Approximately one year ago, presidential hopeful Al Gore stood before the participants at the annual Policy Conference organized by the pro-Zionist American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Gore told the audience about a bizarre meeting that had occurred several decades earlier between Israels first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the then-U.S. ambassador, Ogden Reid. Apparently, the ambassador walked into Ben-Gurions office and on finding the prime minister standing on his head, decided to follow suit. Whats the moral of this tale? According to Gore: Even if the world is turned upside down, the United States and Israel will see eye to eye.
Gores obsequious words are painfully clear today. The world has been turned upside down in the Occupied Territories, and the U.S. and Israeli governments are in complete agreement that the Palestinians are to blame, which was aptly demonstrated during a recent news conference in which President Bush proclaimed, The signal to the Palestinians is to stop the violence. I cant make it any more clear. The fact that Israels colonial occupation has continued for more than three decades is irrelevant to the president. Instead, he seems intent on propagating the Palestinian equals violence doctrine, which is vital to Israels public relations campaign.
Of course the Bush administrations support for Israel is more than just verbal. The president will continue to push for economic and military aid to Israel, which has been estimated between $3 and $5.5 billion per year. Ive seen countless examples of how this military aid has been used to terrorize innocent people. On one occasion, while in the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, I visited an apartment complex owned and inhabited by three brothers and their families--a total of twenty-five people; it had been hit by three rockets, destroying a kitchen, a bathroom, and part of the buildings foundation. An elderly man showed us the remains of one rocket, on which we found the following inscription: Made in the U.S.A.
Furthermore, President Bush will steadfastly uphold the U.S. tradition of giving Israel diplomatic support; this was recently illustrated when the U.S. vetoed a UN resolution that would have allowed an unarmed international observer force into the Occupied Territories.
Currently the U.S. is using its diplomatic muscle to make sure that Zionism is not discussed during the UNs World Conference on Racism in August. However, if it is discussed, the U.S. has threatened to boycott the conference. A U.S. State Department official explained his countrys reasoning to the Toronto Globe & Mail: There have been two previous conferences on racism [in 1978 and 1983] and we didnt go to those because they were about Zionism being a form of racism and about the apartheid regime in South Africa, exclusively. They were country-specific polemic-fests, thats what they were foreseen to be and thats what they turned out to be. He then promised that the U.S. would attend if, and only if, the conference addressed racism as a world-wide phenomenon and not as a country-specific issue.
Let me attempt to translate what he just said:
We boycotted the other conferences because we had good relations with the Zionist regime in Israel and the apartheid regime in South Africa, and by condemning them we would have been condemning ourselves. We will attend this years conference as long as it doesnt vilify our ally, Israel, and as long as we speak about racism in an abstract and irrelevant manner.
Essentially, Israels 34-year occupation has nothing to fear from the current U.S. government. Israel will continue to expropriate Palestinian land, demolish Palestinians homes, build and expand settlements and bypass roads, and isolate and suffocate the Palestinians in their reservations, I mean, cities. The U.S. will respond to these colonial policies with meaningless rhetoric or silence.
Regarding the United States actions during this conflict, one thing is certain: its vociferous support for Israel and its indifference in the face of Palestinian suffering are a direct result of an ideological occupation that has gripped the U.S. government. This occupation is based on the internalization of Israels arguments vis-a-vis the current conflict, and if its institutions are not challenged, then the lifebloodof the Israeli occupation of Palestine--U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support--will continue to flow freely. The success of this ideological occupation is partly the result of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), considered one of the top five most influential lobbying organizations in the United States. As Bill Clinton once said, AIPAC has done a magnificent job, better than anybody else lobbying in this town [Washington, D.C.]. You have been stunningly effective. This effectiveness could be seen by the sheer number of policy makers who attended its annual Policy Conference in March--103 members of the House of Representatives, 43 senators, and 15 officials (including Secretary of State Colin Powell) from the Bush administration.
AIPACs ongoing mission (which can be found on www.aipac.org) is to nurture and advance the U.S.-Israel relationship by advocating strong U.S. economic, military and political support for Israel. According to Paul Findley, author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israels Lobby, the organizations strength is based on its ability to tap the resources of a broad nationwide network of unpaid activists who are prepared to rally their communities, write letters to the media, provide financial resources to AIPAC, and contact their representatives in the government. (AIPACs website even provides the e-mail address for those who want additional information on how to develop contacts with members of Congress.) The organization uses its formidable lobbying abilities to maintain the U.S. governments unwavering support for Israel and to make life difficult for any public official who dares to challenge the status quo.
In addition, AIPAC is very active on college campuses throughout the U.S. It has a Political Leadership Development Program (PLDP) whose goal is to get college students involved in pro-Israel activity. Five regional Field Organizers recruit students who are then trained as activists during regional workshops and conferences and are kept updated through newsletters, e-mails, and legislative alerts. According to Findley, during the mid-1980s, AIPAC had its student activists fill out reports on faculty members and college organizations that criticized Israel. The information was used to produce the AIPAC College Guide: Exposing the Anti-Israel Campaign on Campus, which gave Israels apologists plenty of targets to harrass.
Findley also reports on the student activists use of creative packaging to try to silence Israels critics. During a speech at the University of Washington, Professor Edward Said witnessed creative packaging firsthand: They stood at the door of the auditorium and distributed a blue leaflet which seemed like a program but it was in fact a denunciation of me as a terrorist. There were quotations from the PLO, and things that I had said were mixed in with things they claimed the PLO had said about murdering Jews. Basically, AIPAC not only tries to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Israel, but its activists also work to intimidate and defame those who are critical of Israeli policy.
Overall, AIPAC has been successful because it is well organized and, most importantly, there has never been widespread criticism of its work; it has been able to conduct its business with very little popular resistance. Nevertheless, as more Americans begin to speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, they must also condemn institutions like AIPAC, whose influence is greatly responsible for the U.S. governments unconditional support for Israel. Those struggling for a just peace must expose and isolate the pro-Israel lobby by associating it with occupation, colonialism, racism, and violence. It can no longer be allowed to escape public scrutiny. For far too long it has arrogantly attacked individuals and organizations that have had the courage to criticize Israeli policy. Its time to resist.
Justin Rhodes is a volunteer at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.