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Pro-Peace Groups to Confront AIPAC's Love-Fest for Israeli Militarism

“We hope to show the Congress and the administration that AIPAC is not the only game in town.”

A cultural and political rift is widening within the Jewish-American community. It's a divide that will be on display later this month in Washington, DC, as the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) holds its annual meeting and a broad coalition of progressive groups answer with a dueling “Move Over, AIPAC” conference highlighting the powerful PAC's disproportionate influence over U.S. policy in the Middle East.

“We hope to show the Congress and the administration that AIPAC is not the only game in town,” Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, one of the campaign organizers, told AlterNet. “It doesn't represent all of the opinions of the Jewish community or of the population at large, and it's time for U.S. policy in the Middle East to be made in the interest of the United States and not in the perceived interest of Israel.”

Benjamin described the three-day event as an opportunity to “bring together people from a wide spectrum of organizations – we now have around 150 endorsers – and it's a time to learn what other groups are doing around the country in term of education campaigns, boycott campaigns and all the different ways that communities are getting involved in this issue.” She said participants would also strategize for the inevitable “backlash” to come from the “pro-militaristic Israel community.”

Scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby, will serve as the event's keynote speakers. Walt toldThe Big Thinkthat the two realists had received a “non-trivial amount of abuse” from the lobby headed by AIPAC for offering the “pretty banal” suggestion that “we should treat [Israel] the same way we treat other democracies like Britain, or France, or Japan, or India – where we support them when they're doing things that are in our interest, and where we don't support them when they're doing things that aren't in our interest.”

Also scheduled to speak are Ambassador Chas Freeman, law professor Noura Erakat, retired colonel Ann Wright, author Alice Walker, and a number of prominent peace and justice activists.

At its annual meeting nearby, AIPAC will host Israel's hard-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will speak to a star-studded cast of hawkish Israel supporters. In addition to a good chunk of the Democratic establishment, confirmed speakers for this year's shindig include James Woolsey, a leading neoconservative cheerleader for the Iraq war, Dan Senor, a Fox News regular and the former chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who played a prominent part in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

According to Steven Windmueller, a professor of Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College and the author of a 2011 survey of Jewish American opinion, the lines drawn in DC will reflect a growing political schism within the community. According to the poll of 2,300 respondents, “there is a sharp divide on political attitudes and policies,” a “split models the current political landscape of the country.” Windmueller's data belie the common perception of a community with more or less homogenous views of the issues of the day. Although the sample displayed a “commonality of background,” they exhibited, “highly divergent political out comes and social priorities.” And, like the polity as a whole, liberal and conservative Jews, “negatively depicted the 'other' voting group (namely, liberals offering viewpoints on conservatives or conservatives providing comments about liberals).”

On Israel, the elephant in the room, the research suggests an emerging generational divide. As other studies have found, “younger Jewish voters would also appear to be less connected ideologically and politically to the case for Israel.” At the same time, older Jews tend to embrace more traditional liberal views on a range of domestic issues.

AIPAC has long claimed to be the soul voice of the “pro-Israel” community, but that monolithic position has been challenged in recent years, as progressive-minded Jews have come to question the PAC's unwavering support of Israel's increasingly right-wing government. “The Jewish community is becoming increasingly embarrassed by AIPAC and the policies it promotes,” said Benjamin. “Many Jews, including myself, have not been as involved in this issue in the past, but feel compelled to do so now. I think there's a huge outpouring of sentiment within the Jewish community not only that 'AIPAC doesn't speak for me,' but also that we must start using our voices to advocate an even-handed policy that respects the rights of the Palestinians.”

On May 21, a coalition of over 100 progressive organizations representing a broad swath of the American public will do just that. For more information, or to get involved in the campaign, visit //www.moveoveraipac.org/.

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