U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was criticized as being unfairly tilted toward Israel, to the detriment of both countries, at a conference Friday examining whether pro-Israel lobbying groups have an undue influence on Congress and government agencies.
Several hundred people attended the event sponsored by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a D.C.-based magazine featuring articles questioning Israeli government policies and U.S. aid to the country.
The conference was timed to precede this weekend’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, a large, annual affair that this year will draw virtually all the presidential candidates as well as Vice President Biden.
Friday’s conference in the ballroom of the National Press Club was an answer to AIPAC, offering a counternarrative in which U.S. support for Israel clashes with democratic and humanitarian values.
Speakers spoke gloomily of the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an outcome backed by the U.S. government but made more difficult as Israeli settlements have expanded on West Bank land where Palestinians envision a future state.
Other speakers questioned the wisdom of giving Israel more than $3 billion a year in military aid, making it by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid, and lambasted ongoing negotiations to increase it further after the Iran nuclear deal. They said most Americans are unaware of the reality on the ground, in part because of the work of nongovernmental groups supporting Israel.
“From the point of view of an Israeli patriot, I see AIPAC as one of Israel’s biggest enemies,” said Gideon Levy, a leftist author who writes columns in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the impact of occupation.
Levy imagined a tour he would lead visiting U.S. lawmakers on. He said he would start with a Gaza family whose children were killed in an Israeli airstrike. He said he would also show lawmakers Hebron, an Arab city in the West Bank with a heavily guarded enclave of Jewish settlers. Then he would go on to Tel Aviv, a vibrant metropolis where Levy said residents are unconcerned about the circumstances of Palestinians living an hour away. They would end at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history museum and the lesson, Levy said, of “Never again, to any other people.”
Levy said he considers it pointless to try to resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians now.
“It would be another masquerade,” he said, because a two-state solution no longer is viable. “It’s irreversible.”
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, was skeptical about the need for more military aid to Israel after the Iran nuclear deal, as President Obama has offered to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I think it’s all a political maneuver to restore for [Hillary Clinton’s] benefit the national-security bona fides of the Democratic Party,” he said in an interview after his talk. “She and Obama may have squandered it in the fight with Netanyahu.”