THE TROUBLE WITH AIPAC - By James Abourezk

Posted by CODEPINK Staff


Not too many people have heard of AIPAC, which stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  It is not a PAC, under the standard definition of Political Action Committees, but a lobbying group.  Here is how AIPAC describes itself on its website:

"For more than half a century, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.  From a small pro-Israel public affairs boutique in the 1950s, AIPAC has grown into a 100,000-member national grassroots movement described by The New York Times as "the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel."

That goal is one that we would ordinarily admire—American citizens bonding together to let their government know how they feel about issues that are important to them, as Americans.  The problem here is that AIPAC is a group of American citizens who have bonded together to influence the American government to work for the interests of a foreign government—Israel. 

Years ago, when Wolf Blitzer was an AIPAC employee and we appeared together on a panel discussion, he literally shouted at me that, as Americans, AIPAC members had the right to lobby Congress.  My response then was the same as it is now:  when lobbying is being done for a foreign government, as AIPAC does, it’s wrong.

I always believed that, as much as I admire the country from which my parents emigrated, Lebanon, I would never put its interests above those of the United States.  But that’s what is done by AIPAC whose mantra is that Israel is America’s best ally in the Middle East and therefore needs uncritical support.  Let us examine that claim.

During the 1967 Middle East war, our greatest ally, Israel, did its level best to destroy a U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, a lightly armed intelligence ship ordered by the Navy to sail off the coast of Israel and Egypt to monitor communications during the fighting.  That was a simple enough assignment, but the outcome was a bit more complicated.  Despite clear markings on the Liberty, and a huge American flag flying from its stern, the Israeli military undertook a sustained and vicious attack on the ship and its crew, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 170 more. After receiving distress calls from the Liberty, the U.S. Naval command in the Mediterranean dispatched two fighter jets to come the ship’s rescue.  However, when Lyndon Johnson learned that the attack on the Liberty came from the Israelis, he ordered that the jets be recalled.

The ship didn’t sink, in spite of the attempt by the Israelis to scuttle it, and it limped back to a port in Spain, where the crew was ordered to speak to no one, especially the press, about what had happened.  Those able bodied members of the crew were bitter then and remain bitter today about the way the U.S. government abandoned them to the tender mercies of the Israeli military, their bitterness stemming not only from the malicious attack on the ship and its crew, but also from the indifference of their government, which chose Israel’s welfare over theirs.  AIPAC has done its best to prevent any investigation of the incident by Congress, mostly by threatening retribution against any committee that would dare to hold hearings on the affair.   (See James Scott’s book, Attack on the Liberty.  Scott’s father was a young ensign on board the Liberty at the time of the attack).  

When Jonathan Pollard was caught selling tons of U.S. secrets to the Israeli government, AIPAC once again stepped in to demonstrate its power, by continuing its call for Pollard’s release from the life sentence he received for his spying.

More recently, two of AIPAC’s employees, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were caught obtaining government secrets on Iran from Larry Franklin, a Defense Department employee.  Interestingly, although Franklin pleaded guilty to the charges of espionage, the charges against Rosen and Weissman were dropped on grounds of lack of evidence—a strange lack of symmetry, reflecting AIPAC’s death grip throughout the U.S. government.

In an ongoing lobbying effort, Israel and its supporters, principally AIPAC, have tried mightily to get the United States to invade Iran, by tying Israel’s perceived threat by Iran to US’ interests, including the development of Iran’s nuclear capacity.  As well, George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq—a war we did not need--was heavily influenced by Israel’s supporters, many of them in the Bush Administration, as a way to eliminate one of Israel’s sworn enemies.

In all, the United States can do without AIPAC, even though Israel most likely cannot.  Should AIPAC somehow disappear, which is unlikely, U.S. Middle East policy would be more directed toward America’s interests rather than toward Israel’s.

James Abourezk is a former U.S. Senator who practices law in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  He is the author of Advise and Dissent, a memoir of his life in South Dakota and in the U.S. Senate.  He can be reached at georgepatton45@gmail.com.

Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.

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