Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have all made the pilgrimage to address AIPAC, but should they?
WASHINGTON, March 21, 2016 — The annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has attracted almost 20,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital. Every presidential candidate except Bernie Sanders appeared as a speaker, as did Vice President Joe Biden.
AIPAC is considered Washington’s second most powerful lobbying group after the National Rifle Association. Israel has received more foreign aid from the U.S. than any other country, more than $235 billion so far. With its friends at AIPAC, it is asking for more.
Just prior to the AIPAC meeting, another conference in Washington asked the question, “Israel’s Influence: Good Or Bad For America?” It was sponsored by the American Education Trust, which publishes The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (to which this writer is a regular contributor) and the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy.
The keynote speaker was Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Haaretz. In Levy’s view, AIPAC, which says it is promoting Israel’s best interests, is doing precisely the opposite. Writing in Haaretz on March 20, Levy argues that, although AIPAC members and leaders say they are friends of Israel, in reality they are not.
Levy writes, “AIPAC may be the organization that has caused the greatest damage to Israel. It corrupted Israel, taught it that everything is permissible to it. It made sure America would cover up and restrain itself over everything. That it would never demand anything in exchange. That Uncle Sam would pay and keep mum. That the supply of intoxicating drugs would continue. America as the dealer and AIPAC the pusher.”
Levy laments that, while AIPAC is viewed as “pro-Israel,” it is, in fact, “pro an aggressive, right-wing and nationalist Israel. With friends like these, Israel doesn’t need enemies … The day AIPAC weakens, Israel will grow stronger. It will be forced to stand on its own two feet and be more moral.”
Beyond this, argues Levy, why does Israel, a prosperous country with nuclear weapons and the most powerful military in the region, need additional U.S. aid? “The residents of the world’s most financially supported state, which is also the best at whining and playing the victim, live in a country that is ranked 11th in the UN’s world happiness report, four places above the country of its funders. Is Israel the neediest country in the world? After all, it’s also a military power in a region where there are virtually no real armies left. So why should all that weaponry go to Israel of all countries?”
Another speaker at the conference was Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, now on the faculty of the College of William and Mary. He expressed skepticism about the need for further military aid to Israel. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said that the current push for more aid to Israel is “all a political maneuver to restore for (Hillary Clinton’s) benefit the national-security bonafides of the Democratic Party. She and Obama may have squandered it in the fight with Netanyahu.”
Some AIPAC participants boycotted Donald Trump’s talk. Israeli commentator Roy Isacowitz, writing in Haaretz, wondered how those who find Trump objectionable do not also find Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beyond the pale. He wrote, “American Jews are capable of recognizing the potential fascism of Trump, but not the existing tyranny of Israel’s rule over Palestinians under the decades-long leadership of Netanyahu.”
To protest Trump because of his comments about Muslims, Mexicans and others would be understandable, says Isacowitz, “if not for the fact that the American (Jewish) community, both as individuals and as communal leaders, has been sitting in silence and showing complacency in the face of demagoguery and racism for years already, without feeling the need to stand up and do something about it. AIPAC, that bastion of Jewish values, has gone even further. Rather than sitting in complacent silence, it has given repeated and resounding standing ovations, year after year, to Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli demagogues and racists, who not only talk the talk, as Trump has done so far, but walk the walk as well.”
The fact, says Isacowitz, is that “Israel has already built the wall that Trump only talks about. It has blighted the lives of millions of Muslims, as Trump says he would like to do. Its behavior has been far more bellicose than anything Trump has exhibited so far and its racism is not only more extreme but a lot more deadly. The supporters of Israeli Trumpism have assassinated a prime minister, gunned down worshippers in a mosque, burned a Palestinian baby to cinders in its bed and committed thousands of other racist atrocities … What perversion allows American Jews … to regard Donald Trump as the antithesis of their Jewish values and Benjamin Netanyahu as their exemplar?”
The organized American Jewish community, Isacowitz believes, is sacrificing Jewish values to defend Israel’s occupation. They have adopted “a value system that exempts Israel from every value it purports to hold dear.”
Continued support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is bad for both Israel and the U.S. If a two-state solution is now impossible because of growing settlements, and if Palestinians in the occupied territories have no legal rights and no right to vote, Israel is in danger of transforming itself into a totalitarian state. If the U.S.hopes to defeat ISIS, we cannot be seen by those in the Arab world we seek to enlist in this battle as financing and supporting what even our own government recognizes as an illegal occupation.
Speaking in February in Munich, King Abdullah II of Jordan said that ISIS cannot be defeated until the Palestine-Israel conflict is resolved: “Left unresolved, the Palestine-Israel conflict will become a religious conflict of global dimension.” He noted that the “festering injustice” of the unresolved conflict “continues to be exploited by ISIS and its kind … Reaching a two-state solution should remain a priority for us all.”
Yet Israel continues to build settlements in the occupied territories and the peace process is dead. Because of AIPAC’s influence, U.S. aid with no strings attached not only continues, but is likely to be increased. Without a blank check of this kind, Israel would have an incentive to make peace. Now it does not.
AIPAC shows no concern about the growth of Jewish racist terrorist groups in the occupied territories. The respected Israeli author Amos Oz says that he will no longer participate in official events sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He calls the Netanyahu government “the most militant, right-wing government Israel ever had.” He refers to the extremist groups growing on the West Bank as “Hebrew neo-Nazis.”
AIPAC has a lot to answer for. It not only exhibits little concern for American interests in the world, but has contempt for the humane Jewish tradition. As more and more Israelis are coming to understand, it is no friend of Israel’s long-term best interests. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. AIPAC is no friend.
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