Tuesday, March 20, 2007

AIPAC Hijack: With Friends Like These, by Gidon D. Remba

AIPAC Hijack: With Friends Like These…


Gidon D. Remba

Published at Ameinu.net and The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle

March 20, 2007


AIPAC has long portrayed itself as 'the pro-Israel lobby' representing the entire pro-Israel American Jewish community. As the primary pro-Israel voice in Washington, AIPAC should reflect what is common to all who support Israel, a nonpartisan consensus between Zionists of the left, right and center. But AIPAC has been hijacked by the neocons and the radical right. It no longer represents the majority of American Jews, who are overwhelmingly liberal, centrist on foreign policy and vote Democratic. Pro-Israel Jews need an alternative, a new vehicle for voicing their moderate, pragmatic views on Israel to elected officials in Washington.

I ventured to Washington last week to attend, for the first time in my life, AIPAC’s vaunted national policy conference, a 3-day political pageant which drew some 6,000 people this year, culminating in a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. I had the privilege of attending not only as one of the throng of Israel supporters who flocked to DC, but as the official representative of a major Jewish organization. I am now the national executive director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel, the organization which represents Labor Zionism in America, the leading progressive Zionist voice in the American Jewish community.

In this new role, I am one of 50-odd delegates of major Jewish organizations who sit on AIPAC’s Executive Committee. In reality, AIPAC stacks the deck by including in the Committee many more AIPAC leaders and activists than heads of major Jewish groups, thereby insuring that no decision will be taken which flouts the wishes of its hard-line big donors. The AIPAC conference opened with a meeting of the Executive Committee devoted to approving AIPAC’s “action agenda” for 2007. Three days later, a citizens’ army, mostly American Jews, marched on Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress, armed with talking points emanating from the order of battle we had approved—over my dissenting vote, and the objections of others.

If 87% of American Jews voted Democratic in the last election, the other 13% seemed to have crowded into the annual AIPAC bash. Where else would Vice President Dick Cheney, king of the neocons, and Pastor John Hagee, the right-wing Christian Zionist televangelist preacher and Greater Land of Israel territorial maximalist, receive a wildly enthusiastic welcome, punctuated by serial standing ovations throughout their bellicose remarks? AIPAC lent its platform to Cheney who informed his cheering audience that anyone who fails to support the Bush Administration’s policy of escalation in Iraq—opposed by most Americans and the great majority of American Jews—is sending a signal of “weakness and surrender” to Iran and endangering Israel.

But surely this highly partisan message was Cheney’s own exploitation of the AIPAC stage to peddle the Bush Administration’s line? Think again. AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr followed Cheney and demanded that on Iraq and Iran we American Jewish supporters of Israel should show “no divisions, no weakness.” Disagreeing with our war President makes us appear impotent to our enemies. The pro-Israel lobby which often touts its bipartisanship is in reality quite happy to throw its weight against the policy of the Democratic Party on both Iraq and Iran and to shamelessly align itself with the neocon super-hawks in the Bush Administration.

Not a word was heard from AIPAC—whether from its leaders or in its 2007 policy statement—about attempting to engage Iran and Syria while imposing sanctions, the carrot-and-stick approach favored by most Democrats and moderate Republicans. Though AIPAC’s official focus was on the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, new legislation imposing further economic sanctions on Iran, much was heard from AIPAC’s featured plenary speakers about the need for a preemptive military strike, especially former CIA director Admiral James Woolsey and Washington Institute for Near East Policy Director Robert Satloff. Other speakers, like Israel’s UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman, implied as much by saying that Iran cannot be permitted to develop nuclear weapons. AIPAC’s leaders and official spokespersons shied away from overt threats, preferring to obliquely warn Iran of the possibility of a US attack by insisting that no options be taken off the table, and by supporting “all means necessary for the United States, Israel and their allies to prevent Iran and other nations” from developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. It was left mainly to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remind the audience that diplomacy with Iran must be vigorously pursued.

Israel Apocalypse

The opening night dinner featured televangelist Pastor John Hagee, who recently founded Christians United for Israel, the Christian Zionist lobby which claims 15 million biblical fundamentalist Evangelical Christian devotees. AIPAC’s largely Jewish audience wildly cheered Hagee’s fiery demagogic speech. As they rose to their feet time and again, whistling and applauding in a manic frenzy, I could only wince thinking of another speech Hagee had recently given in Washington of which the AIPAC crowd was apparently unaware. On July 19, 2006, at a Christians United for Israel inaugural event, attended by GOP Party chief Ken Mehlman and Republican Senators Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum, Kay Bailey-Hutchinson and John Cronyn, featuring recorded greetings from President George W. Bush, Hagee declared: “The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West... a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation…and [the] Second Coming of Christ."

Richard Silverstein reports on his Tikkun Olam blog that “Hagee subsequently wrote, in a Charisma Magazine editorial entitled ‘The Coming Holy War,’ that the preemptive attack he advocates should be carried out with nuclear weapons.” And in his 2006 book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee writes that “a ‘remnant’ would be saved by the grace of God, a group of survivors who have the opportunity to receive Messiah, who is a rabbi known to the world as Jesus Christ.” So Hagee and his millions of Christian fundamentalists “support Israel” by advocating a preemptive nuclear war to be launched by the US and Israel against Iran, which will usher in the Second Coming of Christ and the conversion to Christianity or death of the Jews. This is the “Israel advocate” warmly embraced by AIPAC and its minions.

Basking in the glow of his many Jewish admirers at the AIPAC dinner, Hagee announced that he is “concerned that in the coming months yet another attempt will be made to parcel out parts of Israel in a futile attempt to appease Israel’s enemies in the Middle East…Once again those who appease seek to do so at the expense of Israel.” The world—the “misguided souls” in Europe, the UN and the US State Department—thundered Hagee, “will try once again to turn Israel into crocodile food,” whereupon he cited Winston Churchill’s aphorism, “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile in the futile hope that it will eat him less.” What’s missing here is the recognition that it is Israel’s pragmatic majority, and its democratically elected government, led by the Kadima and Labor parties, that is seeking a negotiated two-state solution and a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. But Hagee’s politics on Israel, like those of Jewish fundamentalist Gush Emunim settler movement and the National Religious Party, derive not from an understanding of practical realities like demography, or Israel’s security needs, but from his Christian fundamentalist reading of the Bible.

Hagee continues by warning that “America should not pressure Israel to give up land. America should not pressure Israel to divide the city of Jerusalem.” He approvingly cites Israeli right-winger Dore Gold’s latest book The Fight for Jerusalem, which, says Hagee, claims that “Turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban.” All? Who has proposed turning all of Jerusalem to the Palestinians? No one but the straw man Hagee sets up for rhetorical attack. Jerusalem, continues Hagee, “is the eternal capital of the Jewish people now and forever. Jerusalem is united under Jewish control and must always remain under Jewish control.”

Never mind that refusing to share sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem with a Palestinian state would effectively smother any chance for a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict. Never mind that Israel’s continued rule over hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem, like its rule over millions of Palestinians in the rest of the West Bank, jeopardizes Israel’s Jewish majority and its democratic character, as Prime Minister Olmert has acknowledged. Maintaining exclusive Israeli control over Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the entire Temple Mount/Haram Ash-Sharif insures that Israel will remain in a perpetual state of war with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, and potentially with the Islamic world. If this troubles you, it doesn’t bother Hagee, whose theology requires it.

Israel Fantasia

If the policy conference is a circus maximus, a monster rally in a cavernous convention center stretching two city blocks with a giant audio visual show designed to manipulate the emotions, where politicians proffer platitudes tailored to spark applause—mass public political entertainment on a lavish scale—the Executive Committee meeting is the opening chariot race. Rather than devoting itself to a real discussion of the issues, the committee spent the bulk of its time giving far right ZOA leader Mort Klein the opportunity to table some two dozen amendments to AIPAC’s action agenda, designed to push an already hard-line agenda off the cliff into an abyss of ultra-hawkish fantasy. And he who tables an amendment is entitled to step up to the microphone to defend it, followed by others who respond. To be sure, there was a debate, but it was between Attila and the Huns. Virtually no other organization offered an amendment to the agenda (an oddity which, you may rest assured, dear reader, will not be repeated at the next session, if I and others in the moderate pro-Israel camp have our say).

AIPAC’s agenda opens with a pious promise to “build on the commitment of the Administration and Congress…to a peace process predicated on direct negotiation between Israel and her neighbors.” It insists that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, “will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” So far so good. But realism is thrown out the window the moment AIPAC addresses other hot button issues. AIPAC next pledges that it will promote a secure peace by “ensuring that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, remains united as the capital only of Israel.”

Now let’s get real, AIPAC. There can be no agreed solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without a two-state solution, which AIPAC professes to support. But every schoolchild knows that there can be no agreed two-state solution without Jerusalem becoming the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state—with Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem becoming part of Palestine, and Jewish neighborhoods in West and East Jerusalem remaining part of Israel. Nor is an accord possible without some formula for shared or divided sovereignty over the holy sites there, including the Temple Mount. But when it comes to what grade school kids know, AIPAC pretends ignorance.

Next AIPAC promises to work to “secure the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem without delay,” before an Israeli government has the chance to negotiate an agreement with its Arab neighbors on the status of the city. AIPAC once opposed Israel’s Prime Minister Rabin on this very issue, when he sought to work out a solution on Jerusalem with the Palestinians in the mid-nineties. It continues to pander and posture with unrealistic, crowd-pleasing mantras.

When all is said and done, AIPAC is unconcerned with what it will take to negotiate a mutually agreeable two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. After all, it’s enough if you pay lip service to the slogan, isn’t it? Doesn’t it suffice if you spend gobs of cash to mount a fabulous show, and then advocate positions which do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of leading to a peace accord? Who, after all, will pay attention? The delegates will leave Washington fired up with self-righteous pro-Israeli fever, convinced they are doing good for the Jews and their state. Their eyes blinded by the glitz of AIPAC’s big screen magic, their shoulders freshly rubbed with power, how many will take the time to read the fine print? And those who do, won’t object. They blissfully live in AIPAC’s fantasyland of Jewish breast-beating.

The selection of Pastor John Hagee as the keynote speaker of the conference’s opening night was no accident. And if Dick Cheney hadn’t been Vice President and the confab’s star act, AIPAC would have had to invent him.

AIPAC vs. Israel

Finally, AIPAC’s 2007 Action Agenda adopted radical hawkish positions on the Palestinians which would quash current Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts, placing AIPAC in sharp opposition to both the Bush Administration, the Israeli Government and the Israeli public. Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh’s remarks at the AIPAC conference testified to this clash. AIPAC’s hawkish shift on US policy towards the Palestinians, which would sever all US contact with moderate Palestinian leaders like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas or incoming Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, is mirrored in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, initiated by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and John Ensign (R-NV), which AIPAC is now urging senators to sign. AIPAC’s new demand is contained in the “Talking Points” it distributed to supporters who lobbied their Members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

What’s worse, the ‘Talking Points’ disguised AIPAC’s new position, leading many conference attendees to naively believe that in asking their senators to sign on to the Nelson-Ensign letter, they are merely “‘holding firm and insisting’ that no aid or recognition should be granted to the PA until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements,” as the Talking Points memo claims. In fact, the Nelson-Ensign letter, and AIPAC’s new 2007 Agenda, go much further.

AIPAC’s new 2007 Agenda calls for:

  • “Urging the US government to vigorously enforce the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act,” and “Urging the US government and other parties of the ‘Quartet’ to adhere to the position that they will not have contact with or provide funds to a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas until Hamas” meets the three international conditions (recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements).
  • The Nelson-Ensign letter which AIPAC supporters are calling on their senators to endorse also urges senators to “continue to hold firm and insist that these very basic international principles do not change—no direct aid and no contacts with any members of a Palestinian Authority that does not” meet the three conditions. (Emphasis added.) Thanks to our and our allies’ public protests and the work of progressive pro-Israel groups on the Hill, the letter has just been improved, but still implies that the US should boycott moderate Palestinian leaders.

In fact, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act does not bar the US from maintaining contact with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until the PA meets the three international conditions. Both Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have conducted recent meetings with President Abbas, who has long met the conditions. As Israel's Deputy Defense Minister and Labor Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh, the token centrist voice at the AIPAC Plenary, stressed in his remarks, strengthening President Abbas and other Palestinian moderates in the PA by providing them with political dividends and security assistance is critical to weakening Hamas and other rejectionists in Palestinian society. Such steps are essential to building hope among Palestinians and Israelis for the success of any new peace initiative and reaching a comprehensive and durable cease-fire.

The new AIPAC policy of cutting off contact with all Palestinian Authority officials also contradicts AIPAC’s own promise in its 2007 Action Agenda to “build on the commitment of the [Bush] Administration and Congress…to a peace process predicated on direct negotiations between Israel and her neighbors.” It brings AIPAC full circle back to the extreme version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act it unsuccessfully sought to pass last year. AIPAC's new agenda, relying solely on economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and Iran, along with the implicit threat of possible preemptive military action against Iran in future, would now unwisely block all diplomatic bargaining between Israel and the Palestinians.

AIPAC, John Hagee and Dick Cheney are Israel’s best friends? With friends like these…

Gidon D. Remba is National Executive Director of Ameinu: Liberal Values, Progressive Israel (http://www.ameinu.net/). His commentary is available at http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/