On March 3 after Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and as thousands of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) activists finished their visits with members of Congress, about 150 protesters gathered for the JVP-DC Metro’s “Netanyahu, You Don’t Speak for Me” rally in freezing rain on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Protest organizer Carolyn Karcher explains “AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and Israel are trying to force on the United States a foreign policy that is not in the interest of the American people. On false pretenses, the American people were dragged into wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, which have had a disastrous impact, not only in the United States but especially in those countries. And now the same people who tried to drag us into those wars are trying to drag us into another war that would be even more disastrous.”
On January 21, Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of the US Congress to challenge President Obama’s negotiations strategy with Iran. On February 8, Netanyahu stated that he would be addressing Congress as a representative of the entire Jewish people. In response, Jewish Voice for Peace–D.C. Metro began to organize a protest, “Netanyahu, You Don’t Speak for Me” for the day of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, March 3.
For Netanyahu, vilifying Iran to the US Congress provided the opportunity to divert attention from the escalating crises in the West Bank and Gaza. But Boehner’s and Netanyahu’s strategies for diversion and political leverage began to backfire almost immediately. Netanyahu’s planned speech provoked opposition from American Jews and Democratic politicians and their constituents who were angry at the by-passing of their president. Given indications of fracture of bipartisan consensus around this Israeli leader’s upcoming speech, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) joined a national coalition to urge members of Congress not to attend the speech. The #SkipTheSpeech campaign included the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, RootsAction, CodePink and American Muslims for Palestine. They collected over 20,000 petition signatures which were delivered to 75 offices on the Hill and 30 local district offices. In all, over 55 members of Congress pledged that they would not attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
Speakers agreed that President Obama’s efforts to pursue a peaceful solution with Iran, not another war, represent the interests of Americans. They emphasized that Netanyahu does not speak for all Jews or Americans and that Israel has no authority to dictate US foreign policy.
Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, said, “The threat to nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East was issued long ago – not by Iran, but by Israel’s own internationally known but carefully denied nuclear arsenal. It is Israel, not Iran, whose hundreds of nuclear weapons threaten a potential nuclear arms race in the region, threaten its neighbors, and threaten the world.”
Bennis concluded, “By ignoring any reference to Israel’s decades of occupation of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinian people, by keeping the U.S. focus on the false claims of Israel being endangered, Netanyahu kept the focus of Congress and the U.S. media squarely where he wanted it–on Iran, away from Palestine, settlements, assaults on Gaza, violations of international law.
Rally speaker Rev, Graylan Hagler, Senior Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, emphasized the link between the racist character of Israeli policies, which demean and violate the basic human rights of Palestinians, with racist attempt to humiliate our African American president by blatantly violating the normal protocols for inviting a head of state to address Congress. Reverend Hagler called on all activists for social justice to increase our level of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
JVP-DC Metro activist Carolyn Karcher argues that American Jews must insist on a just peace with Israelis and Palestinians. She says, “We must reclaim Judaism as an ethical religion that believes in loving thy neighbor and loving the stranger. We have let ourselves be driven by fear and hate, which are dehumanizing us as Jews.” For Carolyn and her husband Martin Karcher, working with Jewish Voice for Peace has provided hope for the creation of an ethical, diverse community with the common pursuit of a just peace.
JVP-DC Metro chapter drew endorsing organizations and speakers that were national in scope, linking the broader anti-war movement and the struggle for racial justice to their concerns with ending the occupation of Palestine and supporting negotiations with Iran. Speakers included representatives from the Institute for Policy Studies, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, American Muslims for Palestine, Just Foreign Policy, the American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink and the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.