Occupying AIPAC

By | March 22nd, 2012 | Haircut, web-featured

One IC student’s journey to call for a free Palestine

Photo Courtesy of Sara Fitouri

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, is one of the largest and richest lobbyist groups in the nation. As a result, it is arguably one of the loudest voices when it comes to crafting foreign policy in the Middle East. According to Mother Jones, an independent magazine, the group contributed $22 million in the 2008 election to candidates, and the organization itself boasts that the only event capable of attracting more members of Congress than an AIPAC conference is the State of the Union. To hold AIPAC accountable for its detrimental contributions to the international community and more specifically, the Palestinians who suffer as a result, my friend Sara and I went to Washington, D.C., the weekend of Mar. 2 to the Occupy AIPAC event.

Occupy AIPAC was hosted by Code Pink, a women-initiated, anti-war group founded in 2002. Our protest was an energizing, exciting day during which we yelled through megaphones, shouted chants, booed President Obama after he gave a profoundly pro-Israeli military speech and sang songs about peace. Many of our chants were quite explicit with their meaning and included lines like “Same lies/Same plan/No to war on Iran” and “Free, free Palestine/Occupation is a crime.”

We emphasized a few key points that we wanted attendees, speakers and supporters of AIPAC 2012 to fully digest. This included that waging war on Iran is not a peaceful, thoughtful solution to diplomatic tensions over the development of nuclear energy. We also stressed that pumping funds into a single organization that controls most of Congress like a puppet thwarts the organic fluidity of democracy and paints a false portrait of what people from the United States want in foreign policy. The last main point we raised was that maintaining an apartheid system over Palestine — one that segregates, legally and culturally (and even illegally, too), Palestinians from those privileged with Israeli citizenship — is a discriminatory practice that encourages violent resistance, perpetuates poverty and de-humanizes an entire population of people.

During our weekend spent in D.C., we successfully occupied AIPAC. People lining up outside the convention center could not have missed our loud statements and enthusiastic participants. Unfortunately, many people continue to think that protesting the deplorable reality of U.S.-Israeli military relations is “anti-Semitic.” In reality, resisting war crimes and racist institutions is not the same thing as systematically discriminating against a group of people because of their faith and community. We even had a number of very active Jewish participants present, including leaders of Jewish Voices for Peace. In fact, one young Jewish college student infiltrated the conference and stood up in the middle of an AIPAC meeting, declaring Israeli settlements an obstacle to peace and yelling that she “will not be silent.” She was inspiring, and encouraged me to think about why I was there and what was important about occupying AIPAC.

I am a U.S. citizen who pays tax dollars, which means I partially fund the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The United States continues to write Israel blank checks for war, violations of international law and “security” in its “right” to “self-defense.” This nonsensical militarized discourse stunts critical thinking and convinces the majority of Americans that Israel is unequivocally morally correct in its decisions to withhold basic rights for Palestinians. I am standing up with my fellow Americans who are disgusted with this excuse for foreign policy and direct contribution to institutionalized racism. It’s time we start demanding a more peaceful, internationally legal, ethically sound, financially viable approach to a conflict in which we have historically and dramatically left our mark.

This is just step one of the process. Israel and the United States continue to employ questionable military and diplomatic tactics, and they must be held accountable for their actions. I hope you join me in learning other ways to occupy AIPAC and unoccupy Palestine.

Chris Zivalich is a senior journalism major who won’t pay another dime for Israeli crimes. Email him at czivali1[at]ithaca[dot]edu.

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  • 2 Comments on “Occupying AIPAC”

    1. Brandon

      It is hard to find a place to start with this article because it falls short in so many different ways.

      1.) Not a single one of the allegations made by the author are backed up by evidence. AIPAC operates in no different a manner than any other lobbying organization. They follow the same rules and benefit from the same democratic process. Fortunately, Congress recognizes the value of Israel to the United States as the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel and the United States have remarkable defense cooperation and intelligence sharing that benefits the United States on a daily basis and vice versa.

      2.) What are AIPAC’s “detrimental contributions to the international community?”

      3.) Iran is not seeking nuclear energy, they are seeking a nuclear weapon, which even the UN funded IAEA suspects in its latest reports. If they were building nuclear energy facilities, the regime in Iran would have a.) let inspectors in to see all the facilities and b.) given in to the harsh sanctions being placed upon. Doesn’t Iran have greater issues than creating nuclear energy for itself? They can not even refine their own gasoline.

      4.) The Palestinian Authority has control over a majority of the West Bank including the major cities of Hebron, Jericho, and Ramallah. The United States also gives nearly $500 million dollars a year to support the PA, which with the help of the United States has been able to facilitate 5% GDP growth in the West Bank over the past 5 years. The same foreign aid AIPAC lobbies on behalf of, includes the money to the PA. In regards to the security fence that divides the West Bank from greater Israel, it has prevented the influx of suicide bombers that disrupted Israeli daily life before it was built, even the PA recognizes the security issues at hand.

      5.) It is not AIPAC’s fault the Palestinians have declined every peace deal offered to them and that the PA and other Arab governments don’t give a damn about the Palestinians. If they did, there would have been peace. Israel’s presence in the West Bank does them no good, but if they were to leave tomorrow, the rockets would rain down on Israel, a decision that no rational leader of a nation can make. Israel has accepted a two state solution, have the Palestinians?

      6.) The US does not write Israel blank checks, They give them $3 billion a year in foreign aid, 75% of which must be spent in the United States, which is $2.25 billion being injected back into the US economy. Get your facts straight.

      7.) You mention racism. Yet don’t seem to mention the fact that Jews are not allowed freedoms in any Arab nation, nonetheless the rights of women and gays. Arab citizens enjoy full rights in Israel and serve throughout the country, be it in civilian life, the IDF, the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry, or Supreme Court. Again get your facts straight.

      8.) Now on to Code Pink, an organization which you disgracefully supported. If Code Pink: Women for Peace were really what their title said they are, they would protesting a ton of different issues besides Israel and the Iraq War. Israel is the one country in the entire region that provides full freedom for women. Odd that Code Pink doesn’t protest gender inequality elsewhere.

      9.) I cannot wait to read your response and I hope for the sake of Buzzsaw magazine and its readers that it is written more coherently and with factual evidence that doesn’t mislead and underestimate the knowledge of its readers.

    2. chris

      Statistics and facts are politicized, which means you or I could both use them as we see fit to advertise our agenda. I want to mention that at the beginning of this point to demonstrate that it’s easy and lazy to respond to a piece by noting “the facts aren’t straight,” because it makes it seem as though you are an individual who cares about facts, and I just omitted them without any real critical analysis. It’s often a tactic used to steer readers away from underlying ideology and political notions that might otherwise be challenged. If we can stick to official, sanitized, U.S. Department of State-approved and gathered facts, we can ignore the apartheid system of Israel. That being said, some fact-finding, such as the Goldstone Report that revealed a handful of war crimes committed by the beacon of freedom you speak of, was one in which facts were used to hold somebody accountable, not cover up reality. So I guess we’ll have to leave it here as far as the politics of statistics goes, Brandon.

      I could go point by point, but some of your points are inherently problematic, especially those that assume a racist trajectory in which Arab nations are somehow behind on providing freedom to historically marginalized groups like “gays and women.” I don’t think I want to normalize these assumptions that perpetuate the image of the barbaric brown man with a beard, so if you don’t mind, I’ll only address your points that have substance.

      AIPAC does operate like any lobbyist group and I would go so far as to say I oppose the use of lobbyist groups altogether. In that sense, AIPAC is part of a larger political system that requires immense changes and is not responsible for a corrupt Congress “in the first place.” That being said, there is no equivalent of AIPAC for Palestinians, so it is a grossly uneven process in which a wealthy organization aggressively pushes one perspective of foreign policy and effectively silences Palestinian voices. This is something that distorts the reality of a peace process orchestrated by U.S. hands. If the U.S. is to help the Israeli and Palestinian governments negotiate, they can’t have their representatives handed wads of cash and policy advice from AIPAC and also go around and send billions of dollars to Israel. Do we really “value” Israel as the “only democracy in the Middle East,” or are we supporting a country whose bully-like presence in our government as led to no other choice? It is not in the best interests of the U.S. to treat Israel as a nation that can do not wrong, be it with our “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on their nuclear weapons or the fact that about 40 of the 81 vetoes used by the U.S. in the security council over the last few decades were utilized to stop accusations against violence from the Israeli military and government.

      By the way, Israel is one of the few nations (according to the Economist) that refuses to disclose all of its aid information (I don’t have a link because it’s in a fact book of mine sitting next to my desk. Let me know if you want to look at it for good-ol factual proof). So in the end, Israel and the U.S. have created a very specific relationship that purports to want peace but reciprocally funds only one approach to the problem.

      The U.S.’s billions of dollars may not be able to count as a “blank check,” but, according to the book the Israeli Lobby that came out just two years ago or so, the problem is that Israel is the exception to many of our aid policies. They are not required to report how aid is distributed, and in this sense, it is almost a “blank check” because though the funds are ultimately limited, there is no restriction for their use. Furthermore, Israel has a high GDP and developed economy but receives more money than all of Africa combined. This sends a very political message about whose development we prioritize. It is common logic that the IDF could not operate in the capacity and extent to which it does without the kind of disproportionate funding it receives compared to militaries from nations of similar sizes and growth around the world.

      Honestly, at the end of the day, I have my facts straight, and I don’t think it’s necessary to imbue each sentence with a citation to ease those who don’t want to face the reality of U.S. imperialism and Israeli apartheid. I’ve done the work. I’ve read the books, the articles, talked to Israelis and Palestinians and U.S. citizens who have visited both nations, figured out how much my tax money goes to the Israeli military (less than $100 since I don’t earn much).

      I’m not here to drop facts, but bring a life to what they represent: a horrific system that continues to leave out one group of people from international discourse and social justice. The framing of narrative is a dangerous and important component of our political lives. If we continue to say that Palestine is simply uncooperative but refuse to engage with reparations, Israel’s violators of war crimes and international law, and at the end of the day, ontinue to turn a blind eye to the systems of unfair steamrolling mentioned above, then we aren’t doing the issue justice.

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