By Cara MariAnna
November 2, 2023 The Floutist
AIPAC has involved the U.S. in a revolting crime against humanity that will almost certainly undermine American security at home and abroad. It must be broken.
“. . . the United States will not be able to deal with the vexing problems in the Middle East if it cannot have a serious and candid discussion of the role of the Israel lobby.” —John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
As Israel began accelerating its bombing campaign in Gaza last month, the president of the United States sat with Israel’s prime minister at the start of an Israeli war cabinet meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu had phoned Joe Biden two days previously to request what The Times of Israel called a “solidarity visit.”
Much has passed since Biden’s visit to Israel. The atrocity of Israel’s indiscriminate military campaign in Gaza is now widely recognized as constituting a genocide. Principled non–Western nations — Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Honduras — began last week to sever relations with Tel Aviv or recall their ambassadors. Since then, an additional five countries have pulled their ambassadors from Israel including South Africa, Jordan and Turkey. The world order, as should be obvious, has been disrupted.
But questions remain. What does solidarity, as Biden pledges, mean when Israel is daily committing war crimes for all the world to see? Why is the U.S., in violation of international law and everything it claims to stand for, aiding and abetting Israel’s agenda of ethnic cleansing in Gaza? Why, bringing matters closer to home, is the United States prioritizing the interests and security of Israel above its own, while simultaneously damaging its credibility and authority abroad?
These questions raise the subject of the role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. U.S. foreign policy aligns so congruently with AIPAC’s agenda that there is little distinction between them. In effect, the U.S. lacks an independent foreign policy that reflects its own security interests in West Asia.
At this critical moment of violence, human suffering and chaos, we must recognize that AIPAC, an unelected, technically nongovernmental agency, exercises an excessive, wholly inappropriate influence in global affairs as well as in U.S. politics. This is very rarely mentioned in our corporate media, and we can read this silence as a measure of the organization’s unacceptable accumulation of power.
AIPAC’s influence on U.S. policy, domestic as well as foreign, has been considered many times. Most notably, there is the work of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose 2008 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, stands as the most extensive examination of AIPAC’s power we have to date.
Their analysis is now more pertinent than ever. In the current context, given the magnitude of what is unfolding — given its potential impact on relationships among many different nations — we must recognize that AIPAC’s reach extends well beyond Washington or West Asia. Indeed, the committee’s influence is now evident in world affairs altogether. This is our disturbing reality.
Lobbying is paramount among AIPAC’s various activities. As a lobbying group, it devotes its efforts to ensuring that U.S. policy in West Asia
- a) prioritizes the containment of nations considered hostile to Israel, specifically, Iran, Iraq, and Syria,
- b) prevents these countries from acquiring effective deterrents to Israel’s nuclear arsenal, and
- c) precludes any viable solution to the Palestinian question — a crisis caused when the state of Israel was founded and the homes and lands of indigenous Arabs were forcibly taken.
Invading Iraq & Sinking Iran Nuclear Deal
Ranking among AIPAC’s most significant efforts, it was intimately involved in getting Congress to support George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. As reported recently by Eli Clifton in Responsible Statecraft, AIPAC cynically repeated the “Bush administration’s erroneous claim that Saddam Hussein was in league with al–Qaeda.”
In The Israel Lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt quote AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr’s statement to the New York Sun in January 2003, two months before the invasion, in which he acknowledged that “‘quietly’ lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq” was one of “AIPAC’s successes over the past year.” Disturbingly, as Clifton reports, AIPAC has since worked to expunge evidence of its support for the unpopular war from the record.
The multi-party agreement governing Iran’s nuclear programs was another among AIPAC’s major targets. In 2015 it spent millions in an unsuccessful attempt to kill President Barack Obama’s signature diplomatic accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This was a major hopeful step toward normalizing relations with Iran and ending decades of crippling sanctions. Undeterred, the lobby continued working to undermine the accord after it was signed in July 2015.
Finding an ally in former President Donald Trump — whose campaign was heavily financed by members of the pro–Israel lobby opposed to the JCPOA, notably Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson — AIPAC redoubled its efforts, sending thousands of lobbyists to Congress in the months leading up to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement on May 8, 2018. It was among the first major policy reversals, and one of the most consequential, of Trump’s presidency.
The Israel lobby, led by AIPAC, exerts inordinate influence on all government discourse and policy matters related to Palestinian sovereignty and rights. Voices in support of Palestinians are almost never heard within the government — a prohibition AIPAC has cultivated over many decades. Any critique of Israel or AIPAC, in turn, is labeled anti–Semitic and swiftly punished.
Congresswoman Ilan Omar, for example, was removed from her position on the Foreign Affairs Committee in early 2023 for comments she made on Twitter questioning “the financial relationship between AIPAC . . . and members of Congress.”
A recent Washington Post article, “In Israeli–Palestinian battle to sway Congress, only one side wins,” describes the unparalleled and unrivaled power AIPAC has over public discourse and ultimately American policy:
“Pro–Israel lobbyist groups and individuals contributed nearly $31 million to American congressional candidates during last year’s election cycle — more than six times the contributions candidates received from the gun rights lobby — according to Open Secrets, a Washington nonprofit that tracks campaign finance and lobbying data.”
Biden’s Visit to Israel
With this reality in mind — a dangerous reality given AIPAC’s extremist character — let’s consider Biden’s visit to Israel last month.
Biden has given two speeches since that war cabinet meeting, one in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, the other upon returning to Washington, when he addressed the nation on Oct. 20. In each, the president reiterated all of the talking points and established dogma that have long characterized the U.S. relationship with Israel, all of which support Israeli priorities.
Nothing new was offered — no moral clarity, no fresh vision of how to address the original moral crime committed against the Palestinians when their homeland was taken from them 75 years ago, a theft of land that accounts for the never-ending cycle of violence we witness once again.
Biden performed on command in Israel: He was called to Tel Aviv, and answered the call, solely to legitimize what is profoundly illegitimate and to provide political cover for Israel as it finds itself increasingly alone in a world in which few nations beyond the West sanction the crimes it now commits.
He assured Israel of U.S. unconditional support and subsequently promised $14.3 billion in new military assistance — this atop of a 10-year package of $38 billion committed during the Obama years. In short, Biden has licensed Israel to do whatever it wants — and Israel is doing just that — including razing Gaza City to the ground and ridding the north of the territory of all Palestinians.
Two factors explain this abject policy failure: First and obviously, this president isn’t capable of statesmanship of the magnitude required. Moreover, he professes a deep personal affinity for the Zionist vision — for Israel to seize all the lands of Biblical Palestine as its own — and no incentive to do anything other than align himself with Israel’s interest.
More important and directly to my point, with Biden serving as an almost perfect example: No new thinking and no new policies are ever possible because of AIPAC’s stranglehold on U.S. elections, politics and politicians.
The world is a far more dangerous place, far more Palestinians have been killed, and the U.S. is far less secure, since Biden’s visit to Israel. AIPAC is more or less directly responsible for this.
It should not be difficult to miss the gravity, the peril indeed, of the post–Oct. 7 crisis in West Asia. The region threatens to explode, and there is no able leadership in the United States, in large part because its foreign policy has been shaped by a special-interest group that has worked for decades in behalf of another nation.
Washington’s unthinking, pro–Israel bias has blinded U.S. policy elites such that no one in Washington, and certainly not Biden nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appears to understand that there is a seismic shift in global power taking place.
U.S. security and standing in the world are suddenly more precarious than they have been the whole of its history. The U.S. is being damaged — is seriously damaging itself — by its continued unwavering support of a nation that is so clearly out of control and that has been recognized by many human rights organizations as an apartheid state. Supporting Israel is no longer in the best interest of the United States, if ever it was, and is becoming an increasing liability.
We cannot any longer overlook the role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in all this. It bears considerable responsibility for this global upheaval and for the damage the U.S. sustains as it supports the nation AIPAC serves.
AIPAC & the 1953 Qibya Massacre
Founded in 1954 as the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs, AIPAC’s mission was at the start threefold: to advance a pro–Israel agenda within the U.S. government; to shape public opinion in support of Israel; to close ranks within the American Jewish community, so creating a monolithic and united Jewish front, by censoring and ostracizing any Jew who criticized Israel, no matter what Israel did. From the beginning, then, AIPAC’s mission was bound to be detrimental to U.S. democracy and policy alike.
The pro–Israel lobby as we now have it emerged as a public relations response to a massacre of Palestinians in the village of Qibya 70 years ago last month. Doug Rossinow, an academic historian, described the events in “The dark roots of AIPAC, ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,’” published March 6, 2018, in The Washington Post:
“. . . on Oct. 15, 1953, all hell broke loose. News spread that a special Israeli army unit had struck into the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and committed a massacre in the Palestinian village of Qibya, killing more than 60 civilians indiscriminately in retaliation for the murder of a Jewish woman and her two children in Israel on the night of Oct. 12.
The strike reflected Israeli policy. . . . Prime Minister David Ben–Gurion had fixed on a policy of reprisals — military assaults, intentionally disproportionate, on local Arab populations — as a response to any such attacks. After the Oct. 12 killings, Ben–Gurion and top colleagues chose nearby Qibya to suffer retribution.
Time magazine carried a shocking account of deliberate, even casual mass murder by Israeli soldiers at Qibya — ‘slouching . . . smoking and joking.’ The New York Times ran extensive excerpts from a U.N. commission that refuted Israeli lies about the incident.”
The response from Washington was immediate: Aid to Israel was suspended. At the U.N. Security Council, the United States supported a censure of Israel. This was during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in the White House. Today, any American response of this kind to Israeli violations of international law is inconceivable — testimony to AIPAC’s success.
Ben-Gurion’s policy of asymmetrical retaliation is precisely what is now happening in Gaza. It is the enactment of a longstanding Israeli strategy of inflicting maximum casualties on Palestinians to crush them into submission or, failing that, eliminate them completely. America, it must be noted, remains silent.
This is the historical context that AIPAC has successfully erased from public discourse and memory. In direct consequence, when Hamas launched its attack on Oct. 7, Israel was able to deny that their own policies helped to create the conditions that set the stage for the Hamas strike.
This intentional erasure of history enables the Israel lobby to twist public perceptions so that American sympathy lies with Israel while the suffering of the Palestinians remains largely invisible.
AIPAC’s influence on the U.S. political process and within party politics is well-known and well-documented. No one makes it into the White House, and very few are elected to Congress, without swearing fealty to Israel and the American Israel lobby. Few politicians last in political office without accommodating the demands of AIPAC.
The lobby spends millions of dollars promoting its favored candidates while aggressively undermining any who express criticism of Israel or concern for the plight of Palestinians.
Obviously, U.S. foreign and domestic policies should reflect and respond to American security interests and the needs of its people, and not the needs of Israel. It is therefore not surprising that a key feature of AIPAC propaganda is the fiction that U.S. interests naturally align with those of Israel.
Reinforcing this, AIPAC routinely flies new congressional representatives to Israel, where they meet with government officials in a process of pro–Israel indoctrination to secure continuing U.S. political, financial, and military support. In reality, U.S. uncritical support of Israel has long enraged the Arab world, making the U.S. less safe, and was one of the motives behind the 9/11 attacks.
AIPAC’s reach extends deeply into the legislative and executive branches of U.S. government, U.S. think tanks, foreign policy elites, corporate media and academia — a phenomenon extensively researched and documented by Mearsheimer and Walt. In a working paper published in 2006 under the same name as their book and available here, the authors had this to say:
“. . . were it not for the lobby’s ability to work effectively within the America political system, the relationship between Israel and the United States would be far less intimate than it is today.”
Seventeen years later this reads like a gross understatement. The Israel lobby is effectively running U.S. foreign policy in West Asia and funneling billions of dollars to Israel in support of a racist Zionist agenda — a system of apartheid, according to the U.N. and Amnesty International — that weakens the United States, undermines our domestic policies and welfare, and destabilizes the entire region.
Here, again, are Mearsheimer and Walt:
“If the lobby’s impact were confined to U.S. economic aid to Israel, its influence might not be that worrisome. Foreign aid is valuable, but not as useful as having the world’s only superpower bring its vast capabilities to bear on Israel’s behalf. Accordingly, the lobby has also sought to shape the core elements of U.S. Middle East policy. In particular, it has worked successfully to convince American leaders to back Israel’s continued repression of the Palestinians and to take aim at Israel’s primary regional adversaries — Iran, Iraq and Syria — as well as groups like Hezbollah.”
As we have it now, U.S. support for Israel’s brutal destruction of Gaza — its project of ethnic cleansing — for which the U.S. is now complicit in war crimes and genocide — is due largely to decades of AIPAC lobbying efforts, particularly in Congress. AIPAC’s influence is such that it has involved the U.S. in a revolting crime against humanity that will almost certainly undermine American security at home and abroad, as it threatens to expand into a regional conflict. No lobby should have this kind of power.
It is very difficult to criticize Israel, and U.S. policy that favors Israel, for several reasons. First, media coverage of events in West Asia has long been slanted in Israel’s favor so that it is almost impossible to get unbiased information from mainstream news sources.
Related to this and as I have already mentioned, the historical context surrounding the conflict has been erased by the press and in public memory. Last, one of the more cynical strategies AIPAC employs is branding anyone who criticizes Israel an anti–Semitev— an accusation it habitually and obviously uses to censor and silence dissent.
Impeding a Resolution
All that I outline here has made it impossible to resolve the need for Palestinians to have a secure homeland, whether that is a one– or two-state solution. Until this fundamental issue is resolved, the entire region will remain unstable, Israelis will never be safe, Palestinians, denied basic human rights, will continue to suffer under Israeli apartheid, and the Palestinian resistance will continue its sporadic attacks — all of which undermines global stability and security.
For things to change the United States needs entirely new thinking, a new vision, an altogether new foreign policy agenda regarding the state of Israel and West Asia. This will only come to be when AIPAC loses the influence it currently holds over America’s elected officials and policy elites — and indeed at all levels in Washington, within corporate media, and academia — is broken.
AIPAC, it is time to conclude, must be broken. Peace in West Asia and a stable order elsewhere depend on this project.
The way forward as I see it is twofold:
First, a bright light must be kept focused on Israel’s war crimes and on its long-established policy of apartheid.
Second, and related to this, the history that has been erased must be resurrected — the history of Zionism, of the founding of Israel, and of the sustained and systemic violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people.
Along with this, the U.S. must come to terms with the historical presence and influence of Christian Zionism, a movement that sustains AIPAC’s influence as it enables the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.
The project I describe is in no way easily accomplished. It will necessitate a relentless and sustained campaign: on social media, within independent journalism and within the political arena, a project capable of reaching deeply into American society and politics.
It is an effort each of us can take up according to our abilities and influence. Among other things, it will require time and courage, including the courage to risk accusations of anti–Semitism.
Ultimately, it may be that Israel’s conduct itself is what will eventually break AIPAC’s influence. People around the world, including in America, can see for themselves, now as clearly as they did after the Qibya massacre in 1953, that Israel’s behavior is not rational or just and that it constitutes an intentional program of ethnic-cleansing.
Above all else, America — and ordinary Americans — must regain a more balanced and critical perspective toward Israel, one that properly prevailed before the advent of AIPAC.
-Cara MariAnna publishes a Substack newsletter, Our Journey. She is a painter and has a Ph.D. in American Studies.
The original version of this article was published by The Floutist.