At really successful art openings the crush of excited people makes it hard to check out the art. Similarly, the annual “Israel Lobby and American Policy” conference in DC was so jammed with fascinating people from all over who are working to break Israel’s death grip on Palestine and on U.S. policy that it was easy to miss the actual program! Luckily, it’s easy to catch videos of the presentations on a free “playlist”. You won’t get the networking and positive energy of having been physically at the National Press Club on 22 March, but you can see and hear the powerful speakers buoyed up by a rapt audience of hundreds of activists and experts.
Most awesome, perhaps, was the keynote address by Susan Abulhawa. A trained scientist with great literary gifts, she led us on an eye-opening tour of Israel “Beyond Apartheid,” asking us temporarily to look away from the system of Apartheid that has blighted Palestinians’ existence for the last 70 years. Instead, she tallied some of Israel’s other sinister accomplishments in the areas of ecological destruction, the development and global spread of “death, surveillance and suppression tech and tactics,” support of anti-democratic forces worldwide, and destruction of the ancient histories and cultures of Palestine and of its non-Jewish religious heritage: You’ve heard of Israel, the “environmental wonder-worker” who made the desert bloom? Well, Palestine wasn’t a desert to start with, she noted. As for making it bloom, check out the Jordan River, or what’s left of it, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee; or the dumping of toxic waste on Palestinian villages; the destruction of olive orchards and the planting of fire-prone European trees; the draining of precious wetlands, etc.
Is Israeli innovation celebrated? It’s all about military and police weaponry and tactics to control unhappy populations. Abulhawa ran the numbers to show Israel is second only to Saudi Arabia in military spending per capita and way ahead of the world in military/police exports per capita. Their success is due to Israel’s ability to test its lethal products on live Palestinians.
Abulhawa surveyed a long list of genocidal, pariah regimes that Israel has supplied with weaponry and training, often covertly and often by breaking UN arms embargoes. Passionate support for Apartheid South Africa set the standard early on. Along with selling weapons, Israel’s alliances have given moral support and cover to thuggish–and even overtly anti-Semitic– regimes from Southeast Asia to Europe to Central and South America – and above all in Africa.
She outlined decades of destruction and vandalization of mosques, churches and cemeteries, along with the destruction of archeological sites and artifacts from non-Jewish cultures in Palestine’s uniquely significant territory. She warned that Israel is “moving forcefully against al Aqsa, perhaps the last frontier.”
Abulhawa argued that Israel is bad news for many more people than just Palestinians, calling it “a global force for violence, suppression, plunder, paranoia, greed, war, ecological destruction, erasure of history and culture, and supremacism.” The good news, she said, is that Palestinians are “on a time-tested trajectory to liberation,” however “difficult and bloody” it may be.
Earlier, Grant Smith of the Institute for Research on Middle East Policy (IRmep), which co-sponsored the conference with the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, had focused on the many tentacles of subversion and perversion of U.S. laws and government agencies, from the White House on down, brought about by the Israel Lobby. Detailing three prolonged campaigns by IRmep to win court orders to get access to information on what our government has been doing, Smith showed how the Lobby “supplants, silences and exploits” the functions of U.S. and state governments.
Good news was shared by Martin McMahon, the attorney who is litigating a potentially game-changing lawsuit against Sheldon Adelson, Eliot Abrams and some 40 individuals, non-profit foundations and banks which have enabled the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. He spoke in the wake of a federal appeals court’s resounding vindication of the legitimacy of the lawsuit, which invokes jurisdiction under the Alien Tort Statute and alleges the aiding and abetting of genocide against the Palestinians. Al Tamimi, et. al. v. Adelson (No. 17-5207, D.C. Cir., decision Feb. 19, 2019).
The three-judge court unanimously reversed the trial judge’s dismissal of the suit, which she had ruled presents a “political question” reserved to the Congress and the President. The appellate panel ruled that claims of genocide against violent Israeli settlers could be proved at trial, if the plaintiffs, Palestinians and Palestinian Americans, submit solid evidence.
“This ruling provides an unprecedented opportunity in the U.S. for the Palestinian victims of
Israeli aggression and ethnic cleansing to fairly prove their claims in a court of law,” McMahon said in a statement. He made clear, however, that his team is in need of a lot of aid and support from supporters of Palestinian rights as the defendants have the toughest lawyers money can buy, as well as all the other political and media assets of the Israel Lobby.
Other fascinating and important speeches were given, including by Ali Abunimah, the founder of the Electronic Intifada, who discussed an extraordinary undercover investigative report on the Israel Lobby that Al Jazeera was afraid to air. A leaked copy of the video is available on the EI website. It details the techniques and names the organizations that are behind the smears and deceptions perpetrated by the Lobby.
James North of Mondoweiss served up a biting analysis of the many ways “The New York Times Rigs News on Israel-Palestine” to hide the misdeeds or soften the image of Israel.
Brad Parker of Defense for Children International-Palestine explained how best to reach members of Congress and other political figures with tightly targeted human rights issues, such as Israeli child-detention practices.
Three local activists from Virginia described how they have created remarkably successful groups and campaigns to counter increasing efforts by the Lobby to influence state and local policies, from opposing anti-BDS legislation and policies, and pro-Israel economic “advisory” groups to fighting Lobby moves to politicize K-12 textbooks.
All of the program offerings are well worth viewing online. But when the Israel Lobby conference meets in Spring 2020 at the Press Club, dedicated activists really should try to be there.