As a secular Jew, I don’t do much praying. But this week, as the powerful pro-Israeli government lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) holds its annual policy meeting in Washington DC, I’m praying that this year marks the beginning of the end of the lobby’s grip on US foreign policy.
From March 1-3, over 10,000 AIPAC supporters will descend on the nation’s capital. The meeting comes at a time when the relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is at an all-time low. Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress right after he speaks at the AIPAC conference is seen by the White House as a direct attempt to undermine the president and his administration’s nuclear talks with Iran. In an unprecedented move, over 50 brave congresspeople have decided to skip Netanyahu’s Congressional address.
AIPAC’s support of the Israeli prime minister over the US president is turning AIPAC into a Republican-biased lobby that could hopefully prove fatal to its future influence in Washington. Here are ten reasons why this would be good for world peace:
1. AIPAC wants to sabotage nuclear talks with Iran. AIPAC – like the Israeli government –has no faith in the complex negotiations under way between Iran and the US (along with its five partners) to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It pushes for greater sanctions on Iran knowing that—as Secretary of State John Kerry has said—additional sanctions would threaten the diplomatic path. AIPAC, which has successfully lobbied the US government to adopt crippling economic sanctions on Iran in the past, is ignoring White House warnings and its lobby day this year will push for the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, a bill the President has vowed to veto. If the nuclear talks fail, the violence that has engulfed the Middle East will only get worse and will put the US on a dangerous path to more war.
2. AIPAC promotes Israeli settlements in direct opposition to international law. As of this past year, approximately 350,000 Israelis are recorded as living in illegal Israeli settlements, a record high. Despite the fact that United Nations Human Rights Council requested the removal of all of the West Bank’s settlers and cessation of all settlement activities without preconditions, settlement construction has increased by 40% under Prime Minister Netanyahu. Israeli settlements violate the Geneva Conventions and can be prosecuted within the International Criminal Court as “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.” No wonder AIPAC doesn’t wait Palestine to become a member of the ICC…
3. AIPAC supports the horrific Israeli invasions and siege of Gaza. Claiming Israel was forced to defend itself against Hamas, AIPAC supported the Israeli offensive during the summer of 2014 called “Operation Protective Edge.” The attack resulted in thousands of deaths (including over 500 children), 6 UN schools and hospitals flattened, 18,000 housing units destroyed, 108,000 people displaced from their homes. Robert Cohen, the president of AIPAC, justified the Israeli offensive in a meeting with Congress on July 23rd. AIPAC also supported the prior two invasions of Gaza and the siege that has left the 1.8 million residents of Gaza living lives of intense poverty and misery.
4. AIPAC’s call for unconditional support for the Israeli government threatens our national security. The United States’ one-sided support of Israel, demanded by AIPAC, has significantly increased anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East, sowing the seeds of more possible terrorist attacks against us. Now disgraced Gen. David Petraeus admitted that the US/Palestine conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel.” Iran, for example, could be a vital ally for the US in the Middle East in the fight to control ISIL. But because of Israel’s hatred toward Iran and its strong influence (read: money) on our politicians, our foreign policies reflect Israel’s perceived interests more than ours.
5. AIPAC makes the US a pariah at the UN. AIPAC describes the UN as a body hostile to the State of Israel and has pressured the US government to oppose resolutions calling Israel to account. Since 1972, the US has vetoed at least 45 UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. In 2011, AIPAC helped persuade 446 members of Congress to co-sponsor resolutions opposing Palestine petitioning to obtain statehood in the UN. Overriding US (and AIPAC) objections, in 2012 the UN General Assembly passed a motion granting Palestine “non-member observer state” by a vote of 138 to 9. More recently, in response to Palestine seeking membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC), AIPAC pushed the Obama administration to pull funding from the Palestinian Authority. Despite US opposition, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon assured that Palestine will become a member of the ICC on April 1, 2015, a highly controversial move that will allow Palestine to press charges against Israel for war crimes.
6. AIPAC feeds US government officials a distorted view of the Israel/Palestine conflict. AIPAC takes US representatives on sugar-coated trips to Israel, trips considered almost obligatory for every new member of Congress. AIPAC hosts members of Congress—and many of their spouses—on a free junket to Israel to see precisely what the Israeli government wants them to see. It is illegal for lobby groups to take Congresspeople on trips, but AIPAC gets around the law with a bogus educational group, AIEF (American Israel Education Foundation), to “organize” the trips for them. AIEF has the same office address as AIPAC and the same staff. These trips help cement the ties between AIPAC and Congress, furthering their undue influence.
To prove most of Congress is in the pocket of AIPAC, look no further than what AIPAC boats about its policy conference, which is that it will “be attended by more members of Congress than almost any other event, except for a joint session of Congress or a State of the Union address.”
7. AIPAC attacks politicians who question unconditional support of Israel. AIPAC demands that Congress rubber stamp legislation drafted by AIPAC staff. It keeps a record of how members of Congress vote and this record is used by donors to make contributions to the politicians who score well. Members of Congress who fail to support AIPAC legislation have been targeted for defeat in re-election bids. These include Senators Adlai Stevenson III and Charles H. Percy, and Representatives Paul Findley, Pete McCloskey, Cynthia McKinney, and Earl F. Hilliard. More recently, many Democrats who have publicly refused to attend Netanyahu’s speech in March have been directly targeted by AIPAC’s largest supporters. Representative of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson said that “If these Democrats would rather put partisan politics ahead of principle and walk out on the prime minister of Israel, then we have an obligation to make that known.” Adelson and Netanyahu’s other powerful, right-wing supporters vow to use their wealth and extensive resources to punish Democrats who skip the speech.
8. AIPAC attempts to silence all criticism of Israel by labeling critics as “anti-Semitic,” “de-legitimizers” or “self-hating Jews.” Journalists, think tanks, students and professors have been accused of anti-Semitism for merely taking stands critical of Israeli government policies. These attacks stifle the critical discussions and debates that are at the heart of democratic policy-making.
9. AIPAC lobbies for billions of US taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel. This money goes to the Israeli military to maintain, in high-tech fashion, the apartheid system of oppressing Palestinians.
10. Money to Israel takes funds from world’s poor. Israel has the 24th largest economy in the world, but thanks to AIPAC, it gets more US taxdollars than any other country. At a time when the foreign aid budget is being slashed, keeping the lion’s share of foreign assistance for Israel meaning taking funds from critical programs to feed, provide shelter and offer emergency assistance to the world’s poorest people.
The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has influence on US policy out of all proportion to the number of Americans who support its policies. When a small group like this has disproportionate power, it hurts everyone—including Israelis and American Jews.
From topping a catastrophic war with Iran to finally solving the Israel/Palestine conflict, an essential starting point is breaking AIPAC’s grip on U.S. policy. That’s why I’m praying that this time, by snubbing President Obama and offending Democratic members of Congress, AIPAC is careening towards its own demise.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. She is one of the organizers of #ShutDownAIPAC, which will take place February 28-March 3 in Washington DC.