Sunday, May 21, 2006

Standing up to AIPAC

TROUBLED times for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee?
AIPAC of lies, as it has been accused of purveying, AIPAC of hounds, as it bays after opponents. But the leading, highly professional Israel Lobby outfit that likes to boast how many people it could bring flocking to Capitol Hill has not been having things all its own way, lately, in spite of all those Washington neo-cons and Evangelical fundamentalists who hardly need lobbying

First there was the "divided loyalties' charge over an AIPAC official filching confidential information for Israel, then the disappointment that the politician whom AIPAC delegates cheered loudest at their convention, right-winger Benyamin Netanyahu, flopped with the Israeli electorate.

On top of all this, two Harvard academics have produced a paper criticising the influence the Zionist Lobby, and particularly AIPAC, has in US politics, saying that the United States is unable to pursue a rational Middle East policy servng its interests because it has to bow to domestic pressures. Hardly a new complaint I'd have thought, but it has brought a great clucking controversy among the chattering classes and the usual cries of "antisemitism" from the usual highly suspects - those who cry wolf, not even from over-anxiety to protect Jews, but from their fervour to censor any criticism of US backing for Israeli policies.

For my part, being as opposed to US imperialism as I am to Zionism, I'm not over-concerned with the tail-wagging-dog controversy. But it does trouble me that the Israel Lobby has too long provided a cover for imperialist aggression, and by claiming to speak for all Jews, has not only dragged the Jewish people's name in the gory muck of supporting oppression, but given US policy-makers a ready-made scapegoat should they ever decide to switch their policy. It is already in use by reactionaries in the Arab world, the US, and Europe who wish to explain and criticise US policy without reference to imperialism. Bit like indulgent relatives explaining that the lad's OK really, if it was not for bad influences, or Russian peasants accepting that the Czar would be on their side if only he did not have such bad advisers. And of course, not all those using the "Jewish power and influence" story are that innocent. Some are antisemites.

Still, the Lobby does play its part, and while apologists may deny its influence when countering criticism, when lobbyists are raising funds or assuring Israeli opinion of their importance they boast about it.

Whether or not the lobbyists could make US governments do anything they don't want to, they have been effective sometimes in shutting up liberal critics, both in Congress and the Jewish community. (Not just on Palestine or the Middle East. Unease over dictators in Central America or Argentine's military junta was muffled in the Reagan era by evoking Israeli interests).

Not content with labelling opponents "antisemitic", AIPAC and its allies have resorted to smearing them as "supporters of terrorists". Some people are starting to stand up to AIPAC though, as this item from the New York Review of Books, relayed by Jewish Voice for Peace, reveals:

Representative Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, has banned AIPAC from her office until she receives a formal, written apology from them for equating her vote in the House International Relations Committee against HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, with "support for terrorists". This is the bill that AIPAC backed to cut all US aid to Palestinians to punish them for Hamas elections victory.

The bill would place so many restraints on aid and on Washington's ability to deal with the Palestinians, that even the State Department has opposed it. AIPAC has strongly backed it. The Senate version of the bill, S. 2237, would allow the administration far more flexibility. On April 6, the House International Relations Committee passed H.R. 4681 by a vote of 36 to 2; McCollum was one of the two nays. As of May 11, AIPAC has yet to respond to her demand for an apology.

In a letter to Mr. Howard Kohr, AIPAC's executive director, the representative writes:

Dear Mr. Kohr:

During my nineteen years serving in elected office, including the past five years as a Member of Congress, never has my name and reputation been maligned or smeared as it was last week by a representative of AIPAC. Last Friday, during a call with my chief of staff, an AIPAC representative from Minnesota who has
frequently lobbied me on behalf of your organization stated, "on behalf of herself, the Jewish community, AIPAC, and the voters of the Fourth District, Congresswoman McCollum's support for terrorists will not be tolerated."

Ironically, this individual, who does not even live in my congressional
district, feels free to speak for my constituents. This response may have been the result of extreme emotion or irrational passion, but regardless, it is a hateful attack that is vile and offensive to me and the families I represent. I call on AIPAC to immediately condemn this un-American attack and disavow any attempt to use this type of threat and intimidation to stifle legitimate policy differences. I will not stand to be labeled or threatened in a manner that questions my patriotism or my oath of office. Last week, I did vote against H.R.
4681 during mark-up of the bill in the House International Relations Committee.

As a Member of Congress sworn to uphold the Constitution, and ensure the security of the US and represent the values and beliefs of the constituents who I serve, it was my view that H.R. 4681 goes beyond the State Department's current policies toward Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and potentially undermines the US position vis-à-vis the coordinated international pressure on Hamas. The language contained in S. 2237 accurately reflects my position.Keeping diplomatic pressure on Hamas to renounce terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, and honor past agreements and treaty obligations, while preventing a humanitarian crisis among the Palestinian people, are all policy goals already strongly supported by myself, the Bush administration, Congress and the American people. But, if the purpose of H.R. 4681 was to send another strong message to Hamas and the Palestinian people, as
Congress already has sent with the passage of S. Con. Res. 79, then I disagree with the vehicle for that message.

In my opinion, Congress should be articulating clear support for the
Secretary of State's present course of action; not creating a new law which likely diminishes the diplomatic tools needed to advance US policy goals with regard to the Palestinian people, potentially cuts US funding to the United Nations, and largely restates current law while creating on-going and burdensome unfunded reporting requirements. As you well know, in Congress we do not shy away from condemning the vile words of despots and dictators who use anti-Semitism as a weapon to incite hatred, fear and violence. AIPAC should not
have a lower standard for persons affiliated and representing its organization when they label a Member of Congress who thinks for herself and always puts the interest of our nation and people first a supporter of terrorists.

You and your colleagues at AIPAC have the right to disagree with my
position on any piece of legislation, but for an AIPAC representative to say that I would ever vote to support Middle East terrorists over the interests of my country will never be tolerated by me or the families I serve. This incident rises to a level in which a formal, written apology is required.Mr. Kohr, I am a supporter of a strong US-Israeli relationship and my voting record speaks for itself. This will not change. But until I receive a formal, written apology from your organization I must inform you that AIPAC representatives are not welcome in my offices or for meetings with my staff.

Betty McCollum
Member of Congress4th District, Minnesota, Washington, D.C.

Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Jewish group campaigning against Israel's occupation and the 'Apartheid Wall' on the West Bank has urged supporters to write to Representative McCollum thanking and congratulating her on her stand, and says "While you're at it, let her know that she should oppose the HR 4681 not only because it is too harsh, but because we should not be punishing Palestinian citizens for exercising their democratic right to vote".


Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace has also drawn attention to this criticism of AIPAC by a US Rabbi, which was published in "St.Louis JewishLight"

'Israel Lobby' bad for Israel, the U.S.


May 10, 2006

Oh my God, someone has publicly outed the "Israel Lobby." For those readers who do not closely follow the machinations in academia, let me explain. John Walt, the academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, have written a blistering critique of the Jewish lobby, focusing primarily on AIPAC.

Their main complaint is that "the thrust of US policy in the region (the Middle East) derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the 'Israel Lobby'." There is much with which to disagree in the paper, including their assertion that Israel is not a vital strategic asset (there are many generals who would challenge that assertion). But there is also much truth, if we would only be honest with ourselves.

The usual suspects have jumped on the bandwagon, not merely to criticize but to condemn the paper in vitriolic words. Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat who represents the Bronx, declared it "anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel." This is somewhat ironic since one of the complaints of Walt and Mearsheimer is that anyone who criticizes Israel is automatically labeled anti-Semitic. The ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz accused the authors of cribbing from neo-Nazi Web sites, which was a sophisticated way of tarnishing them as anti-Semites without using the phrase. The right-wing New York Sun called it a "scandal" and warned that if Harvard is not careful, "the Kennedy School will become known as Bir Zeit on the Charles."

The Forward was most responsible. Before writing an extensive critical analysis of the paper it acknowledged that "the authors are not fringe gadflies but two of America's most respected foreign-affairs theorists. ... Though it's tempting, they can't be dismissed as cranks outside the mainstream. They are the mainstream."

I agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that AIPAC controls our American government policy toward Israel. But in their paper the two political scientists point out that, "In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers' unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy; the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Coming from South Florida, I am acutely aware that our government policy toward Cuba is dictated by the Cuban Lobby. Why else would we have such an absurd opposition to Castro? If we can make peace with Red China and the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, why do we continue an embargo against an obscure Communist island, if it were not for domestic political pressure? So it is with the Jewish domestic lobby. My complaint is that the self-appointed Jewish leaders who control AIPAC and other positions of power within the Jewish community do not represent the best interests of Jews, Israel or the United States in the long run.

Let's zero in on AIPAC. It is controlled by right-wing, rich Jewish neo-conservatives. As one manifestation of the truth of this assertion one merely has to look at its annual meeting this past month. At a time when Vice President Cheney's popularity has dropped below 20 percent, the 4,500 delegates to the AIPAC convention gave him a standing ovation for almost a minute before he even opened his mouth and then proceeded to give him 48 rounds of applause in a 35-minute speech. (As my colleague Leonard Fein pointed out, that's once every 43.7 seconds). Considering that 75 percent of American Jews voted for Kerry, it is obvious that these people are out of the mainstream of Jewish thought.

At the same conference, preceding the recent Israeli elections, these delegates were addressed by Ehud Olmert (Kadima), Amir Peretz (Labor) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) by video link from Israel. Olmert and Peretz received polite applause. The AIPAC delegates cheered enthusiastically for Netanyahu, especially when he presented his hard line that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli electorate. Once a great organization, today AIPAC does not even represent the feelings of the average Israeli, let alone the average American Jew.

This American Jewish neo-conservatism is unhealthy not only for America but for Israel as well. A prime example: The Israeli press reports that Israel is trying to find a way to deal with the Palestinians while not dealing with Hamas. Official public statements aside, they realize that they cannot cut off all contacts with the Palestinians and that the world cannot discontinue financial help; otherwise Israel will find a million starving Palestinians on its border, and this will not lead to peace or security for Israel. Privately, the Israeli government was against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (the Ross-Lehtinen-Lantos bill) which recently passed the House of Representatives.

It would cut off all American contacts with the Palestinian Authority, even with its president Mahmoud Abbas, who is a moderate seeking peace. Despite Israel's private reservations, AIPAC not only pushed this bill, it was instrumental in writing it. Even though the AIPAC candidate lost in Israel, he won in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hopefully, the Senate and the White House will correct this.

Beware that you are reading treasonable material. If you "out" the Israeli lobby and you are Gentile, you're branded an anti-Semite; if you are Jewish, you're obviously a self-hating Jew. The Jewish establishment abides no criticism of Israel. You don't agree with me? Take this example: Last month a pro-Palestinian play entitled 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' was to open at the New York Theatre Workshop, a "progressive" company on East Fourth Street. The play is based on the writings of a young British girl who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer when she was protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza two years ago.

Although the play was widely praised in London last year, it never opened in New York. The theater producers spoke to the ADL and other Jewish leaders, including big-money Jews on its board, and that was the end of that. But, of course, we don't "censor" discussion concerning Israel. We just politely give our opinions and the voice of the other side disappears.

Another example: 400 rabbis, including myself, signed a letter sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom that appeared in the Forward this past month. It was a mildly liberal statement that proclaimed that "we are deeply troubled by the recent victory of Hamas," but went on to urge "indirect assistance to the Palestinian people via NGO's, with the appropriate conditions to ensure that it does not reach the hands of terrorists." Pretty mild stuff. Yet pulpit rabbis across this country who signed the letter have reported a concerted effort to silence them. The letter has been branded a "piece of back-stabbing abandonment of the Jews of Israel." Synagogue boards have been pressured to silence their rabbis by that loose coalition called the "Israel Lobby."

Just another example of the Jewish establishment stifling any discussion of Israel that does not conform to the neo-conservative tenets of AIPAC and its cohorts. Beware of these self-appointed guardians of Israel and Jewish values. In the end they will destroy everything that makes Judaism a compassionate religion, and if in their zeal they do not destroy Israel, they certainly will not make it more secure.



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