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The Israel Lobby's Big Problem: People Aren't Afraid to Criticize Israel Anymore

Right-wingers in Jerusalem keep getting more and more outrageous. But the political climate in Washington can no longer be predicted, much less taken for granted.
 
 
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I just ran across a couple of noteworthy quotes from members of AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful organization in the much-dreaded “Israel lobby” — which began its annual meeting in Washington on Monday:

“We were never exposed to anti-semitism, but we heard about anti-Israel campaigns in colleges, and next year we are going to college, and we want to have the tools to deal with that,” said a high school senior, one of some 1300 students and youth at the meeting, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Note how effortlessly this kid moves from “anti-semitism” to “anti-Israel.” That’s how AIPAC has always recruited youth: Take Americans who have never experienced anti-semitism personally and make them believe that, even if they haven’t seen any enemies, those enemies are out there, lurking everywhere, disguised as “critics of Israel,” just waiting to pounce on poor, unsuspecting Jews.

But times are changing. Even AIPAC no longer tries to keep up the old fiction that criticizing Israel is, in and of itself, an anti-semitic act. There are too many Israeli Jews, who are obviously loyal to their nation, criticizing their government for that old canard to stick.

So now the right-wingers have come up with a more sophisticated version:  “Soft” critics of Israel are OK — those who don’t go too far in their criticism — but “hard” critics of Israel are obviously anti-semites. And of course AIPAC and its right-wing partners in Israel gets to decide what counts as going too far.

Apparently it’s those “hard critics” who mount the “anti-Israel campaigns in colleges,” and they’re the ones this AIPAC high-schooler has learned to be afraid of. Well, AIPAC has to have some anti-semites out there to pursue its double-barreled strategy: Incite fear to rally the troops while justifying everything the Israel government does as necessary for Jewish survival, and therefore morally justified.

But what if American Jews stopped being afraid and stopped justifying outrageous Israel actions, like the recent announcement (while Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting the country) of 1600 new Jewish housing units in the occupied territory of East Jerusalem?

Which brings me to the other noteworthy quote, a rather blunt one from AIPAC attendee Donell Weinkopf of New York:  “I would not say that I am disappointed by the Netanyahu government. But I feel like shit. Israel did something stupid by declaring this construction. … I think that the time has come for Israel to stop biting the hand of a friend.”

Weinkopf probably tracked the incident closely.  So he knows that no one has been able to turn up evidence to refute Israeli Prime Minister’s Bibi Netanyahu’s claim that the announcement, made by a far right cabinet minister, came as a surprise to him. Let’s assume it did. But Weinkopf also knows that Bibi could have reversed the decision and immediately healed any rift with the U.S. Instead, though, he merely offered Biden a meaningless apology for “bad timing” and boasted that the building project would go ahead anyway.

Then Israel’s PM came to Washington, where Weinkopf and all the other AIPAC’ers heard him deliver a seemingly defiant speech.  The journalist who got the two rich quotes at the AIPAC meeting heard it too and described it this way: “Unsurprisingly, his speech included every possible cliche: Death camps, the relentless persecution the Jewish people have suffered throughout history, the powerful bond between the Jews and the land of Israel and, of course, Jerusalem. … Far from being a conciliatory effort, Netanyahu’s speech was riddled with borderline provocation. … He did not present a real vision for peace or compromise.”

 
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