Democratic Hopefuls Reject AIPAC

23 Mar
4:08 AM

So far, no Democratic presidential candidates have committed to speaking at this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. Is this a shift in Democratic foreign policy towards Israel? What does this mean for AIPAC, one of the country’s most influential lobby groups?

Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Researching the economic aspect of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, some of his research topics include the international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel, the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His work also includes giving lectures and presentations on the economy of the occupation. His first book: Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, has been published by Pluto Press.

Gregory Wilpert is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he briefly taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded Venezuelanalysis.com, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory’s wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela’s Ambassador to Ecuador.

Video Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

The progressive advocacy group MoveOn is calling on all candidates for Democratic presidential nomination to boycott the 2019 AIPAC conference, which will take place in Washington, D.C. this weekend. According to a survey that the group released on Wednesday, more than 74 percent of MoveOn members who responded agree or strongly agree with the statement that “Any progressive vying for the Democratic nominee for president should skip the AIPAC conference.”

So far, actually, none of the fifteen or so declared candidates for the party’s nomination is scheduled to speak at AIPAC. This is highly unusual. In the past, Democratic presidential candidates have always spoken at the AIPAC conference. However, with the political discourse having moved to the left in the Democratic Party, MoveOn’s Campaign Director, Iram Ali, said, “You cannot be a progressive and support AIPAC because of the policies that they’ve supported.”

Joining me now to take a look at what this means for the Democratic Party and its stance towards Israel is Shir Hever. Shir is a Real News Network correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany, and his book, The Privatization of Israel’s Security was recently published by Pluto Press. Thanks for being here today, Shir.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: So several of the Democratic Party candidates, such as Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and former Vice President Joe Biden, have all spoken at the AIPAC conference before. Now they won’t. What would you say are the larger implications if a Democrat were to win the White House after having distanced themselves from AIPAC? What would this mean for U.S.-Israeli policy?

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. A few days ago, Trump said that he believes that American Jews are no longer voting for the Democratic Party or are no longer supporting them, moving their support to the Republicans and to himself. And I think he was wrong, and I think what we’re seeing now is very good evidence of that. Because in fact, the Israeli government has pushed policy very strongly in the last couple of years, and we’ve seen that with Netanyahu’s visit to Congress in 2016, despite Obama’s objections. They are calling on foreign governments, including the United States, to make a choice; either you support Jewish people, either you support Jews who live in your own countries, or you support the state of Israel. But you cannot support both.

So that means there is now a direct confrontation between Jewish communities all over the world and the state of Israel. The state of Israel is basically saying to these Jews, either you move to Israel or you put your support behind the state of Israel, or the state of Israel will no longer consider policies to help you, protect you, and support you in your time of need. And I think a lot of Democrats are understanding that they have to choose correctly, they have to choose their own citizens. And they are doing that. And that’s why we see a decline in support for AIPAC within the Democratic Party.

The implications for that, if a Democratic candidate wins and is no longer supporting AIPAC, he’s actually going to be on the U.S.-Israeli relations when it comes to the arms industry. Because AIPAC in many ways is nothing more than a front for the arms lobby. If you go to the website OpenSecrets.org, there is data there about lobby size of different groups. AIPAC is not the biggest lobby group in the United States, despite various mythologies to the contrary. The biggest lobby groups are giant corporations, and the weapon industry dwarfs the size of the AIPAC lobby.

But candidates can’t just go to the arms industry, to their lobby directly, you can’t imagine a candidate from the Democratic Party going to Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman and saying, don’t worry, we’re going to make sure there’s going to be always war in the Middle East. That won’t fly. But if they go to AIPAC and say, we’re always going to support Israel, Israel is the occupying power in the Middle East, then yeah, that is exactly the same message, and that’s how these candidates can get the money from the arms lobby.

GREG WILPERT: Now, here at The Real News Network we’ve often talked about how powerful AIPAC is as a lobby. Now, you mentioned that it’s actually more of a front group for the arms industry in some sense. Do you think that, however, even if it’s a front for other lobbies, do you think that AIPAC will now throw all of its weight behind the Republican Party if the Democratic party moves away from it?

SHIR HEVER: I think we’ve already starting to see that. Because it’s no longer just about the Israeli occupation in Palestine, it has grown beyond that. The Israeli government is making stronger ties with authoritarian leaders and far-right parties in Europe and in Latin America and elsewhere, and those ties are about the Israeli government offering a kind of model for communication. They’re saying, we are willing to give up the civil rights of our citizens, and we are willing to survey on the population, and we’re willing to conduct preemptive arrests of people before they even commit a crime. And a lot of right wing and authoritarian leaders are very happy to hear that message. Only Republican politicians who are willing to consider these things.

GREG WILPERT: OK. We’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Shir Hever, Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. Thanks again, Shir, for having joined us today.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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