WASHINGTON, March 13, 2018. – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups. In part because of its role, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world. Any member of Congress who dares to challenge Israel is, AIPAC makes certain, virtually doomed to defeat. Its effectiveness and influence have been compared to the NRA.
Its activities, it proclaims, are to be “pro-Israel” and defend Israel’s best interests.
Here AIPAC may be mistaken.
By blindly supporting whatever policy the Israeli government pursues it may be embracing policies which make peace impossible. Which make the existence of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state impossible
This point was made early in March by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. At a conference in Washington on “The Israel Lobby and American Policy,” sponsored by American Educational Trust, publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy Levy warned that AIPAC is not pro-Israel
Gideon Levy on The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
Mr. Levy noted that, at the very moment AIPAC’s national conference was about to begin.
Rather than being “pro-Israel,” he characterized it this way:
“I call it the annual drug dealer’s conference. They will discuss how many more drugs will they send to the Israel occupation-addicted state…how much more money and weapons will they supply. I can tell you, as an Israeli, we don’t have a bigger enemy than the Jewish lobby. We don’t have a bigger enemy for justice, for peace, for equality than those who think that if you supply the drug addict with more drugs, you are his friend and that if they support him blindly and automatically whatever he does, you are a friend. No, my friends, those are not friends, they are enemies.”
While the Israeli government tells the world that the 50-year occupation is “temporary,” Levy argues,
“It was never meant to be temporary and it will not be temporary if it depends on Israel…Israel has never stopped building settlements. Anyone who builds one house in the occupied territories has no intention whatsoever to put an end to the occupation. It’s time for us to change the discussion. It’s time for us to talk about equal rights: about one person, one vote. And let’s challenge Israel. Israel will say no. Then we can officially declare Israel an apartheid state, because there is no other way, if you deny equal rights if you are not a democracy officially.”
Are AIPAC policies harmful to Israel Public Affairs
In Levy’s view, by embracing the occupation and Israel’s denial of political rights to millions of Palestinians, AIPAC is embracing policies that are harmful to Israel’s long-term best interests. A real friend would advance policies leading in a more hopeful direction.
“But we should not give up hope,” declares Levy. “I truly believe that Palestinians and Israelis can live together.”
At its policy conference, AIPAC lamented the decline in progressive support for Israel. In an article entitled, “AIPAC Won’t Win Back Progressives Until it Faces Hard Facts About Israel” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 19, 2018), two prominent Jewish critics of Israeli policy assess AIPAC’s role.
“As progressives who have dedicated our lives and careers to the future of the State of Israel, we agree that there is a compelling progressive narrative for Israel. The argument that ‘Israel’s security cannot be fully realized until she is at peace with her neighbors,’ which AIPAC’s CEO Howard Kohr shared with the crowd during his welcoming remarks, is one that we have each made time and again. Sadly, the current reality of Israeli government policy does not reflect or advance this vision…Instead, it imperils it. The Netanyahu government has dedicated itself to entrenching and justifying a military occupation that results in daily violations of human rights of Palestinians while undercutting the prospects for the two-state peace agreement that AIPAC claims to support.”
The current government of Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
Jacobs and Ben-Ami point out that:
“…has endeavored to erase all distinctions between the democratic state of Israel and the territory it occupies in the West Bank, without any objection from AIPAC. This government is carrying out a steady assault on democracy—attacking human rights defenders as traitors, passing laws that restrict free speech and stepping up discrimination against non-Jewish minorities. Like previous Israeli governments and despite promises to the contrary, this one condones policies that restrict the religious freedom of non-Orthodox Jews, including the right of Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform marriages, conversions and divorces and arresting those who attempt to take part in an egalitarian or women-led prayer at the Western Wall.”
These developments, say Jacobs and Ben-Ami,
“…instill fear and frustration in so many American Jews over Israel’s present and future. It is the reality that drives growing numbers of progressives away from the pro-Israel cause. AIPAC steadfastly refuses to acknowledge or address this reality. Instead of acknowledging the real threat that occupation, settlement expansion and anti-democratic legislation pose to Israel’s security and fundamental character, AIPAC has made its mission to defend, or provide cover for virtually every the policies and action of the Netanyahu government.
AIPAC ignores the fact that Israel’s current policies toward the Palestinians do not advance peace, but rather exacerbate conflict…AIPAC should also be willing to confront Israel’s critics with powerful arguments, not work to penalize legitimate forms of dissent…AIPAC selected #ChooseToLead as its tagline for this year’s conference. But real leadership requires telling one’s members hard truths. Like AIPAC, we also celebrate and promote Israel’s many incredible accomplishments. But this moment requires more than this.
It requires working to ensure that the existential threats of occupation and conflict do not undermine these successes.”
AIPAC and its members may genuinely believe that their support for whatever policies the Israeli government pursues represents an act of “friendship.” But friends don’t let friends drive drunk, particularly when suicidal impulses are on the horizon.