Tag Archives: AIPAC

AIPAC’s thuggery comes home

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is committed to supporting Israel’s thuggish right-wing government–no matter how much land is confiscated from Palestinians, no matter how many homes are bulldozed, and no matter how many Palestinians are killed.  And, it appears, AIPAC’s support of violence also applies to the U.S.

Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist with CODEPINK and Jewish Voice for Peace and who is of Israeli descent, interrupted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday.  She shouted:   “No more occupation! Stop Israel war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians! Occupation is indefensible!”  She was tackled by members of AIPAC, and was subsequently hospitalized and then arrested.

From the CODEPINK press release:

Police arrested CODEPINK peace activist Rae Abileah at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington DC. Abileah was taken to the hospital after having been assaulted and tackled to the ground by AIPAC members of the audience in the House Gallery during Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

Abileah interrupted Netanyahu with a banner that said  “Occupying Land Is Indefensible” and shouting, “No more occupation, stop Israel war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.” She rose up to speak out just after the Prime Minister talked about the youth around the world rising up for more democracy.

As this 28-year-old Jewish American woman spoke out for the human rights of Palestinians, other members of the audience—wearing badges from the conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee—brutally attacked her. The police then dragged her out of the Gallery and took her to the George Washington University Hospital, where she was being treating for neck and shoulder injuries.

“I am in great pain, but this is nothing compared to the pain and suffering that Palestinians go through on a regular basis,” said Abileah from her hospital bed. “I have been to Gaza and the West Bank, I have seen Palestinians homes bombed and bulldozed, I have talked to mothers whose children have been killed during the invasion of Gaza, I have seen the Jewish-only roads leading to ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank. This kind of colonial occupation cannot continue. As a Jew and a U.S. citizen, I feel obligated to rise up and speak out against stop these crimes being committed in my name and with my tax dollars.”

Abileah explained that she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli activists who are routinely jailed and beaten for speaking out for democracy.

Watch Abileah’s interview with Democracy Now! this morning:

Bucking Obama and Netanyahu, Palestinian refugees assert their centrality

When President Barack Obama delivered his much awaited speech on the “Arab Spring” last Thursday, outlining his administration’s policy on the Arab revolts and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he proposed a negotiations process that would delay discussions on Palestinian refugees.

“These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met,” he said at the State Department.  “I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.  But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair.”

Obama didn’t even mention refugees once during his May 22 speech to the annual conference of the powerful pro-Israel lobby, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

But Palestinian refugees themselves are not having any of that, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow that Palestinians’ insistence on returning is “not going to happen,” as he told President Obama at the White House May 20.  As the Nakba day protests that erupted on May 15 show, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and their demands to return to their homeland in what is now Israel, remain a core issue in the conflict.

Obama is “now attempting to parse away the negotiations by turning it into a very piecemeal negotiation, where first you focus on borders and security, and then leave all of the other issues to a later date,” Diana Buttu, a former spokesperson of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Support Unit, told the Institute for Palestine Studies.  “This is the policy the Israelis have been pushing for a very long period of time.”

But Palestinian refugees are not waiting on a U.S. president to show them the way forward.  Through the kinds of unarmed, popular resistance that have overthrown the regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali–and that Palestinian themselves first used during their intifadas–they are reinserting themselves into the discourse on Israel/Palestine.

The next big event for refugees and their supporters will be June 5, a date that marks the start of the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel captured and occupied the Golan Heights in Syria, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt–all of which remain in Israel’s hands, save for the Sinai.

The Ma’an News Agency reported May 21 that “masses of Palestinian refugees will march to Israel’s borders and ceasefire lines again on June 5, organizers of the May 15 ‘return rally’ said…The committee organizing the ‘return rallies’ said Saturday that the May 15 protests were ‘just the beginning.’  In a statement, the group called on all Palestinian refugees living in exile to march peacefully to the borders of historic Palestine on June 5.”

The “right to return” rallies represent the clearest sign yet that Palestinian refugees are done waiting for a peace process that has done nothing for their rights.  The rallies could be looked at as a wholesale rejection of a negotiations process that has systematically shut refugees and the whole Palestinian diaspora out.  And it represents a rejection of the Obama/Netanyahu line on refugees.

Israel and its American friends want to stop the Egyptian ‘earthquake’

The Israeli government and its many friends in the U.S. media are rushing to support the brutal Mubarak dictatorship as it copes with the most serious challenge to its rule.

As I noted yesterday, Israel is worried about a reliable ally being toppled next door. The Israeli government recently told journalists that there is “an earthquake in the Middle East … but we believe the Egyptian regime is strong enough and that Egypt is going to overcome the current wave of demonstrations.”

M.J. Rosenberg reports on “AIPAC’s Egypt miscalculation” at Media Matters.

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic joins the lobby’s misgivings about the uprising in Egypt here:

Fifty years of peace has meant propping up dictators for fifty years.

3) Is that such a bad thing? Friends of mine like Reuel Gerecht believe that Arabs, given their druthers, might choose Islamist governments, and that would be okay, because it’s part of a long-term process of gradual modernization. I’m not so sure. I support democratization, but the democratization we saw in Gaza (courtesy of, among others, Condi Rice) doesn’t seem particularly worth it.

Lee Smith, a neoconservative at the Hudson Institute, laments in the Weekly Standard that Gamal Abdel Nasser “owns the affections of the Egyptian masses”:

That is to say, we don’t know exactly what the protestors want. There are those who hate the regime because it jails and tortures bloggers and those who hate it because it won’t make war on Israel.  No doubt some of the young are just fed up they have never known another Egyptian ruler in their lifetimes. Some of the youth are democrats and others are decidedly not.

It is not always a good thing when people go to the streets; indeed the history of revolutionary action shows that people go to the streets to shed blood more often than they do to demand democratic reforms. Perhaps it is an appetite for activist politics that explains why so many Western observers are now captured by the moment. Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why it seems as if no one had learned from the failures of the Bush administration’s freedom agenda—namely the Palestinian Authority elections that empowered Hamas—or could remember its successes. The Iraqis and Lebanese went to the streets, too, and our allies there are under pressure and ignored not only by the Obama administration, but also by a press corps and intelligentsia that mostly seems just fascinated by the spectacle of Arabs throwing themselves against a wall, regardless of the outcome.

The posture of Goldberg and Smith is striking.  They were certainly not airing such anti-democratic sentiments when the Iranian “Green Revolution” was going on.  But now that a revolt is threatening a pillar of the U.S./Israeli order in the Middle East, an order that is suffocating the people of Palestine, their zest for democracy fizzles.  This will be noted.

What the Washington Post Doesn’t Tell You About Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross, at right, with current Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler has a piece today looking at the prominent role that Dennis Ross has played in the Obama administration’s dealings with Israel, and reports that Ross “primarily worked” on a “package of incentives that the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu to extend a settlement moratorium by 60 days to keep nascent peace talks with the Palestinians on track.”

But there’s a whole lot of crucial history and context about Ross that goes unmentioned which would show that Ross is an unabashed pro-Israel partisan.

Here’s some of the ways Kessler describes Ross:  he is a “crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government…[he] has provided an element that had been missing from the bilateral relationship, which has been rocky since Obama took office.”

What’s missing?

In his memoir about the “peace process,” Ross wrote that Israel is a “dynamic” place, “with an intellectual vibrancy and an impulse to debate every issue.  I identified with its people, and my own Jewish identity became more important to me as a result.”

Ross co-founded the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee-sponsored think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a major player in the Israel lobby.

Before joining the Obama administration, he was the chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which opposes Jews marrying non-Jews.

He supported the Iraq War and signed onto Project for a New American Century letters on Iraq (PNAC was a major player in pushing the U.S. to war with Iraq.)

In Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, a book by Daniel Kurtzer (former U.S. ambassador to Israel) and Scott Lasensky (a former adviser to the Obama presidential campaign), one Arab negotiator is quoted as saying that “the perception always was that Dennis [Ross] started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs .… He was never looked at … as a trusted world figure or as an honest broker.”

There’s a lot more where that came from.  Simply put, Ross is Israel’s man in the White House.

Now why can’t Kessler spell it out like that?

The Israel debate and the failure of J Street

The following originally appeared at Salon.com:

The Emergency Committee for Israel, an advocacy group launched by Bill Kristol and other neoconservative activists, and J Street, the 2-year-old outfit that bills itself as a liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” voice, recently aired dueling ads about Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania.

The Emergency Committee went first, with a menacing spot that asked, “Does congressman Joe Sestak understand Israel is America’s ally?” J Street’s defensive response was telling. “In Congress, Sestak consistently votes to aid Israel,” the group informed Pennsylvanians.

The ad, needless to say, didn’t bother to question why the U.S. should be spending so much money on Israel in the first place. So much for challenging the assumptions of the pro-Israel establishment.

J Street, which launched in April 2008 to great fanfare under the helm of Jeremy Ben-Ami, a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, was founded in part to “ensure a broad debate on Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.” That debate has largely been dominated by unquestioning supporters of Israel and all its actions.

But despite the hysterical rhetoric from the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Commentary magazine, who like to claim that J Street is agitating for radical policy change, the new group has done little to broaden the constricted U.S. debate over Israel/Palestine.

Instead, J Street has largely given a liberal cover to more right-wing groups like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose line seems to be one of supporting Israel no matter what.

The Goldstone report, a landmark U.N. document that accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations under international law, are two areas where the J Street line has differed little from AIPAC.

The debate over the Goldstone report was an early indicator of things to come for J Street. When a largely fact-free congressional resolution denouncing the report was about to pass, J Street, which aired some concerns about the resolution and urged Congress to modify it, still ultimately agreed with the thrust of it: “J Street supports passage of a resolution by the U.S. Congress calling for the United States to oppose and work actively to defeat one-sided and biased action in the United Nations when it comes to Israel and the Goldstone Report.” That statement was similar to AIPAC’s position on the report, who called it “deeply flawed” and “rigged.”

J Street’s acquiescence to the establishment line on Israel/Palestine reached its zenith during the University of California at Berkeley debate in March/April 2010 over a student effort to divest from two companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. When the president of the student government at Berkeley vetoed the measure, which was passed earlier by an overwhelming margin, J Street joined AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the local Israeli consul general in pressuring the student government. J Street joined a wide coalition of groups such as the David Project and the Jewish National Fund that authored a letter labeling the divestment measure as “misleading” and “dishonest.” (J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, has since said that the group won’t be signing on to similar letters with “organizations like that in group settings again.”) Their effort worked — a measure to override the veto failed by just one vote.

This timidity has earned J Street harsh criticism from the left. An Israeli-authored letter circulated on an activist listserv called on the group to “stop trying to gain political capital at the expense of dedicated peace activists.”

It is also creating a vacuum that older, more left-leaning groups like Jewish Voice for Peace are poised to fill. This third pole, which has emerged underneath the surface, is challenging the pro-Israel lobby’s hold on the debate. The future battle, especially in the Jewish-American community, will not be J Street vs. AIPAC, but rather the pro-Israel lobby vs. critical Jewish groups who are questioning the desirability of the U.S.-Israel “special relationship.”

The divestment debate at Berkeley and the criticism of J Street is a prominent example of the new battle that is coming to a head within the Jewish community over Israel/Palestine and the Palestinian-led call to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The BDS movement started in 2005, and calls on global civil society to use the tactics of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel until it adheres to its obligations under international law. The movement demands that Israel withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories, implement equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and recognize the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Palestine during the 1947-49 Israeli-Arab War.

The debate over BDS is heating up. Recently, Jacob Weisberg, the editor in chief at Slate, called the BDS movement “a weapon designed not to bring peace but to undermine [Israel]” and “hard to disassociate from anti-Semitism.” The smearing of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, though, is increasingly losing credibility, especially because groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and others are backing aspects of the movement. In its latest issue, Tikkun magazine published a debate on BDS between Ben-Ami, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rebecca Vilkomerson and others, an indication of the growing importance of the movement.

During the Tikkun debate, Ben-Ami argued that those opposed to the Israeli occupation should not engage in BDS tactics that alienate Israelis and should instead “double down on our movement to try to get particularly President Obama to be deeply and actively engaged to outline what a solution is.” But with peace talks at a standstill, and President Obama averse to pressuring Israel, the BDS movement will only gain steam — with or without J Street on board.

The momentum was evident just a few months ago, after the Israeli Navy raided an aid flotilla on its way to Gaza and killed nine people, when a wave of music acts honored the cultural boycott, and garnered attention from major media outlets like the Associated Press and CNN.

While it’s hard to predict when mainstream discourse will allow candid discussion about Israel/Palestine, cracks in the wall are appearing, and they’re only going to get bigger.