AIPAC and The Mid East Crisis: This Might Offend Everyone
Last week I went to my first AIPAC conference in Washington DC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Since the year 1955 I must have attended more than three hundred conferences, conventions, symposiums and assorted gatherings, including sixteen national political conventions (12 Democratic, 4 Republican), the 1992 UN conference on the environment in Rio, the 2010 IOC meeting in Copenhagen. But this was the most memorable and most impressive of all of them. I have to say that the others in contention were the 1956,1960 and 2008 Democratic Conventions (I was not at the 2004 Convention), the 1955 Illinois-Eastern Iowa District Key Club Convention in Peoria where Jesse Owens was the guest speaker, the 1955 first Chicago District of the Illinois Association of Student Council’s convention which I served as Convention Secretary and the the 1958 Key Club International Convention held at the Chicago Hilton where I served as Host Committee Chair.
But the AIPAC meeting was absolutely spectacular. Both the Israeli Prime Minister and the leader of the loyal opposition spoke separately and without domestic political strife and a majority of both Houses of the American Congress attended.
What made it even more spectacular is that Chicago’s entrepreneuer Lee Rosenberg was sworn in as President for a two year term.
The special nuance of this was that Lee is truly a personal friend and long time supporter of Barack Obama. AIPAC is generally recognized as the most hardline American supporter of Israel, but Rosenberg has excellent relations with all pro Israel factions including the J Street more moderate group.
Another coup for this conference was the presence of former British Prime Minister, now the representative of what is called the Quartet: the UN, EUR, Russia and the US. It is my hope that this could be expanded to be the Quintet and include China. It is delusional to think that this emerging nation can be ignored in any vital issue facing the world.
During the next two years I believe there is an opportunity to resolve many of the terrible international problems facing us; in the Mid east, in Africa, including Darfur and the Congo, in Myanmar and in Iran.
But in order to truly solve these problems we need to understand the realities, not what they were at the end of World War II, but as they are right now. Who would have predicted in 1946 that Germany and Japan would be our strong allies. Who would have suggested in 1975 that we would have a manageable relationship with Viet Nam.
What I find appalling is the fact that the U.S., Russia and China have never sat down together in a truly trilateral open discussion. We all have a common enemy in terrorists. We may be the only superpower, but China is and will continue to emerge as a superpower, and Russia cannot be ignored either, if for no other reason that its vast natural resources and its physical location stretching from Europe through Asia to the Pacific.
It also ludicrous that we discuss immediate sanctions against Iran before we have attempted true diplomacy, for example, appointing an Ambassador to that country. Whatever we think of Ahmadinijad, he is at least the de facto head of government. Of course its unacceptable that Iran become a nuclear power, and there are nations more concerned than Israel with this possibility, including Saudi Arabia for example.
There are many Americans who would be exceptional Ambassadors, but my favorite choice would be Senator Richard Lugar, for many, many reasons. Another excellent choice would be Gillian Sorensen.
On a related subject I know the person who would make the very best possible Ambassador to North Korea. She is a Republican, a former high level diplomat at the UN and would accept the position if offered.
We should not think that sending Ambassadors is conferring legitimacy or acceptance; we should have communications with all of the nations of the world. Some small countries need only have relations with neighbors or trading partners. The U.S. should have no exceptions. Its embarrassing that we rely on an interests section in Havana when Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Germany and Spain maintain full relations.
There is much that needs to be said about Israel, but one thing is certain; the legitimacy of that state is not subject to discussion or debate. The question of whether Israel is in our vital interests is a difficult question. I will bring the wrath of many upon me if I say it is not, but that is not relevant. Israel is a democracy. The world can never again allow another Holocaust. Of course we need to strengthen our relations with it Arab neighbors, but we should not be as concerned with Israel’s continued building in the occupied territories as we are with the Palestinians failing to come to the table to negotiate. If Arafat had accepted the deal more than ten years ago, there would be no debate on this issue. Netenyahu’s actions I think are meant to get the Palestinians to negotiate.
As I said earlier, the AIPAC conference was impressive in the extreme. But even viewing the 8,000 people having dinner in the Washington Convention Center in what must have been as large as two football fields, is nothing compared to the listenership of some of the more caustic right wingers.
In the next two years I hope that in public and private Lee Rosenberg will be allowed to play the key role he is able and equipped to do. This is AIPAC’s best chance ever.
I am a not either a self hating Jew or a Zionist. I have read Mearsheimer and Walt as well as others and they have their points. But there is nothing more dangerous than for the U.S. to be ambivalent about our support for Israel. Likewise, no country large or small, can act unilaterally in a way that preempts or coopts us. I don’t think that Israel has any misunderstanding about this. It is important that Iran and every other national also realize it. And its important that Americans understand it as well.
I would be remiss if I din’t take out time to point out the exceptional professionalism of AIPAC’s pr chief Josh Block who took amazingly good care of all the credentialed media and also had to deal with bogus press releases. It was amazing to see such a high degree of patience and security operating.
Phil Krone is a regular contributor to the Chicago Daily Observer as well as being a candidate for public office in another state.