Media Analysis

Democrats are losing their fear of AIPAC and Haim Saban

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Last night in Connecticut, Sarah Walsh of AIPAC told a Conservative synagogue audience that the lobby group is striving to ensure that support for Israel remains bipartisan, but there are more signs that progressive Democrats feel they are able to criticize Israeli policies.

First, Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace says there’s been a reluctance even in the Democratic establishment to defend Israel during the Gaza slaughter. In an interview with the Real News, Vilkomerson said Trump’s embrace of Netanyahu has opened the door for formerly-silent Democrats to be critical of Israel. “There’s a willingness to look at Israel’s actions that maybe wasn’t possible when Obama was president.”

I think with the exception of [Chuck] Schumer, no Democrats have been defending Israel’s actions. In fact, quite a number, in fact over a dozen, have spoken out against what Israel has done over the course of the last six weeks. And you contrast that with 2014, when I think it was something like 78 senators signed a statement supporting the Gaza war. So there has been a shift in terms of Congress and who’s willing to speak out and being able to speak out, and that there’s enough backing from their own constituents to speak out that they’re not going to be punished by AIPAC or other organizations… [Aaron Mate points out that House whip Steny Hoyer has also given Israel a blank check] We have very very far to go. Also, not defending is very different from saying Stop, and there are lots of tools that the U.S. government has to stop Israel from what it’s doing and they’re using none of them.

Senator Bernie Sanders has obviously been a leader here. He has released videos about Gaza and condemned Israeli killings of unarmed protesters.

In May he organized that senators’  letter, which urged the Secretary of State to pressure Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza, to allow the movement of more goods and equipment and energy into the Strip, and people out of it, so as to relieve a humanitarian crisis. The letter was a “human rights” letter. It said nothing about Israel’s massacre of protesters, but said that the ongoing “deprivation and despair” in Gaza was fueling “extremist” groups and factionalism that could “incite violence against Israel” and could even “spark an uprising.”

The letter was openly critical of Israel. While saying that Hamas bears “significant responsibility for the deteriorating situation” due to its repression and corruption and “insistence on pursuing a violent struggle against Israel,” the letter also said, Israel’s “continuing control of Gaza’s air, sea and northern, southern and eastern borders, and its restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, legitimate goods and equipment in and out of Gaza, have made the humanitarian situation worse.”

Two days ago, the Intercept reported that Democratic megadonor Haim Saban lashed out against the 13 Senators in an arrogant, angry email. He talked down to the senators:

“Senators, for you to listen to Senator Sanders and accuse Israel of being the main culprit is outrageous, misinformed, offensive and shows a lack of understanding of the region’s basic fundamentals. Do your homework, unless you have chosen to blindly follow Senator Sander’s ill advised, misinformed, simplistic, and ignorant lead…

“Senator Sanders, if you want to opine on the region, then do your homework. And if you like, I would have a grand old time teaching you, as there is much for you to learn.”

Win Without War, a progressive coalition organization with establishment/church members, promptly tweeted its defiance of Saban:

These 12 senators deserve praise, not attacks, for listening to their constituents & doing what they believe is right. Billionaire mega donors shouldn’t be making U.S. foreign policy

Later Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy (a constituent of WWW), explained the significance of the moment in an email that was passed around (and Naiman allowed me to quote from). The center-left has been afraid of AIPAC and Haim Saban. Not any longer.
[The] willingness to criticize the Israeli government is becoming more mainstream in the Democratic Party, significantly thanks to Bernie, as well as the movement of public opinion among young people, that Bernie is helping to bring to light. WWW didn’t do I-P before. Now they feel comfortable doing something like this. Because they’re standing next to Bernie and a bunch of Democratic Senators. …
I was… jazzed about WWW’s willingness to slam Haim Saban. That was a taboo among Democrats before. That was a huge part of the unwillingness of Dems to speak out before, the fear of Haim Saban, not just the fear felt by Democratic elected officials, but the fear held by Democratic advocacy groups that don’t generally work on I-P but might speak up sometimes. There was always a kind of wall. Over here we have the progressive groups that do I-P. And otherwise we have a bunch of multi-issue progressive groups that do different things but won’t touch I-P, out of fear of AIPAC and Haim Saban. That dynamic is changing, and that is a big deal, people losing their fear of Haim Saban and AIPAC. MoveOn spoke up on Gaza. MoveOn never spoke up on I-P before.

Here’s that petition, co-authored by Just Foreign Policy, circulated when Israel had only killed 36 at the border. The US should call on Israel to end the illegal siege.

So I’ll say it again. Things are stirring on the Democratic left.

H/t Electronic Intifada. And yes, Jim Zogby has said this before about AIPAC.

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Interesting article. Wealthy American Jews like Saban and Adelson, have done a huge disservice to Americans by using vast amounts of their wealth, to buy loyalty, and that unwavering support, for a nation that had pariah status long time ago. Congress went against American values, to make sure we patted… Read more »

PHIL- “So I’ll say it again. Things are stirring on the Democratic left.” You can be so funny at times. The only reason that things are “stirring” on the Democratic left is because of the bromance between Trump and Netanyahu. If Hillary Clinton was President, the US would support Israel… Read more »

“Things are stirring on the Democratic left.”

I’m hearing the initial rumbling of an avalanche. There are so many lies to come crashing down.

Something is indeed stirring, as the much analysed Pew and Gallup polls on support for Israel showed. But it still looks to me like an extremely uphill struggle for the stirrers, with no significant gains within the political class as yet. In the UK Corbyn is setting very severe limits… Read more »

I will believe something serious is afoot when Chris Matthews talks live, and in substantial detail, on his show about the subject matter discussed here. Remember the gavel denial on primetime tv of the progressive Jerusalem plank in the Democratic Party platform?