AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) is one of the key components of the Israel lobby in the US and plays a powerful force in elections, similar to the role that the NRA plays. It advocates for very hardline Israeli policies against the Palestinians and also against any nation that it or the Israeli government deems to be opposed to Israel. Needless to say, it vigorously opposed the nuclear deal between the P5+1 nations and Iran.
So it is not unusual for American politicians to make a pilgrimage to the annual AIPAC convention and declare their unwavering loyalty to Israel, and this year saw the usual parade with one notable exception, Bernie Sanders, who happens to be the only Jewish contender among those seeking the presidency.
But what was remarkable was the extent of the extreme pandering that Hillary Clinton indulged in at AIPAC. In an article titled Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC Speech Symphony of Craven, Delusional Pandering, Michelle Goldberg writes:
Any presidential candidate speaking to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, during an election year is going to bow to the hawkish elements of the Israel lobby. Hillary Clinton’s keynote speech at AIPAC’s annual meeting Monday, however, was more debased than it needed to be, promising that under her administration, Israel will be spared even the mild rebukes it has suffered under President Obama. A symphony of pandering, it attempted to outflank Donald Trump on the right and will end up outraging a large chunk of the left.
As Joe Biden acknowledged in his AIPAC speech on Sunday, Israel’s “steady and systematic process of expanding settlements, legalizing outposts, seizing land” is making a two-state solution impossible. The settlements are pushing Israel toward a one-state reality, in which Jews rule over the Arabs with whom they are geographically intermingled. Clinton’s speech, however, barely nodded toward this reality, and when it did, it was with a promise to protect Israel from the consequences of flouting international law.
Here is the entirety of Clinton’s remarks about settlements: “Everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements. Now, America has an important role to play in supporting peace efforts. And as president, I would continue the pursuit of direct negotiations. And let me be clear—I would vigorously oppose any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution, including by the U.N. Security Council.”
As is typical, the UN is praised by the US only when it agrees to do what the US wants and is condemned and defied when the US or Israel opposes its actions. Of course Clinton attacked the BDS movement as well.
This year of all years, Clinton could have afforded to show a bit of courage before AIPAC. Jews will vote Democratic no matter what. Sixty-nine percent of them voted for Obama in 2012, despite the well-known tension between him and Netanyahu. Unlike Obama, Clinton is going to be running against a demagogue with German roots who plays footsie with white supremacists and reportedly kept a volume of Hitler’s speeches beside his bed. She’ll have all the Jewish support she needs without sucking up to the Likud.
So why is she doing it? Her correspondence with adviser Sid Blumenthal—a man loathed by the Israel lobby for not disavowing his anti-Zionist son, Max—suggests that she’s aware of the damage Netanyahu is doing to the cause of peace in the Middle East. But if she is, she doesn’t care about it enough to take even a tiny political risk, to tell a crowd something other than exactly what it wants to hear. Either Clinton’s AIPAC speech was driven by belief, or it was driven by cynicism. It’s hard to say which is worse.
So we have, if we needed it, yet another example of craven Clinton pandering, telling people what they want to hear.
Donald Trump is no slouch when it comes to pandering either. In one debate he showed a sliver of independent thinking when he said that he would adopt a neutral stance between Israel and Palestine in order to broker a deal and would not commit to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Both of those statements angered the Israel lobby and AIPAC so when he spoke to AIPAC, he reversed course on both.
Bernie Sanders could not make it to AIPAC but offered to give his speech via remote link but AIPAC refused, though they have accommodated other speakers this way in the past. Zaid Jilani links to the speech Sanders would have given to AIPAC but that he gave in Salt Lake City instead. In his speech,Sanders spoke about the suffering of the Palestinians but, as Jilani notes, few US media outlets covered it.
Sanders released the text of his speech. Here is part of it and I urge everyone to read the full thing because he said things that few Americans hear.
I am here to tell you that, if elected president, I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza, they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44 percent – the highest in the world – and a poverty rate nearly equal to that. There is too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored.
Peace will require the unconditional recognition by all of Israel’s right to exist. It will require an end to attacks of all kinds against Israel.
Peace will require that organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah renounce their efforts to undermine the security of Israel. It will require the entire world to recognize Israel.
Peace has to mean security for every Israeli from violence.
But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic wellbeing for the Palestinian people.
Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza – once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part. That’s why I join much of the international community, including the U.S. State Department and European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel’s recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security as well.
Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza. And it will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors. Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land. A lasting a peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives, and there is nothing human life needs more than water.
Of course, I strongly object to Hamas’ long held position that Israel does not have the right to exist. Of course, I strongly condemned indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israeli territory, and Hamas’ use of civilian neighborhoods to launch those attacks. I condemn the fact that Hamas diverted funds and materials for much-needed construction projects designed to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people, and instead used those funds to construct a network of tunnels for military purposes.
However, let me be very clear: I – along with many supporters of Israel – spoke out strongly against the Israeli counter attacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians, and wounded far more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps.
Today, Gaza is still largely in ruins. The international community must come together to help Gaza recover. That doesn’t mean rebuilding factories that produce bombs and missiles”, – but it does mean rebuilding schools, homes and hospitals that are vital to the future of the Palestinian people.
Katie Miranda imagines what would have the reaction of the audience at AIPAC if Sanders had given his speech there.