PACing in the Marionettes: AIPAC In the Spotlight

March 17th, 2007

Gregory Levey, a former speech writer for past Israeli governments, brings some interesting stories from inside the annual AIPAC conference ranging from the outrageous to hilarious, which highlight the almost total grip of the Israel Lobby on US foreign policy. 

To begin with, there is the conservative Christian couple from eastern Tennessee whose son decided to join the Israeli army; they were there because “We just love God, and we just love Israel.”

Amid the “energized and at times almost circuslike atmosphere”, Levey writes, everyone shared ”two main preoccupations: the 2008 U.S. presidential election and confronting Iran.” 

“For those feeling apocalyptic about the turmoil in the Middle East” he writes, “ pastor John Hagee was there to greet them”.

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awoken!” Hagee proclaimed…The electrified crowd — most of it Jewish — roared in support, pounding on the tables. Hagee went on to declare the United Nations a “political brothel” and asserted that Israel must never give up land…granting part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians would be “tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban.” And, after rebuking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he led the crowd in a chant of “Israel lives!” urging them to “shout it from the mountaintops!”

Hagee reportedly got one of the most enthusiastic receptions — one AIPAC delegate was moved to declare, “I’m going to vote for him instead of McCain.”

Target Iran

Many rank-and-file members of AIPAC seemed to be spoiling for military action against Iran — “We have to do to them what we did to Saddam,” one delegate told me — but AIPAC’s leadership remained strikingly circumspect about it…At times this put them at odds with the grass-roots delegates; Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s director of policy and government affairs, was verbally attacked by a conference attendee as “weak” when he downplayed military options against Iran during a Q&A session.

But AIPAC leaders are pushing for a different kind of offensive against Iran: a new program of sanctions much harsher than any prior one imposed through the United Nations. The plan, which one panelist called a “quiet campaign” to strike at Iran on the financial battlefield, would include increased pressures on foreign allies who do business with Iran, a U.S.-wide campaign of divestment, and other measures intended to put crippling economic pressure on the Islamic republic…on Tuesday, the organization deployed its army of lobbyists to push for new sanctions against Iran, which are contained in a new bill called the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, introduced by Democrat Tom Lantos and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs… [More on the two warmongers here]

Modus Operandi

When the thousands of lobbyists descended on Capitol Hill, they were greeted by nearly every U.S. senator and more than half the members of the House of Representatives — approximately 500 meetings were held between AIPAC representatives and members of Congress on Tuesday alone. In addition to pushing for the sanctions plan, the goal was to showcase the strength of AIPAC and establish more ties for future communication and lobbying.

The AIPAC activists were aided in their mission by some members of Congress themselves, who advised them how to reach out to their colleagues.

“Our commitment to Israel defines us as a nation,” said Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that the AIPAC lobbyists “help make sure that we don’t forget.”

Strategic Asset?

For a long time, we have heard from Noam Chomsky and legions of others who parrot his every word that Israel is a “strategic asset”. If that is so, then should there be a need to keep stressing this point? 

Nita Lowey, a Democratic representative from New York, said the best strategy toward that goal was to keep pointing out to lawmakers that the relationship with Israel “is in the U.S. interest.”

Is It Effective?

While AIPAC itself has never been modest about its power, some, like As’ad AbuKhalil have suggested that like any other lobby they have an interest in exaggerating their power. Is that really so? 

“I don’t sit behind my desk and come up with this stuff,” Coleman said, stressing that he often consulted AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr for policy advice. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, said that she, too, often spoke to Kohr and others in the AIPAC leadership. “They’re like daily phone calls,” she said, as other Democratic and Republican members of Congress onstage nodded in agreement

Even if Democrats and Republicans bicker on every other issue, AIPAC leaders seemed constantly eager to stress that one thing on which the parties can come together is unswerving devotion to Israel. Tuesday morning…for example, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Minority Leader John Boehner each addressed the delegates, assuring them of a staunch commitment to Israel’s security…Boehner…got a standing ovation, after saying, “Who does not believe that failure in Iraq is not a direct threat to the state of Israel?”…

Tha Marionettes

The closing gala dinner on Monday night was attended by a who’s who of Washington’s A-list. At that event, AIPAC’s executive members…read what they excitedly referred to as “the roll call” of those in attendance. It took 13 minutes and included the bulk of Congress, as well as high-ranking officials from the White House, the State Department and the National Security Council. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert…waded into America’s debate over Iraq in a manner that the Israeli leadership has avoided until now. He openly urged AIPAC delegates to push Congress to support the Bush administration’s current strategy in Iraq…

Joe Biden made sure his presence was registered. “Hi, I’m Joe Biden!” he said repeatedly, adding several times, “I’ve been hanging out with AIPAC for years!” …

Clinton and Obama held competing dessert receptions in the conference center…both eager to highlight their pro-Israel credentials… “I can’t decide,” one AIPAC delegate said. “I’d really like to see Obama in person, but Hillary is better for Israel”…

Obama had recently said, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people” at a recent event in Iowa — a statement that served to anger some AIPAC delegates. 

Whose President?

Bush’s popularity ratings have recently dropped to record lows. The overwhelming majority of Americans seem to detest him. Is there anyone who still supports this man?

During the opening night’s events, large video screens behind the speaker’s podium showed a chronological slide show of U.S. presidents and their Israeli prime minister contemporaries, and when the display eventually reached George W. Bush, the room erupted into applause — far more applause than the crowd had given for Reagan, Kennedy or even Truman. And when Cheney first appeared on the stage on Monday morning, the crowd immediately rose to its feet and filled the room with loud applause…It seemed a remarkable contrast to the currently dismal public opinion polls regarding Bush and Cheney. As one delegate standing nearby commented during the vice president’s speech, “This has got to be the last crowd that still greets him this way.”

The Levee Breaks

Kudos to Mearsheimer & Walt for finally making discussion of the Israel Lobby’s inordinate influence over US foreign policy part of the mainstream debate. In “Taming Leviathan“, the Economist has a surprisingly critical look at the Lobby’s influence.

These are both the best of times and the worst of times for the American-Jewish lobby

THIS week saw yet another reminder of the awesome power of “the lobby”. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) brought more than 6,000 activists to Washington for its annual policy conference. And they proceeded to live up to their critics’ darkest fears.

They heard from the four most powerful people on Capitol Hill—Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner from the House, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell from the Senate—as well as the vice-president (who called his talk “The United States and Israel: United We Stand”) and sundry other power-brokers…The display of muscle was almost equalled by the display of unnerving efficiency…The only discordant note was sounded by a group of a dozen protesters—Orthodox Jews in beards, side-curls and heavy black coats—holding up signs saying “Stop AIPAC”, “Torah forbids Jews dictating foreign policy”, and “Judaism rejects the state of Israel”.

The lobbyists had every reason to feel proud of their work. Congress has more Jewish members than ever before: 30 in the House and a remarkable 13 in the Senate…Both parties are competing with each other to be the “soundest” on Israel. About two-thirds of Americans hold a favourable view of the place.

Yet they have reason to feel a bit nervous, too. The Iraq debacle has produced a fierce backlash against pro-war hawks, of which AIPAC was certainly one. It has also encouraged serious people to ask awkward questions about America’s alliance with Israel. And a growing number of people want to push against AIPAC. One pressure group, the Council for the National Interest—run by two retired congressmen, Paul Findley, a Republican, and James Abourezk, a Democrat—even bills itself as the anti-AIPAC. The Leviathan may be mightier than ever, but there are more and more Captain Ahabs trying to get their harpoons in…

But so far their performance has been unimpressive…Between 1990 and 2004 Arab-Americans donated $788,968 to candidates and parties, compared with $56.8m from pro-Israeli groups…

Dissenting voices

An even bigger threat to AIPAC comes from the general climate of opinion. It is suddenly becoming possible for serious people—politicians and policymakers as well as academics—to ask hard questions about America’s relationship with Israel…

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, worries that America is seen in the Middle East as “acting increasingly on behalf of Israel”. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has compared the situation in Palestine to segregation, and argued that there could “be no greater legacy for America than to help bring into being a Palestinian state”. Philip Zelikow, her former counsellor, argues, in diplomatic language, that the only way to create a viable coalition against terrorists that includes Europeans, moderate Arabs and Israelis, is a “sense that Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed”.

SOURCE

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