The 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference is currently underway in Washington, DC. The conference is no small affair; as is the case every year, there is a star-studded speakers list. This year, nearly all of the American presidential candidates are scheduled to speak, each no doubt hoping to convince conference goers that they love Israel more than their competitors in the presidential race.
All of this would be business as usual were it not for the controversy stirred up by Donald Trump’s participation in the conference. Many Jewish and non-Jewish groups and individuals plan to protest Trump at AIPAC this week because he does not reflect their values. Trump’s flagrantly racist statements and violent and exclusionary rhetoric are deeply troubling to many across the political spectrum. But it is important to note that AIPAC inviting Trump is not an aberration, it is in line with AIPAC’s mission to support Israel regardless of how illegal and repressive its policies are.
Those who are frightened by what they hear from the US Republican frontrunner ought to be dismayed by what they see coming out of AIPAC. One can only hope that AIPAC’s alignment with Trump will help to reveal the lobbying group for what it is: a tired political institution that has peddled in Islamophobic and racist tropes against Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs for decades as part of their work in securing unquestioning US support for Israel; and their grasp on American politics is slipping.The reality is many of the alarming statements and political proposals that have even AIPAC goers up in arms over Trump’s participation are already policy in Israel. Israel’s Law of Return privileges Jewish immigrants over non-Jews, Israel already refuses to open its doors to Syrian refugees (many of whom are of Palestinian origin), and is building highly militarized walls both on its southern border to keep out migrants and refugees, and throughout the West Bank to seize land and limit Palestinian freedom of movement. There is not much difference between Netanyahu’s racist fear-mongering to get votes in the 2015 Israeli election, and the blatant racism of Trump, or the no-less-racist dog-whistling by other candidates. And AIPAC unquestioningly supports Israel’s rights to continue these oppressive practices.
There is a growing progressive movement in this country. Americans everywhere are voicing their concern with police brutality, mass incarceration, economic inequality, and structural racism. More and more, people are drawing connections between the various forms of oppression here in the US and those in Palestine. Those who care about social justice and equality are supporting the movement for justice for Palestinians.
Despite all of this, AIPAC continues to champion the Israeli government’s racist and oppressive practices. Democratic and Republican politicians eager for campaign contributions may still feel the need to pander to AIPAC, but there is growing criticism of Israel among key demographics, including young people, people of color, and women.
AIPAC is even alienating many American Jews who are increasingly outraged at the injustices committed by Israel. The majority of the American Jewish community oppose settlement expansion and have deep doubts about Israel’s commitment to peace and equality for all its citizens. Recent polling found that Jewish American students have an increasingly negative image of Israel, with a mere 31% saying they believe that Israel is a democracy. Clearly, AIPAC is out of touch with reality, clinging to a base of reactionary hard-liners, peddling in fear. Sound familiar?
Those of us who will be tuning in to this year’s AIPAC conference should, as always, prepare to hear a litany of speakers heaping praise on the Israeli government. Many will no doubt vow to fight the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Some may even condemn Palestinians for bringing their oppression upon themselves. And we can almost certainly expect not to hear the words “occupation,” “Apartheid,” or “racism.”
If Trump’s racism or policy proposals shock us, then so too should AIPAC. If the other candidates’ dehumanizing rhetoric about Palestinians makes us uncomfortable, then so too should AIPAC. If the claim that the BDS movement—a nonviolent movement that includes many Jews and emphasizes human rights—is essentially anti-Semitic confounds us, then so too should AIPAC. AIPAC represents everything we should seek to purge from politics: racism, inhumanity, fear-mongering, and entrenched commitment to the status quo.