The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has contributed to a disastrous American course in the Middle East and will be back at it this week in Washington, D.C. Self-described as a "pro-Israel lobby" whose goal is to "enact public policy that enhances the U.S.-Israel relationship," the organization has enhanced this relationship while simultaneously making the region far more dangerous. More than ever in this election year with Republicans calling for the bombing of Iran and candidate Newt Gingrich claiming Palestinians are an "invented" people, AIPAC has the US Congress and presidential candidates in its thrall. Yet this year's AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. is more controversial than ever as Occupy activists seek to highlight the role of big-money lobbyists in elections while standing in solidarity with the global 99% opposed to Israel's violations of human rights and international law.
Each year at AIPAC's policy conference in Washington, D.C., the president, powerful senators and members of Congress parade across the stage in order to prove their loyalty to the Israeli government. AIPAC's outsized influence on U.S. foreign policy can be linked to the disastrous war in Iraq, as well as to the current push for an attack on Iran. AIPAC is also known for drafting extreme anti-Palestinian, anti-human rights legislation that it then funnels into Congress. AIPAC Director Howard Kohr will likely appear on stage this March at the 2012 AIPAC conference to make the annual roll call, rattling off the names of congressional representatives, diplomats and dignitaries present in the room as if he is the auctioneer at an estate sale. And in a way, he is.
And AIPAC is not alone, though it is certainly the most prominent part of the Israel lobby. The University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism reports, "Since 1990, the whole of the pro-Israel lobby has given almost $96 million in congressional campaign contributions and funnels a lot of the money through local political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics." AIPAC claims not to be involved in the political contribution business, but it is widely recognized that its leadership helps direct such donations and influences who gets elected and how the elected behave.
Thanks to Citizens United, AIPAC executive committee member and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson (the 8th wealthiest person in America) and his wife forked over $10 million dollars to Newt Gingrich's super PAC in January, single-handedly keeping him in the race, and recently hinted at a potential $100 million dollar future contribution to the campaign. Gingrich has admitted that Adelson's main interest in his candidacy is because of his stance on Israel. And Adelson added, "Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people." This infamous and dishonest comment from Gingrich on the campaign trail has pushed the discourse on Israel and Palestine further toward the racist extreme of American discourse.
With the rise of the Occupy movement, which focuses public ire on the role of large corporations and powerful special interest groups in determining U.S. domestic and foreign policy that increasingly benefits the wealthy few, AIPAC's hold on U.S. Middle East policy is being challenged as never before. The power of the Occupy movement has pushed issues of wealth disparity and corporate corruption into the mainstream media's headlines.
Global justice is increasingly a focus of the Occupy movement, as U.S. protesters make metaphorical and virtual connections with activists from Barcelona to Cairo to Athens. But when Occupy members have held signs saying, "Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine," the right-wing Israel lobby has accused the movement of anti-Semitism. Standing up for human rights, and standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, justice and dignity in the face of a decades-long occupation and a system of discrimination in the state of Israel, is not anti-Semitic. This tired insult is losing its power as Americans become more aware of the Palestinians' situation and that of other colonized people around the world.
Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn pushed back in an interview when he asserted, "It's time to stop the bully... I'm hoping that a lot of people of like mind from this Occupy movement... will be as aggressive as AIPAC, as aggressive as some of these neocons have been, and fight back against them. What I'm saying is... we need a hashtag, #occupyAIPAC."
The role of Occupy isn't to resolve this 64-year-old conflict but to focus attention on the way that AIPAC and the Israel lobby distort our political process. The strength of Occupy has been the grassroots organizing, the mass numbers, and the ability to change the discourse as a result of unwavering action against the companies, organizations, and individuals buying and selling our politicians.
It is only appropriate that we stand in solidarity with the Arab demonstrators who risked their lives to demand the ouster of their dictators. AIPAC stood on former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's side for years and is now using its power to encourage support in Congress for war with Iran. AIPAC's preferred policies support the current right-wing Israeli government and go directly against the American people's interests. And AIPAC has a reputation of bullying those who support real diplomacy. Last year an alleged member of AIPAC physically assaulted and injured me when I interrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu's misrepresentations to Congress. Thomas Friedman was altogether right when he noted late last year in the New York Times that Netanyahu should understand that "the standing ovation he got in Congress... was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby." It was a pathetic and abject display by the US Congress, but it is the reality Americans face as war with Iran looms on the horizon.
This week, over 10,000 citizen lobbyists with AIPAC will push the country in the dangerous direction of war with Iran and ongoing occupation of Palestine. Activists will stage "Occupy AIPAC" -- a counter-conference along with creative protests outside the AIPAC convention, in opposition to these policies. Millions of Americans hopeful of emerging from the recent recession must push back against another Middle East war promoted by many of the same people and organizations that brought us the catastrophic consequences of the war with Iraq.