Move Over organizers made a strong effort to showcase Jewish opposition to AIPAC… as if protest is not an obligation of US citizens.”
The existence of such an official opposition allows critics to blow off steam without having any real impact; it creates the pretense of freedom without the reality.
by Stephen Sniegoski
It was good to hear that AIPAC’s 2011 conference in Washington during the latter part of May faced a counter-conference and demonstration, Move Over AIPAC, organized by Code Pink: Women for Peace, a group that has protested America’s wars in the Middle East. This is the first time any large group has dared to make such a protest against AIPAC and Code Pink deserves much credit for its effort. Unfortunately, however, the restrictions placed on the criticism of the Israel lobby were such that “The Transparent Cabal” was apparently beyond the pale. As Harry Clark points out in his article, “Move Over, AIPAC,” in CounterPunch (May 30), “[t]here was an ‘upstairs, downstairs’ feel to the discussion of AIPAC.” Read the article here [http://counterpunch.org/clark05302011.html ] or in the text below*. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt spoke “upstairs” in the plenary session. Since Mearsheimer and Walt are prestigious academics (who dared to write about the “Israel lobby”), Code Pink apparently felt safe in featuring them.
By Stephen Sniegoski
Relegated to a “downstairs” workshop were some non-mainstream hard-line critics of Israel and its lobby–Jeff Blankfort, Janet McMahon, ofWashington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Grant Smith of Institute for Research Middle east Policy, Philip Giraldi, Executive Director of Council for National Interest, D.C. Alison Weir, President of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and Executive Director of If Americans Knew (which deals with the plight of the Palestinians), served as moderator for this workshop and provided a list of speakers for the conference, with my name being included. But, as Clark, points out, I was rejected. He likewise observes that liberal Jewish pressure caused the outspoken Helen Thomas to pull out.
I asked Alison Weir the reason for my rejection and she replied that she had not been told. Over a month before the AIPAC event, I had been contacted by a Move Over AIPAC representative, and I sent the group a link to my web site and an e-copy of “The Transparent Cabal,” after which I never heard from them again. The question here is not simply why I was rejected but why my rejection was not explained.
Clark implies, correctly I believe, that Code Pink wanted to play it safe and thus kept the more controversial/hardline people out of the limelight or rejected them entirely. As pointed out earlier, Mearsheimer and Walt could be seen as safe because of their mainstream credentials and because, as Clark points out, their tendency to mitigate some of their criticism. Jeff Blankfort, an excellent speaker who certainly pulls no punches on the issue of Israel and its US minions, was probably deemed safer than me because of his Jewish ancestry. Since it is widely believed among cautious gentiles that people of Jewish backgrounds should be immune from the lethal charge of anti-Semitism, reliance on their criticism of Israel and its supporters is often preferred as a means of smear protection. In this regard, Clark points out that the Move Over organizers made a strong effort to showcase Jewish opposition to AIPAC, writing “[t]here were assurances that ‘AIPAC is bad for the Jews’ as if this makes protest permissible, as if protest is not an obligation of US citizens.”
It should be pointed out that this is hardly the first time that I have been rejected or ignored without any reason being given, but it is instead quite the norm. For example, more than a few critics of US Middle East wars will not make any comment on my work, even in private, when it has been presented to them. And journals that express anti-war opinions have refused to review my book without any reasons reflecting on the quality of the work. If my work were regarded as defective, one would think that at least a few of these individuals and journals would be willing to point out its flaws in private, and even in public, critical book reviews being hardly unknown. It is this experience that enables me to reach the following conclusion regarding the Move Over AIPAC event: the organizers ignored the merits of what I have written simply deeming me as one whose presence might negatively stigmatize their whole event. They could not, however, openly say such a thing, hence the lack of any explanation for their decision.
I naturally find this treatment disconcerting, though I must add, it was not unexpected. However, the significance of this approach far transcends the negative effects on the dissemination of my book and my personal success. For the underlying fear of being smeared as anti-Semitic limits the criticism of Israel and its American supporters–in terms of who can make it, where it can be presented, and what can be said–to such an extent that it becomes largely ineffective. In fact, it becomes something akin to the official opposition that is often allowed to exist in authoritarian, and even totalitarian, states. The existence of such an official opposition allows critics to blow off steam without having any real impact; it creates the pretense of freedom without the reality.
The annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, took place in Washington the weekend of May 21-22 and the following week. As usual, the top of the federal government paid tribute—President Obama addressed the 6,000 strong delegates, and over 350 senators and representatives attended. The Rapture may have failed to appear that weekend as scheduled by evangelist Harold Camping, but it descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday, when Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress. Congress applauded almost every paragraph of Netanyahu’s speech.
For the first time ever, elements of the left, namely, Code Pink, organized a conference and a national demonstration against AIPAC, Move Over AIPAC; see http://www.moveoveraipac.org/. The conference featured Professors John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby, which mainstreamed the idea, as well as perennial critics such as journalist Jeffrey Blankfort, Janet McMahon, of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Grant Smith, author of several books on AIPAC based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Several hundreds of demonstrators greeted the AIPAC delegates as they entered and exited the Washington convention center; some groups gained admittance and staged impromptu demos, to be muscled out like Communists from a Nazi rally. Rae Abileah, one of the chief organizers of the weekend, who emceed much of it, was admitted to the visitors’ gallery in Congress. Upon unfurling a banner and denouncing Israel’s war crimes, she was assaulted by AIPAC minions before being hustled out by police. She was hospitalized with neck and shoulder injuries and arrested on her sickbed.
Apart from such heroism and the prodigious work to organize it, the
Move Over conference was weak in my jaded view, basically because the left has been running from the “Israel lobby” issue for 40 years. The first false step was buckling to liberal Jewish pressure and letting Helen Thomas bow out. The 90-yr old dean of the White House press corps lost her journalistic career after criticizing the colonial nature of Zionism; more recently she compounded the offense by blunt talk about the power of the Jewish community. One would think Thomas an ideal figure to speak
at a rally opposing AIPAC. Her absence sacrificed media attention and weakened the protest.
There was an “upstairs, downstairs” feel to the discussion of AIPAC. Upstairs, at the plenary session, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt gave their familiar talk. Their book was important, and they mainstreamed the question of the “Israel lobby”, but in the most narrow terms, which they reinforce with each appearance, the price they feel they have to pay to retain mainstream credibility. The left bears a large share of responsibility for this defensiveness, by not making the argument itself.
For example, Mearsheimer and Walt invariably say that AIPAC is just another interest group doing its job. It is nothing of the sort; it is a criminal organization which has operated at the edge of and beyond the law since its inception. Inter alia, Grant Smith has shown this in half a dozen books based on documents unearthed with FOIA.
Grant Smith, with Jeff Blankfort and Janet McMahon of Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, spoke downstairs, after the plenary, at a crowded workshop on AIPAC. Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, moderated. Code Pink had contacted her about speakers. She tried to
get some workshop speakers onto the plenary upstairs, but failed. She had also recommended Stephen Sniegoski, author of The Transparent Cabal, about neoconservative influence on foreign policy, but he was rejected.
To their credit, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt spoke to a meeting assembled by Code Pink, supporting democratic as well as elite outreach. Ambassador Chas Freeman, former diplomat in Arab countries, whose candidacy for a position in the Obama Administration was vetoed by AIPAC, appeared on an authors’ panel.
The US has lost national sovereignty to Israel and its US supporters, chiefly the organized Jewish community. Defense Secretary Gates can visit West Point and proclaim that the days of land wars in Asia are over. He cannot say that the US-Israel relationship is over. The foreign policy “realists” and Arabist establishment are deeply alarmed by that and must be embraced as allies.
The AIPAC workshop presenters provided absorbing information. For example, Grant Smith has raised the issue of AIPAC’s registration as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice. He met with Heather Hunt, head of the Foreign Agent Registration Act section, and Hunt seemed to warm up to his case and her responsibilities. Smith, Jeff Blankfort, and Hunt and two staffers were sitting at one end of the table. At the other end was an unnamed official, who did not give out his card, and interjected remarks like “AIPAC should have an opportunity to respond to your comments”. Not in court–but as part of the decision to investigate and prosecute. If FARA and FEC law were enforced, AIPAC would be dissolved, in Smith’s view, copiously documented. Smith led a demo at Justice on May 23 with 70-80 people. We marched around the building chanting and wrote letters to Attorney General Holder and Heather Hunt at the main doors on Constitution Avenue.
Smith led another demonstration on Tuesday morning at the US Trade Commission, in support of a suit filed by a group of businesses who’ve been hurt by the US-Israel free trade accord passed in the 1980s. Israel got a copy of the classified document outlining the US negotiating position, full of confidential data from those companies. The US-Israel trade balance has been consistently negative for the US, when most bilateral agreements are neutral. See Smith’s web site http://www.irmep.org/.
Overall, the major drawback was that only a few hundred attended. In June 2007 the US Campaign to End the Occupation organized a protest about the 40th anniversary of “the occupation” that drew 5-6,000, still weak. We were told that Jewish Voice for Peace, United for Peace and Justice, American Friends Service Committee and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee did most of the work on that. The much weaker turnout for this suggests that some of these groups simply don’t want a national protest directed against AIPAC, despite all the “endorsements”.
In his presentation, Grant Smith cited the American Council for Judaism’s contributions to the hearings on foreign agents convened in 1963 by Senator William Fulbright, chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations. These were an extraordinary, by current standards, investigation of the burgeoning Israel lobby, discussed in Smith’s book Foreign Agents. ACJ was the anti-Zionist group headed by the late, great Rabbi Elmer Berger, whose entire outlook absolutely rejected Zionism and affirmed the obligations of liberal citizenship.
This sense is totally missing from the Jewish scene today, including the “left”, which, no less than the mainstream, is immersed in what Judaic scholar Jacob Neusner called the “Zionism of Jewish peoplehood”. “The Jewish people is my homeland. Wherever Jews live, there I am at home.”
Thus the event featured “young Jewish pride”, singing in Hebrew and baking challah and performing other astounding feats while opposing AIPAC. There were assurances that “AIPAC is bad for the Jews” as if this makes protest permissible, as if protest is not an obligation of US citizens, as if Americans of Jewish background are obligated only as “Jews”, which in secular terms is artificial and willfully constructed, Zionist essentialism.
The left is weak and confused about Palestine for lack of universalist convictions and analysis, recovering which is essential to thinking, let alone acting, at 59 minutes and 57 seconds through the eleventh hour.