I was reading James Besser’s story about John Hagee’s keynote address to the recent AIPAC national policy conference. For the past few days I’ve been railing about Hagee’s loony theological ideas and his not so latent anti-Semitic views. I’ve excoriated AIPAC for its amoral stance, which allows it to embrace such an extremist all because he’s “good for Israel.” Israel supposedly has so few friends that it can’t afford to turn its back on ones like Pastor John.
But the following passage from Besser made me realize that AIPAC’s choice of Hagee was quite excellent from the perspective of liberal Jews who are critical of AIPAC’s hardline pro-Israel mono-culture:
A former AIPAC official said giving Rev. Hagee a key speaking slot represents one more step toward an AIPAC embrace of the Evangelicals that began more than two decades ago, and warned that it has political risks.
“This sends out a message of an endorsement by AIPAC at a time when these Christian groups seem to be losing power in Congress—and when the Democrats, who have long opposed this cozying up to the religious right, are now in power,” this activist said.
If you were a political strategist, which AIPAC certainly fancies itself, wouldn’t you want to ride the winning horse? Is the Christian Right the winning horse? Is the extreme right of the Republican Party, where these Christian Zionists stand as far as American politics are concerned, a winning horse? The answers respectively should be Yes, No and No. Bush and the Republicans have been trounced in recent elections. Their most ardent supporters, the Christian right, while still powerful wield nothing like the power they once did before November. Democrats are ascendant.
So what does AIPAC do? Not only does it give Hagee a prime time slot, its members boo when Nancy Pelosi tells them that Democrats oppose the war in Iraq. Keep in mind this is the Speaker of the House. The woman who controls the legislative agenda for the next two years. The woman who can advance or bottle up AIPAC’s pet bills. Of course, Pelosi isn’t going to turn her back on AIPAC because a few bellicose delegates gave her the finger. But nevertheless it is instructive how far the interests of AIPAC and the Democratic party have diverged.
But when will Democrats finally recognize that AIPAC is NOT their friend. When will people like Nita Lowey, Jane Harman and others realize that AIPAC does them no favors when its former national director endorses a multi-million dollar election ad campaign attacking Democrats for being “soft” on Israel. Barack Obama is beginning to see this. Hillary will never see it. We need Democrats who can be pro-Israel (and pro-Palestinian) without being slaves of AIPAC.
So in some perverse way, AIPAC’s invitation to Hagee is a good thing. Because it further exposes the lie that AIPAC is bipartisan, that it doesn’t take sides in political battles except involving Israel. Most of my readers know this is a lie. But most American Jews don’t–yet. But all I can say to AIPAC is: keep it up. You only discredit yourself by pursuing this mad race to the extreme right of American politics.
I only wish the national Jewish press would write about this. The Forward barely mentioned Hagee in its coverage of the conference.
JTA, in its typical cheerleader fashion practically turned Hagee into a lamed vavnik (one of the 36 Jewish saints) in its coverage:
The popular TV preacher went straight for the heart, and if there were doubts that an evangelical could cast aside concerns about proselytizing and make his case based simply on love of Israel, they were quickly dispersed…
Thousands of Jews from Miami to Marin County, from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., shouted as one, “Israel lives! Israel lives! Israel lives!”
Thank God, Jewish Week seems to recognize the danger posed by people like Hagee. Besides Besser’s article above, it published a follow up analysis of the conference which featured this sobering comment from a doubting AIPAC delegate:
Not everyone was pleased. A senior Jewish communal leader witnessing the scene termed it “disturbing.”
“Don’t these people realize what this man stands for, in terms of church-state separation, in terms of what his followers see as Israel’s role in the apocalypse?” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being identified with criticism of AIPAC.
The day when such a leader can go on record making such a comment is the day we’ll recognize that AIPAC does not have a stranglehold on Israel discourse in our community.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.