Gidon Remba, president of the Chicago Peace Now chapter, provides a cogent analysis of the negative role AIPAC is playing in hindering possible negotiations between Syria and Israel. In this critique he alludes to a column he wrote in November in Haaretz that spoke to the new Soros Initiative to create a progressive American Jewish lobbying alternative to AIPAC. But what interests me is AIPAC’s response to this column penned by the group’s Israel director; because it contains all the wonderful ‘smoke and mirrors’ rhetoric the group uses to prettify and obfuscate its true mission and the tactics used to accomplish its goals:
Rather than seeking to impose its own agenda or beliefs, AIPAC works with the elected leaders of both nations, regardless of their political party. In Washington, our work is not only with the administration, but with both parties in the House and Senate – regardless of which party controls those houses. AIPAC is a consensus organization and the diverse makeup of its membership is a welcome sign to American lawmakers that we represent the consensus view in the American pro-Israel community.
Oh, no. AIPAC surely doesn’t “impose its own agenda or beliefs” on anyone. Tell that to those legislators who’ve bucked AIPAC and seen political action committee dollars flying into the coffers of their primary or general election opponents. Tell that to Betty McCollum who was accused by a local Minneapolis AIPAC layperson of supporting terrorism because she opposed the group’s Palestine Anti-Terror Bill. And if AIPAC “works with elected leaders…regardless of their political party” can she explain why one of AIPAC’s most beloved retired directors spearheaded an ad campaign by the Republican Jewish Coalition to discredit Democrats as being anti-Israel?
“AIPAC is a consensus organization?” Since when? Unless, that is you consider a Likud nationalist political analysis of Israeli politics to be the “consensus” position. “Diverse membership?” Really? Let’s consider the political outlook of AIPAC. It’s true there are members of various political stripes. But everything that matters regarding AIPAC is directed by the lay leadership and staff. And these individuals–while they may spring from a variety of Jewish groups like AJC or ADL–their politics is invariably rightist when it comes to Israel.
How about this distortion: “we represent the consensus view in the American pro-Israel community.” Not true. AIPAC’s views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are in direct contradiction of the views of the majority of American Jews as proven by public opinion surveys. The majority of American Jews are willing to see a Palestinian state NOW. Not AIPAC, though they’ll mouth some platitudes about how they’d like to see one one of these days. The majority of American Jews are prepared to say good riddance to most of the West Bank settlements. Not so AIPAC. The majority of American Jews are opposed to military action against Iran. Not so AIPAC. I could go on and on. So don’t you believe the mendacious nonsense which their leaders pass off as Torah l’Moshe MiSinai (“Torah according to Moses on Sinai”).
Alas, there’s more:
AIPAC has always understood its appropriate role, which is not to advance a prescriptive agenda. It is the voters in Israel and the United States who decide which governments to elect and what policies to follow. AIPAC’s mandate is not to pressure the Israeli government to follow a particular course.
AIPAC has NEVER understood its appropriate role. It has never understood that there are many views both within Israel and the American Jewish community about how to approach the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Instead of embracing the diversity it claims to represent it ALWAYS represents a narrow nationalist perspective. It has always advanced a prescriptive agenda. Why else would it be urging the Administration to bomb Iran? And let’s look at the military option there. Is that a “consensus” position either in the U.S. or among American Jews? Certainly not. Is it even a consensus position among Israelis? Arguably, there is more support for it in Israel but I’d hesitate to say even there it is a majority or consensus position. No, AIPAC is a powerhouse of neocon (U.S.)/nationalist (Israel) ideology.
Now comes the real smoke up your you know what:
AIPAC has also supported both House and Senate versions of legislation that would block all but humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority until its Hamas-controlled government meets the standards set by the international community – to recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.
There are also provisions in the legislation which create a carve-out for certain kinds of assistance to Fatah leader and PA Chairman Mohammed Abbas. This was a complex piece of legislation authored by Congressional leaders for a complex period in Palestinian-Israeli relations.
AIPAC did not just “support” the Palestine Anti-Terror Bill she refers to here. The group WROTE the legislation for Pete’s sake! Singer acknowledges it is a “complex piece of legislation.” But what she’s really concealing is that as originally written it wasn’t complex at all. It was a draconian piece of legislation which would’ve criminalized any type of U.S. contact with any Palestinian entity which could broadly be construed as having any affiliation whatsoever with Hamas. It became “complex” because it was essentially entirely rewritten due to the extraordinary lobbying effort by Jewish progressive groups who succeeded in watering down key provisions of the bill. To top it all off, when Bush signed the bill he essentially announced that he would observe those parts of the legislation with which he agreed and ignore everything else. What a hollow AIPAC victory that was!
AIPAC will continue in its fundamental mission to ensure that…the two allies continue to stand together against common threats and work together to seek paths for a comprehensive and a secure peace.
I get the “standing together against common threats.” That means that AIPAC will continue to advocate extremist-hostile positions against Israel’s neighbors. But how does she have the chutzpah to claim AIPAC will “seek paths for a comprehensive and secure peace?” What has AIPAC ever done to advocate peace? And please don’t give me the pablum about accepting the creation of a Palestinian state because neither AIPAC nor Israel has done anything substantive to really further such a goal. Really, name a single thing the group has ever done for peace. I’m waiting…just as I thought. Because there isn’t any.
Let’s just take a recent development for an example. Akiva Eldar of Haaretz broke the amazing story of a second track diplomatic initiative between Israeli and Syrian representatives which essentially mapped out a full peace agreement between the parties. Of course, Olmert ditched the effort at the crucial moment when it was “put up or shut up.” But what did AIPAC do to support such an initiative? Not only have they done nothing. They’ve done everything they can to oppose it (pdf file). Why? First, because the initiative is opposed by the official Israeli government (which has in turn blamed its unwillingness to talk on the Bush-Cheney cone of silence against Syria). Second, because AIPAC doesn’t trust Syria as far as it could throw it. Third, because AIPAC’s Israeli political counterparts in Likud are screaming bloody murder at the idea that Israel might withdraw from the Golan.
Ultimately, what it all boils down to is that neither AIPAC nor the Israeli right believe in territorial concessions to either the Syrians or Palestinians. Because settling with Syria would require returning the Golan, AIPAC is dead set against it. So again, don’t you believe the version of AIPAC’s political agenda peddled for public consumption. Rather, examine what the organization does or doesn’t do.
Remba has some pertinent advice for President Bush which he will certainly refuse to take:
I call on the President not only to permit Israel to test the waters with Syria through a secret back-channel, but to send American mediators to such meetings to maximize the chances of their success.
That would be nice. But I think I diverge slightly from Remba in that I see Olmert’s casting blame on the U.S. for stymieing the Syria-Israel initiative as being self-serving. For Olmert, the U.S. serves as a convenient excuse allowing him to take a position he preferred to take all along.
Remba closes with a bit of incisive criticism of American Jewry’s willingness to allow the AIPACs to be their voice in this debate:
…There’s the stifling burden of inaction to which we subject Israel daily:…the failure of American Jews to speak up—as American citizens, if not as Jews who are deeply concerned for Israel’s well-being—about what’s best for the national security of the United States and its allies, especially Israel; the timorousness and apathy of so many American Jews who have yet to express their solidarity with the forces of progress and peace in Israel itself, even within the Israeli government. We, the American Jewish community, have massively constrained Israel’s freedom by the many dangerous choices we have let our communal leaders, and our government, make in the Middle East. Citizenship doesn’t end at the voting booth.
Hat tip to the Brit Tzedek Newsdigest list. If you’re looking for a terrific daily summary of articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this is one of the best.
Actually, AIPAC is a consensus organization.
AIPAC is composed of constituent groups. These include both the far right Zionist Organization of America and the leftist Americans for Peace Now.
And you simply misrepresent AIPAC’s position on the Israel-Syria backchannel negotiations (as well as Remba’s own article). AIPAC hasn’t opposed backchannel negotiations with Syria. Remba’s own article says that AIPAC simply said it did not believe in pressuring Israel to take one course of action or another.
The .pdf file you link to concerns American engagement with Iran and Syria. AIPAC simply points out that if the U.S. decides to engage, it should “proceed with caution” because Iran and Syria are not particularly trustworthy. This was in the context of the Baker-Hamilton report, which basically recommended that Israel should be treated not as an ally, but as a bargaining chip. It’s understandable why AIPAC, or anyone who purports to support Israel, would be wary. Under the circumstances, AIPAC’s response is in fact remarkably restrained.
AIPAC’s position is pretty straightforward. It doesn’t oppose peace initiatives, but it doesn’t think that the U.S. should coerce Israel into making any such deals.
Given that Israel and Syria have been conducting back channel negotiations for two years, and as recently as the Syria supported Lebanon war, your insistence that Olmert is the one holding things up is just silly. When the terms of the negotiations became public, both Israeli and Syrian leaders issued quick denials. That’s not surprising. Most likely such a deal offers possibilities, but neither side is completely satisfied with details or ready to sell it to their constituencies.
I know it’s very convenient for you to blame the Israeli government and AIPAC for every ill under the sun. But it doesn’t jibe with reality.
Richard Silverstein says
Why don’t you include the link to the AIPAC site fr. which you quoted this PR pablum. You didn’t read what I wrote carefully enough. Yes, AIPAC includes MEMBERS from many organizations. But the power and decision making derives completely fr. a narrow set of leaders and staff who share a common political orientation. The best analysis of this issue is Michael Massing’s incisive dissection of AIPAC power. It shows both AIPAC & you up for what you really are.
You’re not doing yr homework as usual. Read the goddamn pdf file I’ve linked to here. There are 82 reasons listed by AIPAC why Israeli negotiations with Syria are a TERRIBLE idea. This is a document featured prominently at AIPAC’s own site. I’ll lv. my readers to be the judge of why an AIPAC analysis would feature scads of reasons why talking to Syria is a terrible idea and not come up w. a single good one. Readers will judge for themselves whether AIPAC is taking a position or not.
You’re merely twisting their real goal which is to prove that the Syrians are a bunch of no good lying scumbags with whom neither the U.S. nor Israel should have any business whatsoever.
Here is some of AIPAC’s anti-Syria hysteria quoted from this policy analysis (and by the way, almost all of the following arguments are either lies or severe distortions of the truth):
Dear Reader–you be the judge.
Aren’t you the one for howlers tonight! What bugs the shit out of you is that the Baker Hamilton report said that U.S. pressure on both Israel, the Palestinians and other front line states to resolve the I-P conflict is essential to improve U.S. standing in the Arab world. So you run crying like a baby: “Ooh, dat bad man, Jim Baker, he not nice to Israel.” The nerve of that man not to bow down to the Israel lobby and pay his respects at what he should know is the font of power. How dare he advocate that Israel return to ’67 borders. Imagine the nerve!
AIPAC’s response is NEVER restrained. It’s their hallmark. When they inveigled Larry Franklin to share secret government documents about U.S. policy to Iran they were NOT restrained. When AIPAC donor Haim Saban attempted to pressure Nancy Pelosi to reappoint Jane Harman to the House Intelligence Cmttee it was NOT restrained. When AIPAC’s Minneapolis volunteer leader threatened Betty McCollum & warned her she was promoting terror by refusing to bend to the AIPAC line on the Palestinian Do-Nothing Anti-Terror bill, it was NOT restrained. When Morrie Amitai accused Dems of being anti-Israel in pre-election ads, this longtime former AIPAC director was NOT restrained. I could go on.
Not true. But even more important, AIPAC doesn’t SUPPORT peace initiatives. When Sharon asked the American Jewish leadership to support Gaza disengagement he met an ear splitting silence. Neither AIPAC nor the Conference of Presidents would take a position. It was only after tremendous lobbying and arm twisting on Sharon’s part that they finally acquiesced unwillingly and released a mild statement of support.
And you know as well as I based on the lies and half-truths about Syria written above, that were Olmert to take leave of his senses (at least in AIPAC’s view) and open direct negotiations with Syria (or final status negotiations with Abbas for that matter) AIPAC would be apoplectic. It would all over it. At best, it would be silent. At worst, it would actively lobby whoever it could to stymie such initiatives.
For the love of God, man, Eldar has written FIVE articles in Haaretz in which Olmert’s chief of staff and other ministry officials have admitted that Olmert torched the initiative. Where have you been??
You’re really shoveling the shit tonight, aren’t you. Both the Syrian and Israeli negotiator along with the Swiss ministry official who chaperoned the talks ALL say that Syria was always ready to do the deal & that it remains ready to do so.
You understand nothing of the Mideast or international diplomacy if you think a government involved in backchannel negotiations which are made public would ever overtly confirm them or embrace the terms as publicly outlined. So Israeli & Syrian denials are simply true to form and follow a time honored tradition in diplomatic terms. But that means nothing in terms of proving that Syria never was willing to make peace.