The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is still one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the country, but fortunately, it is starting to lose its iron-clad grip on our policymakers. AIPAC lost the fight to stop Chuck Hagel from being confirmed as Secretary of Defense; it lost the push for the US military to attack Syria, and it is losing its effort to derail nuclear talks with Iran. In the old days, AIPAC bragged that it could, within 24 hours, get the signatures of 70 Senators on a napkin if it really wanted to. This year, AIPAC got stuck at 59 cosponsors for its S.1881 sanctions bill–not enough support to force Senator Harry Reid to bring the bill to the floor or to override a threatened presidential veto.
Another sign of AIPAC’s waning influence is the fact that this year, at their March 2-4 Policy Conference in Washington DC, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend but not President Obama or Vice President Joe Biden – both of whom have spoken in past years.
But it’s certainly not time to sound the death knell. AIPAC still has a lot of muscle and will keep trying to flex it. Here’s what we have to look forward to coming out of AIPAC 2014:
1. AIPAC continues to gun for a military confrontation with Iran. AIPAC has been pushing for increased sanctions during these delicate international nuclear talks, a move that would violate the terms of the agreement, signal to Iran that the US negotiating team cannot deliver on its commitments, divide the US from its international negotiating partners, and embolden Iranian hardliners. AIPAC is still pushing for this, but as a backup is trying to set the conditions for the talks. AIPAC’s policy would lead us down a path to yet another disastrous war in the Middle East (AIPAC was a big promoter of the war in Iraq–and look how that one turned out!).
2. AIPAC’s call for unconditional support for the Israeli government undermines a possible negotiated solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. AIPAC promotes Israeli policies that are in direct opposition to international law, including the establishment of settlements in the Occupied West Bank and the confiscation of Palestinian land in its construction of the 26-foot high concrete “separation barrier” running through the West Bank. On February 27 Amnesty International published a report called Trigger Happy providing chilling detail of Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank. AIPAC’s support of these illegal practices is in direct opposition to a negotiated solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. AIPAC has also been pressuring Secretary of State Kerry to keep the political representatives of Palestinians in Gaza–Hamas–completely out of the peace talks. How can you come to a negotiated solution if 40 percent of all Palestinians are not represented?
3. AIPAC’s influence on US policy–pushing it in the direction of unconditional support for Israel–increases anti-American sentiment around the world, sowing the seeds of more possible terrorist attacks against us. Even General David Petraeus admitted that the U.S./Palestine conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.” He also said that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”
4. AIPAC makes the U.S. a pariah at the UN. AIPAC describes the UN as a body hostile to the State of Israel and has pressured the U.S. government to oppose resolutions calling Israel to account. Since 1972, the US has vetoed 44 UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. President Obama continues that practice. Under Obama, the US vetoed UN censure of the savage Israeli assault on Gaza in January 2009 in which about 1400 Palestinians were killed; a 2011 resolution calling for a halt to the illegal Israeli West Bank settlements, even though this was stated U.S. policy; a 2011 resolution calling for Israel to cease obstructing the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees; and another resolution calling for an end to illegal Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem and the occupied Golan Heights.
5. 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. AIPAC’s overwhelmingly disproportionate influence on Congress subverts our democratic system.
6. AIPAC attempts to silence all criticism of Israel. 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. Most recently, AIPAC has been attacking supporters of the movement that calls for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel (BDS), a movement that has gained rapid momentum and multiple victories to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation. In December, the American Studies Association passed a measure supporting BDS. In direct response, AIPAC is trying to push a bill through Congress that would cut federal funding to American academic institutions that advocate a boycott of Israel. Several state-level bills are also in the works. Seems like AIPAC has a hard time with the First Amendment!
7. AIPAC feeds U.S. government officials a distorted view of the Israel/Palestine conflict. AIPAC takes U.S. representatives on sugar-coated trips to Israel. Every year, AIPAC takes dozens of members of Congress – and many of their spouses – on a free junket to Israel to see precisely what the Israeli government want them to see. It is illegal for lobby groups to take Congresspeople on trips, but AIPAC gets around the law by creating a bogus educational group, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), 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.
8. AIPAC lobbies for billions of U.S. taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America or funding the truly needy. While our country is still suffering from a prolonged financial crisis, AIPAC is pushing for no cuts in military funds for Israel. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel.
Israel is the 27th richest country in world, but thanks to AIPAC, it gets more U.S. 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 means 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 U.S. policy out of all proportion to the number of Americans who support its policies. When a small group like this has disproportionate power, that hurts everyone – including Israelis and American Jews. From stopping 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. Join us by sending a message to AIPAC today.
Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK and human rights organization Global Exchange. On March 8th she’s joining a 100-women international delegation traveling to Gaza for International Women’s Day.