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Will Shifting Dynamics Affect Influence Of U.S.-Israeli Lobby?

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Mar 30, 2016 - 9:54:55 AM

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WASHINGTON—While there are new divisions developing in the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) itself; there is growing, stiff opposition to its agenda outside its ranks even among American Jews; and there has been a decline in the group’s legendary influence; still, urgent concerns in this country about the Islamic State and other crises may have actually made AIPAC’s job easier in the 2016 election year.

All three remaining Republican presidential candidates and Democrat Hillary Clinton addressed the AIPAC annual policy conference March 21. Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) however, skipped the conference.

“There is so much at stake,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the Project for a New Internationalism and a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies said in an interview in which The Final Call participated.

“There is a moment that we’re looking at in terms of ‘What is going to be the U.S. role in the world?’ There are a lot of weird realities, in terms of who’s coming out on what side on what issues. On some levels, the easier one is perhaps, Israel-Palestine, where despite vastly different levels of rhetoric—‘Do we embrace Netanyahu? Or do we keep him at arm’s length? Blah, blah, blah.’ For all the blunt of the candidates, the actual policy they call for is pretty much: ‘Keep it going what it is now.’ And that includes both Trump and Cruz. It includes Hillary Clinton. The only exception is Bernie Sanders, to some degree,” Ms. Bennis continued.

Outside the Walter Washington Convention Center AIPAC conference dinner guests were greeted by protestors. Activists from peace groups CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace, RootsAction, Interfaith Peace Builders, and others were outside to protest what they described as “Donald Trump’s hate speech against Muslims, immigrants, women, and more, as well as AIPAC’s promotion of Islamophobia and demand for unconditional U.S. military and financial support for Israel.”

Demonstrators held signs and props expressing opposition to both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric toward Muslims as well as AIPAC’s unquestioning support of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. One CODEPINK Palestine Organizer was arrested for intentionally blocking the path to the convention center before the Trump address.

Inside, Mr. Trump brazenly criticized President Barack Obama. “He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me. And you know it and you know it better than anybody.” The organization’s new president apologized the next day for his remarks.

“We say unequivocally that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied at the President of the United States of America from our stage,” AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus said in a statement. “While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the President of the United States and our President, Barack Obama.”

But Mr. Trump and AIPAC are really birds of a feather, protestors say. “Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigration hate speech is in alignment with AIPAC’s support for Israel’s racist apartheid policies,” said CODEPINK organizer Ariel Gold said in a statement. “Trump’s statements have included promising a separation wall between the U.S. and Mexico, similar to the wall between Israel and Palestine built on Palestinian land. Trump has called for a ban on Muslims from entering the U.S and says that ‘Islam hates us,’ echoing the rhetoric of the Israel lobby that demonizes Palestinians.”

Ironically, Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to cast herself as a stronger ally to Israel than Mr. Trump, repeatedly alluding to his recent declaration he would be, “neutral” when negotiating a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. “It’s also why, as president, I will make a firm commitment to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge,” Mrs. Clinton said in her remarks.

“The United States should provide Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology so it can deter and stop any threats. That includes bolstering Israeli missile defenses with new systems like the Arrow 3 and David’s Sling. And we should work together to develop better tunnel detection, technology to prevent armed smuggling, kidnapping and terrorist attacks.”

Mr. Trump also attended another Jewish political event in Washington recently. Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), Mr. Trump joked about Jewish stereotypes and suggested Jewish Republicans would not support him in his bid for the White House because he did not want their money, according to Politico.

Enter AIPAC, lobbying for massive military and diplomatic aid to Israel. The current arrangement provides $3.1 billion dollars a year in U.S. military aid, and it is set to expire in 2017. This aid goes to underwrite weapons used against the people of Gaza and to maintain the military occupation of the West Bank, said CODEPINK. The Obama administration has offered an increase to over $40 billion over the next ten years, but Israel, with AIPAC’s support, is demanding even more.

 “That consensus, ultimately what they all share is the view that we keep up the focus on: ‘Israel is our best friend. Israel can do no wrong. We will protect Israel at the United Nations. And we will continue to give Israel, billions of dollars a year, of our tax money, directly to their military,” said Ms. Bennis.

AIPAC is the chief U.S. lobby, supporting Israeli settlements, which are in direct violation of international law, said CODEPINK. Israeli settlements, and their expansion with U.S. complicity, contribute to numerous human rights abuses against Palestinians.

AIPAC is also feeling pressure from the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As the BDS movement has grown stronger, legislation has even been proposed—HR 4514 in Congress—which discourages participation in the BDS movement.