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AIPAC: Telling a Whopper

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But there was at least some debate going on inside the conference. Hadar Susskind of the new self-proclaimed pro-Peace pro-Israel lobby J Street was being interviewed by the BBC when Alan Dershowitz, one of the conference's principal speakers, approached and the two got into a heated debate. As the press gathered around, Dershowitz asked "How can you not agree that Goldstone is a despicable human being?" referring to the well-respect South African judge who lead the UN fact-finding mission investigating the Israeli assault on Gaza. AIPAC security quickly moved in to usher the argument outside the building. A French documentary crew had their credentials revoked after refusing to leave.

The second day of protests outside the conference made use of satire to try to get the message through. CodePink issued a fake press release announcing AIPAC's support for a settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The phony release was picked up by several news outlets prompting AIPAC to issue a statement refuting the claim, and thereby confirming that they are not in line with US policy on the issue or the majority of US citizens. Some conference participants were then questioning why AIPAC was not supporting a settlement freeze.

Later that morning, 'Netanyahu and the Settlements' arrived at the conference. Activists with the global online advocacy group Avaaz.org showed up wearing cardboard boxes shaped like settlement housing along with someone in a Netanyahu mask wearing a Caterpillar hardhat chanting, "Build settlements, not peace." Later that afternoon, nicely dressed activists escorted the conference participants: "Right this way to the Apartheid Conference."

The main attraction of the three-day event was, of course, the gala dinner where Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke. Rae Abileah of CodePink, who had purchased a ticket to the conference but then received a certified letter saying that her registration had been cancelled, was nonetheless inside the dinner waiting for her moment. After the traditional Roll Call, the interminable reading of the names of the Congress members present some 59 senators and 269 members of the House of Representatives Netanyahu finally took the stage. "When the prime minister announced Israel's commitment to defense, I could no longer remain silent." Rae jumped up on AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr's private table right next to the stage and opened a banner reading 'Build Peace Not Settlements' while shouting, "Lift the siege of Gaza! No illegal settlements!"

Shortly after Rae was forcibly removed from the dinner, Joan Stallard, also of CodePink, unfurled a banner and shouted, "Stop the settlements!" Joan, who was seated a little to close to security, was quickly thrown to the floor and promptly removed from the dinner.

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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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