Did you watch the outpouring of official support for Israel at the annual Washington conference of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee)? Washington is bitterly divided over every issue from climate change to health care to tax reform to the legitimacy of the presidency. But on Israel, there is no breakage– yet.
Yet, because the politicians protest so much and the pageant is so slick, scripted, and luxurious that a reasonable person has to turn away from the screen in disgust at the pledges of loyalty to another country. “Foreign aid to Israel is sacred, we know that. That is sacred,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said when discussing budget cuts. Her counterpart in the Senate also spoke of God. “I pledge to you today as long as Hachem [God in Hebrew] breathes air into my lungs,” Chuck Schumer said, “I will fight to make Israel a safer more secure, more prosperous nation!” Schumer said that our politics are “more polarized than ever,” but we can’t undermine bipartisan support for Israel, “because the Jewish state is too important.”
The fervor was matched in Christian terms by Vice President Mike Pence. He boasted of his faith and pledged, “President Trump and I stand without apology for Israel and we always will.”
Whatever their differences, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer acted like best friends on stage at AIPAC. They bragged about all the politicians they bring over with them on trips to Israel. Hundreds go every year on the Israel-lobby-paid junkets. They learn nothing about Palestinian conditions but a lot about the Holocaust, as a justification for the existence of a Jewish state.
If the conference looked more like the Emperor’s New Clothes than a spontaneous expression of support, it is because the politicians know there are cracks in the facade. Trump’s love affair with Netanyahu is making the issue more and more uncomfortable for Democrats. Pelosi was defensive when she confessed this morning at AIPAC:
“When people sometimes say to me, the United States is so overwhelmingly partial to Israel in this discussion, I say ‘Yes of course. We have been friends for a long time. We have shared values.'”
It was the one glimmer of dysfunction in the staged rounds of sacrifice, but it spoke volumes. Progressive Democrats are starting to see through the special relationship to Israel’s human rights violations. In the Washington Post today, even Israel-devotee Richard Cohen wearied of combatting the apartheid label when he’s forced to acknowledge there are Jewish only roads in the West Bank: “while recoiling from the word ‘apartheid,’ [Israel has] adopted some of its techniques.”
How many people have noticed that PEN America (led by a Clintonite) is holding its annual world literary festival this spring without money from Israel, following a campaign against the sponsorship by leading writers? Two Democratic former congressmen said at a teach-in about AIPAC last week that politicians are overwhelmingly partial to Israel because of campaign contributions, but the support for Palestinians is slowly rising– to 80. Bernie Sanders didn’t appear at AIPAC last year, or this year either, for good reason. He actually talks about the occupation, and young Democrats want him to.
Schumer himself sounded a defensive note when he said that some want the United States “to retreat from the world stage.” But he quickly branded those people as akin to Charles Lindbergh, before issuing the neoconservative/neoliberal call to arms: “A strong America in the world is very good for Israel.”
There were several stirring demonstrations against AIPAC this year. Code Pink led an effort to shut down the conference. The anti-lobby conference got an overflow audience at the National Press Club. The young Jews of IfNotNow unfurled banners inside AIPAC and called on the Jewish community to end its support for the occupation, then sang biblical imprecations against war. They are by their own description the Jewish Resistance, fighting the Jewish Establishment, in the 50th year of the occupation.
I saw no mainstream US coverage of these demonstrations– even as the media gave top billing to the demonstrations against Vladimir Putin across Russia. Yes, the Russian demonstrations are far larger, and very important; but both protests address human and civil rights violations, and the tyrannical orthodoxy of deep states.
Russia is of course another issue that bitterly divides Washington politicians. The Democrats are pushing a new cold war, and the cable networks cannot stop talking about Russian influence in the Trump administration. As if Wikileaks kept Hillary Clinton from visiting Wisconsin, or as if we don’t share an interest in peace in the Middle East. Chris Matthews is outraged by the several visits of Trump operatives to Russia, a country he brags that he has never been to.
Matthews has been to Israel, of course, along with his bosses at Comcast, and all those politicians at AIPAC. When will that devotion become controversial? Sooner than you think.