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AIPAC: Telling a Whopper

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That's the same F-35 that Secretary of Defense Gates was referring to in his testimony before Congress on March 25 when he spoke of "unacceptable delays and cost overruns." The price tag for the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program has nearly doubled since 2001, recently leading Secretary Gates to replace the program manager and withhold more than $600 million from the lead contractor, Lockheed Martin. It's no wonder Israel would prefer US taxpayers foot the bill!

Inside the Washington Convention Center, AIPAC was simultaneously calling for the US public to be kept in the dark regarding any disputes with Israel while asking taxpayers to fund 20% of Israel's defense budget. Outside it was a different story. Activists from CodePink, Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Avaaz, Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation kept up a presence during the conference with signs and banners calling for respect for international law and human rights, an end to the siege of Gaza, Israeli apartheid and US taxpayer funding of war crimes.

Using street theatre, we set up a checkpoint to greet the participants, and I, in the role of a Palestinian woman, tried in vain to get through. I pleaded with the sometimes startled conference-goers to help me get to a hospital, but Tighe Barry, playing an IDF soldier at the checkpoint, pushed me away telling the AIPAC supporters, "You can pass. This is a Jewish only road."

During our presence outside the conference, I got an earful of everything from thoughtful debate to the most vulgar of insults to outright ignorance on the issues: "There is already a settlement freeze!" "Gaza isn't under siege, Israel is!" "AIPAC has nothing to do with policy!" This last remark was made while standing under the enormous sign reading 'AIPAC Policy Conference.'

We were outnumbered roughly 100 to 1, yet the very site of us literally sent some people over the edge. A few people even resorted to violence, shoving and hitting the activists. During a press conference held outside the Convention Center, we were constantly interrupted, with people shouting and walking in front of the cameras. Josh Ruebner of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation rightly judged this as a classic example of the AIPAC crowd trying to completely control the debate so that no other voices can be heard.

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Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy.
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