Posted by on March 08, 2013 in Blog

This week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual conference in Washington, bringing together thousands of activists from around the country to press members of Congress towards the group’s agenda. AIPAC’s influence on Capitol Hill is legendary and was on display during the battle over Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Defense Department. Though the organization officially stayed out of the confirmation fight, it must have relished the spectacle of watching Senators of both parties fight over who loved Israel the most, a display that was memorably parodied on Saturday Night Live.

After President Obama gave the keynote speech last year, the administration sent Vice President Joe Biden to address the group this year. His speech was full of things he promised the Obama Administration would do for Israel, but notably short on what the US might get in return. He trumpeted the billions of dollars the US has spent on Israeli security since Obama took office, paying special attention to the Iron Dome system of rocket interceptors. He reminded the audience that the US had protected Israel multiple times from the scrutiny of international bodies like the UN, accusing the Palestinians of unilateralism in taking their case to the UN. (As Peter Beinart points out, it’s a funny kind of unilateralism that gets yes votes from more than 130 countries.) He defended Israel’s supposed right to impose an indefinite blockade against Gaza, preventing certain foods and most building supplies from legally entering the Palestinian enclave. Biden also took at face value Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated commitment to a two-state solution, forgetting the Prime Minister’s integral role in sabotaging the Oslo Accords in the 1990’s, and his coddling of West Bank settlers during his time in office. But Biden saved his most strident language for Iran, pledging that President Obama would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, using force to accomplish that goal if diplomacy doesn’t work.

After hearing from Vice President Biden, AIPAC activists made their annual pilgrimage to the Hill to meet with members of Congress. Among their requests this year was an attempt to exempt Israel’s annual aid package, worth $3.1 billion this year, from the cuts mandated by the sequester. At a time when the federal government is cutting funds for vaccinations, health care, air traffic controllers and hundreds of other vital government functions, AIPAC seems to believe that Israel’s rather substantial assistance should be exempted. Thankfully, even some staunchly pro-Israel members of Congress like California’s Brad Sherman balked at this request. Still, the fact that AIPAC even had the temerity to ask for such an exemption should be taken as an illustration of its power.

AIPAC activists were also advancing a bellicose resolution introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that would commit the US to back any eventual Israeli strike against Iran. The resolution came during the same week that US negotiators met with Iranian delegates in Kazakhstan to seek a resolution to disputes over the Iranian nuclear program. Such hawkish resolutions undermine American claims that it would prefer to solve the dispute diplomatically and add suspicion to an already fractious Iranian-American relationship. It strains credulity to think the timing was a coincidence. Such needless provocations only hurt the US and Israel, since both countries would be much better off seeing the Iranian conflict resolved diplomatically. Hopefully, when AIPAC delegates next head to the Hill, they’ll be asking Congress to support measures that would lead towards a peaceful outcome.       


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