“We are about to partner with this very thing—an alumni association group builder—we’ve already built groups at Oberlin and Vassar, and hundreds of alumni in just those two universities…they’re already beginning to cultivate three other universities and they’re being very successful to build up numbers so that when there is an issue…they can come in and engage and mentor students, and come in and speak with the administration, and be part of the solution. So you’re absolutely right—we have our eye on that ball, and as a matter of fact we have just signed that partnership relationship.”
“No-one exemplifies the sway of AIPAC better than Hillary Clinton, outdoing even the most right-wing Zionists in fervour for Israel in her avid clawing for power in New York, where she went so far as to call for the transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the grant of leniency for Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy serving a life sentence in the US.”Despite her reputation for inconsistency, Hillary Clinton proved that not much had changed in the last 16 years when she addressed an audience of thousands at the Verizon Center on Monday morning. Clinton vilified the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and accused it of using the very tactics its proponents have often found themselves the victims of: “Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate.”In a mindboggling critique of Trump, Clinton took aim at her Republican opponent for supporting the exact kind of racist policies Israel has embraced for years:“In a democracy we’re going to have differences, but what Americans are hearing on the campaign trail this year is something else entirely: encouraging violence, playing coy with white supremacists, calling for 12 million immigrants to be rounded up and deported, demanding we turn away refugees because of their religion and proposing a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.”Hillary knows that Israel’s Law of Return privileges Jews over Palestinian refugees. She knows that the Israeli government fills detention centers in the Negev with Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers, many of whom are fleeing genocide in their native countries. She’s not so ignorant that she can’t see the similarities between Trump’s fantasy and Israel’s reality; she just wants to score political points by trying to sound progressive. Judging by the ecstatic reaction to Trump that night, however, she may have misread her audience.Gladiators at the ColiseumEarly that evening, I walked several blocks from the Convention Center to the Verizon Center to hear Trump speak (Kasich, Cruz and Paul Ryan spoke too, but Trump was clearly the man of the hour). I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged couple from New Jersey who told me they support Trump because, despite his outrageous persona, “people who know him” had assured them of his Zionist bona fides. It took every bit of self-control in my possession to stop myself from shouting, “Do you hear yourselves?” Instead I smiled, nodded and forged ahead.The slow-moving line to get in the stadium snaked around the block. While I was waiting I met a couple from Rancho Palos Verdes who agreed that Trump was “dangerous,” but after listening to them defend Hillary along roughly the same lines as the previous couple defended Trump, my patience wore thin. Did anyone here care about things not directly related to Israel? Did they have any valid criterion for electing a president apart from, “most likely to bomb Gaza into submission?” Without exception, every single attendee I spoke with said Israel was the most important issue in the upcoming election. Considering the dismal state of American politics, this attitude is pretty extraordinary. Many people cannot afford health care or college and are facing insurmountable debt. Wall Street fleeces the middle class with impunity while nearly 50 million Americans live below the poverty line. Our prison system incarcerates more people than any nation on earth and the U.S. military budget exceeds that of the next seven countries combined.Yet to AIPAC’s faithful acolytes, nothing matters as much as supplying Israel with billions of dollars to enforce a 50-year-old military occupation that has turned what’s left of Palestine into hell on earth. Since all the major presidential candidates (with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders) have made it clear they will do anything to appease Israeli interests regardless of the human toll, all AIPAC’s cult members can do is cheer on the candidate who appears to value Palestinian lives the least.The Republicans who spoke Monday night turned Verizon Center into a modern-day Colosseum, playing gladiator to the Muslim boogeyman they summoned with every warning of global jihadism. Trump gave an unhinged but surprisingly lucid speech, promising to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Decrying an evil Palestinian society in which “the heroes are those who murder Jews,” Trump repeated Netanyahu’s lie that “Israel does not name public squares after terrorists.” He wrapped things up by exploiting his daughter, whose Jewish husband, New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner, helped write his speech: “My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby!” The crowd, already worked into a frenzy by Trump’s Islamophobia, raucously cheered the Jewish baby as one of its own. The night had officially gone off the rails.Not to be outdone, Ted Cruz began his speech with the story of Purim, using the villainous Haman as a stand-in for “radical Islamic terrorism.” Cruz took the cake for bloodlust, chastising Clinton for not doing enough to justify Israel’s war crimes during Operation Protective Edge“Hamas would place rockets in elementary schools. They placed their headquarters in the basement of a hospital, and I would note that Hillary Clinton, in 2014, explained this as follows, ‘Hamas puts its missiles, its rockets in civilian areas, part of it is because Gaza is pretty small and it’s densely populated.’ Well, Madam Secretary, with all respect, the reason the missiles are in schools is not because Gaza is small, the reason the missiles are in schools is because Hamas are terrorist monsters using children as human shields.”The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict concluded that Israel, not Hamas, used human shields, while the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict described Protective Edge as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” But to Ted Cruz and his base, the massacre is only significant insofar as it presents yet another opportunity to suck up to the Israel lobby.Freedom Beats TyrannyOn Tuesday the conference concluded with a Skyped-in Netanyahu address and a fire-and-brimstone speech by Bob Menendez, the ethically challenged New Jersey senator who is the fourth highest recipient of donations from pro-Israel interests in Congress. Netanyahu couldn’t appear in person because he had awkwardly backed out of a visit to DC, almost certainly to avoid another acrimonious meeting with Obama.“I’m confident that over time, the trend of embracing Israel will overcome the trend of maligning Israel,” Bibi proclaimed, “because ultimately, freedom beats tyranny.” I sidled up to a young man standing alone and asked him, “Are Palestinians under occupation free?” The man was caught completely off guard, hesitating and stammering before finally blurting out, “Ask your local AIPAC representative.” Watching hardline Zionists squirm when asked to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people, much less the occupation, is akin to watching a robot short circuit after having a bucket of water dumped on its head.Menendez adhered closely to the saber-rattling tone of the conference, warning that, “Iran will never change. The devil you see now is the devil you’ve always known.” In a not-so-subtle shot at Trump’s alleged neutrality, Menendez boasted that “unlike some presidential candidates, I do not believe the United States can be neutral if Israel is to survive.” Menendez, along with fellow senators Mark Kirk and Chuck Schumer, gained attention a few years back for introducing a strict sanctions bill backed by AIPAC called the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013. Last year, the Justice Department charged Menendez with 14 counts of corruption, including eight counts of bribery. During his trial, Menendez relied entirely on pro-Israel oligarchs to cover his legal defense.The last person I spoke to before leaving the Convention Center was a soft-spoken white-haired Californian named Walter who was standing around with his wife as the crowds started to file out after the Tuesday morning session. Playing up the danger of Iran, he asked, “How would you feel if you were to wake up tomorrow and find out there is no more Israel?”“I don’t see it happening,” I responded, “I think Iran knows if they attack Israel, the U.S. would obliterate them the next day.”Walter considered this for a moment. “I’m very cynical about the loyalty the United States has with Israel, because I think a lot of it is the way that organizations like AIPAC focus on it, right in that one area.” Like most of the people I talked to, Walter shared AIPAC’s single-minded focus and implacable paranoia. “They don’t get involved with anything else. They’re lobbying Congress on behalf of Israel and the bottom line is that if AIPAC wasn’t here, do you really think that Congress would really give a damn? If something did happen to Israel, everyone would go, Oh my God, what a terrible, horrible thing, and then they’d move on.”When I mentioned that Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank lack the right to vote, Walter replied, “That’s where our son has a problem with Israel. He thinks they should back off, but the West Bank is Samaria and that is the original part of Israel. That’s where the Jews really came from.” His son “got involved in BDS for a while and stuff like that…he can’t stand things like the settlements because he thinks that’s so antagonistic it’s unbelievable, and if they stopped doing the settlements it would go a long way towards making peace.”After listening to another digression about the rightful Jewish claim to ancient Samaria and how “it’s a pretty mixed bag of people living there,” I asked Walter and his wife Judy about their lanyards, which were a different color than mine. They explained that they were dues-paying members. I said that as a broke millennial I could barely afford the ticket. Hearing the word “millennial,” Walter struggled for the right words to describe my generation. “One thing is certain” he began, “the future is in your hands.” It was a trite but endearing sentiment and I smiled despite myself, bidding Walter and Judy goodbye before leaving the conference for good.