the Zionist agenda. According to the AIPAC website, “At the top of the lobbying agenda is U.S. security assistance to Israel—the most tangible expression of American support for the Jewish state. The AIPAC citizen-lobbyists will urge their House and Senate members to support $3.075 billion in aid to Israel for fiscal year 2012 as well as ask for support for the overall foreign aid budget.” [Note the double speak in “Jewish state” and “AIPAC citizen-lobbyists” –editor]
“Move Over AIPAC”: A Challenge to AIPAC
This year, as the AIPAC conference went forth, things were a little bit different. An entire weekend of activities, including a major conference, called “Move Over AIPAC” was held in Washington, DC, by CODE PINK: Women for Peace. It was endorsed by over 100 peace and justice organizations, including the International Solidarity Movement, Fellowship of the Reconciliation, the Rachel Corrie Foundation, United for Peace and Justice, the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Adalah-NY, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
On May 20, as Netanyahu met Obama, “Move Over AIPAC” conference participants and others protested outside the White House. The following day, May 21, the “Move Over AIPAC” summit was held. The keynote address was delivered by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the ground-breaking book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. This was followed by a “writers’ salon,” featuring Laila El-Haddad and other Palestinian and pro-Palestinian authors. A panel entitled, “Time for a New Foreign Policy” (Phyllis Bennis, Noura Erekat, and others) ensued. Workshops on topics like “Combatting Misused Charges of Anti-Semitism” (Rabbi Lynn Gottleib); “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: Campaigns that Work!”; Exposing AIPAC: Delving into the Nitty-Gritty of How the Israel Lobby Works”; “Israel, the bomb, and a Mid-east NWFZ (Nuclear Weapons Free Zone); and “Student Divestment Campaigns and the Role of AIPAC on Campus” completed the afternoon.
On May 22, while Obama addressed AIPAC and throughout the day, “Move over AIPAC” participants, and other friends and supporters of Palestinians protested outside the Convention Center. The protestors, including many Jews, lined up outside the DC Convention center, chanting “Free Free Palestine.” A die-in—where activists lay down in the streets, their bodies covered in fake blood to protest Israeli brutality—was held. Activists from the U.S. Boat to Gaza manned a float in the form of a ship, singing pro-Palestinian songs.
Change Comes But not Without Sacrifice and Struggle
As a result of the immense sacrifices of the Palestinian people, followed up by creative and heroic actions by a huge range of human rights and solidarity organizations throughout the world—of which “Move Over AIPAC” is an example—support for Israel is being reconsidered in the U.S., one of the last bastions of Zionist support.
As Jody McIntyre, describing the AIPAC conference, wrote in the Independent on May 24, 2011, “So yesterday, another conference commenced; a celebration of continued US support for Israel. The fact that is being ignored is that, as a wave of uprisings across northern Africa and western Asia are proving, US dominance and influence in the region is on the decline. Just like hundreds of millions of dollars in aid were not enough to keep Mubarak in power in Egypt, all the billions of dollars in aid will not be enough to prop up Israel forever….As Olof Palme, the Prime Minister of Sweden until his assassination in 1986, once said, ‘Apartheid cannot be reformed, it must be abolished.’”