By Christopher J. Petherick
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Across the street from the annual policy planning convention held by the pro-Israeli lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a band of tireless grassroots activists staged their own counter-conference the weekend of March 2-4, which they dubbed “Occupy AIPAC,” like the story of David versus Goliath. The organizers of the event hosted speakers and informational seminars, took to the streets to protest and even infiltrated and disrupted AIPAC’s gathering as more than half of Congress, the U.S. president, the top GOP presidential candidates and a host of foreign dignitaries showed up to pay homage to the most powerful lobby in America.
According to Rae Abileah, the co-director of the group CODEPINK, at one point four Occupy AIPAC activists managed to infiltrate an AIPAC policy conference panel titled “Stopping Iran,” in which Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Israeli Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff were speakers. CODEPINK is among several groups that organized the weekend counter-conference.
Right in the middle of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s speech, the four stood up to interrupt—or “mic check” as they called it—the 10-term Cuban-American
congresswoman, shouting: “Ros-Lehtinen is pushing war based on lies,” “AIPAC supports endless war” and “Occupy Wall Street not Iran.”
As this was going on, another group unfurled a banner right inside the main hall hosting the AIPAC conference that read: “Don’t Bomb Iran.”
The activists videotaped AIPAC supporters’ violent reactions to the disruptions, posting the video to the Internet for the world to see. As this issue of AFP goes to press, the video has already received 15,000 viewings along with hundreds of comments denouncing AIPAC.
“Shortly after the people’s mic began, the crowd of AIPAC attendees reacted forcefully,” Ms. Abileah told journalists. “Some of them climbed over chairs to reach the demonstrators, and one of the disruptors, Rick Colbath-Hess, was violently yanked down to the floor by his necktie. After the mic check, Laura Kacere of Occupy D.C. and Ridgely Fuller of CODEPINK and Occupy Boston both stood on chairs and chanted ‘Don’t bomb Iran.’ The AIPAC crowd responded by singing the Israeli national anthem, led by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and the activists were eventually escorted out.”
Ms. Abileah added that Americans need to understand why Rep. Ros-Lehtinen would go so far as to introduce in the House a companion bill to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (I-Conn.) S.R. 380,which seeks to lower the threshold for a U.S. attack on Iran.
“Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has received $243,240 in campaign contributions from the Israel lobby,” said Ms. Abileah, “including $34,500 in the last election alone.”
After the group was dragged from AIPAC’s conference, Colbath-Hess, the protester who was assaulted by AIPAC attendees, had this to say about the Obama administration’s claims regarding diplomacy: “The Obama administration needs to focus on diplomacy rather than be dragged into another war we can’t afford. In the past three years, the Obama administration has had discussions with the Iranian government for only 45 minutes—that is hardly what one would call ‘diplomacy.’ ”
What was the point of the Occupy AIPAC meeting? “AIPAC has a dangerous stranglehold over U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East,” said the meeting’s organizers. “AIPAC’s unrelenting support for the illegal policies of the Israeli government— separation walls, settlements, the siege of Gaza—in addition to its bellicose policies across the region, especially Iran, has been devastating for Palestinians and the Middle East, including Israel. It also harms our reputation around the world and squanders $3 billion a year subsidizing the powerful Israeli military when we need that money to rebuild the United States.”
There is no doubt that AIPAC is the most powerful lobby in Washington, D.C., dictating policy for the U.S. government when it comes to the Mideast. Even during these tough economic times, where some cities are facing as much as 50 percent unemployment among certain demographic groups, AIPAC has still managed to secure $30 billion in taxpayer handouts for Israel in the next decade.
“It’s time to wean U.S. policy away from AIPAC’s grip toward an even-handed position that respects international law and the human rights of all people in the region,” said the group’s organizers. “The goal is to pull the rug out from under the floor of AIPAC, to expose the truth about this lobby group and its occupation policies, and to show how another policy is possible.”
Occupy AIPAC activists also interrupted a speech delivered by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) during the main part of the AIPAC conference.
Although AIPAC is clearly operating as what the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act defines as a “foreign agent,” it has never registered as such and is therefore in flagrant violation of the law. However, the U.S. Justice Department has consistently refused to prosecute AIPAC.
Christopher Petherick is the executive editor of AMERICAN FREE PRESS. Chris encourages all readers with Internet access to sign up for AFP’s free weekly email newsletter. It’s loaded with house news and special offers available only to newsletter recipients and AFP web site users.