AIPAC Delegates Assert: Fierce Loyalty & Ignorance
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On May 22, thousands of supporters of America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, converged on Washington for the group’s annual conference. For two days they watched Democratic and Republican congressional leaders pledge their undivided loyalty to the state of Israel, and by extension, to AIPAC’s legislative agenda. Speeches by President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted the conference, with Obama attempting to clarify his statement demanding that 1967 borders be the “starting point” for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
I interviewed several AIPAC delegates in the streets outside the conference. While few, if any, of them were able to demonstrate the slightest degree of sophistication in their understanding of the Israel-Palestine crisis, they had been briefed inside on how to respond to critics. No one I spoke to would concede that Israel occupied any part of Palestinian territory; none would concede that Israel had committed acts of indiscriminate violence or that it had transferred Palestinians by force; one interviewee could not distinguish Palestine from Pakistan. With considerable wealth and negligible knowledge — few had spent much time inside Israel — the delegates were easily melded by the cadre of neoconservative and Israeli “experts” appearing in AIPAC’s briefing sessions.
Speaking of fierce loyalty and ignorance, here are some comments from Robert Parry about the responses of Congresspeople to Netanyahu's U.S. appearance:
Congress, with repeated standing ovations, showed its love for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the valentine may have unintended consequences by stirring dangerous passions of Likud’s rejectionist wing, which is now weighing the risks of transforming Israel into an overtly apartheid state.
These hardliners might well interpret the congressional obsequiousness as signaling that Israel still has a free hand to do whatever it wants, even if that means defying President Barack Obama’s mild pressure for movement toward peace with the Palestinians.
As Democrats and Republicans competed to see who could jump to their feet the fastest and most often, Netanyahu mixed a rhetorical commitment to peace with preconditions that he knows are unacceptable to the Palestinians, including his insistence that they not only recognize Israel’s right to exist but hail it as a Jewish state.
Palestinian negotiators have balked at accepting Israel’s Jewish identity because about 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab. They also have said it is up to Israel to define itself as it wishes, not the Palestinians or any other outside group. But Netanyahu has made this declaration a prerequisite for peace talks.
In addition, this notion of a religious identity applying to any government runs counter to a core American principle, that governments should not show favoritism toward one religion over another and that all people are created equal.
So, there was something craven, arguably un-American, about the U.S. Congress cheering a foreign leader who insists on a religious state and even requires its acceptance by a group of people living under his military domination.
Republican commentator Pat Buchanan once got into a lot of trouble for saying that “Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory.” But Congress on Tuesday behaved as if it was determined to vindicate Buchanan’s point.