AIPAC, Congress and the US Peace movement

The machinations of power are often obscure. Claims that AIPAC has a great deal of political clout are axiomatic if you think about the words behind the acronym – American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Nevertheless, often when people claim that AIPAC and related entities such as the American Jewish Congress (AJC) have an effect on the US political process there is a great, mostly disingenuous hew and cry, that such claims are anti-Semitic powered conspiracy theories. These “have it both ways” folks are not interested in a reasoned discussion but rather in defending Israel, right or wrong. That being said, I would not assert that the efforts of AIPAC completely explain US foreign and domestic policy, far from it, but there is clearly some positive results for such organizations or why would they continue? Although the Walt and Mearsheimer article was obvious and in some ways a simplification, there was a great deal of merit in the main thesis concerning US interests as they are similar and different from the interests of such groups as AIPAC. Similar issues were raised in Jimmy Carter’s book “Peace not Apartheid.” A very good general discussion of such topics was written by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books. All in all, a great deal of debate, at the national and international level was prompted, a not, inconsiderable outcome.

Now there is more evidence on how AIPAC is attempting to influence US Foreign policy in Iran. And to be clear, AIPAC can do whatever it wants within the legal constraints of US law, and per the first amendment, we can talk about such activity.

In the following, excerpts from John Walsh’s piece “Why is the Peace Movement Silent about AIPAC” , he discusses his recent experience with several politicians regarding AIPAC, Iran and Iraq war funding as well as the folly of anti-war efforts that ignore AIPAC:

“AIPAC!” was the forceful one-word answer of Congressman Michael Capuano when we asked him, “Why was the Iran clause forbidding war on Iran without Congressional approval taken out of the recent supplemental for the Iraq war funding?” I nearly fell out of my chair at his reply – not because this was news but because of who had just said it. Capuano is a close ally of Nancy Pelosi, her fixer and enforcer. That was last Friday morning when a small delegation from Cambridge and Somerville, MA, were visiting the Congressman, known for his bluntness, as part of the nationwide UFPJ (United For Peace and Justice) home lobbying effort during the Congressional recess.

Later that day, Dennis Kucinich made an appearance at Harvard, where he was asked the same question, the reason for removing the Iran provision. “AIPAC,” I volunteered out loud. Kucinich looked my way and said, “Exactly.” Again my chair almost failed to contain me.

A few weeks earlier we had gone to the offices of Senators Kennedy and then Kerry to discuss the war. (My intention was to call their attention to to which the Kennedy aide was sympathetic and the Kerry aide predictably hostile.) I raised the question of AIPAC directly with Kerry’s aide, inquiring about its hawkish influence on Kerry and other Senators. Suddenly the aide was quite engaged. Leaning forward, he said: “That will never be discussed publicly. That will never be discussed publicly.” Clearly even Kerry’s office is unhappy with the pressure that comes from AIPAC.

It is widely acknowledged that the reps and senators are ticked at AIPAC, and their hostility seems to be growing these days. With upwards of 60% of their campaign contributions coming directly or indirectly from the Israel Lobby [note: this is a highly controversial claim, at best] the Democratic congressmen are not free to respond to their antiwar base. This opens them to an antiwar electoral challenge on the Left or Right from forces not subservient to AIPAC. And that could cost them their next election, a little thing which has them very worked up. Capuano’s cry of “AIPAC” was no simple outburst of candor but a cri de coeur for his career.

But there remains no anti-AIPAC campaign within the mainstream antiwar organizations, like UFPJ or Peace Action. (Even one supposed Congressional ally of the peace movement was announced as a celebrity guest at the recent colossal AIPAC meeting in Washington, where half the Congress shows up and Dick Cheney is a regular speaker. What gives?)

Notwithstanding the exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about Israel lobby contributions to Democrats there is merit in Walsh’s argument that AIPAC, far from being a sideshow regarding mainstream anti-war efforts, is an important factor that must also be explicitly named and fought against by the general anti-war community, not just by progressive Jewish groups such as JVP.

…..with all due respect to the sentiments of that leadership, immunity for AIPAC is a prescription for disaster. To use a military analogy, which I do not especially like, suppose that we were trying to take a hill in Germany in 1944. And suppose we said that we would not attack one pillbox, which kept devastating our forces. Leave just that one pillbox alone! The result would be devastating; we would be cut down with every succeeding attempt at advance. So it is with AIPAC which campaigns relentlessly for war on Iraq, war on Iran, war on Syria, war on Lebanon and the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. AIPAC constantly puts the peace movement on the defensive while it is free to be on the offensive all the time.

AIPAC is not just an issue for Jewish Americans or the Jewish wing of the peace movement like Jewish Voice for Peace; it is a major force, although not the only one, driving the U.S. to wars in the Middle East. AIPAC is no less a force for war than is the Republican National Committee. In fact it is worse, because it sinks its teeth into the foreign policy establishment of both parties, perhaps the Dems more so than the Republicans.

An important question raised in all this concerns who does AIPAC (and similar groups) represent? The interests of most Americans? Most Israelis? (Not bloody likely) They seem to be a neo-con holdout representing the interests of very few in either society and in fact, working against peaceful efforts to resolve tremendously difficult international issues. That this reactionary force has interpenetrated the entire national political spectrum is a real problem. The constant braying for war by AIPAC, seemingly on every front, must be confronted directly by anti-war forces if there is to be real progress.

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