Ann Lewis, former Clinton adviser, dismisses concern about segregated buses in West Bank

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Here is an excellent piece of reporting on the AIPAC policy conference by Nathan Guttman at the Forward, saying that AIPAC is tacking left. His piece features Democrat Ann Lewis as a key player in the repositioning. Lewis is Barney Frank’s sister, a Democratic operative and former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, and Guttman was a good reporter to ask Lewis about apartheid in the West Bank:


Israel’s recent decision to institute segregated bus lines in the occupied West Bank for Palestinian workers is likely to evoke discordant associations with the American South prior to the civil rights era.

Asked about such issues, Lewis responded: “On every value that I care about, Israel is on the right path. It doesn’t mean that Israel is perfect, but I don’t know of any perfect country, including mine.”

The bigger takeaway here is that the Israel lobby is reconstituting itself. Spurred by the Obama victory, the smashing of the Iran-war neoconservatives, and the Yair Lapid surge in Israel, the lobby here is repositioning itself to the center-left to accommodate the new mood on campus. That is the meaning of Elliott Abrams’s embrace of the Israeli center. It is the meaning of Jane Harman saying, “We desperately need a two-state solution.” It is the meaning of J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami’s sharing a sweaty microphone with StandWithUs.

I used to argue when people said that J Street was AIPAC-lite. Well they were right and I was wrong; and soon the lobby will be reconstituted as a two-state J Street-AIPAC lobby. More of Guttman’s report:

In seeking to appeal to liberal Democrats prone in recent years to critical views of Israeli policies, the activists are depicting Israel as a progressive promised land where values that liberals can only dream of in the United States are already a reality. The AIPAC advocates cite specific issues, ranging from health care to gay rights to inclusion of minorities.

“We need to speak out more as progressives, not to let the other side own the issue of Israel,” said Ann Lewis, who served as a communications director for President Clinton.

At AIPAC’s Washington conference, which took place from March 2 to March 4, Lewis was among those challenging the notion that progressive Democrats are out of place in the pro-Israel camp — and not only at the conference. For the past three years, Lewis has led missions to Israel on behalf of AIPAC’s sister group, the American Israel Education Fund, in which she has tried to move liberal women closer to the pro-Israel camp.

Among Lewis’s guests on these trips have been Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile; Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who noted Israel’s advance on women’s health issues, and Heidi Heitkamp, a newly elected senator from North Dakota.

Note that Cecile Richards was an honoree of The Nation Institute a couple years ago and is on Chris Matthews all the time. This is the Democratic lobby! And Barney Frank used to say that while he opposed the settlements he couldn’t do so publicly without 5000 Jews in his district supporting him. Maybe he was afraid of his sister (who once said, “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties.”).

These folks are hearing footsteps from the progressive left solidarity camp, though:

“It is a small problem that could get bigger,” said Democratic political adviser and pollster Mark Mellman, who has advised Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. He noted that polling results show that progressive Democrats holding negative views of Israel do not make up a significant portion of the party, “but you need to address problems when they are small.”

When you ask a liberal Zionist to choose between liberalism and Zionism, many will choose… Zionism. (But psst: many others will choose… liberalism!)

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