At AIPAC Protest, Young American Jews Voice Rejection of Israeli Policies
Journalist and author Max Blumenthal says the vocal Jewish-led protests at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference highlight a growing generational divide on Israel-Palestine
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté.
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC wraps up its policy conference today. It’s the largest annual gathering of the Pro-Israeli government movement. But this year has also seen the largest ever Jewish led protest against AIPAC. More than 1,000 people have rallied outside.
To discuss, we are joined with Max Blumenthal, award-winning journalist and best-selling author. His books include, “Goliath”, “Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” and most recently, “The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza”.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be on with you.
AARON MATÉ: Lots to discuss. Let’s start outside, over a 1,000 people protesting over the course of this conference. Inside activists unfurling banners. Talk about what’s been called, “The Jewish Resistance to AIPAC.”
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think what you saw with the so-called Jewish Resistance, which employed some direct action measures and really put on a show of passionate rejection to the sort of institutional Jewish establishment at AIPAC by locking their arms together, blocking entrances, unfurling a banner inside the Washington, D.C. Convention Centre, was the culmination of a generational process.
It’s kind of a process I went through where you grow up. I think many of these protesters might have been a little younger than me, but you grow up watching the second intifada and the destruction of Jannine, the invasion of Lebanon and the kind of cluster bombing in southern Lebanon, the destruction of Southern Beirut by the Israeli Air Force in 2006.
Then, in 2009 we were watching Operation Cast-Led, which is the first of these really major assaults on the Gaze Strip. 2012 there’s another escalation with Gaza, and then finally 2014, the most brutal assault on the Gaza Strip. And all along Israel’s moving to the far right continuously. It’s the process that I laid out in my book “Goliath”.
And the occupation is just endless, and you see the mainstream Jewish establishment, you know, you go to the synagogue and listen to your rabbi and they’re just totally out of touch. There’s an Israel flag by the Bimah the rabbi’s speaking at, and you just feel like there’s this dissonance between Jewish leadership and Jewish youth.
And so, these youth have come together, they’ve gotten organized and they started protest organizations. Many of them went, unlike me, they went to like, you know, Jewish Day Schools. I mean, I went to Hebrew School but they’re maybe more hardcore and many of them were active in J Street, which is this liberal Zionist Group that favors a two-state solution. And they were in J Street U.
And in J Street U, you know, there are these chapters on campuses where there’s a disconnect between the campus chapter and the national leadership of J Street, led by Jeremy Ben-Ami, who’s kind of this two-state solution guy who wants a voice within the mainstream.
So, they revolted. The revolt really took place in 2014 during that assault on Gaza. There were arrests outside of Jewish institutions and now it’s just this massive force, and it’s a real force within Jewish life. And that’s what we saw on display at AIPAC.
And I gotta be honest, Aaron, like I don’t know all of these people. I know the activists who’ve been around the Palestine Solidarity scene for the last five or six years. But these are new faces and it’s something you’re seeing across the board with the protest movement in general. The protest outside Trump Tower in Washington, I didn’t know who these people were and I think that’s a good thing.
AARON MATÉ: So this new energy you’re seeing, this generational divide, what do you think that portends for the future of the American-Israel relationship, particularly among people who consider themselves progressive or liberal?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, if you look at AIPAC’s propaganda this year, it was very panicked. There was this video that was shown inside the AIPAC that was put on their Twitter account and on their social media messaging platforms that showed all these different people from different walks of life, getting up in the morning, getting their coffee and coming together for AIPAC’s conference.
And some of them like this band, and some of them like that band–they all just happen to be bands that I don’t like–but anyway, they all like different things. One’s a republican, one’s a democrat, one likes this show, one likes the other but they’re all pro-Israel.
And what AIPAC was trying to do with that ad was to put on a face of diversity of bi-partisanship. And to show that being pro-Israel transcends all of the ideological divisions and the massive polarization that we’re seeing throughout the west. And it’s really not a reflection of where AIPAC is at all. AIPAC is increasingly republican. The staff of AIPAC are increasingly aligned with the Republican Party.
What you hear on stage at AIPAC was not only comfort with the Trump administration, but an institution or an organization that’s enthralled with the prospect of Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and doing away with a two-state solution at all. AIPAC put its agenda on its big plasma screen TV for the whole crowd to see and the two-state solution was not there at all.
So, I think what we’re seeing is this massive, I think the polarization we see on every other issue is present on the issue of Israel. Liberal Democrats who are increasingly young do not support Israel. They are disgusted by the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is really someone who’s always been aligned with the Republican Party, and they’re looking for an alternative.
So, I think we’re starting to see much more of a kind of mainstreaming of the BDS movement the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the kind of messaging we’ve seen coming out of not only Students for Justice in Palestine, but Jewish groups that have supported the BDS movement, for years, like Jewish Voice for Peace.
AARON MATÉ: Max, this was AIPAC’s first conference, obviously under President Trump and now we’re two months into his tenure. What direction are you seeing this administration going when it comes to a relationship with Israel and the Palestinians?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I think, when you look at the entire Trump administration and how it functions, it’s hard to pinpoint a clear direction on anything. It seems that there are two administrations and there’s a sort of political schizophrenia taking place where you have on the Israel-Palestine issue, you have figures like David Friedman Trump’s Ambassador to the UN.
Jared Kushner, the kind of figures that are gathered around Stephen Bannon’s strategic initiatives group, which is the sort of parallel national security kitchen cabinet in the White House, sounding a very hard line on Israel that you could imagine supporting the far right within Israel’s call to annex the West Bank. To move the U.S Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and thereby torpedo, once and for all, this endless peace process.
But then you hear Nikki Hayley at the UN, former Governor of South Carolina, somebody who comes out of the Republican Party mainstream who might even emerge as a challenger to Trump in 2020, and she sounds very much like every other US Ambassador to the UN. I don’t hear much difference between her and Susan Rice who was Obama’s ambassador. I mean it’s a very stridently pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian tone. And it’s totally in line with the Washington playbook.
So, I can’t really pinpoint any concrete actions the Trump administration is taking yet to break from the Washington consensus that’s prevailed, I guess, since the Clinton administration, in which Israel gets to deter all it wants without being deterred and the peace process continues while Israel creates new facts on the ground.
AARON MATÉ: And we mentioned the Jewish Resistance to AIPAC, what about what’s been called, the Democratic Resistance to the Trump administration? I’m wondering if that resistance has shown up when it comes to policies on Israel? Have Democrats done anything that shows that they’re moving to pushback against Trump’s agenda when it comes to Israel and Palestine?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think the first evidence we saw of the bi-partisan consensus on Israel being shattered was the boycott of Benjamin Netanyahu when he came to speak at the invitation of House Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner and some 60 Democrats actually boycotted, which was remarkable. The speech was obviously flagrant provocation aimed at insulting President Barack Obama, so you could say that these members of Congress were displaying their loyalty to Obama, the leader of their party.
But, more recently you saw in the confirmation hearings David Friedman, this far right nominee for ambassador to Israel, who is Trump’s lawyer, has close business ties to the Israeli settlement enterprise. Only two democrats actually voted for him. I’ve never seen that before. It was Joe Manchin, who’s kind of a right-wing Democrat from West Virginia, and Robert Menendez who’s owned by AIPAC. I mean, AIPAC and these pro-Israel interests paid for Robert Menendez’s legal defense in his corruption trial. So he’s pretty much their guy.
But beyond that every other Democrat voted against him. Of course they’re voting against Trump, but they’re also voting against a figure who’s kind of to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu who called Liberal Jews capos. Capos, of course are the Jews who collaborated with the Nazi concentration camp administrations. So I mean, this is a dynamic that Trump is sort of bringing to the surface. But it’s a dynamic that’s been in play for a long time. AIPAC has had a role in it and I think we’re seeing it’s culmination and it’s about time.
AARON MATÉ: Those democrat votes, do they reflect, do you think, changing poll numbers among democrats? We have seen polls that show that Democrats, especially younger ones, are viewing Palestinians more and more sympathetically than years before.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, you can point to those polls, polls of Jewish opinion, these are Pew polls, they’re very reputable polls, that show that an increasing plurality of Jews do not believe that Israel wants peace. And that’s because of Netanyahu. And then you look at the broader Pew polls of liberal democrats in general; most of them do not favor Israel over Palestine for the first time. A new poll came out yesterday by an Israeli polling organization that shows that a majority of Jewish Israelis do not oppose ending the military occupation. And that reflects the rightward trajectory of young Jews in Israel.
So, you’ve got this massive gulf between young Jews in Israel, young Jews in America and that should play out in the Democratic Party. And it would have played out in the Democratic Party if the Democratic Party was Democratic. But what we saw with Keith Ellison, who should have been the new Chair of the Democratic National Committee, being basically sideswiped at the last minute, by Tom Perez the former Labor Secretary under Obama. Someone who was pushed by Obama’s people and really was elected or selected by a coalition of lobbyists from industry and pro-Israel lobbyists.
You know, the dynamic is obstructive by the fact that the Democratic Party is controlled by these elite interests, and it was no surprise then that Tom Perez showed up at AIPAC two days ago to basically thank the people who put him in the position of power that he’s in now and helped sideswipe Keith Ellison who was the victim of a very Islamaphobic, pro-Israel campaign of subterfuge and sabotage.
AARON MATÉ: Max Blumenthal, author and journalist, thanks very much for joining us.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.