Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2012, Pages 73-74

Waging Peace

"Occupy AIPAC" Provides Counter-Narrative

WP15Occupy AIPAC protesters greet AIPAC policy conference attendees on March 4. (Staff photo D. Sprusansky)

From March 2 through March 6, anti-war and pro-Palestine activists participated in demonstrations and activities throughout Washington, DC in an effort to counter the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)'s 2012 policy conference. CODEPINK, with support from over 100 sponsors, organized most of the week's activities, dubbed "Occupy AIPAC."

Activists gathered on March 2 for an evening preview screening of "Roadmap to Apartheid" at the Busboys and Poets on 5th & K Sts. NW. The film explores in detail the apartheid comparison as it is used in the enduring Israel-Palestine conflict.

The day-long Occupy AIPAC summit took place the next day at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, across the street from the Washington Convention Center, site of the AIPAC conference. Rev. Grayland Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, DC, opened the Saturday summit with a fiery sermon calling on governments to recognize the common humanity of all peoples as a means of preventing war. He was followed by a panel on preventing war with Iran during which speakers impressed upon the audience the importance of pressuring and urging politicians to oppose any advances toward war.

During an afternoon panel titled "Palestine, Israel and the U.S.—Changing Discourse, Challenging Policy," Omar Baddar, new media coordinator at the Arab American Institute (AAI), pointed out that Washington's "unprecedented military support" for Israel is illegal, as U.S. law forbids providing money to countries that deny human rights. Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, boasted that Palestinian activists are "no longer out on the fringe," noting that media are increasingly reporting on Palestinian issues. Upon returning from a recent trip to Palestine, Bennis added, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) commented that "some people would call that [the situation in Palestine] apartheid."

The Saturday summit concluded with an independent workshop on "AIPAC—What it is, Who its allies are, Why it's dangerous and How to stop it." Grant F. Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy and Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, contributor, led off the discussion by explaining that AIPAC has an insatiable appetite for classified American intelligence "so that it can front run U.S. policy and shape it." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, managing editor Janet McMahon elaborated on AIPAC's secrecy, noting that pro-Israel political action committees (PACs) associated with AIPAC often have "innocuous" and "misleading" names, and "list themselves as unaffiliated" in their FEC filings.

Because these 30-some "unaffiliated" PACs all give to virtually the same pro-Israel candidates, she explained, they are able to circumvent the federal regulation setting $10,000 as the maximum amount of money a PAC is permitted to give a candidate each election cycle. McMahon cited as an example former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D), who in 1998 received a combined $260,000 from pro-Israel PACs. Because of their innocuous names—such as Desert Caucus and National PAC—McMahon lamented, "even the most conscientious voter" might not be aware that a candidate is receiving support from PACs which promote the interests of a foreign government.

Alison Weir, president of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and executive director of If Americans Knew, provided a sobering account of the American media's failure to report accurately on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Weir pointed out that deaths of Israelis, particularly Israeli children, are disproportionally reported on by the media, while the deaths of Palestinian children receive little coverage, even though many more Palestinian children have been killed.

Sunday, March 4 was Occupy AIPAC's principal day of action. Throughout the day, Occupy AIPAC supporters congregated in front of the Washington Convention Center, making sure that their voices were heard by AIPAC's 13,000 conference attendees. The boisterous demonstrators engaged in various chants, visual demonstrations, and conversations with AIPAC attendees, urging them to reconsider their unflinching support for the Israeli state.

The Sunday protests provided an interesting contrast in messages. Outside the convention center, Occupy AIPAC demonstrators, some dressed in boxes to symbolize Zionist settlements, attempted to highlight the unjust human rights abuses occurring in Palestine. Inside the building, President Barack Obama told conference attendees that the U.S. and Israel share "a commitment to human dignity" and that both nations are working to build a world in which "peace is founded upon justice."

As protesters urged the U.S. to avoid being pressured into war with Iran by Israel, President Obama told AIPAC "that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say."

Seeking to dissuade President Obama from acting on this threat, Occupy AIPAC held a March 5 demonstration in front of the White House during Obama's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Occupy AIPAC concluded its activities on March 6 with a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. Photos and videos of the week's events and can be found at <www.occupyaipac.org>.

Dale Sprusansky   

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