The Lobby Up Close & Personal
— Henry Herskovitz
"AIPAC HAS ONE goal only," said Lee Rosenberg, "Strengthening the U.S. Israel relationship." Acting on behalf of the Board of Directors of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Lee welcomed 1600 participants to a conference entitled "AIPAC Presents: The Israeli Summit, Tools for Action" held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare (Chicago) on February 29th.
Kara Silverman, student at Ohio State University, kicked off the day long event by introducing Rabbi Michael Siegel, who honored the 35 local synagogues "allied with AIPAC" who helped sponsor the day's events. Mixing politics and religion is a legitimate tactic when supporting Israel, but "desecrating the Sabbath" when groups such as ours hold silent vigils at local synagogues. Go figure.
Entering the huge dining room was enough to take my breath away. The speakers' dais was ablaze in floodlights, showcasing a phalanx of flags: Israel's and the United States.
The display brought to my mind the arrogant chauvinism of empire, and an ice like fear in the pit of my stomach: Does this symbolic display of power signify the current level of Judaic faith? Or has my religion morphed into a Constantian Judaism, which worships the false God of Power?
Decades of fine-tuning a propaganda machine easily allowed speaker after speaker to cast the fourth mightiest military in the world as a helpless victim in the face of overwhelming, anti Semitic hatred. Israel is always referred to in the feminine. "She" is always defending herself from the "evil incarnate imbedded in radical Islam" (Danny Gordis, Vice President of the Mandel Foundation, Israel).
Gordis described Israel's illegal construction of the wall in the Occupied West Bank as a "simple security fence." The world again is attacking Israel in the Hague; Israel has always wanted peace, but "They don't want it." He cited in evidence "The Passion of the Christ" as an anti Semitic movie, ignoring the inconvenient fact that its enthusiastic viewers include the most rabid pro-Zionist evangelicals on the Christian right.
The Oppressor As Victim
Every speaker sang the "Oh, Poor Israel!" chorus. Maurice Singer, Midwest Regional Director of the Israel Aliyah Center, gave a presentation ("How did we get to this place? Understanding the Essential History of the Conflict"). My notes indicate the question: Was the audience going to receive an unbiased history of the conflict from a man whose job it was to assist in Israel's immigration process?
Using techniques like reading the first sentence of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, that "His Majesty's government look with favor" on a "Jewish homeland" (not "Jewish state")--but omitting the part where it concludes "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine"--Singer's distorted history lesson again portrays Israel as victim.
Israel is ."..so small, it's hardly on the map!"
He described the Golan Heights "like looking down at Chicago from the Hancock Building. Anybody visiting the Golan would understand why Israel cannot give that land back"--that is, "give back" something that's not theirs to give.
The crown jewel of the day was lunch, when AIPAC produced more Congress members from their pocket than Tony Soprano could ever dream of. Howard Kohr, AIPAC Executive Director, described the U.S. Congress as "the only entity that has consistently stood by Israel."
Big Brother standing up and protecting little Israel against her "relentless" enemies. What a shtick. See the movie. Cheers. Applause. Little David again rises against Goliath. Oh, Poor Israel!
Senator Dick Durbin: "Israel is not building a fence. Terrorism is building a fence."
Congressman Phil Crane: "The Holocaust is never behind us...[our] commitment to Israel will continue."
Congressman Luis Guitierrez: "Friendship trumps ideology."
Congressman Jerry Weller spoke of the "privilege of working with AIPAC." Not above stroking the other politicians present, he said: "Henry Hyde is a friend of Israel, and I'm proud to say that I am a friend of Israel." Cue the deafening applause.
Which Side of the Fence?
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. proudly identified himself as co sponsor of the Syria Accountability Act, which in part says "Syria also permits attacks on civilian targets in Israel.."
Jesse thanked AIPAC for paying his way to Israel on more than one occasion. "Most moving" he says of these freebies, "was the trip to Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem)." Jesse understands "the means of a fence to protect against terrorism," but he's never traveled to see where this fence is going, and on whose land it is being erected. At this point my notes indicate that the sound I distinctly heard was that of Paul Robeson turning over in his grave. Jesse's dad would be too, if he were only dead.
Danny Davis, 7th District Congressman, played the game pretty coolly, first proudly stating that he walks with Israel in Chicago's annual Israel Independence Day parade, and claiming three trips to Israel under his belt, but then he actually suggested that Israel should work for peace, and "try to find ways to co exist." Watch it, Danny! That is, if you expect to keep your job.
John Shimkus, Illinois' 19th District Congressman and also signer of the Syria Accountability Act, connected the plight of "Oh, Poor Israel!" with that of the United States as two embattled countries together fighting the war "against International Terrorism."
Jan Schakowsky, Illinois' 9th District and former State Minority Whip, explained how easy it is for new Representatives to write pro Israel legislation: Just let AIPAC do it! She works to end "Arab Anti Semitism," labeling it as the "breeding ground for terrorism."
She spoke correctly of the "resilience of Israeli Jews," but failed to mention the resilience of a captured Palestinian population bravely resisting the fourth mightiest military's 37-year occupation. Schakowsky concluded to a thunderous standing ovation when she proclaimed: "The bond between the United States and Israel will never, EVER, be threatened, and that's because of AIPAC!"
The atmosphere at this testimonial time of the conference reminded me of the old shtick on Saturday Night Live, where the two body building imitators of Arnold Schwarzenegger would shout: "We want to pump"- Clap!--"YOU up!"
This arm around the shoulder dance between the Superpowers was the kernel of the Conference. You tell me how great I am, while I enhance your image at every opportunity. It's good to be the King.
Techniques of Persuasion
After lunch the final breakout sessions were held. Again Maurice Singer conducted one entitled: "Making the Case for Israel and Coping with the Opposition." Maurice immediately got out his "Oh, Poor Israel" violin and started playing: What about the rights of Jews in Arab countries"? How will we deal with "anti Israel" people?
"We're up against professionals!," he cried, while I wondered about whom he was speaking. "We are in a war, a communications war!" Always on the defensive, always the David to the world's Goliath, the chorus never stops when you're in a propaganda war.
Interestingly, Mr. Singer taught argumentative techniques that are valuable for those of us seeking a just peace in Palestine. He told the group that in an argument with the "other," we should not try to convince this person that we are right. "It's the third person who is the one we're speaking to."
The person listening to the conversation who has yet to make up his/her mind is the target of your information. Thanks a lot, Maurice! Personally, this is a technique that I've seen work, a piece of advice clearly worth the $50 conference fee.
Another warming piece of news came in Maurice's answer to a question about the "Self Hating Jew." How do you deal with him? Maurice admitted this was a tough nut to crack, and suggested using buzz phrases like "Israelis deserve a safe place to live," and hope that the third person is listening in.
He advised not to let the self hating Jew's influence "spill out to others." He said to tackle people one on one, not address 100. More good advice, Maurice!
One on one is a good technique if the person genuinely seeks information, and (from personal experience), one on one with a Zionist is useless--unless you have that third party as Mr. Singer advises. "Become advocates yourself" was his parting line.
Many of the members of the breakout session already were armed with their racist agenda. When Mr. Singer asked his trick question: "Do Palestinians deserve a state of their own?" a man piped up: "You mean a state of the Terrorists, by the Terrorists, and for the Terrorists?"
Working with the sentiments of such a racially motivated crowd was child's play for Mr. Singer. He didn't need to teach his audience; he merely needed to guide.
The Dershowitz Affair
The final hour of the conference was reserved for none other than Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Law at Harvard, and author of The Case for Israel. A passionate speaker, though showing his age, Mr. Dershowitz pleaded with his audience to "Use your own expressions, use your own language, use your own personalities," when changing people's minds.
"As we prepare for the task ahead" (cue the "Oh, Poor Israel" chorus), he implored the audience to remember that "We are on the right side of morality," and received the first of his many ovations. He was shocked, shocked that his fellow professors will tell him in private that "We are silently with you, but we don't speak out!" "And this," Dershowitz cried, "from University tenured professors!"
"They accuse us of manipulating the media. Let's use it!" He encourage the audience to "Invite debate. Invite discussion. Invite criticism. Never shrink away!" And who in the audience, knowledgeable of Norman Finkelstein's accusations of plagiarism could keep a straight face, listening to such cowardly bragging?
Here is the distinguished Professor Dershowitz, arguably one of the finest lawyers in the country, encouraging his listeners to "Never shrink away" from debate or criticism, while he remains silent on the accusations that Professor Finkelstein has leveled--that he plagiarized parts of his book from Joan Peters' infamous From Time Immemorial.
So where do we go from here? To whom can we look to provide a way out of this corrupt system that produces this perp walk of politicians who head nod their way to success, knowing that "He who serves power will be rewarded."
Should we look to George Bush, who with a few words recently tore up International Law and made useless over seventy United Nations Resolutions holding Israel responsible for their actions in occupied territories, as he embraced Ariel Sharon's plan to erase the Green Line, and deny Palestinians their Right of Return to their homes?
Should we look to John Kerry, who in a recent Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert, supported Israel's murder of Dr. Abdul Aziz Rantisi and "COMPLETELY"- his word--supported George Bush's refusal to respect the Green Line and honor Palestinians' Right of Return?
Or, do we look towards ourselves to provide the answers? To challenge ourselves to think outside the box--legally and peacefully--to find other venues in which we can compete, grab headlines, win people's hearts?
Speak at City Councils, talk to our friends in churches, write letters to newspapers, stand in unexpected places with signs and banners, access community television and radio.
George and John ain't gonna help.
ATC 111, July-August 2004