From the Field

Progressive Jewish Voices Challenge AIPAC

Imagine 2050 Staff • Mar 07, 2013

By Kalia Abiade

“Jewish and proud and AIPAC does not speak for me.”

That’s the bold message commuters in Washington, D.C., saw this week on 100 subway billboard ads as about 13,000 delegates gathered in the district for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference.

The ads, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and Avaaz, feature the faces of American Jews and say to President Obama and Congress, “Most Jewish Americans are pro-peace. AIPAC is not.” 

The ads reflect the sentiments of Jews who disagree with the lobbying group on a number of issues, including U.S. support for Israeli military buildup and Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories. The executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rebecca Vilkomerson, says AIPAC’s “rightwing agenda” makes peace negotiations “impossible.”

“From the perspective of my Jewish values, too, I see the pro-Israel lobby doing much more harm than good,” Volkomerson told Tablet Magazine. “In all its component parts, it encourages Islamophobia, fundamentalist Christian apocalyptic anti-Semitism, and the elevation of power over justice.”

Vilkomerson is not alone in saying the pro-Israel lobby promotes Islamophobia. Academics, activists, and journalists have pointed out the codependence of the so-called “counter-jihad” movement and the American pro-Israel lobby in the United States.

Nathan Lean dedicates an entire chapter in his book, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims, to outlining the link between the pro-Israel lobby and the network of anti-Muslim agitators. Hatem Bazian, a lecturer and instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, says that “pro-Israel activists have set up the structural backbone of the Islamophobia operations in the United States.” They say that a strong anti-Muslim message is needed to maintain the current level of U.S. support for Israel.

Some organizations “believe that the more acceptance there is of Muslims here at home, the less reflexive hatred there will be for Muslims abroad. And that, in their view, reduced America’s sympathy for Israel.” MJ Rosenberg, a former Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network, wrote in 2010. Rosenberg was also the editor of AIPAC’s weekly newsletter, “Near East Report,” in the early 1980s.

As the ad campaign kicked off Sunday, March 3, the AIPAC conference featured Steven Emerson, a vanguard member of the Islamophobia movement in the U.S. as a speaker. The town hall meeting, “The Threat From Within: Islamic Radicalism in the United States,” was described to conference-goers as follows:

Islamic extremists operating within the United States pose a serious risk to America’s security. Acts of domestic terrorism, as well as various attacks that have been thwarted by intelligence agencies and law enforcement, point to the severity of the threat. What can and should the United States do to combat these homegrown radicals?

Emerson has been described as a “heavy-handed scaremonger who fails to grasp – or deliberately blurs – the most rudimentary distinctions between different radical groups.”

In August 2011, the Center for American Progress listed Emerson as one of five people who claim to be scholars and act, instead, as “misinformation experts” to “generate the false facts and materials” that are then used by politicians and pundits to create a climate of fear.”

When, AIPAC, arguably the most powerful Jewish lobbying group in the U.S., effectively endorses a stalwart Islamophobe such as Emerson, turns a blind eye to his questionable record and gives him a platform on their national stage, it is important that groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Avaaz continue to speak up.

“The pro-Israel lobby can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda,” Vilkomerson said, “But it cannot claim to do so in our names.”

Jewish Voice for Peace, along with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Jews Say No, is a member of the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition based in New York.

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