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  March 20, 2016

Defying AIPAC

Journalist and author Max Blumenthal speaks to leading dissenters of the right wing Israel lobby days before AIPAC's annual summit
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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. Max is co-host of the podcast Moderate Rebels.


MAX BLUMENTHAL: Hi, I'm Max Blumenthal in Washington, DC at the National Press Club for the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs conference exploring Israel's influence, and asking whether it's good for America. This conference is meeting just days ahead of the annual summit of AIPAC, the main arm of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. And every presidential candidate will speak at AIPAC, except for Bernie Sanders, which is an interesting development. Another fascinating development is that there will be a protest walkout of Donald Trump. So this is a very interesting time right now for the U.S.-Israel special relationship, and we're going to talk to speakers here about it.

So we're with Kirk Beattie. You wrote a book about Congress and the Israel lobby, and you've been following this for a long time. How do you think, do you think that anything's changed over the last 10 or 20 years, since you published your book?

KIRK BEATTIE: Well, actually, I think that quite a bit is shifting in a positive direction, in many regards. There are a lot of topics that were absolutely taboo before. The appearance of groups like J Street, for example, have made a difference in that the staffers that I interviewed for my book have argued that it's given them wiggle room, and coverage of their bosses, that is the term that they keep using, in a way that they did not have beforehand.

BLUMENTHAL: We're with Kristin Szremski. And Kristin is--you know, I mean, you're in Washington lobbying for American Muslims for Palestine. You're on Capitol Hill. You talk to Hill staffers. Is it true that they secretly hate the Israel lobby?

KRISTIN SZREMSKI: I don't know if I would go that far. I've run into a few who actually have very strong feelings about it. Some are pretty savvy, they won't say--I think they get annoyed. Let's be honest. I think they really get annoyed. And they tell us that they're constantly being bombarded with information from the Israel lobby. They want to start hearing from people advocating for Palestinian human rights.

RULA JEBREAL: You know, Monday you have this big event. With AIPAC, it's basically dismantling the principles of democracy, because they are waging, you know, a war on diversity. But basically what they are saying, we can buy whatever we want. Your policies belong to us.

BLUMENTHAL: Where are we now? Because a few years ago we were so hopeful about the Arab Spring maybe leading to Jerusalem.

JEBREAL: My hope is not from the Arab nations, somehow. The main actor in aborting the Arab Spring was Saudi Arabia, who financed every coup in the region because they were so concerned that the arrival of the democratic system would reach, shut down Riyadh, and people would start demanding more inclusive and negotiated system.

Look, it took the American Constitution to be ready five, seven years, until the fall of Yorktown. I don't know how long it will take the Arab nations to become more inclusive, but I think now there's something that's happened with the Iran deal that will force the region--and they produce no stability, Saudi Arabia. It's only a liability. It's time to break that bond.

BLUMENTHAL: You've seen it from the inside. We met when you were driven off of MSNBC for pointing out that U.S. media is biased toward Israel. It seems obvious. It's like saying water's wet and the sky is blue, and Judas told the Romans where Jesus slept. A CNN executive admitted that he helped write Netanyahu's speech to Congress.

JEBREAL: Exactly. And then when I'm invited on CNN or any other network, they always call me very worried, so what are you going to talk about? They are so worried to tell their audience the truth about what's going on, because they know that this will lead to a shift in public opinion. But because of people like yourself, because of Alternet, it's because of Salon, it's because of Intercept, it's because of Mondoweiss, it's because of these amazing--.

BLUMENTHAL: Electronic Intifada.

JEBREAL: Electronic Intifada and Ali Abunimah, who actually started all of this movement and part of this movement. And without these voices, incredible voices, I mean, I would have been shunned aside, and disappeared. I would have become a ghost, probably. But today they cannot ignore these voices. These people obviously--I shamed them in public, they couldn't take it. They're busy with petty, small things. And now they're all shocked that we have Donald Trump. But they paved the way for Donald Trump, and the Islamophobia, racism, misogyny. That culture has been there and have been bred and cultivated by major analysts in this country. So it doesn't define what happened, and that happens, but it defines its shameful, you know, stain on MSNBC forever.

BLUMENTHAL: We've got to get you on camera. I don't know if you should eat--.

PHILIP WEISS: Oh, sorry.

BLUMENTHAL: Why do you focus on the New York Times, and why is it so important for you to keep battering the New York Times and Mondoweiss and being this, this constant critic?

WEISS: I think that the New York Times sets the agenda for American media. And especially on this issue, people wouldn't want to go outside the lines of the Times. So if the Times said tomorrow that Israel's failed and a Jewish state was a bad idea, that would just be like, you know, everyone would say, oh, I always thought that, and now I can say it.

BLUMENTHAL: Correct me if I'm wrong: the New York Times has never published a feature-length, kind of public interest-style piece on the pro-Israel lobby.

WEISS: I think you're right. I've never seen it. And I think I would know about it if it ever had. It's referred to the Israel lobby, or pro-Israel lobby, in articles. But no, they have never run a feature-length, major takeout on that Israel lobby. So it's failed its, it's failed its mission as a journalistic institution.

BLUMENTHAL: But you might argue that it succeeded in its mission.

WEISS: I'm not entirely conspiratorial, because I believe that the same forces that are acting on Jewish life across the country with young Jews, questioning the need for a Jewish state, and the militant behavior and racist behavior of Israel, that's happening at the Times, too, but I think that they're silent right now. I mean, you look at it, ten years ago they shut down the Rachel Corrie play in New York. That was, that happened ten years ago. Ten years ago, Walt Mearsheimer came out with their book, that was shut down. Well, guess what? Ten years later they're shutting down another Palestinian play in New York, and they're still not covering the Israel lobby.

Okay. So you can say nothing's changed. In some ways the establishment discourse hasn't really changed. But we are attacking them from so may angles. The neocons arose because of all these countercultural elements in the '60s and '70s that were actually going to threaten Israel. And a lot of the black power movement did actually threaten the discourse around Israel. And they shut it down then, in the '70s. They're not going to be able to do it this time. I don't think, I think the discourse is too open to radical, left-wing, people of color, it's just too diverse a discourse to survive, for Israel to survive in the United States.

GRAYLAN HAGLER: I mean, I received a call and a threat from somebody who identified themselves as Christians United for Israel, saying that if I came to Rochester they were going to blow me away in the name of Christ. I felt it was very important to go anyway, so I announced that we would go anyway to Rochester, and do what we set out to do, which was to talk about the occupation, to talk about Palestine, to connect the dots between Ferguson and Palestine, and the occupation.

BLUMENTHAL: And, you know, connecting the dots between Ferguson and Palestine really means building black Palestinian solidarity, which is really the nightmare of the pro-Israel lobby, I think. Something they've done in the past is really punish black public figures like Danny Glover, for instance, who speak out for Palestine. Why is it such a threat to the pro-Israel lobby, and do you see solidarity increasing? What do you see happening out there?

HAGLER: Well, I mean, one of the things in terms of the neutralization of the black community, basically the Jewish community has kept alive the myth of the solidarity that they have with the black community and the civil rights movement. Well, the civil rights movement, when we look at that, that was in the '60s. But since then there has also been orchestrated efforts to dismantle affirmative action by the Jewish community, while at the same time holding on to the idea that they are somehow the black community's best ally.

Well, the reality is that we stood up against apartheid in South Africa, and so that we are commanded by history to stand up against apartheid in the West Bank, and to continue to stand with Palestinians who are facing the victimization of occupation. We can't do anything less than that if we're standing on the right side of history.

BLUMENTHAL: Do you think--which way is the arc of history trending? Are we going towards justice?

HAGLER: It is bending towards justice.

BLUMENTHAL: It's like a slow bend.

HAGLER: Well, it's a slow bend, but anything that really is built, everything that we have done has been built over time. South Africa did not happen overnight. When I first started in South Africa, I was in school. I was called in by the president. Basically threatened with being expelled from school if I continued to stand up and advocate against apartheid in South Africa, because they said that I was supporting communists at the time.

So that has been a long [inaud.] and now everybody will claim that somehow they were on the right side of the card, except for Ronald Reagan, of course, on the right side of the card in terms of dismantling apartheid. Just like everybody marched with King in the civil rights movement. We know that that's a myth, that's not the reality. But we also know that when we continue to stand up one by one, eventually it becomes two by two, and eventually it becomes the multitude that is needed to change the whole paradigm.

BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot.

Max Blumenthal for the Real News Network.


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