AIPAC: Reflections Of An Inside Protest

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

On December 15th I participated in my first direct action. I have been organizing against the US’ blunt force approach to foreign policy since 2005, but had never taken part in civil disobedience. Community organizing, fundraising for social change, writing to congress and working for a grassroots foreign policy lobby had sufficed until recently.

With a new president but a decidedly familiar foreign policy, my frustrations grew until I realized that my efforts needed to be amped up. I am fortunate to know and organize along side an incredible community of activists who can collectively bring pressure against the policies of war and occupation with tremendous grace and resilience. I know that not everyone who disagrees with the US’ foreign policy is going to want to get arrested to show their disapproval. But if I can ask those people to write letters to congress and newspapers, participate in marches and attend solidarity events, I should be able to take the next step and actively disrupt public assemblies of those who perpetuate war crimes with the US citizens’ tax dollars. US foreign policy becomes particularly egregious in the case of Palestine. Here we have an ongoing genocide that the world refuses to even acknowledge, perhaps only because it is being carried out by the government of a people who themselves have faced genocide. This hypocrisy is both cruel and perplexing. But if our government refuses to act against the flagrant violations of international law committed by Israel, it is up to the people to use every tool at our disposal to hold Israel's leaders and accomplices accountable. As peace activists who know there are no answers to be found in war, our weapon of choice is direct action.

Palestinians are routinely denied even the most basic human needs, like potable water and medical supplies. They are evicted from their homes and civilian infrastructure is systematically targeted and destroyed by the IDF. Gaza is essentially a concentration camp. The use of drones and white phosphorus are only two examples of the war crimes committed by Israel that have been documented by mainstream human rights groups and the UN Human Rights Council. And yet Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, receiving $30 billion in military aid each year. U.S. taxpayers are paying for the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the illegal settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem. Lobbies like AIPAC not only advocate for this aid, but they write the legislation that keeps Israel’s illegal occupation in place and undisputed.

And so I found myself alongside CODEPINK activist Nancy Mancias, who had graciously agreed to take a rookie with her to the Hilton Towers in San Francisco, site of AIPAC’s annual gala dinner. The late Howard Zinn -- war veteran, historian and peace activist -- said in 2002 that "if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles." We take that right very seriously. AIPAC represents little more than aggression and racism, so CODEPINK's objective was to voice our opposition to their policies. While several allied organizations protested outside of the hotel, Nancy and I chose to enter the banquet hall. When AIPAC's Executive Director, Howard Kohr, began to lie about Israel's desire to "come to the table," Nancy questioned how the Palestinians could do the same while living under occupation. Then I began our chant of, “No War, No Occupation, Free Palestine" and we were arrested. After being taken to the police station, we were cited and scheduled to appear in court on January 29th.

When searching for news about the AIPAC protest, a blog posting came up on a site for "proisraelbaybloggers." The writer declared that “this blog fervently hopes that authorities throw the book at Ms. Mancias and Ms. Quevedo." Really? Isn’t it strange enough to be arrested at all, for simply exercising our first amendment right of free speech? Does that right only apply to hate-mongers on Fox News and talk radio, who incite violence and perpetuate racism? Conservative pundits and religious leaders can spew their ignorance and hate on national television and get a paycheck, but if I stand up and disagree with the head of a lobby group (who lobbies my congressperson without my consent to spend my tax dollars for the violent oppression of an indigenous population 7000 miles away) then I get charged with something called “disruption of private assembly.”

Let’s assume that makes sense. Had we been convicted, it would have only been for a misdemeanor. To further disappoint the blogger, the DA dismissed the charges before Nancy and I ever stepped foot in court. I guess the disruption of private assembly just isn't a book-throwing offense. I am encouraged to know the SF DA recognizes that if citizens disagree with the power that AIPAC wields in our government, we need to be able to stand up and say, "No. Not in my name. Not on my watch."

The blogger's insults were tepid at best. "Perpetually out of touch” and “slightly less then clued in" are phrases that apply to the members of AIPAC, not those of us who think that our country should not occupy sovereign nations and should not participate in ethnic cleansing and occupation on behalf of an allied country. It is not us who mindlessly accept that 'pro-isreal' has to mean 'anti-palestinian,’ or ‘pro-palestine’ must mean anti-semitic and so it follows that of course genocide is perfectly acceptable. He referred to us as "unaware of pertinent facts" yet never mentioned anything we were wrong about. He only disputed our statistics on AIPAC's membership not representing the majority of Jewish Americans with a claim that J-street doesn't speak for a majority of Jewish Americans. Now I don't know about J-street, but I have never met a Jewish American who supports genocide or agrees with the occupation of Palestine. Not a single one of my Jewish friends can stomach AIPAC, and they choose instead to come out in solidarity at marches and events in support of the people of Gaza and the West Bank. I also know Israeli Americans and Israeli nationals who actively protest the racist and violent tactics that AIPAC employs. In fact, the person who first taught me about the human rights abuses committed by the Israeli army was intent on educating those around him because he knew first-hand the horrors of the occupation, having been forced to serve in the army as an Israeli citizen. He stands out in my mind as one of the most active and vocal supporters of Palestine. So. I know it serves your political agenda, blogger, to believe that AIPAC speaks for all Jewish Americans, but rest assured that COPEPINK's vitriol towards AIPAC's mission comes from activists of all religions and ethnicities, from experiences inside the occupied territories, and listening to the facts shared with us by those living on both sides of the occupation.

The blogger concluded by writing, "The antics of the Medea-Benjaminites have ceased to entertain." We do not intend to entertain. We intend to disrupt business as usual and speak out against war and occupation. It is unfathomable to me that conservatives repeatedly insist on denying every contribution that nonviolent resistance has made in this country. It was at the foundation of women's suffrage, labor rights, and the civil rights movement. Yet he persisted with "Undemocratic actions by extremists, no matter how zany, should have no place in American discourse." Not only is it the xenophobia and drum-beat to war that is in every AIPAC speech ever delivered that has no place in American discourse, I would argue that peaceful protest is quite democratic. If I am wrong, and silent complacency is democratic, then I agree to be un-democratic. But I choose to side with Frederick Douglass, who wrote, "If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground."

As for "zany," I would choose zany any day over being a murderer or an ambivalent pawn who donates money to the murderers.

That brings me to my last point. A commenter on the post remarked, "Do you realize this means they paid $100 to get in?" Again, I feel like I am really letting the zionuts down. Sorry to burst your bubble, but of course no peace activist would ever donate a red cent to AIPAC, even if it meant we could get close enough to Howard Kohr to hang a sign that said WAR CRIMINAL around his neck. That would be downright zany.

Victoria Quevedo is a volunteer at the San Francisco CODEPINK office and works for a Oakland social justice non-profit.

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