Rally Protests AIPAC Conference
Protest objects to AIPAC influence over US foreign policy
TEXT ON SCREEN: On Friday May 20, President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, while over one hundred individuals gathered at a rally organized by the group Move Over AIPAC to protest the influence that AIPAC asserts over U.S. policy in the Middle East.
VOICEOVER: The two leaders met a day after President Obama reaffirmed the unshakeable bond between the US and Israel. The prime minister and the president both spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering. According to AIPAC, it is the largest bipartisan event next to the State of the Union address.
MEDEA BENJAMIN, ORGANIZER, MOVE OVER AIPAC: AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobby, one of the strongest lobbies in the United States. They have the prime minister of Israel coming to talk. Barack Obama, our president, will be talking there and literally hundreds of our congresspeople. And you have to ask why. Israel’s such a small country. Why do so many of our elected officials bow down at the alter of AIPAC? And the answer is money. They’re a very effective lobby group. Their sister organizations distribute a lot of money. If they donâ€™t like you, they will fund your opponent and get you out of Congress. And so people are really afraid to speak out on this issue. We have a lot of friends in Congress who tell us that they fear speaking out for justice in Palestine because they will be attacked by the Israel lobby. So weâ€™re here to strengthen an alternative, to strengthen the spine of our Congress, to put pressure on our administration and say that unconditional support for Israel is bad for the Palestinians, bad for the Israelis, and it’s bad for us here at home. We need an evenhanded policy that respects the human rights of all.
VO: This rally was the first of a series of activities organized by Move Over AIPAC. On Sunday, May 22, the group protested outside of the convention center in Washington, DC, while Obama was speaking at the AIPAC conference. Move Over AIPAC and individuals like Hanna King gathered on the street to promote their alternative platform and to speak out against AIPAC.
HANNA KING, LEADER, YOUNG JEWISH PROUD: AIPAC tries to say that it is the representation of all Jews in America and Washington. It’s not the case. I’m a young Jew and AIPAC doesn’t represent me. I find their crimes and the way that they’re covering war crimes to be reprehensible, and I feel a strong urge to oppose it.
VO: Individuals from religious groups, such as Rabbi Dovid Feldman with Jews United Against Zionism, attended the protest to disassociate themselves from AIPAC.
RABBI DOVID FELDMAN, NETUREI KARTA INTERNATIONAL, JEWS UNITED AGAINST ZIONISM: What is important to say is, in regard to politicians who support AIPAC, which are not necessarily Zionist, not necessarily Israeli, some of them simply do this because they have compassion on the Jewish people. They know what Jewish people experienced with the Holocaust and many other suffering, and they simply–for the love of the Jewish people, they choose to support them and to help them. They need to understand, and we try to say this all the time, that supporting the state of Israel is not supporting Jewish people. Opposing the state of Israel has nothing to do with antisemitism. Supporting the state of Israel is supporting crime, supporting violence against Palestine, and causes danger for Jews. By opposing Zionism, by explaining to the world that Zionism does not represent the Jewish people, simply saves Jewish lives, human lives, and Israel step forward to peace.
VO: Jesse Bacon attended the rally representing the group Jewish Voice for Peace.
JESSE BACON, JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE: AIPAC collects money to give to congressional candidates that support the farthest right, hardest line Isreali government policies. And those include, you know, things like the Nakba law forbidding Palestinians inside Israel from discussing their own history. And so they have become so powerful that they’re one of the forces (they’re not the only one) that makes our own democracy not a democracy of people but a democracy of money and power, and it’s distorted US policy away from its values to support settlements and occupation.
VO: In his speech on Thursday, May 19, the president reaffirmed that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. The president’s statement did not sit well with Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC supporters.
BOB KUNST, PRESIDENT SHALOM INTERNATIONAL, MIAMI BEACH: We’re here to say to Obama: how dare you want to divide Jerusalem, divide Israel, give away what we’ve been occupying for 5,000 years to the very people who keep screaming "death to America" and "death to Israel". All you’re inviting is another war, and all you’re inviting is the terrorists to come and attack us here. If Israel goes, America’s next. So we’re here to sound the alarm. And our message to Bibi is be strong, and if you’re not going to, get out of the way, ’cause you won’t be reelected.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible, because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes. So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines. And we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the president. I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.
VO: The president’s position on the 1967 borders has been a longstanding US policy taken by the prior George W. Bush and Clinton administrations. Policy director at Just Foreign Policy Robert Naiman questions the motivation for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to the Obama speech.
ROBERT NAIMAN, POLICY DIRECTOR AT JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Already we see some reaction from Netanyahu and AIPAC against this. This exposes them as two-state fakers. They say they support a two-state solution, but by opposing the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiation shows that they’re not serious. And they’re working now to undermine the very small steps that the Obama administration has taken in the direction of peace. They’re working with Congress to undermine those steps. That’s why we’re here trying to get a message out to the American people that this organization, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, does not represent our interests, does not represent the interests the majority of Americans. The majority of Americans are interested in peace, in reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. This is something that’s currently being blocked by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is supporting unquestioningly the policies of the current Israeli government.
VO: During his speech at the AIPAC conference on Sunday, May 22, the president clarified what he had meant by mutually agreed upon swaps and assured that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders prior to the Six-Day War. Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the president’s efforts by stating they would work to find ways to resume the negotiations. The minister is expected to address Congress Tuesday, May 23.
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