AIPAC faces its nemesis
American Jews are leading the wake-up call to sever the "special relationship", notes Anayat Durrani in Washington, DC
From 21-24 May, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) met for its annual pow-wow in Washington DC to hear the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama praise the intimate ties between the US and Israel.
But this year, AIPAC critics gathered nearby for a counter-conference "Move Over AIPAC: Building a New US Middle East Policy". Their four-day event was organised by Code Pink: Women for Peace, endorsed by over 100 peace activist organisations, and featured workshops and cultural events to expose the role of the most powerful US lobby in skewing US foreign policy towards Israel in the Middle East.
A group called Young, Jewish and Proud, the young adult wing of Jewish Voice for Peace, literally kicked off the Move Over AIPAC event with a flash mob in Union Station and a rousing performance of the "Horah" folk dance. They sang the lyrics "Justice is dying, AIPAC is lying, Buying Congress with their cash, All opposing views they bash, Move over AIPAC! Move over move over, for a free Palestine" to the tune of "Hava Nagila".
Since the Israel lobby equates legitimate criticism of Israel's human rights violations with anti-semitism, American Jews took a prominent role in Move Over AIPAC. "Time and again, AIPAC has used the experiences and heritage of the Jewish people as a cover for their support of Israel's repressive policies and violations of international law," said Hanna King, a leader of Young, Jewish, and Proud. "This is a violation of the integrity of our heritage and the values associated with it. By opposing AIPAC, and its support of Israeli war crimes, we, the next generation of American Jews, are carrying forth the legacy of our people with pride."
Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor said the lobby "does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people" by keeping the Middle East "in a perpetual state of war" as they beat the drums of war against Iran. AIPAC pretends to speak for all Jews, but it certainly does not speak for me or other members of the Jewish community in this country who are committed to equal rights for all."
Speakers such as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer authors of the controversial and bestselling book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy challenged the Israeli lobby's "occupation" of Congress. "Everyone in Congress and anybody running for president knows you are playing with fire if you question support for Israel," Walt told attendees. "Towing the AIPAC line is safer, even if it's not in the best interest of the United States or Israel or anybody else."
Protests were held outside the White House, the Capital, during Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu's meeting with President Barack Obama and his address to Congress, and outside the DC Convention Center during the AIPAC conference. Protesters demanded Obama put an end to unconditional financial support for Israel.
Before President Obama's speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC on Sunday, hundreds of activists, rabbis, Palestinians and others from the Jewish peace movement gathered outside the Conference Center. Demonstrators brought 12-foot tall Obama and Netanyahu puppets, a large Obama head, a 30-foot mock annexation wall, and a 30-foot boat to represent the Gaza Flotilla that will set sail in mid-June to break the siege of Gaza.
"AIPAC is an organisation that puts Israel's interests before America's interests. Always pushing the US for wars, using their money and influence to support Israel's apartheid, war crimes, and violations of International law," said Dina Kennedy of the DC chapter of the US Palestinian Community Network. "This year's protest is by far the largest, which indicates that more and more Americans are seeing AIPAC for what it really is, un-American."
"Resistance against Israeli racism and brutality, against the occupation, against apartheid is growing," said Donna Nevel of Jews Say No! "We say No! to AIPAC. They do not speak in our name." Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, said AIPAC should move over to "make way for a growing international movement that embraces universal human rights as the cornerstone of our common life together."
Activists condemned Israeli's killing of more than 20 unarmed Palestinians during the recent Nakba commemoration. They urged Obama to pressure Netanyahu to accept the impending UN declaration of Palestinian statehood, halt settlement expansion, and respect the recent unity between Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas. During Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech at the AIPAC Gala Monday night, five protesters, standing up one by one, held up banners, and chanted slogans in response to Netanyahu's comment that returning to the 1967 borders would be "indefensible", calling Israel's policies indefensible.
"Growing up as the son of a Holocaust survivor, I learned that it is everyone's job to stand up for others when they are persecuted, and I learned what happens when we don't defend humanity," said one of the five protesters, Jewish American Rick Colbath-Hess, in a statement. "Now, it is my job to stand up in support of Palestinians, saying, 'bombing schools is indefensible, bulldozing homes is indefensible."