The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the country. On March 4-6, AIPAC will be holding its annual policy conference in Washington DC. The speakers include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Republican candidate Newt Gingrich and a host of other powerful politicians.

AIPAC has tremendous clout but its influence has been disastrous for U.S. foreign policy and U.S. democracy. Here are ten reasons why AIPAC is so dangerous.

1. AIPAC is lobbying Congress to promote a military confrontation with Iran. AIPAC – like the Israeli government – is demanding that the U.S. attack Iran militarily to prevent Iran from having the technological capacity to produce nuclear weapons, even though U.S. officials say Iran isn’t trying to build a weapon (and even though Israel has hundreds of undeclared nuclear weapons). AIPAC has successfully lobbied the U.S. government to adopt crippling economic sanctions on Iran, including trying to cut off Iran’s oil exports, despite the fact that these sanctions raise the price of gas and threaten the U.S. economy.

2. AIPAC promotes Israeli policies that are in direct opposition to international law. These include the establishment of colonies (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. The support of these illegal practices makes to impossible to achieve a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

3. 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, thus endangering our troops and sowing the seeds of more possible terrorist attacks against us. Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, 2010 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 undermines American support for democracy movements in the Arab world. AIPAC looks at the entire Arab world through the lens of Israeli government interests, not the democratic aspirations of the Arab people. It has therefore supported corrupt, repressive regimes that are friendly to the Israeli government, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Events now unfolding in the Middle East should convince U.S. policy-makers of the need to break from AIPAC’s grip and instead support democratic forces in the Arab world.

5. 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 policy. 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.

6. AIPAC attacks politicians who question unconditional support of Israel. AIPAC demands that Congress to 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.

7. 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. The recent attacks on staffers at the Center for American Progress is but one example of AIPAC efforts to crush all dissent.

8. 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. In 2011, AIPAC took one out of very five members of Congress—and many of their spouses—on a free junket to Israel to see precisely what the Israeli government wanted 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, 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.

9. AIPAC lobbies for billions of U.S. taxdollars to go to Israel instead of rebuilding America. While our country is reeling from a prolonged financial crisis, AIPAC is pushing for no cuts in military funds for Israel, a wealthy nation. With communities across the nation slashing budgets for teachers, firefighters and police, AIPAC pushes for over $3 billion a year to Israel.

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 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 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 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.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of www.codepink.org and www.globalexchange.org. She is one of the organizers of www.occupyAIPAC.org, which will take place March 3-5 in Washington DC.

Plans for OCCUPY AIPAC are under way and we hope you will join us March 2-6 in Washington DC again!

With the Occupy movement that has swept the country demanding social and economic justice, many have concluded that AIPAC—the powerful pro-Israeli government lobby that distorts U.S. policy in the Middle East— is a mandatory “occupy target”.

Adbusters, the magazine that issued the initial visionary call for the takeover of Wall St. on September 17th, has declared: “The time has come for the Occupy Movement to demand an end to the Occupation of Palestine… We need a hashtag, #occupyAIPAC” (Kalle Lasn).

Timed to coincide with the annual AIPAC policy conference in March 2012, the Occupy AIPAC summit will be a long weekend of teach-ins, cultural performances, protests and creative direct actions, and a sneak preview of the forthcoming film Roadmap to Apartheid. Our Saturday conference will feature educational panels on Iran, Palestine, the Arab Uprisings and the Occupy Movement (see the list of speakers).

Sponsors and endorsers include the Institute of Policy Studies, Global Exchange, Just Foreign Policy, Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPB), the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), Jewish Voice for Peace, several Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, and over 120 other groups.

Right now AIPAC is trying to drag us into a disastrous war with Iran, just as they pushed the Iraq war. We must show our opposition by exposing AIPAC and standing against a war with Iran. AIPAC’s underhanded tactics and their manipulation of our political process destroys the possibility of a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis. Recent public criticisms of the Israel lobby make the call to Occupy AIPAC all the more relevant.

Now is the time to make a large, people-powered push to show our opposition to the stranglehold the Israel lobby continues to hold over our government. Your support made last year’s Move Over AIPAC a success and we need you again in 2012.

Register for the conference. Your outreach and presence is critical to help us ensure a strong turnout, because now is the time to Occupy AIPAC, not Palestine!

Corporate Flag of America, Graphic Credit: Adbusters

Attention Occupy communities: In addition to peace and justice groups around the country, we are reaching out to Occupy communities for support and participation (see the Occupy AIPAC GA resolution). If your group would like to endorse or join this effort, please email occupyaipac@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: AlterNet

The following piece by Medea Benjamin, Co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace, originally appeared on AlterNet.

The Congressional recess is a time for elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents. So why are one in five taking a junket to Israel?

In this time of economic austerity, when jobs are being slashed and Americans are fearful about their future, the Congressional recess is the time for our elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents and servicing the people they are paid to represent. Instead, this August one out of every five representatives will be taking a junket to Israel, compliments of an affiliate of the Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but still clocked in on the taxpayer’s dime.

Americans who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings evaporate because Congress can’t seem to get it together deserve an explanation of how this crisis will be solved. Following the recent debt debacle, the public is hungry for information about the mysterious 12-person “super committee” that will slash over one trillion dollars from the federal budget. But instead of opening their doors to their constituents, 81 members of Congress will be getting briefings from Israeli government officials, touring historic religious sites, and perhaps “seeking a salty dip in the Dead Sea.” Representative Steny Hoyer, who is leading the Democratic delegation, said he is pleased members of Congress have this opportunity “to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.” One has to wonder whether our elected officials are more concerned about the stability of Israel or the well-being of American families.

Not surprisingly, trip expenses are being paid by an affiliate of the all-powerful AIPAC lobby, the American Israel Educational Foundation. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that Israel is kept on the U.S. dole, with $3 billion of US taxpayers’ dollars a year going to the Israeli military. Without AIPAC and the financial contributions to Congressional campaigns made by its affiliate organizations, our representatives would be freer to speak out against funneling precious taxdollars to this already wealthy nation. This junket goes to show that those who claim AIPAC has a stranglehold over our Congress are not far off the mark.

Going on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel is the moral equivalent of using an Anglo-Boer travel company to visit apartheid-era South Africa. Although they claim to be visiting leaders “across the political spectrum”, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC will not be giving these 81 Congresspeople a fair and balanced view of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They won’t observe one of the weekly demonstrations in Bi’lin or Nabi Saleh, where Israeli soldiers routinely tear gas and arrest non-violent protesters. They won’t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing. They won’t spend a few hours at a checkpoint to witness how Palestinians are detained, abused and humiliated, or how this “thriving democracy” forbids Palestinians from driving on Jewish-only roads. They won’t go to Gaza, where 1.5 million people are suffering under an unbearable siege, unable to travel freely, conduct business transactions across borders or even rebuild their homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion. And they won’t likely be visiting the burgeoning tent cities in Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently camped out protesting the lack of affordable housing, gas and food.

With the disapproval rate for Congress at a record 82%, now is not the time for our representatives to pander to AIPAC. Now is not the time for “free” junkets to Israel—with an implicit promise of $3 billion of our taxdollars in return. Now is the time to stop the freefall of the American economy. If our representatives want to earn more respect from the American public, they better prove that their allegiance is not to a foreign government or a group that lobbies on behalf of a foreign government, but to their constituents back home.

TAKE ACTION:
Contact your congressperson and ask where they will be this August recess. Call 202-224-3121.

AIPAC Protestors Photo Credit: acourtney6

CODEPINK: Women for Peace , Global Exchange, Interfaith Peace-builders, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, together with over 100 peace and justice groups, organized the Move Over AIPAC conference that took place in Washington, DC on May 22-24, 2011. The purpose; to expose the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Move Over AIPAC attendees; Rae Abileah in pink flowered skirt Photo Credit: By acourtney6☆

CODEPINK’s Medea, Shaden, Alli, Sasha, Rae, Tighe, and the Move Over AIPAC Team summed up the events that took place during this 3 day conference:

  • On Friday we kicked off our actions with a demonstration outside the White House, and participated in the Hava Nagila parody flashmob, which has been seen by more than 30,000 people so far! See it here.
  • On Saturday we had the privilege to hear keynote talks from The Israel Lobby authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, renowned authors, and a stellar panel of analysts discussing the way forward.
  • On Sunday we surrounded the AIPAC meeting at the convention center with chants, music and amazing visuals like the apartheid wall that turned into a Palestinian village scene and a human-powered flotilla to Gaza.
  • On Monday the protests continued outside the Justice Department demanding AIPAC be registered as a foreign agent, followed by a march to our workshop about military aid to Israel and lobbying training.  That night during the AIPAC gala, a group of five brave activists stood up to disrupt Netanyahu’s speech with messages about what is really “indefensible” – occupying land, starving Gaza, silencing dissenters.
  • On Tuesday Move Over AIPAC participants lobbied members of Congress, while courageous CODEPINK organizer Rae Abileah interrupted Netanyahu’s Congressional address with a banner that said “Occupying Land Is Indefensible” and shouting, “No more occupation, stop Israel war crimes, equal rights for Palestinians, occupation is indefensible.” Read her account of the action here.

Dalit Baum at Move Over AIPAC Conference Photo Credit: rosahill

Dalit Baum, Global Exchange’s Economic Activism for Palestine Director, attended the Move Over AIPAC conference and had this to share:

For me, it was striking to see first-hand the hordes of well-dressed people coming into the AIPAC gala event from hundreds of buses. More and more of them: congressmen, African American community organizers, business people, Jewish youth from all around –  so many –

Speaking to whomever we could, there was even one open-mike session when demonstrators invited the AIPACers to come on stage and speak to us. Again and again, I saw in these conversations such total blinded ignorance about the fate of the country they claim to support, about the implications of sending more and more free weapons to Israel. I also encountered a lot of polite racism and Islamophobia – most of the well dressed gala guests who spoke with me would not listen to anything a Palestinian says; they dismissed all accounts of human rights violations, imprisonment, torture, checkpoints, land grab etc. as an anti-Semitic fabrication. It was very different then similar arguments in Israel, where people are mostly aware of the facts, but they try and justify the crimes by “security”.

I was amazed by the courage of Rae and the rest of our friends who went into the gala and then into Congress to confront Netanyahu’s speech. If it weren’t for them, all left on record would have been the 29 standing ovations and outpouring of unconditional US support to one of Israel’s most hawkish, neo-liberal and racist governments. The protesters inside had to deal with the most brutally violent, sexist and hateful elements among the well dressed AIPACers, and they had to face this violence alone. I am very grateful for their courage.

Photo Credit: acourtney6

More On the Move Over AIPAC Conference

Move Over AIPAC Press Coverage: www.moveoveraipac.org/press
Move Over AIPAC Photos: www.flickr.com/groups/moveoveraipac

This post was written by CODEPINK Middle East Campaign Coordinator, Rae Abileah who recently spoke out for justice during Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Congressional Address. This article also appears on Mondoweiss.

By Rae Abileah

Do you know that our Congress gave 29 standing ovations to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he spoke in the Capital on Tuesday, May 24? I couldn’t watch this hero’s welcome for a man who supports the continued building of illegal settlements, won’t lift the siege of Gaza and refuses to negotiate with the new Palestinian unity government. During the talk, when Netanyahu was praising young people rising up for democracy in the Middle East, and I took my cue to stand up from my seat in the Capital Gallery, unfurl a banner, and shout, “No More Occupation! Stop Israeli War Crimes! Equal Rights for Palestinians!”

Immediately, I was tackled, gagged and violently shoved to the floor by other members of the audience, many of whom were still wearing their badges from the AIPAC conference this past weekend. Police dragged me out of the Capital gallery, and an ambulance whisked me to the hospital, where I was treated for neck and shoulder injuries and put under arrest for disrupting Congress. After I disrupted, Netanyahu said to his Congressional audience, “You can’t have these protests in Tehran; this is real democracy.”

Is it? What kind of a democracy do we live in when free speech is met with brutality and arrest? In a real democracy, our representatives would be looking out for our best interests, not the interests of a foreign government, i.e.Israel. I want my government to take an even-handed approach that respects the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. But in our so-called democracy, special interest lobby groups like AIPAC have enormous power because of their ability to direct campaign contributions.

So we have a very skewed policy that ignores the rights of the Palestinians, allows repeated Israeli violations of international law, sullies the U.S. reputation internationally and gives $3 billion a year of our tax dollars to the Israel military when we need this money here at home. Before we go preaching democracy abroad, we should make our own democracy more responsive to the public good, not the wishes of wealthy lobbyists.

On Monday night, May 23, five brave activists disrupted Netanyahu’s speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Gala and were also met with assaults. The young women who had spoken out were subjected not only to assault, but to sexual groping by male AIPAC attendees. But these activists felt compelled to speak out against Netanyahu’s claim that returning to the 1967 borders would be “indefensible,” when it is Israeli policies that are really indefensible: starving Gaza, occupying and stealing land, bulldozing homes, silencing dissent. (see videos here)

The same day, at a press conference at the National Press Club about military aid to Israel and the dangerous role of the Israel Lobby, activist Allison Weir had her phone slugged out of her hand by an angry Zionist. This sounds eerily similar to the alleged democracy in Israel where Palestinians and Israelis are routinely assaulted, arrested and jailed for speaking out against the Israeli occupation.

For the Palestinian people who live under Israel’s 44-year-old military occupation, violence dominates everyday life. Zinad Samouni of Gaza is a living testament to this oppressive reality. She lost 48 family members during Israel’s December 2008 bombardment of Gaza, and hers became yet another tragic story in a long history of home demolitions, land confiscation, and systematic violation of the Palestinians’ basic human rights. After the massacre of the Samouni family, Israeli soldiers left behind racist graffiti such as “ARabs need 2 die” and “1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO.”

Young Jews like me hear stories like Samouni’s, and we see clearly that Israel’s actions do not embody our deepest Jewish and humanistic values, which have taught us to love our neighbors and work for justice. We read in the Torah (Leviticus 24:22), “You shall have one standard (mishpat ehad) for stranger and citizen alike…” We also read in the Israeli equivalent of the Declaration of Independence, the Megillat ha-Atzmaut, that “[the State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…” This rich and long Jewish commitment to social justice and equality bears no relation to Zinad Samouni’s experience of living under a crippling blockade and losing her loved ones to a brutal military onslaught that made no distinction between civilians and combatants.

It was this schism that we sought to expose during disruptions of Netanyahu’s speeches at the AIPAC conference and in Congress. Some decried our actions as “rude”, and “inappropriate.” But after countless fruitless attempts to petition lawmakers through traditional channels, we felt the time was ripe for a nonviolent direct action that would speak truth to this head of state. Netanyahu is, after all, responsible for the violation of Palestinians’ lives and human rights.

My neck pain is a small price to pay compared with the sacrifices made by numerous Palestinian, Israeli, and international nonviolent protesters who’ve risked their bodies and lives to defend the basic human rights of the Palestinian people. For example, recently the Israeli army arrested brothers Bassem and Naji Tamimi, who have organized unarmed protests in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, and they are currently imprisoned without trial. Israel sent Palestinian Abdallah Abu Rahmah of Bil’in to prison for his role in organizing nonviolent protests against Israel’s illegal, land-confiscating wall. In March 2003, the Israeli Army bulldozed 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie to death when she attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. In March 2009, the army shot 38-year-old Tristan Anderson of Oakland, Calif., who was participating in a nonviolent anti-wall demonstration in the West Bank, with a high-velocity tear gas canister, causing a near-fatal head wound and brain injuries. These are only some of most egregious and visible examples of the daily violence faced by Palestinians and their supporters in their struggle to uphold human rights and international law.

What’s more, despite the growing nonviolent movement in the West Bank and Gaza, and the recent Palestinian Unity Agreement, in his speech to Congress, Netanyahu made it clear that the Palestinians have no partner for peace, and Congress would back his outrageous claims. In referring to the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, he said, “And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.” Someone should inform Mr. Netanyahu that his own Supreme Court has written that the West Bank is “held in belligerent occupation.”

The worst part of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was not what he said, but the appalling spectacle of watching our elected officials who literally applauded this bald-faced lie about the West Bank and the other outrageous statements Netanyahu made. It occurred to me that right now when it comes to this issue our Congress is more an outpost of the Israeli Knesset than a representative body of the United States.

With Obama and our Congress pandering to Netanyahu and AIPAC, what hope do we have? AIPAC, while claiming to represent the interests of both the United States and Israel, is mobilizing fear, escalating hate, and controlling our elected officials through enormous campaign contributions.

President Obama, in his speech to AIPAC this past weekend, said, “You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel.” This reference to “delegitimization” is code for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), a Palestinian initiated effort to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law. But the BDS movement is not delegitimizing Israel. Israeli policies, supported by AIPAC, that deprive Palestinians of basic human rights by stealing their land, demolishing their homes, stripping them of residency permits for Jerusalem, and that blockade and starve the entire population of the Gaza strip, these are the things that delegitimize Israel.

The BDS Movement gives me hope about the future for Israelis and Palestinians. Our elected officials will not lead, they will not stand up to AIPAC, and they will not challenge these terrible Israeli government policies. So it is up to us to take the lead. By joining the BDS Movement, whether it is CODEPINK’s own Stolen Beauty campaign against occupation profiteer Ahava cosmetics, Jewish Voice for Peace’s TIAA-CREF Divestment Campaign , The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s many initiatives , or other campaigns that are happening in your community, you can take action to support human rights and a just peace for Palestinians.

It’s not every day that we have an opportunity to confront a war criminal like Netanyahu in person, but the boycott and divestment campaigns allows conscientious people to take a stand and to put our money where our values are — as was the case with the boycott of and divestment from businesses cooperating with apartheid South Africa, and the boycott of businesses in the Jim Crow South. Such campaigns provide an opportunity to those who profit from violence to turn aside, to nonviolently push for international law and accountability, and to follow the teachings of our faith. And I predict that these campaigns will continue to grow and rack up further victories, as long as entrenched injustices remain unaddressed.

In a few weeks, a courageous group of internationals, including many Americans, will have another chance to stand up for justice. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla will set sail from Europe in June with the goal of reaching Gaza, breaking through Israel’s inhumane siege. Last year, the Israeli military violently intercepted the flotilla in international waters, killing nine activists. This year, let’s do everything we can to ensure that the flotilla is not met with violence. Please send the members of the flotilla your support.

You can also write a letter to the folks in Gaza who are living under siege. The “Audacity of Hope,” which is the name of the U.S. boat on the flotilla, will deliver your letters when they set sail next month. Send your written letters to: LETTERS TO GAZA, 119 West 72nd Street #158, New York, New York 10023 or email to letterstogaza@gmail.com.

The outpouring of support I have been receiving from all over the world has been astounding. A woman in Iraq said she was moved to tears seeing a Jewish-American speaking out. A man in Gaza wished me a speedy recovery and quoted the civil rights song “We Shall Overcome.” I even got a message of gratitude from Brad Pitt!

We have also had a great response to the protests, summit and other creative actions we organized this weekend opposing AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby that has a stranglehold on Congress (see MoveOverAIPAC.org). During Move Over AIPAC, we heard from excellent speakers at our summit; we coordinated a flashmob (that’s been seen by over 30,000 people); we created a people-powered flotilla; we had a dialogue booth, a mock-settlement expansion, and a street theater-style checkpoint. The creativity and dedication of this movement inspires me to believe that justice will prevail, and is within our reach, if we all work together.

People are thrilled to see Americans standing up to our government’s unconditional support for the crimes Israel commits with our tax dollars and we have received hundreds of emails and calls from people in all corners of the world.
My tradition teaches that, “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” (Deuteronomy 16:20) And I will keep continue pursuing justice, and justice will eventually prevail. Israelis and Palestinians will one day live together in true equality.
——
Rae Abileah is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in San Francisco, CA and can be reached at rae@codepink.org.

Global Exchange is hosting a series of blog posts from allies who are headed to the Move Over AIPAC conference taking place in Washington, D.C. this weekend, May 21-24, to expose the AIPAC lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East.

AIPAC announced that President Obama will speak at their opening plenary on Sunday morning. Sign this petition and tell President Obama to get our of bed with AIPAC!

The following post was written by Omar Barghouti, author of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.

By Omar Barghouti

The Arab democratic spring, striving to end authoritarian rule and establish freedoms and social justice, has not been welcome by all. Israel and its main lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for instance, appear to have been caught off guard and visibly disturbed by the seemingly irreversible transformations that these uprisings promise to bring about in the Arab world and, to an extent, the world at large.

Having stood on the wrong side of history during the Tunisian and then the Egyptian revolutions, supporting the despots and authoritarian regimes against the people, Israel has a lot to lose from the democratic winds of change in the region. When Hosni Mubarak was about to be overthrown by the people’s revolution in Egypt Israel launched a diplomatic campaign to convince key Western capitals to support him lest stability is lost and Israel’s other tyrannical friends in the region feel abandoned.

In Tunisia, as well, the vaunted electronic surveillance apparatus of the former dictator Ben-Ali was run in close cooperation with Israel, as exposed by Tunisian civil society organizations. With more of Israel’s friends in the region being dethroned, it is becoming abundantly clear how much Israel and its Western partners have invested in safeguarding and buttressing the unelected, autocratic regimes in the Arab world, partially to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of Israel as the “villa in the midst of the jungle” — the myth often repeated by AIPAC. The impact of debunking that myth cannot be overstated. Israel has, for decades, extracted billions of dollars, not to mention diplomatic, political, and scientific support from the U.S. and European states partially based on this misleading image of Israeli democracy, and despite all the evidence to the contrary. A state that has been imposing an occupation regime for almost 44 years on Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, that has denied on racial grounds millions of refugees their UN-sanctioned right to return home, and that is regularly condemned by its chief benefactor and ally, the U.S. government , for its “system of institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its own Palestinian minority carrying Israeli citizenship cannot reasonably be regarded as a “democracy.”

The fact is, U.S. citizens have been bankrolling Israel’s system of occupation, racial discrimination and denial of basic human rights to the tune of billions of dollars annually without knowing what they were funding and why. AIPAC is the main culprit in this process of defrauding the American people, while one cannot ignore the fact that the U.S. military and oil establishments have also stood to gain from Israel’s colonial expansion, endless bloody wars of aggression, and role as the police of the region, preventing popular revolt from threatening the pillage of its vast strategic resources.

For many years AIPAC has falsely advertised Israel as a democratic state that best serves U.S. interests in a turbulent and unpredictable part of the world, covering up Israel’s suppression of human rights and its very nature as a state premised on fanatic militarism, racial segregation and injustice, contrary to the supposed “shared values” with the “West” that AIPAC has fed to the American public so effectively with its well-oiled media machine and its unmatched power of intimidation as well as suppression of debate and dissent by anyone who dares to slightly step out of line and question the “Israel-first” agenda.

But given that Israel in the last few years, especially since the start of the recent Arab revolutions, has largely and quite demonstrably failed in hindering the outbreak of popular uprisings and democratic transformations in the Middle East, leading pundits have started to raise serious doubts about the taken-for-granted mantra of convergence between Israeli and American interests.

Furthermore, at a time when average Americans are losing jobs, benefits and hope, should the U.S. be spending billions to help Israel maintain its regime of oppression and violations of international law? When schools and hospitals in the U.S. are being closed, and when hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers are mired in endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, where they sow mass destruction and death among the populations of these countries, while they themselves suffer increasing casualties, should U.S. taxpayers continue to fund this immoral war agenda? Should Israel and its lobby groups be allowed to pull the U.S. into more wars or to continue to justify Israel’s own brutal and patently illegal wars of aggression, as the one against Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-09 and on Lebanon in 2006?

If members of the U.S. Congress dare not ask these critical questions for fear of AIPAC’s wrath – perceived and carefully marketed as invincible – and an almost certain loss of career, shouldn’t the working people of the U.S. pose them and demand accountability and, indeed, democratic regime change?

It is in this context that one cannot but highly admire the courage, creativity and resilience of human rights and advocacy groups in the U.S., like CODEPINK, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace and many others that insist on challenging AIPAC’s domination of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond and its detrimental and deeply corrupting influence over U.S. decision making in general. The CODEPINK-led campaign to “expose AIPAC and usher in a new foreign policy,” to be launched in Washington, DC in May is a badly needed and truly inspiring effort that should be widely supported by all those who care about the cause of justice and peace in the U.S. and, by extension, the entire world.

Omar Barghouti is a human rights activist and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket, 2011)

Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.

Spread the word! The Move Over AIPAC Summit keynote and plenary will be aired on livestream at www.moveoveraipac.org on Saturday, May 21, 10:30am-3pm EST and people can tweet questions to @moveoveraipac

Global Exchange is hosting a series of blog posts from allies who are headed to the Move Over AIPAC conference taking place in Washington, D.C. on May 21-24, to expose the AIPAC lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East. Sign up today.

With just three days left before Move Over AIPAC, it has been announced that President Obama will speak at their opening plenary on Sunday morning. Sign this petition and tell President Obama to get our of bed with AIPAC!

The following post was written by Alice Rothchild, author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish Trauma and Resilience.

By Alice Rothchild

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is holding its annual conference May 22-24, where Congress people and many of our national leaders will rush headlong into the committee’s open arms and bountiful coffers. In an increasingly bizarre time warp they will congratulate each other and kvell about Israel’s special relationship with the US, our strategic partnership, and Israel’s commitment to democratic ideals in a “sea of dictatorships” (to quote the website).

What they will not talk about is reality. US Jews are increasingly uncomfortable with a lobby that claims to represent us, but is deeply committed to the militaristic and rightwing policies of successive Israeli governments. Jews in the US tend to be politically progressive, but we are being asked to suspend our liberal beliefs when it comes to Israel. While maintaining a steady dream beat for war against Iran and a world view that, “Israel continues to fulfill its ancient obligation as a ‘light unto the nations,’” AIPAC lobbyists with their Christian Zionist allies guarantee billions of dollars in military aid for Israel each year . Much of this goes towards buying US military weapons and machinery, cementing the massive, interconnected, and lucrative military-industrial-security complex that now exists between our two countries.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Not only has this made a brutal 43 year military occupation possible, but it also provides military and political support to the current Netanyahu government. Let’s be clear. Netanyahu is committed to building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, undermining any possibility for a two-state solution. He is building Jewish settler-only roads and roads for Palestinians funded by USAID. He tightly controls Palestinian movement through checkpoints, permits, and the Separation Wall which has stolen thousands of acres of Palestinian land and destroyed the lives and livelihoods of people whose families have lived in the region for centuries. His idea of Palestinian statehood, (should he still have one), is a scattering of weak enclaves surrounded by Israeli military. The recently released Palestine Papers painfully documented the degree to which Palestinian negotiators were willing to sell their souls while Israeli negotiators refused to accept any concessions. The US was revealed twisting the arms of Palestinians diplomats to give up basic demands and the massive security coordination between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority was exposed.

Within Israel, there is a rightwing crackdown on human rights activists, and laws brewing in the Knesset that will criminalize:

  1. Nonviolent protests (in Israel and internationally) that advocate boycotts, divestments, and sanctions
  2. Providing information that could lead to Israeli war crime charges,
  3. Any activity against Israeli soldiers or State symbols including nonviolent legitimate resistance to the occupation.
  4. Commemorations of the Nakba, the Palestinian experience of 1948

At the same time there are over 20 laws that maintain the second class status for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

While Israeli activists worry about rising fascism in Israeli society, Palestinians are celebrating the Arab Spring that is blossoming in the region and Fatah and Hamas are gingerly talking about unity and democratic elections. Arabs from Tunisia to Yemen are putting their lives on the line for equality and freedom of speech. This breathtaking political moment is changing the political discourse in the Middle East and the US Congress needs to take notice and shake itself free of the world view that is promoted by AIPAC lobbyists. Fear of anti-Semitism and the traumas of the Holocaust do not justify Israeli exceptionalism, militarism, racism towards Arabs, or a belief in permanent Jewish victimization.

Peace in the Middle East is more urgent than ever, but it needs to be based on international law, human rights, and UN resolutions. AIPAC and its supporters are deluding themselves, promoting a perpetual state of war and hostility, living in a world that does not match reality. At the same time, over 100 peace organizations will be meeting in Washington. Under the call: Move Over AIPAC: Building a New US Middle East Policy, they will explore the impacts of US military aid and political cover, the demand to end the Israeli occupation, and the building of a solution that respects the rights and dignity of everyone in the region. There will be no big donors there, but Congress would do well to listen.

Alice Rothchild is a physician, activist, and author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish Trauma and Resilience. Her website is www.alicerothchild.com.

Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.

Spread the word! The Move Over AIPAC Summit keynote and plenary will be aired on livestream at www.moveoveraipac.org on Saturday, May 21, 10:30am-3pm EST and people can tweet questions to @moveoveraipac

Global Exchange is hosting a series of blog posts from allies who are headed to the Move Over AIPAC conference taking place in Washington, D.C. on May 21-24, to expose the AIPAC lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East. Sign up today. The following post was written by Managing Editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Janet McMahon.

By Janet McMahon

One could be forgiven for thinking that the last three letters of AIPAC stand for “political action committee.” But since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee does not itself make campaign contributions to political candidates, technically it is not a PAC. Curiously, however, the 30-odd “unaffiliated” pro-Israel PACs, most with deceptively innocuous names, all seem to give to the same candidates—almost as if there were a guiding intelligence behind their contributions. In the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, AIPAC is a “membership organization” rather than a political committee. This means that, unlike actual PACs, AIPAC is not required to file public reports on its income and expenditures.

Not for nothing, however, did Fortune magazine once name it the second most powerful lobby in Washington. So it’s easy to understand why, like a night flower that blooms in the dark and dies with the light of day, this particular organization which advances the interests of a foreign government has fought long and hard to ensure that its funding sources and expenditures are not exposed to public scrutiny.

Despite its best efforts, however, unwanted light does occasionally shine on AIPAC’s activities. Most dramatically, perhaps, two of its top operatives, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, were indicted on espionage charges in 2005. Four years later federal prosecutors dropped the charges when it became clear that Judge T.S. Ellis’ numerous rulings in favor of the defendants would require the release of sensitive government documents. Rosen then sued his former employer for defamation, claiming that AIPAC routinely dealt in classified information and that he was in no way a rogue employee, as AIPAC had claimed.

A related case of unwanted publicity involved former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who was overheard on a 2006 NSA wiretap talking to someone described by CQ’s Jeff Stein as a “suspected Israeli agent”—thought to be Haim Saban, a major AIPAC contributor. “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel,” Saban described himself to The New York Times. During the course of their conversation Harman agreed to lobby the Justice Department to reduce the charges against Rosen and Weissman; in exchange, Saban would pressure then-House minority leader Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were expected to, and did, win. (Harman, who ultimately was not appointed chair, recently left Capitol Hill to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; a few blocks away, the Brookings Institution houses the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.)

Even though Pelosi resisted any pressure she may have received from Saban—reportedly because of personal animosity toward Harman as much as anything—she has demonstrated her sensitivity to AIPAC’s concerns. After Pelosi became speaker of the House following the Democrats’ 2006 victory, a provision was included in an Iraq war spending bill which would require the president to seek, with some exceptions, congressional approval before using military force against Iran. Since the Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress, not to the president, this would appear to be uncontroversial. But AIPAC found it objectionable, and lobbied hard to have that provision struck from the bill. Speaking at AIPAC’s March 2007 annual meeting, Pelosi was booed when she described the Iraq war as being a failure on several counts. Shortly thereafter, the offending language was withdrawn from the pending legislation. After all, what’s an oath of office between friends?

Nor was that by any means the only legislation tailored to AIPAC’s wishes. Its tax-exempt fund-raising arm, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which AIPAC describes on its Web site as a “charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC,” spends the bulk of its $24 million budget paying for congressional trips to Israel. According to the Web site LegiStorm, “When Congress was working on strengthening the travel ban in 2006, reports indicated AIPAC lobbied for an exemption from the ban on lobbyist-sponsored travel. The organization did not receive a specific exemption, but the loophole on allowing non-profit travel allows the organization to continue to sponsor travel.” The non-profit AIEF simply certifies that it “does not retain or employ a registered federal lobbyist.”

That this was no accident was confirmed, perhaps inadvertently, by Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In a 2009 C-SPAN interview, host Brian Lamb asked about the 2006 travel rules adopted as a result of the Jack Abramoff scandal whereby an “institution of higher learning” can sponsor trips. “Well,” Sloan blithely responded, “this was initially even called the AIPAC exception, there was this exception that 501(c)(3) organizations and universities could, in fact, still sponsor trips.” To Lamb’s characteristic “Why?” she replied vaguely, “That was the compromise that was reached in the House. They didn’t want to ban all private travel and they thought that these were the kind of trips that were more easily explained and didn’t have the same kind of appearance of corruption.”

More recent sightings of AIPAC’s “invisible hand” include a May 2009 letter to President Barack Obama ostensibly written by then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia—among the top five House recipients of pro-Israel PAC contributions. As the Washington Post’s Al Kamen discovered, however, the e-mail attachment of the letter, which called on the president to act as a “trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel,” revealed its true origin: it was titled “AIPAC Letter Hoyer-Cantor May 2009.pdf.”

Do Americans want their laws and foreign policies drafted to serve the interests of a foreign government? At the very least, AIPAC’s funding sources and expenditures should be available for scrutiny by the citizens of its host country. In the meantime, the upcoming Move Over AIPAC conference, to be held in Washington, DC May 21-24—at the very time AIPAC will be hosting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his congressional supplicants at its annual Washington policy conference—will shine a critical and much-needed light on the means and ends of the Israel Lobby’s flagship organization. There concerned Americans can discover, among other things, whether their elected representatives put the needs of their constituents ahead of Israel’s demands—and visit Capitol Hill to register their opinions. For more information, visit www.moveoveraipac.org.

— Janet McMahon is managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, www.wrmea.com, whose May/June 2011 issue includes totals for 2010 pro-Israel PAC contributions to all congressional candidates.

Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.

“No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from the American national interest… while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.” – John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby, keynote speakers at Move Over AIPAC gathering May 21-24

From May 21 to 24, 2011, in Washington DC, join Global Exchange, CODEPINK, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a coalition of over 100 organizations at the historic gathering to Move Over AIPAC and building a New US Middle East Policy!

Move Over AIPAC is timed to coincide with the annual policy meeting of AIPAC, which will feature Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, members of the Obama administration and hundreds of members of Congress. The gathering will expose AIPAC’s negative influence on U.S. foreign policy and promote an alternative approach that respects the rights of all people in the region.

Dalit Baum, Global Exchange’s Director of the Economic Activism for Palestine Program will lead workshops about divestment and effective campaigns in the U.S. She will be joined by an impressive list of speakers that include The Israel Lobby authors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, writer Alice Walker, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, author Nadia Hijab, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, union organizer Bill Fletcher, US Campaign to End the Israel Occupation national organizer and human rights advocate Anna Baltzer and many more!

There will be trainings, workshops, press conferences, book signings, cultural events, and culminate with peaceful, creative protests outside the AIPAC convention itself.

Still need some convincing? Read blog posts from CODEPINK’s Rae Abileah and Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein on why they are going to Move Over AIPAC.

Register today to join us in DC! Plus, sign up here and RSVP on facebook. Spaces are limited and will fill up quickly, so sign up today! The cost for the summit is a modest $50-100, and only $20 for students and low-income. All other actions and events are FREE.

We have a growing scholarship fund to support travel costs for students. You can apply for a scholarship or find out more here.

If you can’t come, please help students attend by donating to the scholarship fund.

Global Exchange is hosting a series of blog posts from allies who are headed to the Move Over AIPAC conference taking place in Washington, D.C. on May 21-24, to expose the AIPAC lobby and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East. Sign up today. The following post was written by Holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein.

By Hedy Epstein

At the end of one of my first journeys to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2004, I endured a shocking experience at Ben-Gurion Airport. I never imagined that Israeli security forces would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, but they held me for five hours, and strip-searched and cavity-searched every part of my naked body. The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible.

The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. But it had just the opposite effect. It made me more determined to speak out against abuses by the Israeli government and military.

Yet my own experience, unpleasant as it was, is nothing compared to the indignities and abuses heaped on Palestinians year after year. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is based not on equal rights and fair play, but on what Human Rights Watch has termed a “two-tier” legal system – in other words, apartheid, with one set of laws for Jews and a harsh, oppressive set of laws for Palestinians.

This, however, is the legal system and security state AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) will defend from May 22-24 at its annual conference. And, despite this grim reality, members of Congress will converge to hail AIPAC and Israel. The Palestinians’ lack of freedom is bound to be obscured at the AIPAC conference with its obsessive focus on security and shunting aside of anything to do with upholding fundamental Palestinian rights.

Several years ago near Der Beilut in the West Bank, I saw the Israeli police turn a water cannon on our nonviolent protest. As it happened, I recalled Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and wondered why an ostensibly democratic society responded to peaceable assembly by trying, literally, to drown out the voice of our protest.

photo: Palestine Solidarity Committee

In Mas’ha, also in the occupied West Bank, I joined a demonstration against the wall Israel has built, usually inside the West Bank and occasionally towering to 25 feet in height. I saw a red sign warning ominously of “mortal danger” to any who dared to cross in an area where it ran as a fence. I saw Israeli soldiers aiming at unarmed Israelis, Palestinians and international protesters. I also saw blood pouring out of Gil Na’amati, a young Israeli whose first public act after completing his mandatory military service was to protest against the wall. I saw shrapnel lodged in the leg of Anne Farina, one of my traveling companions from St. Louis. And I thought of Kent State and Jackson State, where National Guardsmen opened fire in 1970 on protesters against the Vietnam War.

So as AIPAC meets and members of Congress cheer, I hold these images of Israel in my mind and fear AIPAC’s ability to move US policy in dangerous directions. AIPAC does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people. It helps to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war and this year will be no different from last year as it keeps up a steady drumbeat calling for 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 and are aware that American interventionism is likely to bring further disaster and chaos to the Middle East.

Israel, of course, would not be able to carry out its war crimes against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza without the United States – and our $3 billion in military aid – permitting it to do so. At 86 years old, I use every ounce of my energy to educate the American public about the need to stop supporting the abuses committed by the Israeli government and military against the Palestinian people. Sometimes there are people who try to shout me down and scream that I am a self-hating Jew, but most of the time the audience is receptive to hear from someone who survived the Holocaust and now works to free the Palestinians from Israeli oppression.

The vicious discrimination brought to bear against Palestinians in the occupied territories deserves no applause this week from members of Congress attending the AIPAC conference. Instead, they should raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories. As for me, I will be across the road at an alternative convention called Move Over AIPAC. To sign up and join me, visit www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.

Hedy Epstein is a Holocaust survivor, who writes and travels extensively to speak about social justice causes and Middle Eastern affairs.

Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.