This week almost 8,000 people from all 50 states are in DC lobby for violence and to incite suffering and warfare. No, it’s not the NRA. It’s the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference, which this year focusses on asking Congress for tightening sanctions on Iran and continued military aid to Israel. The conference crescendo moment was the gala on Monday night, during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed AIPAC.
Lo and behold, I found myself in the audience listening to the hate speech (including references to people the US targets to kill "in faraway places with strange names") spewing from the lavish stage. When the prime minister announced Israel’s commitment to defense, I could no longer remain silent. After all, what part of denying crayons, notebook paper, and select fruits to Palestinian kids in Gaza has to do with defense?! I jumped onto AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr’s private table alongside the stage and unfurled a pink banner that said “Netanyahu: Build Peace Not Settlements!” I shouted, “Lift the siege of Gaza! No illegal settlements!” as I was forcefully removed from the building. A second disruption came moments later from CODEPINK activist Joan Stallard, from Washington, DC, who shouted, “Stop the settlements!” We were both hauled out and no charges were pressed.
Weeks ago I purchased a ticket to AIPAC’s conference, and shortly thereafter received a certified letter in the post informing me that my registration had been cancelled and my ticket refunded. What list am I on?! I am happy to report that I attended the AIPAC conference anyway.
CODEPINK’s protests of the policies of AIPAC during their national conference this week have included daily morning protests, staging of a checkpoint for attendees, an afternoon press conference announcing the launch of a city-wide boycott of products illegally made in the settlements, and the release this morning of a spoof press release from AIPAC announcing that the organization was calling for a settlement freeze. Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 23, at noon CODEPINK is planning to build a settlement (including homes and beds) inside Senator Schumer’s and Senator Lieberman’s offices (Hart Senate Building, offices 313 and 706).
CODEPINK condemns AIPAC’s silence on the illegal settlements and calls for continued military aid to Israel, which last year was used in the attack on Gaza, breaking international law. With the new tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over settlements, activists believe that now is the time to stop AIPAC from dictating US foreign policy in the Middle East. The timing is right to the break the detrimental influence of AIPAC, which demands unquestioning public and financial support for Israeli despite its illegal actions.
American Jewish peace activists are outraged at the influence that AIPAC has on U.S. policy. “AIPAC supports policies of aggression that damage Israel’s reputation, harm innocent Palestinians, and contribute to making America less safe in the world,” said Jewish-American activist Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK.”
AIPAC’s central message is that the United States and Israel are best friends. But what kind of friend supports another friend to break the law? What kind of friend watches her friend bully and hurt others and says nothing bad, rather affirming how great of a friend she is even amidst lots of other, potentially nicer or less messy, friendships? What kind of friend cannot tolerate criticism, must always be right even when immoral, and is always mooching money even when she’s one of the wealthiest kids in the class? The friendship between the US and Israel seems to be one of enabling abuse and silencing dissent. Sitting in the AIPAC room tonight and listening to the roll call of congresspeople and state officials present, it was clear to me just how deep this unhealthy relationship has manifested. What other country does the US call its best friend, "enduring and forever"?
There is another kid on the playground – the movement for justice for Palestine. And this force is growing every day and refuses to be silent in the face of injustice and violence. Each protest makes a difference, each moment spent sharing truth and spreading courage to resist occupation. Onwards for an end to the siege of Gaza and a full settlement freeze, and one day, justice with peace in Palestine and Israel.
Rae Abileah is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.