The annual AIPAC conference is perhaps diluted in meaning this year. Obama isn’t addressing it, as he’s traveling to Israel in a few weeks. Netanyahu has yet to form a post-election government. So the ever-interesting question of whether the leader of the superpower will have to defer to the leader of the client state is pushed forward a few weeks. The sequester has begun, and American government agencies with the weightiest responsibilities vis-à-vis terrorism, cyberattacks, and the like are now scrambling to deal with severe financial cutbacks. This hasn’t stopped AIPAC from getting ready to lobby that Israel be spared of any cuts facing Americans. As one AIPAC official told the Jerusalem Post, “During a period of mounting threat to our critical ally, Israel, this is no time to reduce critical assistance which would only result in greater and graver costs.” Israeli officials have been more circumspect. I would be astonished if AIPAC has the chutzpah both to attempt to exempt Israeli aid from sequester cuts and more if it actually succeeded at it, but I’ve been surprised before.
I’m trying to judge the sentiment of the conference. I’m pretty sure conference goers who spit at pro-Palestinian demonstraters outside the conference—yes, there were some—are not especially representative. I’ve been mulling over Gil Troy’s blog post, Troy being the most neoconservative voice on Peter Beinart’s website. He writes that he was impressed by the warmth of the attendees, their love for Israel, their puzzlement at the world’s general refusal to love Israel as much as they do. He adds that all the speakers on his panels were solidly in favor of a Palestinian state. I know Troy slightly, and don’t doubt his sincerity.
Perhaps then AIPAC represents a variant of the “Tel Aviv” bubble, in which many Israelis favor “in principle” a Palestinian state while remaining more or less oblivious to what the settlers and the IDF are doing in the West Bank to make a Palestinian state impossible. But can we acknowledge that this is not a circumstance in which information is censored or not widely available, or where a protest (by an Israeli Jew) would be answered by being being seized and taken away in the middle of the night? It is instead a purposeful and determined ignorance.
Outside the conference a band of protesters were trying to focus conference-goers’ attention to the Palestinian situation. At this writing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners—of the thousands in Israeli jails, individuals who can be arrested for no stated reason and held indefinitely—are on hunger strikes. Palestinian society is roiling, on the verge of an intifada which its leaders know would be disastrous. Every day Israeli settlers take more land or water; almost every day there are Palestinian protests, which Israeli forces respond to with tear gas and skunk gas. I doubt we outside the convention center made an impact; the ratio of protesters to attendees is as a mouse to an elephant. But it felt necessary to do it, even if some of us were spit at.
Besides exemption from any sequester cuts in American aid, the other big “ask” for AIPAC is for America to fight a war with Iran on its behalf. Stressing the Iranian danger was the essence of Netanyahu’s taped message to the conference. It’s the heart of the Graham-Menendez resolution, which seeks to create a political atmosphere in which American military support for an Israeli attack is automatic. One Israeli general at the conference claimed that in asking America to attack Iran, Israel really wasn’t asking for very much. In a somewhat patronizing talk, he tried to be understanding. You, said General Yadlin, fear another war, while Israelis fear a holocaust. But, he explained, America’s “fear” is quite groundless: “This is not a war, this is a one-night operation.” Can we expect to hear more more of this in the future: an effortless war, in that easy to remember phrase—“a one-night operation?” (I’m reminded of the late Richard Ben Cramer’s unequaled analysis of hasbara when he was growing up: “A land without people for a people without land”—which slipped as easily into the American consciousness as “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”)
In the future, we will explore more closely this concept of a “one-night operation.”