The annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee took place in Washington the weekend of May 21-22 and the following week. As usual, the top of the federal government paid tribute. President Obama addressed the 7,000 strong delegates, and over 350 senators and representatives attended. The Rapture may have failed to appear that weekend as scheduled by evangelist Harold Camping, but it descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday, when Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu addressed a joint
session of Congress. Congress applauded almost every paragraph of Netanyahu’s speech.
For the first time ever, elements of the left, namely, Code Pink, organized a conference and a national demonstration against AIPAC, Move Over AIPAC; see http://www.moveoveraipac.org/. The conference featured Professors John
Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which mainstreamed the idea, as well as perennial critics such as journalist Jeffrey Blankfort, Janet McMahon, of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Grant Smith, author of several books on AIPAC based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Several hundreds of demonstrators greeted the AIPAC delegates as they entered and exited the Washington convention center; some groups gained admittance and staged impromptu demos, to be muscled out like Communists from a Nazi rally. Rae Abileah, one of the chief organizers of the weekend, who emceed much of it, was admitted to the visitors’ gallery in Congress. Upon unfurling a banner and denouncing Israel’s war crimes, she was assaulted by AIPAC minions before being hustled out by police. She was hospitalized with neck and shoulder injuries and arrested on her sickbed.
Apart from such heroism and the prodigious work to organize it, the MoveOver conference was weak in my jaded view, basically because the left has been running from the “Israel lobby” issue for 40 years. The first false step was buckling to liberal Jewish pressure and letting Helen Thomas bow out. The 90-yr old dean of the White House press corps lost her journalistic career after criticizing the colonial nature of Zionism; more recently she compounded the offense by blunt talk about the power of the Jewish community. One would think Thomas an ideal figure to speak at a rally opposing AIPAC. Her absence
sacrificed media attention and weakened the protest.
There was an “upstairs, downstairs” feel to the discussion of AIPAC. Upstairs, at the plenary session, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt gave their familiar talk. Their book was important, and they mainstreamed the question of the “Israel lobby,” but in the most narrow terms, which they reinforce with each appearance, the price they feel they have to pay to retain mainstream credibility. The left bears a large share of responsibility for this defensiveness, by not making the argument itself.
The full text, a PDF with notes, is at Move Over, AIPAC
On CounterPunch, May 30, 2011 Move Over, AIPAC