The main pro-Israel lobby group in Washington allegedly told lawmakers during a Zoom call that they were free to criticise Israel’s plan to annex the occupied West Bank so long as the criticism stopped there.
Israel’s main advocate in Washington has reportedly told lawmakers they will not object if they criticise the Netanyahu government’s planned annexation of the occupied West Bank, but warned that the criticism should not go any further.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency report cited sources with knowledge of a Zoom call between AIPAC and US politicians.
AIPAC or the America Israel Public Affairs Committee later told the JTA that it does not encourage criticism of Israel, noting instead that its role was to encourage strengthening relations between the US and Israel.
Nevertheless the advisory is being seen as an effective green light for lawmakers to criticise Israel over its West Bank annexation plans.
Put forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but backed by his coalition partner and political nemesis, Benny Gantz, the plan is seen as the biggest test of the relationship between the international community and Israel in decades.
Netanyahu is confident of US support for the measure, which would effectively kill off the two-state solution, but support is not guaranteed. Other Israeli allies, such as the EU, have repeatedly warned Israel of consequences should it proceed with the plan.
AIPAC’s reported comments to lawmakers are significant for two reasons.
Firstly, as the Arab-American pollster James Zogby pointed out, the reports cast a light on the nature of AIPAC’s ties to lawmakers, where they seemingly take their lead from a lobby group representing a foreign state.
“Bizarre. AIPAC “gives permission” to US officials to criticize a foreign country? What the hell?” Zogby wrote on his Twitter account.
Strains with Netanyahu
The second is the significance of AIPAC’s stance when it comes to the nature of their own relationship with the Israeli government, and specifically Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There’s no doubt AIPAC is the most ardent supporter of Israel in Washington, taking an immeasurably more uncritical line than other Jewish lobby groups, such as J-Street.
The JTA report makes clear that AIPAC will not tolerate any reduction in aid or any form of punitiveness with regard to Israel.
Nonetheless, even AIPAC has broken with the Netanyahu government on several occasions during the past two years.
In August, it publicly broke with Netanyahu when he banned US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin, and Ilhan Omar, a fervent Netanyahu critic.
“While we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative." AIPAC said in a statement at the time.
Even earlier, in February 2019, AIPAC endorsed a rebuke of Netanyahu for his decision to draw closer to far-right Kahanist-linked groups.
While there is no illusion that AIPAC remains anything but firmly in Israel’s corner, it is seemingly starting to show it is willing to drift away from the Netanyahu government’s script.
In a separate tweet, Zogby wrote: “It’s actually interesting, because it means that AIPAC can see the writing on the wall. They’re basically cutting their losses & running for cover.
Opinion is shifting in the US & their propaganda efforts to make Israel into good & Palestinians into bad have run out of steam.”