Debunking AIPAC Conspiracy Theories
By Steve Sheffey
Some Americans love conspiracy theories—mob involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy, a cover-up of evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors by the Air Force, and the belief the fluoridation is an attempt to poison the water supply are but a few of the theories that appeal to the fringe of the population that refuses to see things as they are, but instead imagines sinister forces pulling strings behind a curtain.
Most of these theories are benign or easily refuted. Paul, after all, is not dead. But a new theory making the rounds is more disturbing. After nearly 60 years of virtually uninterrupted bi-partisan support, some people are alleging that America’s strong alliance with Israel is not the result of geopolitical and moral considerations, but rather the result of undue influence exerted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a lobby formed in 1954 to advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship based on the shared values of America and Israel and on Israel’s strategic importance to the United States.
Conspiracy theories are appealing because they help believers understand what they cannot rationally explain. Congressional support for the positions AIPAC advocates is overwhelming in both parties, which creates a problem for certain far-left Democrats and far-right Republicans. They wonder how such a broad consensus on a policy they see as so wrong could exist. They are concerned that politicians who they agree with on other issues see
One would expect anti-Semites to be critical of AIPAC, but that does not mean that all critics of AIPAC’s influence are necessarily anti-Semitic. However, the similarities between criticism of AIPAC’s influence and classic anti-Semitic canards regarding Jewish influence are hard to ignore. This new conspiracy theory is really not so new. In classic anti-Semitic thinking, a small group of Jews in the host country use their money to influence the government to do not what is in the government’s best interests, but to do what is in the best interests of a supposed worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
As Kenneth Stern has noted,
Historically, Jews have not fared well around conspiracy theories. Such ideas fuel anti-Semitism. The myths that Jews killed Christ, or poisoned wells, or killed Christian children to bake matzo, or "made up" the Holocaust, or plot to control the world, do not succeed each other; rather, the list of anti-Semitic canards gets longer. The militia movement today believes in the conspiracy theory of the Protocols, even if some call it something else and never mention Jews. From the perspective of history, we know that this is the type of climate in which anti-Semitism can grow. (Kenneth Stern (1997): A Force upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate.
Some critics of AIPAC suggest that the policies that AIPAC supports are either good for
Jews are less than 3% of the
Indeed, it is telling that instead of debating the positions AIPAC takes on their merits, critics of AIPAC choose to attack the messenger instead of the message. This probably is a wise tactical decision, since the real reason AIPAC is successful is that facts and logic support its positions.
However, AIPAC’s critics claim that AIPAC positions cannot be attacked because those who oppose AIPAC are labeled anti-Semites. One of the lessons many minority groups have learned is that bigotry must be exposed. Some criticism of
AIPAC’s critics turn legitimate concerns about anti-Semitism on their head to suggest that they are bravely standing up to those uppity Jews who see anti-Semitism everywhere, playing a rhetorical game in which they bring up anti-Semitism so that they can then assert that they are not anti-Semitic without even waiting to see what the real reaction will be. And if what they say really is anti-Semitic, then they can sidestep the argument by saying that being called for their anti-Semitism merely confirms their prediction.
Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is a good example. Much of what Carter says in the book is very biased against Israel, and the book is rife with factual errors, all of which, oddly enough, weigh against Israel (one would think that a book with so many errors would, if only by chance, happen to have at least one error that was favorable to Israel, but that does not seem to be the case). Does that mean that Carter is an anti-Semite? Not necessarily. But the use of the word “apartheid” in the title is another story.
Using the term “apartheid” to describe
Similarly, comparing the actions of
Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up well during an appearance at
All Americans have the right to lobby for the causes they believe in. When critics of AIPAC attack the pro-Israel lobby, they are criticizing literally thousands of Americans who volunteer their time to petition their elected leaders on issues that are important to them. Americans who lobbied against the Vietnam War, Americans who lobbied against the racist government of South Africa, Americans who lobbied on behalf of Soviet Jewry, and Americans who today lobby against the war in Iraq are part of the same tradition.
In this age of divisiveness and polarity, we should be proud that support for
The recent book by Jimmy Carter, the study by Walt-Mearsheimer, and the numerous articles critical of AIPAC that appear weekly are proof that no one is stifling debate on this issue. Yes, the claims of Carter and Walt-Mearsheimer were quickly debunked, but strong criticism is what free and open debate is all about. The volume of criticism leveled at Carter and Walt-Mearsheimer was not an attempt to silence them, but was rather an attempt to respond and set the record straight. Attempts to mischaracterize vibrant debate as attempts to smear or silence someone betray a lack of understanding of democracy’s fundamental foundations. The current controversy about AIPAC is itself proof that no one is being silenced. Of course, to a conspiricist, the lack of evidence for a conspiracy is further proof that the conspiracy is effective.
What is particularly disturbing about the current criticism of AIPAC is that whereas this was once the sole province of the far right, some on the far left have joined their extremist brethren on the other side. What Pat Buchanan said in 2004 is now being echoed by his leftist counterparts:
"We charge that a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in
It came as no surprise that David Duke endorsed the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, but the recent attacks from the far left ring hollow, especially considering that notable progressive Democrats such as Tom Harkin and Nancy Pelosi have long been strong supporters of
Others on the far left point to what they perceive is a rightward tilt by AIPAC. AIPAC supports policies that enhance the U.S.-Israel relationship, not one political viewpoint or another. With a center-right party in power in Israel and a Republican president, it is natural that U.S.-Israel relations should gravitate in that direction, just as it was natural that they gravitated in the other direction when Clinton and Ehud Barak was in power. To be effective, AIPAC must work with those in power.
Some critics of AIPAC will respond to this article by saying “but I never use words like ‘apartheid’ or ‘Nazi’ or ‘dual loyalty’ in my criticism of AIPAC, nor do I allege anything improper or un-American about AIPAC’s activities. How dare you accuse me of being anti-Semitic. I just think they are pushing American policy in the wrong direction.” Let me be very clear: Not all criticism of
If the test of good policy were whether such a policy is supported by an organized group, nearly every policy would fail the test.
In addition, critics of AIPAC, if they expect to be taken seriously, must not ascribe to AIPAC positions AIPAC does not take. AIPAC does not take positions on everything. AIPAC is not for or against the war in
AIPAC is a lobby. Lobbies build coalitions. This means working with people with whom one might not agree on other issues. That is how legislation gets passed and is how democracies function. Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows, and when legislation passes by the overwhelming margins with support in both parties that is typical of pro-Israel legislation, one will naturally find legislators voting in favor with whom one disagrees on other issues. That’s math, not conspiracy.
Some so-called leftists feel it is their obligation to speak for the Palestinians. It is a proud Jewish tradition to look out for the “other.” But the “other” is not always right. Amalek was the “other” too. America’s pro-Israel foreign policy is based on the fact that as long as the Arab Palestinians see the destruction of Israel as their goal, it is essential that the U.S. not be even-handed, but stand firmly with Israel. True peace will come not from making concessions to terrorists, but from an acknowledgment by the Arabs of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and from a sincere attempt to live peacefully with
Critics of AIPAC allege that despite a membership of over 100,000 volunteers, and despite the votes in Congress that overwhelmingly support its positions, it is somehow not representative. In actuality, the critics of AIPAC seem to be the ones on whom the burden of proof should be to show that they represent anyone but themselves and a vocal group of conspiracy theorists who cannot even see other points of view, and so must invent fictions to explain what is inexplicable in their narrow view. Perhaps that is the reason they do not have, and never will have, a lobby that can match AIPAC in credibility and integrity.
Steve Sheffey is an NJDC Activist
Steve Sheffey is an NJDC Activist