Every four years, America goes through a deeply revealing ritual when all its presidential hopefuls attend the annual gathering of the Right-wing Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). They are expected to outdo themselves in promising anything and everything to the Israeli government of the day.
Aipac follows a radical Right-wing Likud agenda to the denigration of other Jewish and Israeli voices. This narrow political focus was all too obvious when the first American Jew to win a presidential primary in either major party did not find the time to accept their invitation. Bernie Sanders told Aipac in a video that, “Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian Territory, establishing mutually agreed-upon borders, and pulling back [colonies] in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza — once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part”.
Sanders’ balanced view challenged Aipac’s bigotry, which has left Israel increasingly isolated in the rapidly changing politics of the Middle East. The new reality is that no one in Washington can argue that solving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is the dominant American interest in the Middle East any more. Any future president has to recognise that he or she is condemned to watch the armed struggles across the Arab world with very little ability to interfere or dictate the outcomes.
Given the new reality that America has to work alongside its allies in the Arab world, it is all the more disturbing to hear what the other candidates actually told the Aipac gathering. The mutual denial of Middle Eastern reality between the American speakers and audience shows how distant the president race has become from what is happening on the ground.
Hillary plays to the gallery
Leading Democrat contender Hillary Clinton tugged on the Aipac heart strings with, “I have sat in Israeli hospital rooms, holding the hands of men and women whose bodies and lives were torn apart by terrorist bombs. That’s why I feel so strongly that America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival. We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighbourhoods”.
To try and be fair, she did make a nod to the two-state solution when she said that “Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity. And only a negotiated two-state agreement can survive those outcomes”.
But this one mention of Palestine was drowned out by the rest of her rhetoric, as she continued to praise Israel, saying: “We marvel that such a bastion of liberty exists in a region so plagued by intolerance. We see the vigorous, even raucous debate in Israeli politics and feel right at home.”
She closed with a dangerous comment that, “candidates for president who think the United States can outsource Middle East security to dictators, or that America no longer has vital national interests at stake in this region are dangerously wrong”. It is hard to see where that combination of thoughts might take a Clinton administration.
Trump savages Iran and UN
Donald Trump offered a surprisingly mild speech — clearly his outrageous invective is saved for the domestic American audience. After some ritual pro-Israeli comments, he focused most of his anger on Iran and the nuclear deal.
He then moved on to savage the United Nations, which he described as utterly weak and incompetent, adding that “the United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home. And it surely is not a friend to Israel”.
He ended with a bizarre summary of the various peace talks, making clear that he had no time for the Palestinians. “Israel has been trying to sit down at the negotiating table without preconditions for years. You had Camp David in 2000 where Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak made an incredible offer, maybe even too generous; [Yasser] Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert made an equally generous offer. The Palestinian [National] Authority rejected it also.
“Then [US Secretary of State] John Kerry tried to come up with a framework and [Mahmoud] Abbas didn’t even respond, not even to the secretary of state of the United States of America. They didn’t even respond.
“When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one.”
The truth that was not spoken at the Aipac meeting was that for decades, the Right-wing governments of Israel have milked the US for all the aid and arms they can get and rather than build anything like security in the region, the Israelis have retreated behind ever more oppression, higher walls, tighter security checkpoints — all to no avail.
All the blind American support for Zionist oppression has not done anything to support the cause of a just peace in Palestine and Israel and it has certainly done nothing to support the spread of the American (and global) values of rule of law, transparency and openness.
It is a pity that the candidates for America’s highest office did not speak of this rather than seeking to placate Aipac’s narrow bigotry.