Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rebecca Vilkomerson Courageously Fights a Strawman

I don't think we have ever written an article in response to Rebecca Vilkomerson before, but she's part of the Jewish Voice for Peace, so perfect Huffington Post blogger material. Anyway, the Huffington Post has managed to limit its attacks on AIPAC to three articles this time, and Vilkomerson's is one of them. And having attended the AIPAC Policy Conference, as previously mentioned, I'm well qualified to take on some of her arguments.

Both the title of her article and the subject of some new ads that JVP put in the DC metro (which I'm sure will be gone within the week) is that "AIPAC does not speak for us," the "us" in that statement being some American Jews. In fact Vilkomerson comes right out and makes her strawman argument clear:
"For too long, AIPAC has derived much of its power by purporting to speak in the name of the American Jewish community."
Really? I would really like Ms. Vilkomerson to provide her proof that AIPAC "speak for American Jews." AIPAC is pro-Israel, and American Jews are mostly pro-Israel, but that doesn't make them one and the same. I am no expert, but AIPAC bills itself as a pro-Israel lobby, not as a Jewish lobby. That term appears to be used exclusively by Israel's enemies. As far as I can tell, AIPAC has never purported to speak for the American Jewish community. So Ms. Vilkomerson is either lying, or is simply being lazy and relying on myths. I don't think anybody in the world thought that AIPAC spoke for Jewish Voice for Peace, so really this article and the ad campaigns are taking on a strawman argument that nobody cares about. Jewish dissenters and Israel bashers is hardly a new phenomenon. Noam Chomsky is 84 years old.

Having covered her main point, Ms. Vilkomerson gets into the usual complaints America gives too much money to Israel, the settlements are bad, Israel is too mean to the genocidal terrorist groups who would wipe them out without a second thought, etc etc. This is before she gets to two gigantic and threadbare claims. Here is the first:
"AIPAC has been partially responsible for keeping the American coffers flowing in support of Israel by perpetuating the myth that support of its policy agenda is a prerequisite for remaining in Congress."
Let me repeat myself: Really? This is the kind of argument which would be handy to back up with facts. Aaron David Miller, who I mentioned earlier today, wrote in his book that everyone likes to keep the myth of the "all powerful Israel lobby" alive, including critics of Israel like Ms. Vilkomerson. Why? Because (just taking an example) when JVP demands that America be nicer to Hamas, and Congress tells them to hit the bricks, JVP can tell themselves that Congress didn't listen because AIPAC rules the roost, and not because JVP's point of view is flawed.

As for this specific myth, as far as I can tell AIPAC doesn't demand "support of its policy agenda." Such a claim is regulated to people like Ms. Vilkomerson and MJ Rosenberg. AIPAC asks that Congresspeople be a friend to Israel. And they can't make that a prerequisite for remaining in Congress, as much as AIPAC haters like Ms. Vilkomerson love to play the cringing victim. For my source for all this, check out Miller's  book above. Ready for the next ridiculous claim?
"AIPAC has an extremist agenda which doesn't even represent the vast majority of Jewish American opinion on Israel."
Again, AIPAC never claimed to represent Jewish American opinion about Israel. Again, we see the conflation of "Jews" and "Zionists" (or in this case "AIPAC supporters") taking place not by pro-Israel people but by the hard left. What a surprise. AIPAC represents AIPAC, which sounds tautological but is actually pretty simple. If AIPAC doesn't support you, don't join them and don't give them money. If no one supported AIPAC, they wouldn't have any money or influence. Pretty easy right? But as usual, that isn't enough for the radical fringe like JVP. It's not enough that they have to disagree with AIPAC, they also have to bitch and moan about it in the pages of the Huffington Post.

Vilkomerson's claim that AIPAC has an "extremist agenda" is hilarious. Check out their policy agenda for yourself, because it's very straightforward: They want Iran not to have nuclear weapons, for security assistance to continue to Israel, and for the US and Israel to continue their military and intelligence cooperation. OMG! That isn't extremist at all. 99% of Americans don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons either. President Obama agrees with them about it, and so did Joe Biden. Now you might say that what they say publicly masks their real agenda, which presumably is discussed by fat guys with cigars over poker games, but the whole point of a lobbying organization is that it represents a lot of people with the same point of view. If Ms. Vilkomerson would like to provide us with a specific point of view that people other than her would consider "extremist," believe me I am all ears.

Anyway, she returns to the usual whining about the aid, which we covered, claiming that AIPAC is not in fact all powerful because of Chuck Hagel, even though she just said that it was. Now it's time for another classic talking point: the biased poll.
"The truth is, the American Jewish community is at best split on what role the U.S. should play in supporting Israel, especially as it continues to violate human rights and international law. In fact, the highly respected Zogby Research Services found in October 2012 that only 23 percent of Jewish Americans believe that AIPAC represents them. Polls have repeatedly shown that the American Jewish community favors an even-handed approach toward Israel and the Palestinians, and is broadly against war with Iran."
First of all, I'm sure that John Zogby, brother of James Zogby, is completely impartial when it comes to Jews and Israel. Secondly, the question was not whether Jewish Americans believed that AIPAC represents them. Here is the actual question, unfiltered by Vilkomerson:
"When asked to identify which organization they most support: only 23% say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); 33% identify  with American Jewish groups that side with Israel’s peace camp; and 32% say that “this is not a matter of great concern to me.”"
There is a difference between identifying with AIPAC and claiming that AIPAC represents them. Not that I would expect Ms. Vilkomerson to know that. Not that it matters anyway because, as I have said at least three times now, nobody expect for her thinks that AIPAC represents American Jews. It represents pro-Israel Americans.

The thread on the HuffPost is currently saturated with newly created users praising Ms. Vilkomerson. I guess JVP's internet drone army has arrived to back up a failing argument.

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