AIPAC and the Anti-War Movement: Missing in
It is becoming clear, if it ever wasn’t, that the Democratic Congress does not have what it takes to end the war in Iraq, or to stop any escalation that the Bush administration might contemplate. Congress will not cut funding. Congress will not even expressly forbid Bush to attack Iran. All the major Democratic presidential hopefuls have taken mushy, watered down nominally anti-war positions, but essentially endorse the indefinite continuation of U.S. military presence in Iraq. Obama, Clinton and Edwards are even more hawkish on Iran than Bush is. If any of them gets elected in 2008, he or she is set to continue and possibly escalate the conflict.
Why do the Democrats so brazenly ignore their base? According to Paul Krugman, Democrats are “off base” because they are haunted by unreasonable and outdated fears and do not grasp that the electorate would welcome a firmer anti-war stance.  Krugman is the one who is off base. The Democrats read the same poll data as everyone else. They do not listen to their base because their first commitment is to their donors and the interests of the corporate kleptocracy to which they belong. Far from being spineless, their continuing disregard for the wishes of their grassroots is evidence of nerves of steel.
According to a growing view, the Democrats are beholden to AIPAC, the leading organization of the Israel Lobby and an important promoter of war. AIPAC supported the Iraq war and has been busy pushing for confrontation with Iran at every occasion. The message of Scott Ritter, Jeffrey Blankfort, James Petras and others is that AIPAC is the major force behind the Iraq war and US policy in the Middle East in general. Belief in the complicity of AIPAC and other Zionists in keeping the US on a war footing in the Middle East is becoming more and more mainstream, owing much to the successful interventions of professors Mearsheimer and Walt. John Walsh claims that even high ranking Democrats admit that AIPAC is becoming a liability, one that might cost them the next elections. 
Many of the left and liberal side refuse to accept AIPAC’s political significance. Some, such as Stephen Zunes, believe that AIPAC is a powerless puppet and Israel a docile servant of US imperialism. But one doesn’t need to be a fanatical Israel Lobby denier to poke holes in the theory that lays US misadventures in the Middle East primarily at AIPAC’s door. Mearsheimer and Walt are ideologues of imperialism with a deeply flawed understanding of US politics -- the words ‘corporations,’ ‘finance’ and ‘capitalism’ are simply not part of their lexicon.  Others are differently myopic. If one were to believe James Petras, the billionaires who put Bush in the White House in 2000 with the best funded campaign in US history were taken for a ride by a cabal of secret Israeli agents such as Wolfowitz, Perle and Feith, who sent the US into a losing war that nearly bankrupt the US, damaged the prospects of the its oil majors and threatened the worldwide advances of American corporations, all out of their commitment to Zionism.  That America’s billionaire class came back for a second round and supported Bush in 2004 as well must be chalked up to their masochism and the desire to lose even more money.  Zionism is a loathsome ideology, and AIPAC is a powerful organization. Nevertheless, the tunnel vision that sees Zionism as the major determinant of US politics is a new permutation of the classical right-wing knife-in-the-back myth.  To those who buy this fairytale understanding of US politics, stripped off corporate power, the military-industrial complex, petrodollars, conflicts of accumulation and the class war, all I can offer is a pack of premium Enron shares at a discount.
Rejecting this tunnel vision does not however justify the cowardly refusal of liberal and left anti-war groups to challenge AIPAC. Unfortunately, the left-liberal camp includes many who use theoretical complexity as an excuse for practical inaction. As an example, I’ll take Mitchell Plitnick from “Jewish Voice for Peace.” Plitnick pretends to want to “challenge” AIPAC, but in fact does his best to shield it from criticism.
The occasion for his recent intervention was the latest success of AIPAC in striking out from the appropriation bill the clause requiring Congressional authorization for an attack on Iran.  Plitnick admits that “AIPAC did indeed lobby vigorously for the removal of that clause. But to say they were the reason for, or even a major factor in that clause being rescinded flies in the face of the facts.” He then goes to an amazing level of minute detail explaining why the clause was vulnerable and would have been probably taken out regardless of AIPAC. I assume he is right; there are many political, cultural, and financial forces that drive US confrontation with Iran and would have worked against that clause besides Israel. But not having the ability to check counterfactual claims, I have no way of verifying what would have transpired if AIPAC weren’t involved, and neither does Plitnick. The one fact we can both ascertain is that AIPAC lobbied hard and successfully to weaken Congressional opposition to a potential escalation of the war. Plitnick’s argument reads like a right-wing parody of the Marxist who believes structural analysis means individual agents bear no responsibility for their actions.
Plitnick cautions critics that “the power of the ‘Israel Lobby’ has always been overstated.” No doubt there have always been marginal voices claiming that US policy in the Middle East was completely dominated by Israeli “interests”. And I agree that this is false. But somehow Plitnick forgets that the vast majority of mainstream, liberal, and left commentators on American politics have always almost completely ignored the Lobby in their analysis. Perhaps Plitnick forgets that even many of those who have criticized Mearsheimer and Walt’s bombshell essay (including this author) could not but welcome the fact that someone from Harvard actually noticed that the Lobby existed at all.
Arguing that we should neither overestimate not underestimate the Lobby, Plitnick counsels challenging the Lobby “by doing the work of political advocacy with great skill,” because (sic) “[T]hey are not a sinister organization, but simply one which plays the game of American politics as well as anyone and better than most.” In other words: don’t blame AIPAC! The American political game is perhaps corrupt and dominated by money. And AIPAC have been so successful advancing their agenda because they have been pimping Jewish identity better than anyone else. Instead of complaining, we should try to one up them, presumably by pimping our identities harder. After all, that’s how the game is played, and let the best team win!
This is what Plitnick means by “challenging” AIPAC. I assume that Plitnick’s advice to those who oppose the way Nike treats their workers is to “challenge” Nike by starting a competing sports shoes manufacturer.
Even if we accept
Plitnick’s theoretical skepticism about AIPAC’s power (and I accept
parts of it), it remains that his practical recommendation is not
merely a capitulation to AIPAC, but actually an important component of
its power. Democrats know that the left-liberal grassroots groups,
thanks to voices such as Plitnick’s, would rather shoot their left foot
than utter an unkind word about a “Jewish” organization. Blaming AIPAC
is therefore the best strategy for the Democratic leadership to manage
the growing tension between their angry base and their elite clients. It
is an arrangement that helps AIPAC promote the pro-war agenda
unchallenged. On whose behalf AIPAC advances this agenda is a secondary
concern. It doesn’t require subscription to the full fairy tale told by
James Petras and others to understand the following simple and
* AIPAC lobbies
aggressively for a pro-war agenda.
Does the anti-war movement need more reasons to take off the gloves and really challenge AIPAC’s pro-war advocacy?
Challenging AIPAC, however, should not mean matching its corrupt influence. Challenging AIPAC means challenging the game itself, its legitimacy, and the legitimacy of those who play it. It is wrong for paid lobbyists representing who cares whose interests to hoist war on the Middle East and on the American public. Those who do that are not legitimate democratic voices. They are indeed sinister. And they should be stopped. The death toll in Iraq is reaching 700,000 and would pass the million mark soon enough if not halted. An $60 million a year organization that lobbied, cajoled, and threatened behind the scenes in favor of this carnage yesteryear and is now working to perpetuate it, regardless of whether it was or wasn’t alone in that endeavor, is an enterprise of organized crime, not a legitimate “civil society” group. It should be as welcome in congressional offices as Al Capone.
It is high time for a campaign, endorsed by all anti-war organizations, to challenge AIPAC’s legitimacy. Fomenting a disastrous war with Iran is not an acceptable and legitimate object of ‘Jewish community’ lobbying. AIPAC’s overwhelming presence on Capitol Hill and the general willingness of representatives to take marching orders from it, for whatever reasons, on central foreign policy matters is an unacceptable and morally indefensible situation in a democratic country, regardless of how one understands the root sources of AIPAC’s power.
The antiwar movement should demand that lawmakers return campaign contributions from all war promoters, including AIPAC (mostly its satellite PACs) and all those associated with it. AIPAC should be under criminal investigation, as well as all those who subverted the working of government agencies in the course of advancing the Iraq war. Lawmakers who claim to oppose Bush’s wars should not be allowed to fudge and take umbrage behind AIPAC. They should be forced to chose between listening to AIPAC and grassroots support. The antiwar movement should also issue a call to all Jewish organizations to disavow AIPAC’s pro-war agenda and take action to curb it. AIPAC should be outed as a warmongering tool. It should be disrupted, shamed, and hopefully closed. And it is the duty of the antiwar movement to do that.
If you’re anti-war, you are also anti pro-war.
If you find excuses to defend the legitimacy of effective pro-war lobbying, you are not a peace activist, you are a war enabler.
Warmongering is wrong. Period. Nobody should get away with it. Subverting democracy in the interest of war is not just wrong, it should be criminal. And nobody should get away with it.
It is as simple as that.
Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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