On Wednesday March 9 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has accepted an invitation to speak at their March 20-22 annual policy conference in Washington DC. Two days later they announced that Republican candidate, Donald Trump has also accepted their invitation to speak. AIPAC relishes its ability to trot out leading politicians who then jostle to outdo each other in proving their “pro-Israel” credentials. But AIPAC’s unquestioning support for Israeli policies that undermine any hope of peace in the region and that undercut even the modest pressure the Obama Administration has brought to bear against Israel’s settlement expansion is something to be protested, not applauded.
Here are five reasons why Presidential candidates should not speak at AIPAC:
1. AIPAC promotes Israeli settlements in direct opposition to international law.
Currently there are more than 650,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are completely illegal under international law. They violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israeli settlements prevent any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state and contribute to numerous human rights abuses against Palestinians, including severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement and the demolishing of thousands of Palestinian homes. Israeli settlements have been blasted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov, for being an “impediment to peace.”
Despite the illegality of Israeli settlements and the role they play in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, AIPAC acts to protect and legitimize them. Last year AIPAC helped draft and push an amendment to 2015 Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that is a direct attack on the non-violent, international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The bill, which requires the U.S. to take an anti-BDS position in trade negotiations with the European Union, conflates Israel and the “Israeli-controlled territories, thus obscuring the line between Israel’s recognized 1967 borders and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
2. AIPAC lobbies shamelessly for the US to fund Israel’s military.
One of AIPAC’s priorities has been to lobby for more and more U.S. tax dollars to be sent to Israel, a wealthy country that has become the largest recipient of U.S. aid. For the past ten years. Israel has been receiving approximately $3.1 billion a year in US military aid. This deal, set to expire in 2017, is currently being renegotiated. In February the Obama Administration offered Israel an aid package of more than $40 billion over the next ten years. Not only does this money go to underwrite the weapons used against the besieged people of Gaza and maintain the military occupation of the West Bank, but these funds would be better spent in American communities that are facing safe water, school budget, and infrastructure crises.
3. AIPAC threatens and attacks anyone who is critical of Israel.
Journalists, writers, academics, and others who dare to write or speak critically about Israel, quickly find themselves labeled and attacked as “anti-semitic.” In Congress, AIPAC interferes with the very essence of the democratic policy-making process. AIPAC tracks those who do not vote in favor of AIPAC-drafted bills and targets them for defeat in their reelection bids. Former congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney describes “war” being declared on her when she refused to sign an AIPAC pledge of support for Israel. After targeting Republican Senator Charles Percy to lose his reelection campaign, then AIPAC executive director, Tom Dine bragged, “All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians—those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire—got the message.” Other Senators and Representatives who have faced AIPAC reprisals for their voting choices have included, Adlai Stevenson III, Paul Findley, Pete McCloskey, and Earl Hilliard.
4. AIPAC acts as a de facto foreign agent pushing the US toward militarism rather than diplomacy.
AIPAC, which is in reality a de facto foreign agent, is invested in the interests of the Israeli government, not American security. A 2010 statement by Gen. David Petraeus highlights the price the US pays for their blanket support of Israel:
Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.
In 2015 AIPAC spent millions of dollars trying to to defeat the Iran deal. Had they succeeded, the US might have found itself in another disastrous war in the Middle East to the detriment of many lives. Having failed at defeating the Iran deal, AIPAC is now demanding increased US military aid to Israel to further enhance Israel’s military might and continues to push for sanctions on Iran.
In February 2015, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren described AIPAC as “Israel’s national strategic asset.” While AIPAC is registered as a lobby group, it is seamlessly linked to Israel, acting as a de facto foreign agent. Director for the Institute for Research Middle East Policy Grant F. Smith points out that “AIPAC was designed to supplant the American Zionist Council as the arm of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the United States after the DOJ ordered the AZC to register as a foreign agent.” By registering as a lobby group, rather than an foreign agent, AIPAC is able to operate behind the scenes without having to provide the American government with detailed information about their aims and activities.
5. AIPAC encourages Islamophobia.
AIPAC’s 2016 conference will undoubtedly be rife with Islamophobia. This year’s list of AIPAC speakers includes Fox News pundit Steven Emerson. A 2011 report by the Center for American Progress said “Emerson frames Islam as an inherently violent and antagonistic religion.” Emerson’s 2015 description of Birmingham, England as a “Muslim-only” city with “no-go zones” for non-Muslims was so outrageous and inflammatory that even Fox News apologized. Similarly outrageous statements have been made by Donald Trump. In December Trump called for the US to ban Muslims from entering the country. Shortly before accepting AIPAC’s invitation to speak, Trump stated that “Islam hates us.” AIPAC has long been connected with anti-Muslim hate. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has donated large sums of money to AIPAC over the years, has made such statements as “there’s no such thing as a Palestinian people” and “all terrorists are Muslims.” Last week a group of Palestinians and Palestinian Americans filed a $34.5 billion dollar lawsuit against Sheldon Adelson and other pro-Israel individuals, organizations, and companies. The suit alleges that the defendants are responsible for funding Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and human rights abuses. Clearly AIPAC islamophobes like Adelson have as little respect for human rights and international law as they do for tolerance.
No 2016 Democratic or Republican candidate has announced that they will take action to end Israel’s gross violations of international law and burgeoning settlement enterprise. None of the candidates are promising to end US military aid to Israel or vowing to protect our first amendment right to boycott. Still, for presidential candidates to accept AIPAC’s invitation to speak at their policy conference is for them to take a stand even further to the extreme right. AIPAC is a de facto foreign agent that works to undermine American democracy, equality, and security. For US presidential candidates to speak at their conference is unacceptable and dangerous.