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Has Netanyahu killed AIPAC as an effective lobbying tool?

April 8, 2019 at 11:30 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an AIPAC conference in Washington, US on 6 March 2018 [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes a vain emperor hires two tailors who claim to make the most beautiful clothes and convince him that they are using a fine fabric invisible to anyone who is either unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid”. The emperor duly “wears” his invisible clothes and marches before his subjects. The townsfolk go along with the pretence, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. When a child in the crowd blurts out that the emperor is naked, the cry is taken up by others.

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has basically done the same by exposing the lie that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a benign presence in US politics. She dared when nobody else would to pull the group into the spotlight and question its role by asking how AIPAC uses money to buy the support of US politicians, Jews and Gentiles alike, to support Israel and demand dual allegiance.

Many believed that Omar would be destroyed by her peers who have benefited from AIPAC’s conditional largesse. The US President himself led the charge against her, and the leadership of her own Democratic Party followed him. A huge smear campaign was initiated against Omar but, perhaps surprisingly, many people came to her aid; many who did were Jews. AIPAC had to dedicate much of its annual conference to defend itself against the Congresswoman, without daring to name her. The dominant presence in the conference was Republican while the Democrats were, unusually, under-represented.

READ: A new form of ‘anti-Semitism’ targets Tlaib and Omar 

According to Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas L Friedman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned AIPAC into a rubber stamp for all of his government’s racist policies. The pro-Israel Lobby group has also gradually lost its bipartisan backing to become more of a Republican club which could ultimately endanger future US support for the Zionist state. Hence, the biggest challenge to Israel, AIPAC and Zionism itself, are the inherent self-contradictions which are embedded deeply in the ideology, but which they have believed for a long time that they could overcome through political, financial and media influence. As we have now witnessed, though, they exploded in their faces when Ilhan Omar pricked their balloon of lies.

Forcing Zionist ideology on world Jewry created an immense contradiction in the lives of Jews who were told overnight that they were not safe in their homelands and were nationals of a foreign state, Israel. This made them the perfect target for xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Haaretz posted a short video recently showing how “[US President Donald] Trump pulled every anti-Semitic trope out of the book” when addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition, in which he spoke to them as Israelis not Americans.

Orthodox Jews with the group Jews United Against Zionism gather outside the office of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MM) in a show of support on 06 March 2019 in Washington, DC. [Win McNamee/Getty Images]

Orthodox Jews with the group Jews United Against Zionism gather outside the office of Ilhan Omar to show support in Washington, US on 6 March 2019 [Win McNamee/Getty Images]

Anti-Semitism harms all Jews, even those who do not relate to or approve of Zionism because, after all, communalism is an irrational monster that does not stop to ponder such nuances. In that sense, Israel has become the biggest threat to the world’s Jews as it tries to coerce them to redefine themselves according to its ideology.

Around four centuries after the birth of nation states, we can see that they are potentially destructive and impractical in a globalised world. Nevertheless, Israel clings to its nation-state label, even though in the world that emerged after Westphalia, states built on religion were deemed to be unacceptable. The state has clung onto this status by claiming that it can be both democratic and Jewish at the same time.

Like his predecessors, Netanyahu is using Judaism the religion in order to garner support for Zionism the political ideology. He does not come from a particularly religious family — most Israelis apparently do not count themselves as religious — but has taken advantage of the situation for his political benefit. He has pushed more and more religious people into decision-making circles and adopted more discriminatory laws against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, and destroyed the possibility of the two-state solution to the extent that he is more or less declaring that Israel is an Apartheid state in all but name.

READ: Why AIPAC Is Wrong about Israel’s ‘Core Values’

As Freidman puts it, “By indulging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his quest for permanent Israeli control over the West Bank, Trump, the Congress and the Israel lobby are going to create a situation whereby the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will eventually collapse.” The Palestinians there, he adds, will then say to Israel, as some already have, that they want Israeli citizenship. “Israel will then find itself ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with the choice of either sharing power with them on the basis of equality or systematically denying it to them. When that happens the debate over what Israel should do will rip apart every synagogue, Jewish Federation and Jewish institution in America — including AIPAC.” As long as there was a credible two-state solution on the table, Friedman points out, that debate was muted. “But once that option is gone, all hell will break loose in the Jewish world and between progressives and Israel’s supporters on every US college campus. It’s already started.”

Has Netanyahu, therefore, more or less killed AIPAC as an effective lobbying tool, and damaged Israel irreparably in the process? That looks increasingly to be the case.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.