AIPAC Bars Me From Media Access to Their Conference

This is a guest post by Souciant Magazine and Inter Press Service writer Mitchell Plitnick, formerly with Jewish Voice for Peace and B’Tselem:

It’s a little hard to imagine. The self-proclaimed “most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill,” an admittedly deserved sobriquet, is apparently afraid of what little old me might say about their conference.

It’s hard to interpret what has happened in any other way, after my approved media credentials for AIPAC’s annual policy conference were rescinded without explanation just a few days before the event.

I applied for media access to the conference back in January. Soon after, I received an email from AIPAC’s then-media relations officer, Ari Goldberg, confirming acceptance of my application to attend as a reporter.

I am hardly unknown in this arena, and a quick search on Google would certainly have revealed that I was a progressive blogger, but also that I had written numerous pieces of straight journalism for Inter Press Service, the agency for which I will still be reporting on the conference.

So, it was no surprise that AIPAC credentialed me. Just as a major event at, say, the Center for American Progress (a think tank with unabashed ties to the Democratic Party) would not think twice about credentialing someone from FOX News, it is standard practice that such large organizations credential a wide range of media.

More surprising was the revocation of those credentials with just a few days to go before the conference.

With the conference slated to start on Sunday, I got a curt note on Wednesday, simply stating: “Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press.   However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you.  We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

It came from someone named Sarah Coopersmith at Scott Circle Communications, a firm AIPAC contracted with to handle the press logistics. The email wasn’t even signed.

Inquiries to both Coopersmith and AIPAC’s new press officer, Adam Harris brought no response. Ari Goldberg, despite having left AIPAC, did respond to me, expressing surprise and the hope that this was just a mistake.

To say this is highly unusual behavior would be an understatement. And I wasn’t the only one this happened to.

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, who had been credentialed the past three years without incident, and Adele Stan, the Washington Bureau Chief at AlterNet were also rejected without explanation. As I understand it, Phil and Adele were rejected outright. In my case, I was given media access and then had it revoked.

The combination was enough to get the attention of Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Ron has been in the DC scene writing about the politics here around Israel for years. He knows just how unusual this is. As he wrote, “Barring coverage in Washington is rare; Government institutions in Washington are known for accommodating a broad range of journalists, including those adamantly hostile to the government of the day.”

Apparently, as well, Chris McGreal of the Guardian (UK) was also summarily excluded, but after Ron’s piece came out in the JTA, AIPAC reinstated him, saying it was an oversight. Maybe it had nothing to do with trying to prevent the story from getting much bigger by excluding such a large international news source. Maybe it had everything to do with it, and Ron’s story made AIPAC nervous. I’ll let you make that call.

Kampeas, who has known me personally for several years, described me in JTA this way: “… a liberal blogger who has sparred with right-wing pro-Israel groups as well as anti-Zionists, and who was going to provide coverage for Inter Press Service, which emphasizes developing nations coverage as well as what it calls marginalized groups.”

Sounds like someone critical of AIPAC, but hardly like someone who would frighten them so much they would revoke credentials already given.

Now, I certainly have been very critical of AIPAC and the so-called “Israel Lobby.” But I have also engaged in public debates, including one appearance just after his book came out with Stephen Walt (who, in spirit of full disclosure, knows I disagree with parts of his thesis and nevertheless has developed a personal and professional relationship with me that has, at least from my end, been amazingly rewarding), when I believe the influence of that very powerful lobby is exaggerated.

Put simply, I’ve always called it like I saw it, both when that has gotten me some positive exposure and when it brought me into conflict, sometimes even with people in organizations I was working for.

No doubt, my professional experience as Co-Director of Jewish Voice for Peace and Director of the US Office of B’Tselemdoes not strike the folks at AIPAC well. Yet, I have, on more than one occasion, had very civil conversations with AIPAC staff members and officials.

It sure looks to me like AIPAC changed the way it deals with the press when Ari Goldberg left and Adam Harris replaced him. Perhaps reflecting a sense that, while the polls show no change in US citizens’ view of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the public discourse has been slowly shifting these past few years. It seems that the new regime at AIPAC is trying to manage the news with a much heavier hand as a result.

I’ll still be reporting on the conference, and I’ll still be doing it for Inter Press. What I won’t be able to do is give as full a picture as I could have of the feeling in the room, the people in attendance, the pulse of the crowd, the nuance and diversity there.

If I’m so threatening to AIPAC as a reporter, it’s hard to see how setting those limits on what I will have access to write about serves their purpose.

This conference is likely to be focused very strongly on the push for increased aggression  towards Iran. Maybe they feel their case is so weak that they have to resort to such heavy-handed tactics.

Again, I’ll leave that for you to decide.