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AIPAC is making Israel a political football, so BDS supporters may finally get off the bench

Media Analysis
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The pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC used to pride itself on doing its business in the dark. We work most effectively as a “night flower,” AIPAC operative Steve Rosen once explained to Jeffrey Goldberg.

Those days are now over, maybe forever. The rightwing group is controversial in ways that it never wanted to be.

Just in the last few days, AIPAC has made a lot of headlines. AIPAC apologized for smear ads it ran against “radical” congressional Democrats who dare to criticize Israel. “The radicals in the Democratic Party are pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people,” AIPAC said. “Surprisingly partisan,” says Eli Clifton of Quincy Institute, who exposed the ads. One Congresswoman it targeted, Betty McCollum of MN, labeled AIPAC a “hate group” because in one of the ads it said she was worse than ISIS. J Street, the Israel lobby group in the Democratic Party, has slammed AIPAC for the ads and its ties to a partner organization, Democratic Majority for Israel or DMFI, that has run a deceptive ad campaign against Bernie Sanders in Nevada over his relatively pro-Palestinian stance. The Intercept reports that AIPAC is handing donors over to that right-wing Democratic pro-Israel group– — to try to bring down Sanders in Nevada. Elizabeth Warren has said that she will not attend the AIPAC conference next month…

The rightwing-pro-Israel position is being politicized as never before. Democrats now have political cover to attack AIPAC, and maybe even reap political rewards for doing so, something that was unimaginable even a few years ago.

The fracture between the Republican and Democratic branches of the Israel lobby worries all Israel lobbyists. Even as it attacks AIPAC, J Street fears that Israel will cease to be a bipartisan issue: that anti-Sanders campaign “deepens divides over Israel in the US and exacerbates the troubling trend of making Israel a political football.”

J Street’s fear is echoed in Haaretz by a former AIPAC staffer who says the organization is endangering Israel’s support by choosing sides in U.S. politics, thereby engendering a debate that could threaten the lobby’s hammerlock on Congress.

We have long pushed for just that: For Israel to become a political football, and for politicians who don’t like military occupation and Jim Crow/apartheid discrimination to be able to say so in mainstream politics, a very reasonable position that Jimmy Carter and others have been railroaded for expressing.

So far, all the headline battles are happening on the right. Between those who love Israel a lot (J Street) and those who love Israel a little too much (AIPAC). The two organizations are politely at one another’s throats, vying for influence. And Chuck Schumer shuttles from one group to the other and smiles.

Donald Trump’s slavish support for Israel has created that disruption. You are now allowed to oppose his bogus peace plan, his support for annexation of occupied West Bank territories, his destruction of the Iran deal and his move of the embassy to Jerusalem without being tarred as anti-Israel. You are even allowed to suggest that Sheldon Adelson’s hundreds of millions might be behind Trump’s move. Though yes, the British press is more honest about that influence than the American press.

What about the left, though? A small space has opened up on the mainstream left for criticisms of Israel, from the so-called “radicals” in AIPAC’s venomous Facebook ads — Betty McCollum and Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. And if Bernie Sanders goes to AIPAC next month, it will be one of the classic theatrical moments of his outsider campaign.

But there is still precious narrow political space for criticizing Israel. A year ago Ilhan Omar was all but destroyed for saying that AIPAC uses money to maintain orthodoxy in Congress. She got that treatment because she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against the perpetual occupier/colonizer, Israel. Myself I consider BDS the most sane position in the entire mess. Do what Rosa Parks did in Montgomery! But it is all-but-impossible to take that position in mainstream American politics right now.

Overwhelmingly, Democrats paint BDS as worse than ISIS. Consider all the Democrats who attacked the UN Human Rights office for its blacklist of companies doing business in the illegal occupation. “[N]ot a single member of Congress (so far) was willing to defend a DATABASE that does nothing more than offer a modicum of transparency that can allow American citizens to make informed choices about who they give their hard-earned money to,” Foundation for Middle East Peace observes. Many of those Dems attacked the UN by slamming BDS as a hateful campaign. Opposition to BDS was a plank of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy four years ago, not least in communication with donors.

J Street and other Israel lobby groups have effectively marginalized BDS. J Street pushed legislation in Congress last year that all but declared BDS anti-semitic. J Street has backed giving Israel nearly a $4 billion a year in aid and opposed the idea of conditioning that money because of the unending occupation (and its detention of children). J Street has largely excommunicated Jews who support BDS and promoted speakers who say that “There is no Judaism without Zionism.”

I don’t think liberal Zionists can hold this line forever. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and (formerly) Pete Buttigieg have all expressed a willingness to condition aid to Israel. They do so because they know the Democratic base overwhelmingly supports such a tool– by numbers approaching 67 percent in favor, 10 percent opposed. J Street knows that it is holding back the tide here: several speakers from the non-Zionist group IfNotNow, which supports active measures to end the occupation, spoke at the liberal Zionist conference last fall, and J Street’s leader was careful to praise IfNotNow. He sees the writing on the wall.

The left wing debate is bound to open up soon. Though the Democratic establishment wants to put off that disruption as long as it can.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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17 Responses

  1. Misterioso on February 17, 2020, 12:50 pm

    The “marriage” between “Israel” and the U.S. is unravelling. A divorce is inevitable. Americans, especially enlightened youth, including Jews, are rapidly seeing the light.

    • echinococcus on February 17, 2020, 2:14 pm

      That’s assuming that the two are separate entities while they certainly are under a common, US-based management. As to the enlightened youth, including and especially the “Jews”, they are almost entirely controlled opposition — not the stuff of divorce.

      • Misterioso on February 17, 2020, 3:42 pm


        Time will tell, but history and the future are with me.

      • echinococcus on February 17, 2020, 8:14 pm

        Time told it in great detail to whom has ears to listen. You may call it history. The future is the stuff of tarot and tea leaves.
        Funny, though, this seems to be the only kind of controlled-content posts that get through Weiss’ censors.

      • Misterioso on February 18, 2020, 9:49 am


        “The future is the stuff of tarot and tea leaves.”

        Just so much gobbledygook!!

      • echinococcus on February 18, 2020, 2:59 pm

        I see that not only you take counterfactual hope for history, you also consider “gobbledygook” the very fact that the future is by definition unknown.

        That’s where being confined to “debating” with Zionist propaganda agents leads — instead of being able to discuss anything meaningful, strictly censored, on this site.

      • Mooser on February 19, 2020, 1:57 pm

        “through Weiss’ censors.” Feb. 17.

        “anything meaningful, strictly censored, on this site.” Feb 18

        I see you make the same mistake twice. They are ‘moderators’, not “censors”.

      • echinococcus on February 19, 2020, 8:46 pm


        In consideration of their liturgical functions, I move that they be re-baptized (oops, sorry — just plain renamed if that was too censitive) censers.

  2. brent on February 17, 2020, 2:22 pm

    Once the game moves from the “security of Israel” to “human rights”, everything will evolve. Politicians will fall into line. The house of cards will fall. Flys in the ointment will be self-righteous hotheads from both sides.


    • Donald on February 17, 2020, 11:28 pm

      Why would you cite that bull manure? The guy is stuck in arguments that were stupid decades back. He has zero interest in equal rights. He wants Palestinians to surrender any hope of living in most of their homeland and feigns sadness that they have lost so much.

    • Mooser on February 21, 2020, 12:50 pm

      “Why would you cite that…?”

      Because “brent” is a “longtime follower of Palestine Question”, and the “Times of Israel” is what he follows.

  3. Jasonius Maximus on February 18, 2020, 10:04 am

    It’s interesting to hear the ADL’s deafening silence on this matter. When a congresswoman dared to question a non-Jewish senator’s loyalty to his oath of office, they wasted no time and she was tarred, feathered, and dragged through the media as a rampant anti-semite! When AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups quite literally and openly ‘defame’ elected members of Congress, who are of Muslim faith or Palestinian decent, as “worse than ISIS”, the silence from these same groups and media outlets is deafening. The hypocrisy is nothing short of disgusting.

    Also worth mentioning is the radio silence from Wapo and the the NY Times. You’d think a targeted and disgusting smear campaign of sitting members of Congress by one of the most influential lobby groups in DC would make the headlines. Clearly not worth even burying on their website.

    • eljay on February 18, 2020, 10:58 am

      || Jasonius Maximus: It’s interesting to hear the ADL’s deafening silence on this matter. … ||

      Time and again the ADL has proven that it is actually the “Selective Anti-Defamation League”. It suffers from the same hypocrisy that afflicts all (pro-)Zionists.

  4. CHUCKMAN on February 18, 2020, 11:22 am

    I take the view that in the long term when any international set of arrangements has become one-sided enough, unfair enough, damaging enough, then there will be redress of some kind.

    It’s much like what happens with an economy driven too far in one direction.

    That is the situation today with Israel, the US, and the Palestinians.

    It has reached extremes.

    The Palestinians are not going away. A complete apartheid arrangement like Trump’s “peace plan” is not sustainable. It cannot be supported by most people.

    What we’re seeing will change.

    Ignorant and brutal Trumpism will go.

  5. lonely rico on February 23, 2020, 8:20 pm

    Bernie Sanders will be skipping AIPAC –

    “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people,” Sanders tweeted. “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.”

  6. Ossinev on February 24, 2020, 2:32 pm

    If as it seems distinctly possible Bernie becomes the Democratic candidate in the upcoming US election the Zio knives are already sharpened and the Zios are already licking their lips at the prospect of a Corbyn 2 feast:

  7. lonely rico on February 25, 2020, 8:58 am

    Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand ?

    HAPPENING NOW: Jews and allies are shutting down Joe Biden’s campaign headquarters in Philadelphia to hold Biden accountable for his support of endless occupation.

    Biden and AIPAC have spent the last four decades shielding Israel from consequences for its brutal occupation. We are here to show Biden and AIPAC that supporting the occupation comes with political consequences.

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