AIPAC, and Netanyahu, seemed intent on proving Sanders’s point.
As the conference opened in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu, speaking to the group via satellite on the eve of Israel’s elections, derided the Palestinians as “the pampered children of the international community.” The AIPAC audience applauded.
In his Sunday remarks, Netanyahu told AIPAC he was moving forward with plans to annex Palestinian territory — a move that would make the long-sought two-state solution all but impossible.
Netanyahu previously championed a law that demoted the Arabic language, promoted Jewish settlements and declared that only “the Jewish people” have “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel, which Arabic members of Israel’s parliament called “apartheid.” Even AIPAC scolded Netanyahu last year for aligning with an ultranationalist, racist party.
Some may dispute whether that’s “bigotry,” but AIPAC is increasingly becoming a platform for the Republican Party — and a platform against anyone critical of Netanyahu’s treatment of Palestinians.
“We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, said at the conference Sunday. “We don’t want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a racist is either a liar, an ignorant fool or both.”
Netanyahu, referring to Sanders and those like him as “radicals who seek to weaken” U.S.-Israel ties, said “these libelous charges are outrageous.”
AIPAC’s chief executive, Howard Kohr, in an another apparent Sanders reference, said “the pro-Israel community will work to defeat those who try to harm our friends.”
Perhaps most shocking was Vice President Pence, who gave a nakedly partisan speech Monday proclaiming that “the leading candidate for the presidential nomination of the party of Harry Truman openly and repeatedly attacks Israel as a racist state.” (Sanders had attached that label to Netanyahu.)
“Even more troubling,” Pence continued, “when Bernie Sanders smeared Israel at last week’s debate, not a single candidate on that stage stood up to challenge him.”
Pence went on to imply that these Democrats were trying “to cloak their animus toward Israel inside the phony mantle of friendship” and that they “side with Israel’s enemies” — as if supporting Palestinian human rights means siding with Israel’s enemies. The AIPAC crowd applauded both.
Among the Democrats “on that debate stage” whom Pence condemned: Mike Bloomberg, who spoke to AIPAC shortly before Pence. Bloomberg, who is Jewish, spoke out against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, said there should be no conditions attached to military aid for Israel and called Sanders’s views on AIPAC “dead wrong.” But Bloomberg also spoke about the importance of a two-state solution.
This is what Netanyahu, with AIPAC’s acquiescence, appears to be walking away from. (The Trump administration urged Netanyahu to hold off on annexation, part of Trump’s “peace” plan, until after the Israeli election.) With Netanyahu’s apparent victory in Monday’s election, it seems likely annexation will soon proceed — and Israel will find it increasingly difficult to remain a Jewish state unless it suppresses Palestinians’ rights.
That’s not a good look for AIPAC, which finds itself not only at odds with Democrats but also with most American Jews. Instead of its tradition of representing strong, broad support for Israel, AIPAC is becoming about as bipartisan as the National Rifle Association.
Even Netanyahu reportedly regards AIPAC as just another right-wing American interest group. “We don’t need AIPAC anymore,” Netanyahu reportedly told one of his advisers. “We have enough support in the United States from the evangelicals. I’d happily give up on AIPAC if we didn’t need to counteract J Street,” a liberal pro-Israel group.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Before Pence’s campaign-style speech, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) made an appeal to AIPAC “to reaffirm the truth that America’s support for Israel is common ground. America’s partnership with Israel has never been and must never become a Republican issue or Democratic issue, it must always be an American issue.”
Sprinkling his speech with Hebrew words and the names of Jews who died in the civil rights movement, Booker said that standing for Palestinians’ human dignity and human rights are “Jewish values.” He spoke movingly of a time when “Muslim children and Christian children and Jewish children will finally join hands and sing in a chorus of love that we are free at last.”
Unfortunately, Netanyahu is heading in a different direction. And AIPAC is following.
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