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Clinging to AIPAC for Survival is No Longer Necessary

posted on: Mar 23, 2016

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

As the 2016 presidential election intensifies, this week became a policy test for each candidate as they were invited to speak at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference. The conference boasted keynote speeches by many high ranking American officials, such as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Also invited to the conference were the democratic and republican presidential candidates, all of whom attended with the exception of Senator Bernie Sanders.

It does not come as a surprise that Sanders opted out of the AIPAC conference, seeing as his campaign has refused to accept money from or create a political action committee (PAC). Although AIPAC is not a PAC, but rather a pro-Israel lobby, the group still contributes tremendously to several campaigns and PACs in order to gain support for the pro-Israel agenda. Sanders has garnered significant support from the Arab American population because of his refusal to take money from any lobbying group, not just AIPAC.

It is no secret that the presidential candidates who did attend the AIPAC conference were doing so to cozy up to pro-Israel supporters for the purposes of enhancing the Israeli-American relationship. The first to speak was Hillary Clinton who made it clear from the start that she is a staunch Israel supporter; she spoke mostly of the need to take the U.S.-Israeli “alliance to the next level” through “even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation.” Secretary Clinton also spent time condemning the BDS movement, while stating that no sitting president can be neutral on the conflict. Political pundits are describing her speech as “hawkish” and even “delusional” in her pledges to protect Israel from the consequences of breaking international laws.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, chose to talk less about how to grow the U.S.-Israel relationship and more on how much he dislikes the Iranian government and the Palestinian Authority. Although Trump began his speech by saying “I didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel,” he was still insistent that he would be unequivocally pro-Israel in negotiations, despite earlier claims that he would be “neutral.”

Senator Ted Cruz seized Trump’s backtracking as an opportunity to say that he would make a better president because he would not be neutral. Cruz pledged to defund any university that supports BDS, move the American embassy to Jerusalem, and “stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel.” Cruz even went so far as to say that “Palestine has not existed since 1948” and is therefore undeserving of consideration in solution negotiations. Cruz’s level of sheer animosity toward Palestinians was widely enjoyed by attendees and reaffirms the growing normalcy of dehumanizing Palestinians in political rhetoric.

(Thousands gathered in Washington, D.C. to protest outside of the AIPAC conference Sunday, March 20)

The only presidential candidate to offer Arab Americans some hope for an even-handed American position with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is Bernie Sanders. In a Middle East policy speech he gave in Utah at the same time as the AIPAC conference, Sanders said that there are many Palestinians who are suffering and “you can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.” He acknowledged Palestinian rights by saying “peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.” This belief should not be a political controversy, but it is seen as the extreme proposal compared to those of Sanders’ peers.

Some pundits are saying that Sanders chose not to attend the conference because he has many pro-Palestine supporters. However, it seems more likely that the real reason he did not attend is because it would simply be uncharacteristic of a man who has for years spoken out against the influence of money and wealthy contributors in politics.

The fact that any one lobbying group is so powerful that a presidential candidate is criticized for not attending its conference is alarming. If a politicians’ presence is essential to an AIPAC conference, what else is the group capable of getting them to do? It is not democratic when a few wealthy campaign contributors determine the foreign policy stances of elected officials who represent millions of constituents.

The only reason Israel gets away with having its many racist laws, illegal settlements expansion, and little to no repercussions from the international community is because the United States stands by its side, regardless of how many American laws and values Israel violates. It must be totally unacceptable for leaders like Cruz to blast Obama for visiting Cuba because of the country’s human rights abuses, yet ignore the abuses of Israel in order to gain campaign contributions.

Bernie Sanders showed that he sticks to his principles when he refused to pander to AIPAC, or any other lobby. Donald Trump also prides himself on not taking money from any special interest groups during his campaign, but he catered to AIPAC anyway. Trump seems to think that being neutral on Israel/Palestine is equivalent to looking like someone who is anti-Israel. Perhaps times are changing, though, because as we saw on Tuesday, Sanders won two more states even though he believes Palestinians should have dignity, respect, and control of their own lives.

Untitled from Arab America on Vimeo.

(Video of the protests outside the AIPAC conference Sunday, March 20)