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America’s annual festival of pandering to Israel

What a disgusting show. The annual policy conference of AIPAC, the most influential pro-Israel lobby group in the Unites States, has just been held.

Most of the main candidates in this year’s US presidential election lined up to make speeches, each trying to outdo the others in their ever more fulsome praise of Israel. Watching them speak was an exercise in filtering out lie after lie, after which there was pretty much nothing left to mull over.

Perhaps predictably, Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, made most of the headlines. Trump had made previous speeches about Israel that were considered (by the supporters of Israel-right-or-wrong) to be insufficiently enthusiastic about the prospect of an increase in Israeli war crimes. With a racist “America First” attitude, Trump seems to have an isolationist streak, and had seemed to want to be neutral.

The consensus after Trump’s speech on Monday, though, seems to be that he has turned it around. “He faced a tough test of his mettle but passed it with flying colours,” gushed Chemi Shalev of Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. His column on the subject came out all conflicted between perplexed and impressed.

There’s no doubt that Trump went out to the AIPAC podium with all guns blazing in tribute to Israel. He claimed that he “didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel” and then proceeded to pander to the audience about Israel with great enthusiasm.

He made all the right noises that he knew would get him in with the anti-Palestinian crowd, slamming “Palestinian terrorism”; the deal made by Obama and other western leaders to ease some sanctions on Iran; the United Nations; and the campaign for justice in Palestine. He didn’t put the latter in quite so many words. In fact, he used the odd term “delegitimatise Israel” for which he can perhaps be forgiven, since the word favoured by Israel — “delegitimisation” — is no less made up than the state itself.

Trump even promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be a significant change, as no state in the world recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; and he slammed Obama for being maybe “the worst thing to ever happen to Israel”. This led the president of AIPAC to distance her organisation from this attack on the US president, who is in fact a massive fan of Israeli war crimes.

After watching his speech, there is no doubt that Trump was received enthusiastically by the AIPAC conference floor, although as the organisation is thoroughly undemocratic this enthusiasm is unlikely to be reflected by the AIPAC leadership. He may have made all the right anti-Palestinian noises that the mob wanted to hear, but his performance is unlikely to have been enough to convince many that he is a true believer in Israeli war crimes and apartheid.

Very much like the rest of his campaign, the Republican seemed to be telling the audience what they wanted to hear; unfortunately, there is no denying that racist rabble-rousing which appeals to people’s fears and the lowest common denominator can have an effect. Nevertheless, Trump clearly felt that he still had to work hard to convince the AIPAC audience; he repeated “believe me” over and over again – 12 times in fact – which is apparently a habit of his.

However, the most fanatical right-wing Zionists are unlikely to be convinced. The New York-based organisation run by Victor Vancier, a former Jewish Defence League terrorist bomber, regards Trump as weak on Israel, at best, and has endorsed Ted Cruz, a Christian fundamentalist and fanatical anti-Palestinian ideologue.

Cruz, trailing Trump a fairly distant second in the race for the Republican nomination, made his own bizarre speech at the AIPAC conference, in which he claimed that “Palestine has not existed since 1948.” Worse than Nakba denial, this was actually Nakba enthusiasm, glorying in the fact that Israel wiped Palestine off the map in 1948. It was also a swipe at Trump for daring to use the word “Palestine”, even negatively.

For me, though, the real darling of AIPAC was Hillary Clinton. Her speech showed her to be a genuine and committed partisan for Israeli war crimes, propaganda, lies and racism.

She was received warmly by the audience, who knew her well as an old friend. She pandered to Israel harder than anyone else. With great enthusiasm, she attacked all the AIPAC-approved hate figures: Palestinian “terrorists”; Iran; and Israel’s latest bête noir, BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which she said was “alarming” and akin to anti-Semitism. That, of course, is a disgusting slur which deliberately conflates criticism of Israel and its illegal policies with racism. She also criticised Trump — without naming him (wise move or cowardice?) —for being “neutral” on Israel one day and enthusiastic the next.

Even Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist candidate who has seriously challenged Clinton over other substantive issues, did not sound that much better than the others lining up in the festival of pandering to Israel. While he did make some noises about “people on both sides who want peace”, he seemed to agree with Clinton (while speaking to MSNBC) that BDS is “anti-Semitic”. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that his speech would have been deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about Israel, so it’s easy to see why the AIPAC powers that be didn’t allow his video message to be broadcast. If he had actually turned up in person, he would probably have been booed, so extreme are AIPAC’s supporters.

Thankfully there are many young people these days who are questioning and challenging the narrative put forward by malignant organisations like AIPAC. Dismantling the pro-Israel lobby would be a good step towards the liberation of Palestine.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

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