Banned! AIPAC Bars AlterNet From Covering Its Big Conference

On Super Tuesday, the three top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination will not spend the morning campaigning for votes in the 10 states holding primaries and caucuses that day. Instead, they will address a conference of some 13,000 Israel-boosters  at the Washington Convention Center in the nation's capital. Supporters of Israeli's hawkish foreign policy and its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip will likely find much to admire in an address to be delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, who has been banging the war drums for a strike on Iran. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to address the conference on Sunday morning.

But even though this event will take place in Washington, DC, where I am based, and even though I cover the presidential election for AlterNet, I will not be there. And neither will our world affairs editor, Alex Kane. Why? Because the sponsoring organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, denied AlterNet the press credentials we would need to cover the event.
AIPAC is within its rights to ban AlterNet from covering its policy conference. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association. But what has me flummoxed is the fact that AIPAC press representatives decline to give us a reason. So far, the only correspondence I have received from an AIPAC representative is the following terse e-mail from Sarah Coppersmith of the Scott Circle Public Relations Group, which is handling the credentialing process for AIPAC:
Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press. However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.  
I wrote back to Coppersmith, asking for the criteria used to determine who got credentials, but received no reply. In the same e-mail, I asked to know how many other journalists were refused credentials. Calls to AIPAC's own media liaison, Adam Harris, have gone unreturned.
This much we do know: that in addition to AlterNet, Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, and Mitchell Plitnick, who has a blog called The Third Way: Finding Balance in Middle East Analysis, were also denied credentials. Both have been critical of Israeli policy in one form or another, as has Alex Kane. Plitinick was assigned to cover the AIPAC conference for Inter Press Service, and was initially granted credentials, which were later revoked. The rest of us were rejected outright.
On the surface, this looks simply like AIPAC refusing to credential a bunch of writers whose views run counter to its own. But here's the flaw in that reasoning: I have never written anything particularly critical of Israel. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever written anything about Israel, period. I'm just a campaign-trail reporter trying to cover a pretty big event in the U.S. presidential campaign -- an event called Super Tuesday.
Here's the thing that really gets me: much of my reporting focuses on the right wing of U.S. politics. I cover all manner of right-wing conferences, including the Family Research Council's annual Values Voter Summit, the American Conservative Union's annual Conservative Political Action Committee, and of course, various events sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which is chaired by David Koch, of whom I've written quite critically. The communications folks at these organizations all know who I am and know they can expect coverage from me that will not present their organization quite the way they would like it to be viewed by the general public. And yet, they grant me credentials. Back in the day, even the Christian Coalition gave me press credentials.
In fact, I would go so far to say that these rejections aren't specifically about any of the journalists who were rejected, but are about a battle being waged by Josh Block, a former AIPAC staffer, against several bloggers at Middle East Progress, part of the ThinkProgress blog of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, as well as bloggers at Media Matters. It may entail a bit of misplaced retribution for the dumping of Block as a member of the Truman Security Forum, a liberalish national security group, after Block initiated a smear campaign against ThinkProgress and Media Matters bloggers. (After all, we lefties all look alike, non?) My colleague, Joshua Holland, wrote a detailed story for AlterNet about the whole contretemps in December, a must-read if you care to understand why AlterNet has been banned from this week's big AIPAC confab.
Basically, the bloggers Block targeted have expressed particular concern over the tilt toward war with Iran that is driving Israeli foreign policy under the Netanyahu administration. Because both the Center for American Progress and Media Matters are seen as being closely allied with the Democratic Party, they are viewed by more hawkish parties as a threat to the "Israel, right or wrong" position that has long dominated not just Republican, but also Democratic thinking for decades.
Among the bloggers Block smeared as anti-Semites is ThinkProgress' Ali Gharib, a personal friend of both Holland's and mine. Gharib also happens to write for Inter Press, and has written in the past for AlterNet and Mondoweiss -- the three sites whose writers have been banned from this year's AIPAC conference. (AIPAC, however, did make allowances for IPS Washington Bureau Chief Jim Lobe, who was granted credentials.)
It pains me to engage in such speculation, but with AIPAC stonewalling me, I have been left to my own devices. I could be totally off-base here, but how am I to know? Perhaps the issue is simply the range of AIPAC-critical pieces run on AlterNet, starting with Holland's work, and include articles by Max Blumenthal and opinion pieces by Code Pink's Medea Benjamin.
As for me, I'm going to be just fine. Since being banned by AIPAC, I've picked up a rack of new Twitter followers and gained new exposure in the Israeli and American Jewish press, where my work was never visible before. The real casualty here is to AIPAC's reputation. The organization insists it is bipartisan, and has gone to some lengths to include liberals such as Donna Brazile and Paul Begala on the roster of speakers for its policy conference. But when its leaders choose to freeze out a highly selective and tiny group of progressive writers because they have a colleague in common whose views contradict AIPAC's, well, big, bad AIPAC just looks petty and small. 

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