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The Next Occupation Is At AIPAC

CODEPINK, Just Foreign Policy, ‘The Nation’ endorsing conference protest

Marc Tracy
January 27, 2012
Protesters outside the 2011 AIPAC conference.(Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters outside the 2011 AIPAC conference.(Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

It has been fascinating—and, for some of us, disheartening—to see the broad Occupy Wall Street movement be channeled into protests against Israel and Israeli policies, as when Occupy’s Boston contingent marched on the consulate or when an Occupy Birthright direct action was staged (I interviewed Liza Behrendt, an activist for that). Occupy AIPAC, which aims to disrupt the annual AIPAC confab this March in Washington, D.C., is an example of an older movement re-invigorated—or at least re-branded—by the events that began last September in Zuccotti Park. According to Rae Abileah, one of Occupy AIPAC’s main organizers, there was a disruption at last year’s AIPAC conference, too; it was called Move Over AIPAC. They held a summit, and they famously sent in protesters to disrupt Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the conference and even one who managed to shout out in protest during his speech to Congress. Actually, Abileah told me, that was her (she says she was subsequently assaulted by a man whom she believes to be a pro-AIPAC lobbyist).

Abileah is a co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace, one of dozens of left-wing groups endorsing Occupy AIPAC, which also includes Just Foreign Policy, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Muslim Student Union at UC-Irvine (much in the news), U.S. Boat to Gaza, U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and even The Nation. (A recent addition, the magazine has confirmed it is co-sponsoring the conference, though its involvement is limited to promoting it). “The mission,” Abileah told me, echoing the group’s website, “is to expose AIPAC as a lobby not representing the best interests for the American people, putting the Israeli government’s agenda before most Americans—a lobby that is in opposition to what the 99 percent want. To show that they’re pushing for military aid to Israel when we need cuts to our military budget given the austerity. And to show it’s pushing for war with Iran, and we absolutely can’t afford another war in this country.”

It’s not a new argument—you might call it the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis (the authors spoke at last year’s gathering). But it’s clearly gained resonance (along with that 99 percent rhetoric) from Occupy Wall Street. “We did something similar last year, and we felt this year there was a lot of momentum to expose lobbyists,” Abileah said. In an email, she clarified: “Occupy is focusing on ending corporate personhood, economic justice, and fair/real democracy where corporate and one percent cash doesn’t drive politics, election, and legislation; AIPAC is a natural target within those demands/issues as a huge K Street lobby with a stranglehold on Congress.” (“A typical example of a one percenter,” she noted, “is Sheldon Adelson.”) She also cited Kalle Lasn, the editor of Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that put out the initial call for an occupation in Manhattan’s Financial District, and who told the left-wing blog Mondoweiss, “I’m hoping that a lot of people of like mind from this Occupy movement will move into this area, and we will be as aggressive as AIPAC, as aggressive as some of these neocons have been, and fighting back against them. What I’m saying is, we need a hashtag, #occupytheneocons, we need a hashtag, #occupyAIPAC.”

Here is one area where folks like me have a problem. Because, as Michael C. Moynihan reported in Tablet Magazine, Lasn’s magazine has a long history of trafficking in conspiracy theories of Israeli perfidy and outsize Jewish power. It pains me that I don’t have a great rebuttal right now to Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin’s claim that “The occupiers and the Israel-haters are natural allies” (although he is incorrect to make Occupy AIPAC synonymous with BDS—according to Abileah, not all endorsers advocate boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel). But I don’t.

Which is not to say Abileah would classify herself as an “Israel-hater.” And, as you could probably guess, most of Occupy AIPAC’s organizers are Jewish. Abileah grew up in a Reform community in the Bay Area, and while the Iraq War drove her into anti-war activism, it wasn’t until Operation Cast Lead, three years ago, she said, that she became passionate about the Palestinian cause.

So is this a legitimate harnessing of the Occupy cause? “Having a movement for justice for some people and not others seems absurd,” argued Abileah. “Occupy was inspired by the Arab Spring. We need global solidarity with the 99 percent.” Perhaps this is a damning indictment of those like me, who want to shout Occupy’s economic message from the rooftops but strongly back away from criticisms of Israel and AIPAC that unfairly single them out.

Or perhaps this is a damning indictment of the Occupy movement itself.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.