Author Topic: My AIPAC experience  (Read 2832 times)

Greg Davidson

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My AIPAC experience
« on: April 07, 2016, 10:35:08 AM »
    I paid $1500 including travel and hotel to experience AIPAC for the first time this year.  I have had considerable concern about public positions taken by AIPAC, most noticably with respect to the debate over the Iran Deal last summer. So when our synagogue posted flyers inviting people to join our congregational delegation to AIPAC, I was concerned. I spoke to several AIPAC staff members prior to attending, and they encouraged me to come and make up my mind based on experiencing the event. What I found at AIPAC was far more disturbing than just a speech given by Donald Trump; in fact, his views seemed to be in the mainstream of those I heard expressed by others at AIPAC.

    Let me be as honest and accurate about the positives as I will about the negatives. I found my first AIPAC conference this year to be a wonderfully well-run program with many emotionally compelling stories about Israel and its supporters in the US (I cried multiple times). However, I also left convinced that participation in AIPAC is a political action that I cannot support. I applaud the bi-partisan focus of AIPAC, but bi-partisan does not mean apolitical, it just means some from both parties support AIPAC’s policy positions. AIPAC represents a limited range of political views rather than all pro-Israel Americans (for example, attendees almost all oppose the Iran Deal; in contrast most American Jews supported it). This is entirely appropriate to a political organization, but it is not consistent with how AIPAC represents itself in lobbying Congress. 

    AIPAC uses language to imply political consent that has not been given. Attendees are called “delegates”, congregations are referred to as “Synagogue Delegations”, but there is no formal process of delegation (and AIPAC cites the number of participating congregations as part of their advocacy). In fact, delegates are not even told the lobbying positions prior to arriving at the Policy Conference, have no input, and any dissenting views are not welcome when lobbying. This makes AIPAC political; a right of all individuals, but problematic for synagogues unless they have an explicit process as a community to take such a political action.

    While much was made of the cheering for Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kascich got even stronger applause for remarks that were no less extreme than those by Trump. I still believe that right-wing Americans have a right to lobby Congress, but we must all recognize that AIPAC is a narrowly defined group that does not accurately reflect the full set of views of the Jewish community.

    The political ideology that I found to dominate AIPAC was exemplified by assertions made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Senator Menendez: Iran is committed to Israeli genocide and will never change, and Palestinians are inculcated in a culture of death. There are many such as myself in the pro-Israel community who believe that such over-simplification produces a flawed view of threats to Israel, which increases exposure to actual risks. But if you accept these simple kinds of assumptions as truth, then it makes sense that diplomacy is weakness, and only force can be strength. And while there were many different sessions at AIPAC, a very selective set of information was shared to keep the audience within this simple narrative. Let me illustrate using the example of Iran:

    • No session I attended mentioned that Iran is at war with ISIS (inferences in three sessions suggested that Iran was supporting ISIS, and the presence of 2,000 Iranian troops in Syria was presented as a sign that Iran was fomenting terrorism rather than fighting ISIS).
    • While those in attendance understand the emotional impact even today of the roughly 25,000 Israelis who have been killed in all the wars since the founding of Israel, in assessing Iranian motivations no one mentioned that in the 1980’s over 1,000,000 Iranians were killed in wars started by Iraq that had now-acknowledged US support. The most serious US support was providing satellite data that Iraq used, without our foreknowledge, to target chemical weapons that killed about 100,000 Iranians (documented in the 8/26/13 issue of Foreign Policy). This experience does not provide any moral excuses for specific evil acts committed by Iranians, but it does provide insight on why an adversary might have concerns about giving international inspectors immediate access to every location in the country. Regardless of your position, ignorance of this history while recommending policy and interpreting Iranian responses introduces high and unnecessary risks.
    • Eleven times I heard references to the Iran Deal lasting only 10-15 years – no one mentioned the provisions in effect for 20 and 25 years (monitoring of Iran’s production of centrifuges, strict accounting of all of Iran’s enriched uranium from the mines through processing at the Isfahan conversion facility). AIPAC’s leading expert in the session on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, when questioned in front of hundreds of people, finally acknowledged that there were such provisions but he was unable to name them (I was asking, politely, and I gave him two chances — he finally acknowledged that there were some provisions that lasted longer than 15 years but they were too technical for him to explain).

    The simplistic force-over-diplomacy ideology was also a key driver of the 2003 Iraq War (which, by the way, Prime Minister Prime Minister Netanyahu guaranteed to Congress in 2002 would have enormous positive reverberations on the region). We cannot forget the moral obligations of the 2003 Iraq War (which was literally unmentioned in my entire time at AIPAC) where the US took actions that led to the deaths of 50,000-100,000 innocent civilians in the initial phase of the war (and arguably shaped a scenario of Sunni-Shiite civil war over the last 12 years that is now nearing a million deaths). Force is not always wrong, but the simplistic view of force at AIPAC is more likely lead to terrible consequences from both a pragmatic and moral perspective.[/li]

My view is that there is factional politics even where regimes commit evil actions, and “national” actions are often the result of conflict between extremists and moderates within a given regime. There was actually a small, insightful session on Iranian factional politics (the conflict between the Supreme Leader, the President, and the Revolutionary Guards), but none of those insights escaped the walls of that conference room. But without insight, the greater AIPAC population was left with cartoon version of the Iranian threat. Sometimes terrorist attacks are used by extremists not because they hope to defeat their enemy in one blow, but because they wish to incite a backlash that will help their cause (9/11 fits this category). Conflict and escalation sometimes occur because they bring domestic political benefits to some factions on both sides of a conflict. This can apply to Iran, to Israel, and even to the United States.

I wrote to my Representative and Senators, those whose lobbying sessions that I could not attend because dissenting views were not welcome. I spoke to several others who are staff at AIPAC after the conference about my experience as described above, but they requested that those conversations be off -the-record. Based on considerable deliberation, my conclusion is that I disagree with AIPAC’s ideological view of the world. I might be wrong. But for now I need to stand for my beliefs, and that means I cannot stand with AIPAC.

Fenring

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Re: My AIPAC experience
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2016, 11:37:33 AM »
Thanks for the detailed write-up, Greg.

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I still believe that right-wing Americans have a right to lobby Congress, but we must all recognize that AIPAC is a narrowly defined group that does not accurately reflect the full set of views of the Jewish community.

They may have the right, but should they?

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The simplistic force-over-diplomacy ideology was also a key driver of the 2003 Iraq War (which, by the way, Prime Minister Prime Minister Netanyahu guaranteed to Congress in 2002 would have enormous positive reverberations on the region).

I'm sure it did have enormous positive reverberations...for certain groups. As with every disaster there are some who benefit from it and even celebrate it.

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I might be wrong.

I'm pretty sure you're not.

DJQuag

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Re: My AIPAC experience
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2016, 01:02:12 PM »
Thanks Greg, that was very informative.

AI Wessex

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Re: My AIPAC experience
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2016, 07:16:18 PM »
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The political ideology that I found to dominate AIPAC was exemplified by assertions made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Senator Menendez: Iran is committed to Israeli genocide and will never change, and Palestinians are inculcated in a culture of death. There are many such as myself in the pro-Israel community who believe that such over-simplification produces a flawed view of threats to Israel, which increases exposure to actual risks. But if you accept these simple kinds of assumptions as truth, then it makes sense that diplomacy is weakness, and only force can be strength.
Greg, these are very clear-minded observations, and I appreciate that you share them with us.

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But for now I need to stand for my beliefs, and that means I cannot stand with AIPAC.

This, too, I find refreshing.  You have every "natural" reason to feel a bond with this organization, but in the best tradition of open-mindedness you measure and measure twice and find that you have to hold to your own views.  I think I would have agreed with your positions if I had been there, but whether I would have or not I  respect the way you approach these issues.