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CODEPINK Protester Victorious Over AIPAC Assailant

11:33 am in Uncategorized by codepink

It is not every day that the voices for justice triumph over the actions of the rich and powerful, especially when it comes to the Israel-Palestine debate. That’s why it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate the settlement just negotiated by CODEPINK activist Rae Abileah and her lawyers after suing American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)volunteer lobbyist Stanley Shulster.

Medea Benjamin in a pink shirt & helmet with a Make Out Not War badge.

Code Pink's Medea Benjamin at NoNATO Rally (Photo: Chicagosee / Flickr)

It all started on May 24, 2011, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, DC speaking before a joint session of Congress. Abileah, a 29-year-old Jewish woman who has traveled to the West Bank, Israel and Gaza, was in the audience. She became more and more appalled as she listened to Netanyahu’s speech and watched our congress people giving him a stream of standing ovations. “I couldn’t watch this hero’s welcome for a man who supports the continued building of illegal settlements, won’t lift the siege of Gaza, and refuses to negotiate with the Palestinian unity government,” said Abileah.

So Abileah did what most people would never have the courage to do. She got up and shouted: “No more occupation! Stop Israeli war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians!” And she unfurled a banner thatread: “Occupying land is Indefensible!”

She was immediately grabbed, violently pulled toward the floor, and gagged—not by the Capitol Police but by a member of the audience, Stanley Shulster, a retired attorney from Ashland, Oregon, who had traveled to Washington DC to attend the yearly conference of the Israel lobby group AIPAC. An online bio for Shulster revealed that he was an unpaid lobbyist, a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces, and a Navyveteran. In his bio Shulster bragged that he “grabbed the woman who heckled the Prime Minister while he was speaking.”

Abileah was rushed to the hospital, where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. She subsequently had to undergo months of physical therapy, chiropractic care and other treatments to heal from these injuries.

But Abileah was also determined to pursue her attacker.She pressed charges and got a warrant for his arrest, and she filed a civil suit for damages. Thanks to the tenacity and generosity of her attorneys, they just reached a settlement in which Shulster was forced to pay her medical fees  and issue an apology. In the joint statement issued by Shulster and Abileah, Shulster acknowledges that he “respects the right of Ms. Abileah to hold a different view on the Israel-Palestine conflict and believes she holds this view in good faith,” and Abileah does the same. Both Abileah and Shulster recognize “the right, as Americans, to agree to disagree peacefully.” This might sound like a common sense statement but coming from a man who works with the IDF and AIPAC, which routinely categorizes any critique of Israel as anti-Semitic, this is extraordinary.

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Does Your Congressperson Represent You – or Israel?

9:51 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

By Medea Benjamin

 

In this time of economic austerity, when jobs are being slashed and Americans are fearful about their future, the Congressional recess is the time for our elected representatives to be home in their districts, reaching out to their constituents and servicing the people they are paid to represent. Instead, this August one out of every five representatives will be taking a junket to Israel, compliments of an affiliate of the Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) but still clocked in on the taxpayer’s dime.

 

Americans who have lost their jobs and seen their life savings evaporate because Congress can’t seem to get it together deserve an explanation of how this crisis will be solved. Following the recent debt debacle, the public is hungry for information about the mysterious 12-person “super committee” that will slash over one trillion dollars from the federal budget. But instead of opening their doors to their constituents, 81 members of Congress will be getting briefings from Israeli government officials, touring historic religious sites, and perhaps “seeking a salty dip in the Dead Sea.” Representative Steny Hoyer, who is leading the Democratic delegation, said he is pleased members of Congress have this opportunity “to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved in increasing stability in the region.” One has to wonder whether our elected officials are more concerned about the stability of Israel or the well-being of American families.

 

Not surprisingly, trip expenses are being paid by an affiliate of the all-powerful AIPAC lobby, the American Israel Educational Foundation. AIPAC lobbies hard to ensure that Israel is kept on the U.S. dole, with $3 billion of US taxpayers’ dollars a year going to the Israeli military. Without AIPAC and the financial contributions to Congressional campaigns made by its affiliate organizations, our representatives would be freer to speak out against funneling precious taxdollars to this already wealthy nation. This junket goes to show that those who claim AIPAC has a stranglehold over our Congress are not far off the mark.

 

Going on an AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel is the moral equivalent of using an Anglo-Boer travel company to visit apartheid-era South Africa. Although they claim to be visiting leaders “across the political spectrum”, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, you can bet your bottom dollar that AIPAC will not be giving these 81 Congresspeople a fair and balanced view of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They won’t observe one of the weekly demonstrations in Bi’lin or Nabi Saleh, where Israeli soldiers routinely tear gas and arrest non-violent protesters. They won’t spend time with grieving Palestinians whose homes have been demolished to make way for more Jewish-only housing. They won’t spend a few hours at a checkpoint to witness how Palestinians are detained, abused and humiliated, or how this “thriving democracy” forbids Palestinians from driving on Jewish-only roads. They won’t go to Gaza, where 1.5 million people are suffering under an unbearable siege, unable to travel freely, conduct business transactions across borders or even rebuild their homes destroyed by the Israeli invasion. And they won’t likely be visiting the burgeoning tent cities in Tel Aviv where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are currently camped out, protesting the lack of affordable housing, gas and food.

 

With the disapproval rate for Congress at a record 82%, now is not the time for our representatives to pander to AIPAC. Now is not the time for “free” junkets to Israel—with an implicit promise of $3 billion of our taxdollars in return. Now is the time to stop the freefall of the American economy. If our representatives want to earn more respect from the American public, they better prove that their allegiance is not to a foreign government or a group that lobbies on behalf of a foreign government, but to their constituents back home.

 

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK. She encourages you to contact your congressperson and ask where they will be this August recess. Call  202-224-3121.

Challenging AIPAC’s Abuse of Taxpayers Money – By Omar Barghouti

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by codepink

The Arab democratic spring, striving to end authoritarian rule and establish freedoms and social justice, has not been welcome by all. Israel and its main lobby in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for instance, appear to have been caught off guard and visibly disturbed by the seemingly irreversible transformations that these uprisings promise to bring about in the Arab world and, to an extent, the world at large.

Having stood on the wrong side of history during the Tunisian and then the Egyptian revolutions, supporting the despots and authoritarian regimes against the people, Israel has a lot to lose from the democratic winds of change in the region. When Hosni Mubarak was about to be overthrown by the people’s revolution in Egypt Israel launched a diplomatic campaign to convince key Western capitals to support him lest stability is lost and Israel’s other tyrannical friends in the region feel abandoned.

In Tunisia, as well, the vaunted electronic surveillance apparatus of the former dictator Ben-Ali was run in close cooperation with Israel, as exposed by Tunisian civil society organizations. With more of Israel’s friends in the region being dethroned, it is becoming abundantly clear how much Israel and its Western partners have invested in safeguarding and buttressing the unelected, autocratic regimes in the Arab world, partially to make a self-fulfilling prophecy of Israel as the “villa in the midst of the jungle” — the myth often repeated by AIPAC. The impact of debunking that myth cannot be overstated. Israel has, for decades, extracted billions of dollars, not to mention diplomatic, political, and scientific support from the U.S. and European states partially based on this misleading image of Israeli democracy, and despite all the evidence to the contrary. A state that has been imposing an occupation regime for almost 44 years on Palestinians in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, that has denied on racial grounds millions of refugees their UN-sanctioned right to return home, and that is regularly condemned by its chief benefactor and ally, the U.S. government, for its “system of institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its own Palestinian minority carrying Israeli citizenship cannot reasonably be regarded as a “democracy.”

The fact is, U.S. citizens have been bankrolling Israel’s system of occupation, racial discrimination and denial of basic human rights to the tune of billions of dollars annually without knowing what they were funding and why. AIPAC is the main culprit in this process of defrauding the American people, while one cannot ignore the fact that the U.S. military and oil establishments have also stood to gain from Israel’s colonial expansion, endless bloody wars of aggression, and role as the police of the region, preventing popular revolt from threatening the pillage of its vast strategic resources.

For many years AIPAC has falsely advertised Israel as a democratic state that best serves U.S. interests in a turbulent and unpredictable part of the world, covering up Israel’s suppression of human rights and its very nature as a state premised on fanatic militarism, racial segregation and injustice, contrary to the supposed “shared values” with the “West” that AIPAC has fed to the American public so effectively with its well-oiled media machine and its unmatched power of intimidation as well as suppression of debate and dissent by anyone who dares to slightly step out of line and question the “Israel-first” agenda.

But given that Israel in the last few years, especially since the start of the recent Arab revolutions, has largely and quite demonstrably failed in hindering the outbreak of popular uprisings and democratic transformations in the Middle East, leading pundits have started to raise serious doubts about the taken-for-granted mantra of convergence between Israeli and American interests.

Furthermore, at a time when average Americans are losing jobs, benefits and hope, should the U.S. be spending billions to help Israel maintain its regime of oppression and violations of international law? When schools and hospitals in the U.S. are being closed, and when hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers are mired in endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere, where they sow mass destruction and death among the populations of these countries, while they themselves suffer increasing casualties, should U.S. taxpayers continue to fund this immoral war agenda? Should Israel and its lobby groups be allowed to pull the U.S. into more wars or to continue to justify Israel’s own brutal and patently illegal wars of aggression, as the one against Palestinians in Gaza in 2008-09 and on Lebanon in 2006?

If members of the U.S. Congress dare not ask these critical questions for fear of AIPAC’s wrath – perceived and carefully marketed as invincible – and an almost certain loss of career, shouldn’t the working people of the U.S. pose them and demand accountability and, indeed, democratic regime change?

It is in this context that one cannot but highly admire the courage, creativity and resilience of human rights and advocacy groups in the U.S., like CODEPINK, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace and many others that insist on challenging AIPAC’s domination of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond and its detrimental and deeply corrupting influence over U.S. decision making in general. The CODEPINK-led campaign to “expose AIPAC and usher in a new foreign policy,” to be launched in Washington, DC in May is a badly needed and truly inspiring effort that should be widely supported by all those who care about the cause of justice and peace in the U.S. and, by extension, the entire world.

Omar Barghouti is a human rights activist and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Haymarket, 2011)
Take action by attending Move Over AIPAC, a gathering in Washington DC from May 21-24, 2011, to expose AIPAC and build the vision for a new US foreign policy in the Middle East! More information can be found at www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.