Foreign meddling

“America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” AIPAC, has long sponsored legislation to stifle the American public’s right to discuss or protest Israel’s abuses. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s founder Omar Barghouti, is prohibited from entering the US, while Israel’s lobbyists have successfully sponsored legislation in roughly 30 states and in both the US House and Senate to make BDS boycotts illegal. Amazingly, these lobbyists are not required to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). At the federal level, with AIPAC’s legislation opposed by numerous civil liberties groups, AIPAC is still trying to keep their foot in the door. Senate Resolution S.Res.120 and House resolution H.Res.246 still support criminalizing boycotts of Israel.

Perhaps the only silver lining in all this is that AIPAC just made it easier to decide the fitness of Democratic candidates in the coming election. Representatives Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell, and Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar are all co-sponsors of the AIPAC-written resolution. For me, human rights, foreign policy, and free speech are all litmus test issues. These candidates apparently have no respect for any of these concerns. Other Democratic presidential candidates have had their flirtations with AIPAC as well. Only Bernie Sanders — ironically the only Jewish candidate in the bunch — has refused to attend AIPAC conventions.

In Massachusetts, half the Democratic delegation support AIPAC’s assault on free speech. No surprise from the usual Blue Dogs — Representatives Bill Keating, Joe Kennedy III, Richard Neal, and Lori Trahan — but a shock to see Senator Ed Markey joining them — by supporting the AIPAC resolution, all just displayed their contempt for both human rights for Palestinians and Americans’ right to do something about it peacefully.

Regardless of what some Republicans think, Israel is a secular nation like any other. As such, it has all the usual warts — traffic jams, corruption, poverty, and pollution. But Israel also imposes martial law and has occupied Palestinian territory for generations, closely resembling South Africa’s Apartheid system — separate courts, separate roads, the original Trumpian wall, imprisonment without charges for parents and children alike, and Israel has enacted ugly race laws that determine who is a citizen. Naturally, not everyone thinks this is such a great thing. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a non-violent protest against Israel’s policies. AIPAC, which serves as Israel’s attack dog on BDS, does not even remotely represent any  shared value with the United States. But it certainly is an effective, unregulated foreign agent for Israel.

While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may be the best-known of BDS opponents, there are dozens of organizations that lobby for Israeli interests, foreign, military and economic aid — including changes to American laws. There are about three dozen pro-Israel political action committees that funnel millions of dollars to politicians of both parties. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) consists of over fifty organizations that advocate on behalf of Israel, all of whom sit on AIPAC’s executive committee.

The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) is a branch of AIPAC that runs free junkets for congressmen to Israel to hear from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and provides funding to AIPAC. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) pushes hard-line, anti-Arab, anti-Iranian Middle Eastern policies. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) used to be a civil rights organization, but now primarily attacks critics of Israel and promotes Likudnik foreign policy. The Israel Project disseminates Israeli propaganda, while the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) raises funds for a foreign military [!!] and brings Israeli soldiers to the US as good-will “ambassadors.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) links 125 Zionist organizations to 17 umbrella groups for 4 main Jewish religious currents in the US. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) receives much of its funding from Sheldon Adelson and has embraced the American Far Right. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) describes its mission as “advocating for Israel and the Jewish people.” The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) — like many of the others — conflates Jewish life with Israeli interests and functions primarily as an extension of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The Jewish People Policy Insitute (JPPI) is dedicated to “strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel.” Its board of directors includes former US Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat, Iran hawk Elliot Abrams, and other leading lights of US Zionist organizations such as Michael Steinhardt (Birthright Israel) and Steve Hoffman (Cleveland Jewish Federation). Interestingly, JPPI is critical of far-right politics — In Israel — but grateful for the help from the American far right.

And then there are the media watchdogs, which attack journalists critical of Israel. These include: the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which at times has provided questionable translations of news from the Middle East; the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) which often targets specific news sources as “antisemitic”; the Middle East Forum (MEF); and the Haym Salomon Center, which disseminates pro-Israel spin and Islamophobic content “in order to defend Western civilization.”

Campus organizations like Hillel used to provide a friendly place for Jewish students to come together. But, as right-wing benefactors have politicized and weaponized Jewish institutions, Hillel has now become a means of silencing Israel’s campus critics, including faculty. Hillel’s FAQ describes its mission: “Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work. Our goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis.” Stand With Us and Israel on Campus Coalition likewise promote pro-Israel messaging on American college campuses.

In Congress itself we have the Republican Jewish Coalition — which, despite the word Jewish, does not study Torah but instead promotes pro-Israel policy. There is also the National Jewish Democratic Council, which “educates Democratic elected officials and candidates to increase support for Jewish domestic and foreign policy priorities” — as if all American Jews supported the Israeli occupation or its far right governments. American lawmakers frequently participate in all-expenses-paid economic missions to Israel courtesy of the Association of America-Israel Chambers of Commerce. Who, after all, would fault a politician for trying to drum up a little business back home?

Then there are the Christian Zionist groups — the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFC) — “be an advocate for Israel.” Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is run by Evangelical minister John Hagee, who is eagerly waiting for the Middle East to blow up to bring on the End Times. Passages “offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land to make them “voices for Israel.” The Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) promotes “Judeo-Christian values” and, once again, is nothing but an unregulated foreign lobbying group.

In 2006. foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were commissioned by the Atlantic to write about the Israel lobby — and they covered many of the groups mentioned above. But the Atlantic refused to publish their article and it was left to the London Review of Books instead, a foreign publication, to give the essay an audience. The essay was later fleshed out in a much-maligned book that was savaged by most liberal newspapers and magazines.

A decade later the tide is turning on the acceptability of criticizing Israel’s occupation and treatment of Palestinians, Bedouins, and Druze. And some Israelis themselves are doing the same. As Americans come to terms with their own White Supremacy, many of the similarities between Israel and the United States have come into focus. After years of lying to ourselves about the meaning of words, some have refused to use “alt-Right” and instead write ‘fascist.” Journalists have begun to criticize their own timid use of “racially charged” and some opt for the more honest word “racist.”

Courageous legislators have become disgusted by the Orwellian term “detention facilities” and now simply call them what they really are — “concentration camps.” The freedom to use honest language has had a liberating effect on young Jews, who recently committed acts of civil disobedience in front of ICE facilities all over the country.

So it is long overdue that we had a long, hard look at Israel’s aggressive, unregulated “lobbying.” It’s time we confronted Israel’s relentless efforts to alter American law for its own benefit that it conducts in coordination with a sprawling network of American groups with ties to the American far right.

Let’s call it what it really is — foreign meddling.