Time to Rethink AIPAC influence U.S. foreign policy

By Richard Ridenour

I simply cannot believe that the Jewish lobby, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), speaks for the majority of American Jews in its full-court press to undermine a long-overdue negotiated settlement with Iran. We know that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been beating the drums to get us into a war with Iran, but on the eve of a major breakthrough by John Kerry and our international allies, AIPAC is pushing Republicans, Democrats and Independents to vote for a bill to increase sanctions against Iran.

Just about every credible expert on Middle East diplomacy predicts such a move would torpedo the potential settlement and push us ever closer to war with the whole Arab world.

It’s time to ask some hard questions about the staggering cost and the questionable benefits derived from our unqualified support for the state of Israel, and the excessive influence and intrusion of AIPAC into our congressional and electoral processes.

AIPAC is consistently ranked as one of the two most powerful lobbies in Washington. It is very well organized and its political contributions are very generous. But if a Member of Congress crosses AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will retaliate politically. Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans are sick and tired of wars and prefer diplomacy to warfare. The majority of Americans see a potential negotiated settlement with Iran as the only viable plan to move Iran away from the development of nuclear weapons.

Does AIPAC really want Israel to go to war with the Arab world? And does it really expect the U.S. to join in that madness? And what about Israel’s own nuclear arsenal, estimated to be more than 300 nuclear warheads? When is it time to advocate for Israel to join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that the rest of us have signed? Does AIPAC really think this effort to meddle in our foreign policy with Iran represents the majority of U.S. Jews?

Further, why do we continue to pour billions of our tax dollars into the state of Israel, one of the world’s most affluent nations, while it commits daily human rights violations, defies U.S. strategic interests, provokes rage and resentment among billions of people while it competes with and crowds out U.S. interests, using technology subsidized by U.S. tax-payers?

According to the Congressional Research Service, the amount of official U.S. aid to Israel, since its founding in 1948, tops $112 billion.

And, in the past few decades, that aid has been on the order of more than $3 billion a year.

Unlike all other nations, Israel gets its foreign aid money at the beginning of each year, allowing it to start earning interest on the money immediately. And since our government operates at a deficit, we have to borrow and pay interest on that money.

Israel is also the only recipient of U.S. military aid that is allowed to use a significant portion annually to purchase products made by Israeli companies instead of U.S. companies. We also provide loan guarantees, special contracts for Israeli firms, legal and illegal transfers of marketable U.S. military technology, de facto exemption from U.S. trade protection provisions, and discounted sales or free transfers of “surplus” U.S. military equipment.

Critics point out how much brighter our future would be if we had invested these billions in veteran rehabilitation and care, food stamps, unemployment insurance, job creation, social security, housing, environmental clean-up and prevention and infrastructure repairs.

If Israel were using these funds for a good purpose, one could debate whether the price was worth it. But Israel uses most of the money to prolong a four-decade-long military occupation (which regularly involves gross violations of international law), commits egregious human rights violations and destroys billions of dollars worth of Palestinian homes, orchards and infrastructure, while building illegal, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.

But the most damaging cost to us is our loss of standing in the Arab and Muslim worlds, where U.S. largesse towards Israel (as it commits human rights violations) provokes deep resentment and places the U.S. taxpayer on the Israeli side of its conflicts with Arabs.

Our unqualified surrender to the AIPAC agenda makes the prospect of peace ever more distant, creates dangerous hostility to the U.S., and puts the U.S. Congress in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, all for the sake of major campaign contributions.

It’s long past time for a fundamental rethinking of the American government’s blank check to Israel and a fundamental rethinking of who is in charge of our foreign policy.

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Richard Ridenour is a member of Sonomans for Justice & Peace in Palestine. Raised in Pittsburgh, Pa., he directed the VISTA program there for nine years before becoming the Director of Health & Human Services in Marin County. He recently retired to Sonoma to write, act and work for social change.