As we’ve documented previously, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal, formerly their Jerusalem correspondent, has a malign obsession with Israel and the ‘Israel lobby’ in the US. His latest piece, (“Pro-Israel lobbying group Aipac secretly pouring millions into defeating progressive Democrats”), again goes after one of his favourite targets: AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee).
The US’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group is pouring millions of dollars into influencing Democratic congressional primary races to counter growing support for the Palestinian cause within the party, including elections today in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s money is focused on blocking female candidates who, if elected, are likely to align with “the squad” of progressive members of congress who have been critical of Israel.
First, the narrative of AIPAC “blocking” candidates, particularly female candidates, or candidates of colour, aligns with an angry tweet by Senator Bernie Sanders. The tweet attacked the group after pro-Israel Congresswoman Shontel Brown, who was supported by AIPAC, defeated Nina Turner, the progressive, ardently anti-Israel candidate supported by Sanders, in an Ohio Democratic primary earlier this month.
How pathetic! AIPAC and their billionaire friends are spending some $10 million to defeat @ninaturner, @SummerForPA, @NidaAllam and @JCisnerosTX. Why are they so afraid of strong, progressive women of color fighting for the working class?
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 3, 2022
Both Brown and Turner are African-American women.
McGreal then turns to Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for an open congressional seat in Pennsylvania, where AIPAC, through its Super-PAC (which unlike PACs, can spend an unlimited amount supporting or opposing federal election candidates) called United for Democracy (UDP), is engaging in advocacy.
The UDP has thrown $2.3m in to Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for an open congressional seat in Pennsylvania – one of a handful of contests targeted by the group where a leading candidate is overtly sympathetic to the Palestinians.
The money has mostly been spent in support of a former Republican congressional staffer turned Democrat, Steve Irwin, in an attempt to block a progressive state representative, Summer Lee…
Lee has spoken in support of setting conditions for the US’s considerable aid to Israel, has accused Israel of “atrocities” in Gaza, and has drawn parallels between Israeli actions and the shooting of young black men in the US
Here’s the tweet by Lee during last year’s war between Hamas and Israel – which the candidate later defended and even doubled down on – that McGreal is referring to and normalising:
When I hear American pols use the refrain "Israel has the right to defend itself" in response to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized pop, I can't help but think of how the west has always justified indiscriminate& disproportionate force &power on weakened & marginalized ppl
— Summer Lee (@SummerForPA) May 14, 2021
The political analogy is so tortured as to have the ring of parody.
It casts Treyvon Martin, an African-American man shot by George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012, as the ‘innocent’ Palestinian (which, in this context, actually refers to Hamas), and Zimmerman, a Latino man who was found not guilty, in the role of the oppressive Israeli. You don’t have to be terribly familiar with the incident to see Lee’s instinct to gravitate towards toxic, completely ahistorical narratives popularised in recent years which project US racial history onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – with Israeli Jews representing racist American whites.
The lobby group’s move into financial support for political campaigns for the first time in its 70 year history was prompted by alarm in Washington and Israel at the erosion of longstanding bipartisan support for the Jewish state in the US.
Though it is true that support for Israel is no longer the bipartisan issue it use to be, the fact is that polls (cited by McGreal in the past) show that support for Israel amongst all Americans is at a 20 year high – with 75% holding a favourable view of the Jewish state.
Later, McGreal quotes a representative for the progressive lobbying group J-Street:
J-Street’s spokesperson, Logan Bayroff, accused Aipac of being a Republican front organisation that strongly supported Donald Trump, and of attempting to intimidate candidates into avoiding criticism of Israel by implicitly threatening to fund campaigns against them.
First, the suggestion that AIPAC, which has always been non-partisan, is a “Republican front organisation” is belied by the fact that their list of endorsed candidates – consistent with their endorsements in past years – includes a large number of Democrats.
Indeed, as a spokesman is later quoted in the article pointing out, AIPAC has “made contributions to over 120 House Democrats, including half of the Congressional Black Caucus, [and] half of the House Progressive Caucus”. Also, to describe AIPAC as having “strongly supported Donald Trump” is a baseless talking point, contradicted, for instance, by the group’s public stance opposing Trump’s call, in 2019, for Israel to bar Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country.
Additionally, the effort to characterise AIPAC as thuggish – by using the word “intimidate” and accusing the group of stifling ‘criticism of Israel’ – is grossly dishonest. AIPAC, like all DC-based lobbying groups, legally uses the democratic process, including the directing of funds to specific candidates, to persuade the government, via its elected representatives, to adopt the policies they support. There’s nothing remotely sinister about it.
To be fair, it isn’t only about McGreal and the Guardian. There’s been a long, troubling, often antisemitic tradition of imputing treachery – and sometimes even disloyalty – to Jewish Americans (and others) who engage in pro-Israel advocacy.
However, even leaving the racist element out of the equation aside for a moment, the fear often expressed by progressive journalists and politicians that the Israel lobby is ‘too powerful’ is a bit like saying a football player scores too many goals. The objective of any group or individual is, naturally, to be successful. In lieu of evidence that, in the case of the former, the group is doing something illegal, or, with the latter, that he or she is cheating, complaints about the success of either is often nothing more than envy dressed up as principle. As the Hebrew slang often heard in Israeli schoolyards goes, “ze lo fair” (it isn’t fair) – which is fine if you’re a child, but which doesn’t reflect well on adults who we presume to be mature and want to be taken seriously.
AIPAC is successful for several reasons, one of which is that it promotes a cause that’s popular with a large majority of Americans, grassroots support that has generally been lacking with the Palestinian cause. However, if pro-Palestinian groups want to create a similar lobby group, they’re of course free to do so with the help of wealthy foundations sympathetic to their cause. There’s no plot to stifle such an effort, nor are there any systemic barriers to entry.
If the Guardian wants to argue against AIPAC because they strongly disagree with the group’s pro-Israel mission, that’s of course perfectly legitimate. But, they often go much further, drifting towards the conspiratorial, arguing, in effect, that the ‘Israel lobby’ is successful and the pro-Palestinian movement weak because – in populist fashion – ‘the system is rigged’. And, as we’ve seen in recent years with the rise of a dangerous form populism on both the left and right, there’s often a very thin line between complaining of a ‘rigged system’ and suggesting that Jews are the ones who are rigging it.