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Time to call out the campus Israel Lobby

Tom Pessah | Mondoweiss

Imagine you are a student activist trying to get tobacco products banned from your university. You insist that cigarettes cause cancer, as so much research has shown. Your opponents are other students who claim the connection is tenuous and controversial, that student government should not make judgments on complex health issues, and that some students are so attached to their cigarettes that their very identities would be under attack if such a measure were passed. What if these students called themselves regular smokers, but were in fact trained and sometimes paid representatives of Philip Morris and Marlboro? How much credibility would they have on campus?

The answer depends on whether opponents of tobacco products buy into the frame of two symmetrical student groups – “pro-smokers“ and “anti-smokers,” or whether they call out their opponents for being representatives of external bodies.

One of the biggest failings of pro-Palestine student movement in many U.S. schools is buying into the symmetry frame. We’ve largely accepted the idea that efforts to divest from Israeli apartheid are promoted by pro-Palestine student groups, and opposed by pro-Israel ones (“the Zionists”) – as if these are two symmetrical parties.

But this is a completely false picture. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine truly are grass-root organizations. Despite persistent rumors about their secret Saudi oil money, SJP chapters hold bake sales to send students their national conferences. On the U.C. Berkeley campus, attention was diverted from SJP’s cookies and brownies by the College Republicans, who put on a lavish spectacle involving students in swimsuits. The SJP sale raised a little under $6.

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Expose AIPAC, a summary of the weekend

Expose AIPAC

Expose AIPAC kicked off at the Palestine Cultural Center for Peace in Allston with teach-in.. Denise Provost (Massachusetts State Representative from the 27th Middlesex District) discussed her experiences dealing with the Israel Lobby, describing an AIPAC-push to divest Massachusetts’ pension funds from Iran. Stephen Walt followed with an overview of AIPAC and the role of the Israel Lobby in shaping the relationship between the US and Israel. Jamal Abdi (National Iranian American Council) discussed the importance of working to counter AIPAC and other groups that provide a dangerously narrow approach to US relations in the Middle East, particularly regarding Iran. He discussed the reality that many legislators on Capitol Hill lack an understanding on the particulars of certain policies that are pushed by AIPAC – giving the distinction between legislating around Iran’s nuclear weapons ‘capability’ as opposed to its ‘acquisition’ as an example. Finally, Kristin Szremski (American Muslims for Palestine) overviewed the organizational linkages between AIPAC and Islamophobic activity and propaganda. There was an extensive Q&A session following the panel presentations, as audience members dug deeper into the substance and implications of the topic.

Sunday’s protests got off to a drizzly start, but ,thanks to the creativity of protestors, ended up a rousing success. Initially, we were turned away from the park where we’d planned to congregate, but we responded quickly and moved to the sidewalk in front of the hotel where AIPAC donors were walking between the hotel and the conference center. After fifteen minutes of lively protest supplemented by signs, banners, and chants that organizers had crafted on Tuesday evening, police officers – who at this point outnumbered protesters – informed us that we were on a private sidewalk (leased by the hotel), and that we should cross the street and stand on the public sidewalk (in front of the conference center). We were soon told that, in fact, only eight people would be allowed on that public sidewalk, and the rest would have to move onto city (rather than state) property down at the end of the block. Soon after, orange cones were set up in two ~4′x6′ areas designated as “free speech zones,” which designated where the eight demonstrators could stand with their signs (and a floating banner, held up by balloons, that read AIPAC = War).

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Boston protests AIPAC

CODEPINK protester victorious over AIPAC assailant

Medea Benjamin | Mondoweiss

Rae Abileah at AIPAC's annual conference, 2011. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

It is not every day that the voices for justice triumph over the actions of the rich and powerful, especially when it comes to the Israel-Palestine debate. That’s why it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate the settlement just negotiated by CODEPINK activist Rae Abileah and her lawyers after suing American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) volunteer lobbyist Stanley Shulster.

It all started on May 24, 2011, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, DC speaking before a joint session of Congress. Abileah, a 29-year-old Jewish woman who has traveled to the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, was in the audience. She became more and more appalled as she listened to Netanyahu’s speech and watched our congresspeople giving him a stream of standing ovations. “I couldn’t watch this hero’s welcome for a man who supports the continued building of illegal settlements, won’t lift the siege of Gaza, and refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian unity government,” said Abileah.

So Abileah did what most people would never have the courage to do. She got up and shouted: “No More Occupation! Stop Israeli War Crimes! Equal Rights for Palestinians!” And she unfurled a banner that read: “Occupying Land is Indefensible!”

She was immediately grabbed, violently pulled toward the floor, and gagged—not by the Capitol Police but by a member of the audience, Stanley Shulster, a retired attorney from Ashland, Oregon, who had traveled to Washington DC to attend the yearly conference of the Israel lobby group AIPAC. An online bio for Shulster revealed that he was an unpaid lobbyist, a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a Navy veteran. In his bio Shulster bragged that he “grabbed the woman who heckled the Prime Minister while he was speaking.”

Abileah was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. She subsequently had to undergo months of physical therapy, chiropractic care and other treatments to heal from these injuries.

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CODEPINK Protestor Assaulted in Congress Earns Apology, Compensation

Codepink: Women for Peace

For Immediate Release: Monday, July 30, 2012

AIPAC Volunteer Lobbyist, IDF Veteran Who Assaulted Young Jewish Peace Protestor in Congressional Gallery
Apologizes and Pays Compensation
Woman who disrupted Israeli Prime Minister was hospitalized for injuries, now satisfied by settlement

Washington, D.C.-Rae Abileah, a peaceful demonstrator from CODEPINK who was physically injured on May 24, 2011, in the U.S. House of Representative Gallery, while protesting during the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reached a settlement in a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with defendant Stanley Shulster. The settlement provided for compensatory damages, an apology, and a joint statement.

Mr. Shulster is a professed volunteer lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and retired attorney. Ms. Abileah will donate a portion of the received funds to legal and medical aid for peaceful Palestinian protesters in the West Bank.

Joint Statement of Rae Abileah and Stanley Shulster:

We have reached an agreement in the lawsuit brought by Rae Abileah against Stanley Shulster. Our agreement resolves Ms. Abileah’s claim that Mr. Shulster assaulted her while she protested during a speech at the U.S. Capitol by Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Mr. Shulster’s defense that he did not assault her.

Mr. Shulster apologizes for any physical or emotional harm caused by him to Ms. Abileah. He agrees that he should have let the Capitol Police handle the situation. Ms. Abileah accepts this apology.

Mr. Shulster respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she holds this view in good faith.

Ms. Abileah respects Mr. Shulster’s right to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes that he holds this view in good faith.

Each party recognizes the right, as Americans, to agree to disagree peacefully.

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Blame Israel and AIPAC for a U.S. war in Iran

Larry Derfner | +972 Magazine

I never went along with the argument that the Israel lobby, taking its directions from Jerusalem, pushed the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Israel wanted the U.S. to knock over Saddam, of course, but it didn’t make a lot of noise about it, and neither did its Washington lobbyists because Israel and AIPAC knew they didn’t have to push against an open door. The Bush administration wanted to go to war against Saddam as soon as 9/11 happened, and while I’m sure the administration saw the benefit to Israel as one more reason to invade, that was never the main reason. The Bush team fought that war because of its misbegotten notion of America’s national security, and they would have fought it even if there had been no Israel lobby - even if there had been no Israel.

But Iran is different. Israel and AIPAC have been leading the charge on this one for years, and they’re hardly hiding it - the Israeli campaign for America to get tough, tougher, toughest on Iran has been as bombastic as could possibly be. If America ends up bombing Iran first (unlikely), or being drawn into a war as a result of Israel’s bombing Iran first (much more likely), that American war will be stamped “Made In Israel” – not by Walt and Mearsheimer, but by everyone with eyes and ears in his or her head.

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44 Senators, including many Democrats, sign AIPAC letter to Obama against Iran negotiations

Phillip Weiss | Mondoweiss

A terrifying letter, signed by nearly half the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, pushing Obama toward war with Iran– and let’s see who is telling us about it.

MJ Rosenberg a few days ago:

AIPAC is still worried that there might be a breakthrough in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran. Accordingly, its staff drafted a letter to President Obama that will be circulated by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). Its goal is to have the entire Senate endorse the hardest possible line to kill the next round of negotiations which is slated to convene in Moscow next week.

The letter demands the following as “the absolute minimum steps” which Iran “must take immediately.”

  1. Shutting down the Fordow facility
  2. Freezing enrichment above 5%
  3. Shipping all uranium enriched above 5% out of the country.

In return the AIPAC/Senate letter tells the President to offer NOTHING except the continuation of negotiations. In other words, AIPAC proposes a negotiating framework under which Iran makes tangible concessions in return for our agreeing to… more negotiations. Any easing of sanctions is specifically ruled out.

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Israeli MK, AIPAC behind Senate bid to cut total number of Palestinian refugees

Barak Ravid | Ha’aretz

A Palestinian family from the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp sitting in the southern Sidon Municipality square, Lebanon Monday, June 4, 2007. Photo by AP

A Palestinian family from the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp sitting in the southern Sidon Municipality square, Lebanon Monday, June 4, 2007. Photo by AP

Capitol Hill in Washington was rocked late last month when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment requiring the State Department, for the first time, to do a “count” of Palestinian refugees.

The amendment required the State Department to specify how many of the five million Palestinians who receive aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency are refugees who were personally displaced from their homes in 1948, and how many are descendants of those refugees.

Known as the Kirk Amendment, after its sponsor, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), considered one of Israel’s strongest supporters in Washington, the bill conceals within its 150-plus words a fierce battle between Republican legislators and the State Department over the United States’ relationship with UN institutions.

Every year the United States allocates $250 million to UNRWA, which provides food as well as health, education and employment services to millions of Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. For years Congressional representatives have been trying to reduce U.S. contributions to the agency, on the grounds that UNRWA was born in sin and that its policies are anti-Israeli.

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Palestine solidarity & Occupy Oregon activists protest AIPAC

Report from groups organizing Occupy AIPAC action in Oregon

About eighty protesters in Portland yet again protested the annual Oregon American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering on April 29th. This year’s event was marked by an even greater amount of paranoia and secrecy by AIPAC: the event was not widely announced, the keynote speakers were not promoted, the media was not invited, people who tried to attend were arbitrarily refused entry, and the guests were subjected to searches of purses and metal detectors after passing checks by police and AIPAC security.

AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the United States and promotes right-wing hard-line policies in support of Israel. Former Israeli Knesset member Avraham Burg described AIPAC as “a kind of a filter which filters only darkness through it, rather than light through it. And I would like to see the alternative American Jewry, which is expressed through the liberalism and humanism and civil rights and a total commitment toward peace, as the one which expresses me.” AIPAC is currently promoting aggressive sanctions and support for military action against Iran.

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Oregon’s media must cover the annual Oregon AIPAC event

Oregon Live

Time for a thought experiment. Imagine that the National Rifle Association (NRA) held a yearly policy event in Oregon that regularly attracted Democrats and Republicans from the entire spectrum of Oregon political life: our Governors, Senators, Representatives, our Attorney General and Secretary of State and many others flocking to show their support. Imagine that the Governor proudly states that support for the NRA is “an article of faith for both political parties” and imagine that an Oregon Member of Congress tells the audience that, when it comes to gun legislation, he goes to the NRA first for all his information. Would you expect the media to cover the event and find out who attended, what was said, and what the NRA was demanding of our leaders? Do you think citizens of Oregon have a compelling interest in learning more about the event?

This is the exact situation we have in Oregon with respect to the hardline pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Politicians of all stripes, local, state and federal, Democrat and Republican flock to Oregon’s annual AIPAC events to show their support. Former Governor Kulongoski really did say in a speech there that “support for AIPAC is an article of faith for both political parties . . . this is as it should be.” Congressman Kurt Schrader really did say “If I want to learn about the Middle East, I know who to go to, I go to AIPAC.” And AIPAC really is trying to drum up support for military action against Iran.

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