A daylong seminar — “The Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the U.S.? Is It Good for Israel?” — was convened last Friday to discuss the so-called Jewish lobby’s power to influence politicians on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.
Such perspectives are rarely heard, but a safe space was provided by the National Press Club, which allows organizations to hold events at its facilities without ideological consideration. The same room once hosted a mock congressional hearing with former members of Congress and government officials to hear testimony about whether the government is hiding contact with alien life forms. The mock committee concluded that the government was indeed hiding its interaction with space aliens.
Common conspiracies that the Israel lobby was responsible for every misfortune to befall the United States and the world were generally avoided by nearly all speakers, though factual inaccuracies throughout the day were plenty. Still, following the theme, every issue that was discussed was connected to the Jewish lobby’s power to influence politicians on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration.
Kicking off the conference, Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy — an organizer of the event — bemoaned the proliferation of what he said had grown into approximately 350 pro-Israel organizations in four distinct waves throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The first wave was focused on state building; the second wave, fundraising; the third wave, media watchdog and think tanks; and the fourth wave, speech and campus monitoring.
All these groups, said Smith, were given tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.
“The Justice Department tried to get pro-Israel organizations to register as foreign agents seven times” when they first began to proliferate in the 1960s and 1970s but did not succeed, Smith said.
He said the time has come for the IRS to review the charitable status of these organizations, claiming that donations to pro-Israel groups in the United States fund Israel military operations.
Smith calculated that these groups have so far cost American taxpayers a total of $234 billion.
“Our question must be: How much are Americans at this point owed for all of the aid that was delivered on false pretext?” he said.
The few hundred supporters packing the event room at the National Press Club listened as Smith and a variety of pro-Palestinian activists complained about the restriction of their pro-Palestinian activism by college administrators, employers and international organizations.
A few former members of Congress — two of them addressed the gathering — were in attendance, reminiscing about their days fighting against the lobbying efforts of AIPAC and a slew of other pro-Israel organizations.
Rather than the college hippies one usually associates with these kinds of movements, the audience was made up almost entirely of professorial-looking, retired, baby boomers — nodding their heads or commenting to the side in disgust whenever a speaker would mentioned that Israel violated the human rights of the Palestinian people.
When not listening to the speeches inside the conference room, guests mingled with their ideological heroes in the hallway. Those heroes included Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University and former holder of the politically charged title of United Nations special rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”; radical left-wing writer Gareth Porter; and Paul Pillar, Georgetown University nonresident fellow, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and CIA veteran.
Speaking about his experience with pro-Israel groups during his time prior to his ouster at the United Nations, Falk blamed pro-Israel watchdog groups for exerting pressure on the organization to ignore the Palestinian plight.
An “approach used on behalf of Israel to weaken and discredit the U.N. involves trying to both manipulate the organization and to undermine it at the same time. It is a very sophisticated kind of relationship that Israel has,” said Falk.
“It both pretends to be victimized by the organization, and yet because of its relationship to the U.S. and its clever use of these tactics, it intimidates the organization more than any other government however large or small,” he added. “It’s a kind of tour de force of a negative variety that it is able, despite being so uncooperative, to impose its views and the U.N.
“Rather than being biased [against Israel, the United Nations] leans over backward in every particular context to make sure that Israel’s best arguments are made fully available and given as much attention as possible. In other words, the reality is just the opposite of the perception in this country. If anything, the organization could be criticized as being indifferent to the Palestinian reality and biased toward not offending Israel.”
Event sponsors included the American Educational Trust, which publishes the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian semimonthly publication “Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,” and Middle East Books and More, a Washington-area bookstore specializing in the pro-Palestinian cause.