AIPAC Runs Right
The conservative colonization of much of the media, K Street lobbying firms and a good chunk of the judiciary has been well documented. It would therefore be surprising if other political institutions were resisting this trend. Perhaps some are, but don't for a second think that the conservative message machine is going to stop there. Over the years, owing to a variety of reasons and specific historical moments, the Republicanization and increasing hawkishness of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has continued apace, with little heed paid to the ramifications of this shift or its increasing alliance with the far right.
Whether AIPAC is good or bad for US foreign policy is a topic of enormous and vitriolic dispute, and one I plan to avoid here (though of course I have pretty strong views). Rather, what requires some attention is the right-wing takeover of the organization and its increasingly close relationship with the Republican Party.
Not long ago, an anonymous tipster with access to a member of AIPAC's board of directors passed along an e-mail with an inside story on just what has been happening behind the scenes. A few years ago, the source's boss, according to the e-mail, said that "he didn't like Rudolph Giuliani because Giuliani was "too conservative" for his taste. Immediately he got involved with AIPAC, he declared that he couldn't support Democrats anymore unless he absolutely had to, and he started hosting politicians such as Jim Bunning, Sam Brownback and Conrad Burns at our offices, because they are strongly "pro-Israel."
"AIPAC is committed to turning the country completely over to ultra-right-wing Republican control. I am sure it colludes with other organizations to make this happen," the source concluded.
He also forwarded a few e-mails sent on a "pro-Israel" mailing list, complaining about Democrats who voted against recent House and Senate resolutions supporting Israel in its war against Hezbollah. The e-mail notes, "Four Republicans. Nineteen Democrats [voted against the resolutions]. Now, tell me again which party you belong to...and why?
"Irrespective of your party affiliation, I urge you to join AIPAC and to get involved politically to help elect Senators and Representatives who support Israel and democracy around the world."
(The list was so sloppily compiled that it included Ernest Hollings, Gary Condit and Earl Hilliard. Senator Hollings left office two years ago, while Condit and Hilliard have been out of their seats for four years each.)
The shift is not exactly news. Back in March 2002, Michael Massing wrote this in The American Prospect: "During the 1980s, when AIPAC was establishing its reputation, policy was effectively set by four ex-presidents: Robert Asher, a lighting-fixtures dealer in Chicago; Edward Levy, a building-supplies executive in Detroit; Mayer "Bubba" Mitchell, a scrap-metal dealer in Mobile, Alabama; and Larry Weinberg, a real-estate broker in Los Angeles (and a former owner of the Portland Trailblazers). Asher, Levy, and Mitchell were stalwart Republicans who raised huge sums for that party; Weinberg was a Scoop Jackson Democrat."
But its fruits have taken time to reveal itself, as AIPAC's Republican leanings have come closer to the forefront of the organization's actions. This past July, as Daniel Levy reported (again) in The American Prospect that when Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota voted against Resolution 4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, one AIPAC official took a page out of Karl Rove's playbook and publicly accused her of supporting terrorists. The bill, as one might expect, doesn't exactly contain the provisions for crushing terrorism, since it was written to make it difficult for nongovernmental organizations--except those providing healthcare--to receive American funding, while denying US visas to members of the Palestinian Authority and prohibiting official US contact with Palestinian officials. It also ends all American funding for United Nations agencies that in any way directly assist the Palestinian Authority. In a rare instance of a Representative taking a case like this public, McCollum, a self-described "strong supporter of Israel and of a strong US-Israeli relationship," banned any representative of AIPAC from her office and published a letter about the incident in The New York Review of Books, demanding an apology.
Gallup polls conducted during the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict this past summer showed, as Ari Berman wrote in The Nation in July, "that half of Americans support Israel's military campaign, yet 65 percent believe the United States should not take sides in the conflict. But it's hard to imagine any Congress, or subsequent Administration, returning to the role of honest broker." This hardly matters to AIPAC or the conservative groups in its orbit. Berman writes that "Christian conservatives increasingly aligned with AIPAC demand unwavering support for Israel from their Republican leaders" and as such, Republicans tend to buck the party line at their own determent.
It's a truism that most American Jews are liberal Democrats. For decades, neoconservatives have argued that they are bucking their own interests in staying true to these values and should join the Republicans, where, together with right-wing conservatives they will insure that support for a fair settlement for the Palestinians will remain as low as taxes on the extremely wealthy. So far, these arguments have had almost no effect on Jews, who supported Democrats as loyally as any single constituency in the last election. But the argument has worked on the leaders of many Jewish organizations. What we are left with, therefore, is a paradox. American Jews are liberals; they support Democrats. But Jewish organizations strategize with Republicans on how to smear these same Democrats, supported by the funds of these same liberal Democratic Jews.
Anyone know what's Yiddish for oy vey?