Guest post by David Albert, Ph.D.
As I was catching up with last week’s New York Times, I came across an article that appeared in last Sunday’s (June 8th) NY Times entitled “Six Points to Remember for Your AIPAC Speech”:
I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the NY Times or really any other mainstream American media. This article is essentially mocking the way in which both McCain and Obama spoke to AIPAC’s National Policy Conference 2 weeks ago and essentially told them practically everything that wanted to hear with little (Obama) or no (McCain) criticism of Israeli behavior. The phenomenon is not new. Politicians have been appearing at AIPAC’s Policy Conference and kissing up to them since the 1980s. I’ve analyzed the rhetoric that they used extensively in my dissertation which includes many examples of similar quotes to the type spoken by the Presidential candidates.
However, what is new here is that not only is this phenomenon being reported in the mainstream media, but it is being mocked by it. First by the leading Jewish comedian in the country, Jon Stewart, on June 5th Daily Show and then a few days later by the Jewish-owned New York Times – the most prestigious and respected paper in the country – especially for American Jews and especially around Israel. Although I don’t know when the Times began preparing this article, I actually think that Jon Stewart’s routine may have given the NY Times “permission” to mock AIPAC. This sort of criticism was not happening a few years ago. This suggeststo me that something fundamental has happening in the U.S. over the last few years. The media has begun to look more critically at AIPAC for the first time really. AIPAC has begun to lose some of its power to intimidate its critics. Why? I think there are several reasons. First, there is the role of Brit Tzedek, Americans for Peace Now, and J Street in creating an alternative Jewish voice that challenges AIPAC as the consens pro-Israel Jewish voice. Second, the AIPAC spy scandal has at least slightly undermined AIPAC’s claim that they always promote America’s best interest which they claim are always synonmous with America’s national interest. Third, President Carter’s book and recent efforts to engage Hamas have punctured AIPAC slightly.
This is criticism coming from a Nobel Peace-prizing winning former President and elder statesman and that has never happened before. Fourth, the Mearsheimer/Walt article/book/debate has given critics a well-respected academic voice to challenge AIPAC’s strategic claims. The book did not introduce anything new in academic terms (scholars had been saying what they said for decades!), but it brought the academic debate to public awareness in a way that that it had never happened before. The combination of all these events has begun to pierce AIPAC’s shield of invulnerability.
AIPAC remains the dominant powerhouse force on these issues without a doubt. Their policy conference brought 7000 of their activists to Capitol Hill 2 weeks ago. The fact that McCain and Obama (and Pelosi, Reid, Boenher, McConnell, Condi Rice and H. Clinton) spoke there as they did proves that AIPAC power is still extremely strong. But, they are no longer unquestionable and unchallengable. The politicians are perhaps running a bit behind the media and activists in realizing this. Machiavelli wrote long ago about the power of being feared. They can now be mocked which suggests to me that they are no longer feared as much as they were before. The media doesn’t fear being labeled “anti-Semitic” as much as they used to for challenging AIPAC. This is a small, but powerful sign that we are making progress – but we have a long way to go. My suspicion is that we will see when we visit DC next week that AIPAC is a little more vulnerable than it has been in the past.
David Albert teaches at Austin Community College and University of Texas – University Extension in Austin, TX. Â He recently presented on his doctoral dissertation topic — “60 Years of Defining and Redefining Israel’s Strategic Value to the U.S.” — at the Association for Israel Studies Conference at NYU. He is a national board member and Treasurer of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.