On Monday March 21, hundreds of human rights activists gathered outside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference at the Verizon convention center in Washington DC. Protesters sang song about peace and justice and chanted “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.” Signs reading “Stop Hate,” “Stop AIPAC,” “Stop Racism” and “Stop Trump” were prominent and there was even a cardboard mock apartheid wall with racist quotes from Trump and Netanyahu scrawled on it.
About an hour into the protest, myself and five other CODEPINK activists moved across the sidewalk to stage a sit-in. We created a checkpoint with our bodies, forcing AIPAC attendees to squeeze around us or walk over us in order to enter the convention center and hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speak. Finally, after some fairly aggressive attempts to contain us, the police conceded control of the area and pulled in a police barricade. They informed us that anyone who crossed the barrier would be arrested. Moments later, with my hands tightly cuffed behind my back, I began to explain why I was choosing to engage in civil disobedience:
AIPAC lobbies shamelessly for US military aid to Israel
While American communities are struggling for safe drinking water, adequate school budgets, low-income housing, and more, AIPAC is demanding billions of US dollars for for Israel. For the last ten years Israel has been receiving $3.1 billion a year in US military aid; more than any country in the world. This aid deal, set to expire in 2017, is currently being renegotiated. The Obama administration has offered Israel a shocking $40 billion over the next ten years, but Israel, with AIPAC’s support, is demanding $50 billion. This money will be spent primarily on US weapons from manufactures such as Lockhead Martin, and will go to maintain the military occupation of the West Bank and siege on Gaza.
AIPAC endangers the first amendment
During her address to AIPAC on Monday morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made no mention of Israel’s almost 50 year-long occupation of the West bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Instead, she, as well as Cruz, Kasich and Trump, promised their unwavering support for Israel. She vowed, if elected, to viciously attack the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Clinton’s speech, rising to new levels of pandering, incorrectly accused the BDS movement of being anti-semitic. Contrary to Clinton’s false accusations, the BDS movement, in fact, stands against all forms of racism and is in accordance with the first amendment, which gives us the right to boycott. It is supported by many Jewish and other human rights activists and organizations.
AIPAC has made attacking the BDS movement one of its main goals. In 2015, AIPAC helped draft and push an anti-BDS amendment to 2015 Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). The bill, which requires the U.S. to take an anti-BDS position in trade negotiations with the European Union, also simultaneously works to obscure the line between Israel’s recognized 1967 borders and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. AIPAC is now lobbying for the “Combating BDS Act of 2016” (S.2531 and H.R.4514) which would prohibit state and local governments from investing in anything that “engages in a commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.”
AIPAC’s use of anti-BDS lawfare and demand for support from American politicians, like Clinton, threatens to erode our first amendment right to use non-violent boycotts to bring about social change. American engagement in similar nonviolent tactics held end US segregation and South African Apartheid. It is a part of our national identity and worth arrest to protect.
AIPAC encourages hate
Throughout his campaign Donald Trump has made numerous misogynistic, anti-immigration, and islamophobic statements. He has called women “dogs,” Mexicans “rapists,” and stated that “Islam hates us.” Such rampant Islamophobia and blatant discrimination is also part and parcel of AIPAC’s tone and agenda. While Trumps promises to “build a great wall,” Israel has already built numerous separation walls. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration is already part of Israeli policy. Though many say that AIPAC should not have invited Trump, his invitation is far from being the only time thelobby group has supported hate.
As a country already struggling to overcome institutionalized racism and systematic inequality, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to racist islamophobic hate-mongering. This includes the recent statement by Ted Cruz, who after the Brussels attack called America to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods”. Such statements and policies threaten to move America backwards, toward the type of blatant racism and discrimination already in place in Israel/Palestine. It is something that we must not only speak out against, but also actively protest.
Palestinian nonviolent resistance must be supported
I chose to be arrested in solidarity with the West Bank village of Bil’in, which has been holding ongoing weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation for 11 years now. I chose to be arrested in solidarity with the village of Nabi Saleh, and in honor of 15-year old Ahed Tamimi, one of the leaders of Nabi Saleh’s weekly nonviolent protests. I chose to be arrested in support of human rights defender Issa Amro of Hebron, who cannot count the number of times he has been arrested, and yet he continues his nonviolent activism.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s decision not to attend the AIPAC conference was monumental. So too were his statements in empathy with Palestinian suffering and condemnation for Israel’s continued illegal settlement growth. Sanders’s move, which followed petitions from CODEPINK and others, should be applauded. It must, however, also be paired with continued and increased grassroots activism, including civil disobedience, for justice in Palestine.
AIPAC does not represent all Jews
The Jewish people are currently in a time where illegal settlers are protected are protected by the state of Israel; where Zionism is conflated with Judaism; and support for BDS is considered blasphemy. Last fall, I witnessed settlers in the West bank city of Hebron use Shabbat as an opportunity to oppress and harass Palestinians. This past week, Hebron settlers intentionally chose to host Purim celebrations on the very spot where two Palestinian young men had been shot that morning in an extrajudicial killing by Israeli forces.
As the mother to two Jewish American teenagers, it is my responsibility to speak up and clarify that AIPAC and Netanyahu do not speak for me. Contrary to AIPAC’s attempts to legitimize illegal settlements and promote hate, I try to instill in my children the Jewish and human values of equality, tolerance, and justice. I teach them that we must act with conscious and courage to end racism, oppression, and hatred. This is especially true when it is being committed in our names with our tax dollars.
In 1965 Rabbi Joshua Heshel joined Dr. Martin Luther King in the historic civil rights march from Montgomery to Selma. Upon reflection of that day, Rabbi Heshel stated that he felt during the march as if his, “legs were praying.” My act of civil disobedience on March 21 was also an act of praying with my legs. I did so for the sake and peace and justice and for the future of my children.