Groups protest powerful Israel lobbyBy Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Mar 25, 2013 - 9:21:21 PM
AIPAC held its annual policy conference over the March 4 weekend with an appearance by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, several high ranking Israeli officeholders, and a full schedule of panels and meetings, culminating with a gala celebration attended by 13,000 at the Washington Convention Center. But the celebrations did not go without massive protests.
CODEPINK Women for Peace led a series of protests, converging at the AIPAC headquarters the first day where they set up a mock “settlement village” in front of the building’s main entrance. Protesters dressed themselves in refrigerator boxes and other crates to resemble “settlement homes” arranged symbolically to represent how much of an obstacle to peace real Jewish settlements are in the West Bank.
In addition, Jewish Voice for Peace launched a massive advertising campaign before, during and after the conference. “AIPAC Does Not Speak for Me,” read 100 billboard ads in subway stations across downtown Washington, showcasing the faces of Jewish Americans saying boldly: “AIPAC does not speak for me. Most Jewish Americans are pro-peace. AIPAC is not.”
“CODEPINK along with hundreds of other activists and human rights advocates mobilized to protest AIPAC’s stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy,” CODEPINK spokesperson Alli McCracken told The Final Call. “We will actually be out there protesting more speakers talking about AIPAC’s usual war-mongering policies that are totally contradictory to human rights and the sort of values we’re advocating.”
The group also teamed up with the Interfaith Peace Builders for an entire day of grassroots advocacy training. Their final action was a “loud and proud” demonstration with songs, chants, and flash-mobs, facing the arriving delegates hooded, blindfolded and wearing handcuffs with the names of hundreds of Palestinian hunger strikers who are themselves protesting their own indefinite detention in Israeli prisons.
Vice President Biden made his first appearance before the AIPAC gathering since 2009, when he angered the crowd by calling for a freeze on expanding illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. This time, Mr. Biden made no mention of the settlements; instead he emphasized the Obama administration’s pro-Israeli “accomplishments,” including ensuring that U.S. aid to Israel was not affected by the budget-cutting automatic sequester which reduced spending on most domestic and military programs in this country.
“That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession, Mr. Biden said March 4. “I’ve served with eight presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no president has done as much to physically secure the state of Israel as President Barack Obama. President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel—the most in history. He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.
“Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises,” Mr. Biden continued. “We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the president directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis—to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors,” he said of the missile shield installed by the U.S. to defend against rockets fired from Palestinian territory.
“AIPAC is the NRA of foreign policy lobbies, pushing a right wing agenda that does not represent the majority of Jewish Americans,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said in a statement. “Its support for military build-up and endless settlement expansion makes peace impossible. It cannot claim to speak for all American Jews.”
The protesters instead represent what Ms. McCracken described as “the mosquito in the elephant’s ear.”
“We understand that AIPAC is a large and powerful lobby, but we’re happy to say that the movement to counter AIPAC is growing as well,” said Ms. McCracken. “We see that advocates for Palestinian human rights and a just solution in the Middle East, that movement is growing year by year, especially the youth movement. We see campus chapters of Americans Against Israeli Apartheid and students for Justice in Palestine are really exploding in numbers.”
There’s good reason, she said, for the urgency now seen in the expanding protests against Israeli policies. “We see Israel stealing more and more land every day, and it’s never been more important for us to come together as a movement and grow and become stronger,” she continued.
“We’ve been involved in the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement that’s been sweeping the world really. That’s really kind of put a dent in Israel’s belligerent behavior. And we’re putting the pressure on internationally. We believe that Israel’s actions right now are ultimately hurting itself as a country.”
CODEPINK also has a response to the Obama administration’s efforts to cozy up to the Jewish state ahead of the president’s planned trip to the region March 19.
“This year, AIPAC has a special emphasis on the friendship between Israel and the U.S., and they’re pushing for (President) Obama to designate Israel as an explicit, ‘strategic ally’ of the United States,” said Ms. McCracken. “We’re going to have a lot of messaging around the idea that ‘Friends don’t let friends occupy.’ We don’t think Israel has been a very good friend at all to the U.S. with its belligerent policies that are oppressing so many people in the Middle East.”
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