Bernie’s Dangerous Libel of AIPAC

February 27, 2020
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

In an attempt to defend Bernie’s virtue-signaling announcement of his AIPAC boycott, a far-left friend of a friend, posted the following:

AIPAC (the strong RW Israel lobby) invites the chancellor of Austria to speak.
Kurz’s party was recently in a coalition w/ the Austrian Freedom Party which was founded by Nazis after WWII.
“Many in the Freedom Party see the defeat of Nazi Germany ‘not as a victory for democracy but as a defeat for their cause

He also included a picture of the following tweet:


Sadly, posts precisely like this one are a part of an ongoing, highly misleading and hypocritical effort to validate Bernie Sanders’ announcement of his decision to boycott the annual conference of the largest and most mainstream pro-Israel organization in America. A conference, Bernie Sanders has never attended and defames without any credible basis. These claims, however, are more insidious than that. They mislead and prevaricate about AIPAC in a way to try and make Jews ashamed to organize and lobby on behalf of a strong American-Israeli alliance. Their goal is to make Jews lobbying for that alliance somehow evil. Or, as Bernie put it “bigoted.”

Claiming AIPAC is a “strong RW Israel lobby.”

While the person who made this post is definitely a part of the left, every word of this claim derives from talking points of the antisemitic left (and of the antisemitic right).

The first part – the use of the word “strong” is important.

For centuries, antisemitism has relied on the pernicious claim that Jews are somehow maliciously powerful and manipulative. That Jews are strong in nefarious ways. Like “lobbying,” which often is a dirty word among both the far-left and far-right (but, of course, only for certain lobbying groups). 

“Jewish lobbying” according to both the far-right and far-left, that’s always bad. Gun owners lobbying: for the left, that’s bad; for the right, it’s good. And when it is considered good, then it’s simply citizens in a democracy doing what they can’t do in a tyranny. Forming groups that represent their interests and advocating to the government regarding their shared interests. Union lobbying groups: for the right, that is bad. For the left, it is not only good, it’s essential.

However, for Jews and others who believe in the positives of a strong US and Israel alliance – then lobbying on behalf of that alliance – for both the far-right and far-left (examples abound, see, Louis Farrakhan, David Duke, Ilhan Omar, Don Black, etc.) such lobbying is somehow a unique evil.

Ilhan Omar has essentially exemplified how much of the so-called “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party has now bought into this libelous characterization of AIPAC. When Omar tweeted a reference to an age-old trope about Jews using money to subvert and control governments with their money (when she tweeted that Congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins”), she then piled on to her antisemitic tweet by asserting that it was “AIPAC” which was the one buying that support from Congress.

Omar’s claims were counterfactual on many levels. Fundamentally, Omar ignores that most members of Congress support Israel mainly because they think it is the right thing to do. Her defamatory tweets also ignore that when it comes to the amount of money lobbying groups in the USA spend on their respective mission statements, the AIPAC spend is diminutive.

Year after year, AIPAC is listed as around the 150th highest-ranked lobbying entity in terms of spending. In 2018, overall pro-Israel lobbying expenditures (including AIPAC) at $5,022,028, ranked behind entities like Toyota ($7,150,453), the Recording Industry Association of America ($5,642,155), the Association of International CPAs: ($5,200,000) as well as tens of millions of dollars behind entities such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($94,800,000), the National Association of Realtors ($72,808,648), pro-South Korea lobbying groups ($70,500,000) and pro-Japan lobbying groups ($51,400,000).

The notion that American politicians’ support for Israel is “all about” (meaning solely because of) money implicitly spent by Jews, is not just a “dog whistle” to an age-old antisemitic slur about Jews pulling the levers of power with their “Jewish money,” it is an outright scream. It is both disgusting and frightening that so many self-described “progressives” have now embraced this notion.

Claiming AIPAC is “RW” (right-wing). 

Just like Bernie Sanders, the people who make this claim have never been to an AIPAC Policy Conference. If they did, then they would hopefully see that AIPAC is a true big tent organization. People that have spoken at the AIPAC policy conference include Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Nita Lowey, Kyrsten Sinema, Brad Sherman, and Rabbi Susan Silverman. Numerous women’s rights, LGBTQ rights activists and environmental activists are often featured speakers at AIPAC. There is also an incredibly broad range of diverse people and ideas within the Jewish community at AIPAC. People who are strict two-staters, people who believe Israel should withdraw to the 1967 borders, people who think Israel should immediately annex all of Judea and Samaria, and all manners in between.

The claim that AIPAC is “right-wing” is simply absurd. Unless one believes that anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders (like Barack Obama and practically every member of the Democratic Party in the US Senate) is also “right-wing.”

Claiming “AIPAC” is an “Israel lobby.” 

This is also pernicious. It echoes people like David Duke (who tweeted his strong support for Ilhan Omar’s comments). David Duke and his KKK corner often scream about how AIPAC should be listed as an agency of a foreign government. AIPAC, however, is American. It is made up of American citizens, who – like other US citizens, who have organized lobbying groups about solar energy, legalizing marijuana, increasing or decreasing access to guns, etc. – have organized to promote and strengthen the ties between the USA and Israel. People who believe that a strong USA and Israel relationship is good for both countries, and good for all people who stand for justice, for freedom and against tyranny and despotism. Nevertheless, regardless of whether you agree with their position, there is no getting around the fact that AIPAC is American, and it is made up of tens of thousands of American citizens. It is an example of “horseshoe theory” in action that so many on the left now parrot David Duke talking points and claim AIPAC is an “Israel lobby.”

At the end of the day, the principal reason for this post (and numerous posts like it) is to defend Bernie Sanders’ claim that he is not attending AIPAC because it “provides a platform for bigotry.”

Setting aside the actual views of the Austrian prime minister, the idea that Bernie Sanders cares about bigotry, let alone cares so much that he will not speak at any event where among dozens of speakers, one or two may have some bigoted views, is laughable on its face; particularly given the company Bernie Sanders keeps and where he speaks.

Last Labor Day weekend, Bernie Sanders was a headliner at the 56th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). At ISNA, Linda Sarsour spoke. Sarsour is a well know and gross antisemite. She claims there is “nothing creepier than Zionism” and that “there is no room for any Zionist women in the women’s rights movement.” Sarsour makes these claims with no regard for the fact that Zionism is simply the belief that Jews have a right to sovereignty and self-determination in part of their indigenous homeland and that the only place in the entire MENA where women have any rights is in Israel. 

Linda Sarsour openly wished she could “take away the vagina” of feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and has also shown her support for the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who refers to “Satanic Jews” and compared Jews to “termites.” One year before Bernie Sanders spoke at ISNA, at the same conference, Sarsour said it’s a “problem” if American Muslims “humanize” Israelis. Bigotry on steroids. ISNA also has anti-Gay speakers. In fact, one of its former presidents, Sayyid M. Syeed has said: “We are actually involved in transforming America so that homosexuality and these same-sex marriages do not take place here.”

Bernie Sanders has also spoken at CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) sponsored events as have many of his official campaign surrogates. Meanwhile, Siraj Wahhaj, a former member of CAIR’s advisory board, remains to this day one of CAIR’s most frequent speakers. Wahhaj has repeatedly asserted his anti-Gay bigotry. He has claimed that being gay is “a disease of this [American] society” and in sermons has said: “you know what the punishment is, if a man is found with another man? The Prophet Mohammad said the one who does it and the one to whom it is done to, kill them both.” Again, bigotry on steroids.

Plainly, speaking in front of groups that have bigoted speakers is NOT a genuine issue or concern for Bernie Sanders. What appears to be an issue for Bernie Sanders is virtue signaling to both the Islamist and far-left in America that he shares their hate for Israel. It also signals, whether intentionally or otherwise, that he is willing to join with David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, Rashida Tlaib, Don Black, Ilhan Omar and numerous other far-right, far-left, and Islamist extremists in America in trying to turn lobbying for a strong Israel-US relationship – through the largest and most mainstream Jewish organization in the USA – into something shameful. 

Bernie Sanders’ highly selective and dubious announcement of his AIPAC boycott is not only wrong, but it is also dangerous. It signals that Sanders is perfectly willing to apply the same double-standard and bigotry, which is so often applied to Israel in the international community (as the “Jew among the nations”), against American Jews and other U.S. citizens who support a strong US-Israel alliance. By announcing his boycott, Bernie Sanders sends the message that just Ilhan Omar he wants to make the activities of pro-Israel U.S. citizens to organize and lobby their government officials – in the same way that countless other groups do (including CAIR) – seem somehow insidious, bigoted or subversive.

As for the example regarding the Austrian Prime Minister Kurz (which is used in this particular tweet to somehow provide support for Bernie Sanders’ decision to join in the antisemitic labeling and libeling of AIPAC), it is notable  that Kurz recently tweeted that “hate speech is an obnoxious phenomenon of our time.” Kurz also vowed to “act resolutely against online abuse — whether from the left, Islamist or right.” Not a particularly bigoted thing to write. Also, while the Freedom Party, which Kurz formed a coalition with in order to have a majority in the Austrian Parliament, certainly has odious members and origins, this particular tweet ignores that parliamentary coalition politics is often messy. It also ignores that when Kurz formed his governing coalition, one of the concessions he got from the Freedom Party was a promise not to call for Austria to leave the European Union. This is why the reaction within the EU to the Freedom Party being part of the Austrian government under Kurz in 2018 was fairly subdued, particularly in comparison to how the EU reacted when the Freedom Party was a part of Austria’s governing coalition in 2000.

In any event, the reference to Kurz here is a sideshow. A dissembling ruse. It is plain that AIPAC is a far more diverse and mainstream organization than many organizations that Bernie has no problem affiliating with and speaking in front of (as long they don’t offend his many Israel-hating supporters and his antisemitic official campaign surrogates like Linda Sarsour).

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