US President Barack Obama at the Israel lobby group AIPAC’s conference in 2011.(AIPAC)
This week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby organization in the United States, is holding its annual policy conference in Washington DC.
The roster of speakers — from Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to Christian Right paragon Ralph Reed, President Barack Obama and several members of Congress — is clear evidence that the relationship between and interests shared by AIPAC, the religious right and the US government continue unabashed and unchallenged.
For too long this stronghold of the US-Israel alliance has rolled forward unimpeded, funding, defending and capitalizing on Israeli policies and the Israeli settler-colonial enterprise in Palestine.
Challenging AIPAC is part of our larger effort to stop the United States’ financial and military support for, corporate investment in and political coverage for Israel. If the goal is to expose and ultimately restrain the role that Israel plays in US foreign policy, focusing exclusively on AIPAC is an insufficient project.
The $60-million-per-year organization certainly represents a lot of financial clout in favor of what are called “Israeli interests.” But it is not AIPAC alone that secures more than $3 billion a year in unconditional military aid and an additional $2.5 billion in other forms of aid and loan guarantees for the State of Israel.
AIPAC and “US interests”
We must look carefully at whose interests in the United States are served by the US-Israel alliance and whose interests are harmed. For only then can we develop an effective strategy to successfully expose and challenge the network of Zionist organizations, the ultra-right wing and religious right, American corporations and the military and foreign policy interests that are served by this alliance.
Moreover, with an understanding that the interests of the vast majority of people and communities in the United States are not served but are, in fact, harmed by this alliance, we can build the movement necessary to form this successful strategy.
Casting AIPAC as a foreign contaminant poisoning US foreign policy and interests is inaccurate. The global power of the American military, government and corporations largely relies on exporting weapons to the Middle East, extracting profits from elevated gas prices, and opening doors for US trade and multi-national corporate profit.
The US strategy for maintaining control in the region has included US military aggression and occupation of countries whose governments challenge American interests; the creation of dependency on US aid and the economic and political alliances with repressive regimes; and building and protecting Israel’s ability to act as a military force to defend these interests.
In turn, Israel has become one of the world’s most powerful militaries, which it uses not only to maintain the occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands, but also as a threat against its neighbors. As important, it enjoys uncritical support from the US government and its representatives in the United Nations.
US, Israel and the religious right
This mutually beneficial relationship then capitalizes on the interests of the conservative religious right. An extreme but significant and well-funded fundamentalist network supports Israel as part of its belief that this will herald the return of Christ.
One of these groups is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based group that donated as much as $70 million to Israel in 2009 alone, according to published reports.
The US-Israel alliance serves powerful interests and therefore AIPAC and the network of Zionist organizations have powerful allies. But these interests serve a small percentage of the people and communities in the US who are paying the taxes to maintain that alliance. Moreover, the parallel domestic policies in place that protect the interests of this alliance are damaging and repressive to the majority of people in the US.
The domestic practices funded and mobilized by a range of Zionist organizations, including but not limited to AIPAC, include anti-Arab and Islamophobic attacks and unconstitutional prosecution of communities and organizations; anti-immigrant policies and militarized borders; FBI raids and grand jury investigations and indictments; and increased surveillance and policing of communities of color in the United States.
In addition to AIPAC, many right-wing Zionist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), have a direct interest in fomenting Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry in the United States to create ideological cover for American and Israeli militarism and occupation in Muslim and Arab countries.
The PATRIOT Act, related anti-immigrant policies, and the ability to implement unconstitutional FBI raids and grand jury investigations and indictments come directly out of anti-terrorist laws that were instituted in the 1980s.
Now, as then, Zionist think tanks and institutions, such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the US government partner in drafting and passing this legislation and play a role in the unconstitutional surveillance of individuals, communities and human rights, anti-war, international solidarity and community-based organizations.
A similar situation was uncovered in 1993, when federal agents discovered the California offices of the ADL held thousands personal and confidential files — many obtained illegally from law enforcement officers — on more than 1,300 private individuals and organizations. The ADL admitted to selling some of this illegally-obtained information on anti-apartheid activists to the apartheid South African government.
Security Solutions International, a US-based private security firm which advises the Department of Homeland Security, has a reputation for hiring Israeli military veterans. They have advised over 700 law enforcement agencies since 2004. Their “curriculum” includes a good deal on the threat posed by radical Islam.
The Israeli military itself is contracted by numerous US police forces across the country and by the Coast Guard for training in domestic “population control.” The racialized approach to security that Israeli military personnel have been indoctrinated with translates into dehumanizing people of color here in the US.
More generally, the billions of dollars spent on Israel are taken from desperately needed health care, the revival of our faltering public education system, housing and employment programs, to name a few. These are as central to security for the people of the US as is a shift in our foreign policy.
Meanwhile, AIPAC, like other Zionist institutions, is attempting to enlist communities of color to defend its agenda. A recent example involves a letter from a black academic excellence student group, the Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG), criticizing campus organizing against Israeli apartheid for “appropriating” the history of the South African anti-apartheid struggle.
VLG leadership was honored at an annual AIPAC banquet following a Zionist-funded trip to Israel. In carrying out AIPAC’s agenda, VLG not only betrays the Palestinian and popular movements for self-determination, democracy and rights and the history of the South African anti-apartheid struggle and South African solidarity with Palestine, but also the interests of the vast majority of people in the communities of color they claim to speak for and serve.
Thus, an effort to truly confront and ultimately strip the power of the pro-Israel lobby must become part of a broad, grassroots, mass movement. This movement must based on the interests shared by the many communities impacted by the devastation and repression caused by the alliance between Israel, Zionist organizations in the US, the US military, corporations and the fundamentalist religious and conservative right.
Challenging business-as-usual in Washington
As has been proven time and again, communities in the US or elsewhere will never be secure with a US foreign and domestic policy driven by the interests of its military, military profiteering, war and occupation, and multi-national corporations.
Whether in the Middle East, Central and South America or at the US-Mexico border, American policy will not produce just outcomes until it is made to do so. To that end, we do not think our efforts should be pitched to cajoling domestic elites into adopting a just-slightly more sane policy in the Middle East. If they do so, and this gives the Palestinian people a bit more breathing room, that is all to the good.
But we must look to further horizons. Rather than pitching Palestinian emancipation as amenable to imperial US national interests, activists and community organizers must take our role seriously and recognize that there is an inherent problem with negotiating Palestinian rights in Washington.
We must follow the lead of the Palestinian movement domestically and in Palestine, and heed the logic of the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions — movement to movement, person to person, local government to regional government to national government.
It is this work that will make the costs of continuing the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, and Washington’s support of dictatorships blighting the Middle East, higher than the costs of giving them up.
We have much work ahead, but writing from the US, we take tremendous inspiration from movements across the Middle East. While still in flux, in some cases they have successfully taken down US-supported dictators.
The lesson is clear: only a powerful grassroots movement rooted in community and transformative in its goals and organizing will bring Israel and its Zionist guardians in the US and US imperialism to its knees.
Monadel Herzallah is a labor organizer and a member of the Coordinating Committee of the US Palestinian Community Network.
Sara Kershnar is an international organizer with the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.
Max Ajl studies development sociology at Cornell and works with the ISM in the Gaza Strip. He also blogs at www.maxajl.com.
Kristin Szremski is an independent journalist and currently the director of media and communications for the American Muslims for Palestine.