Supporters of the Palestinian people need to start thinking smart tactically as well as strategically. Simply demonstrating against the Israeli invasion, occupation and abuses has proven to be a failed tactic for helping the Palestinians.
Going to the streets and protesting the invasion of Gaza and the humanitarian violations and war crimes of Israel is an understandable and noble response. Attacking Jews is, of course, wrong and will actually strengthen AIPAC by giving its supporters PR ammunition in the media battle.
Protesting has not loosened it, except for a tiny fraction of the most radical legislators. And AIPAC has shown all of congress how they viciously work to defeat those legislators when they run for re-election. Cynthia McKinney is the latest victim of AIPAC's assault.
To get Congress, and Obama, as well, to change their approach to Israel, they must be convinced that there are alternate paths they can safely take.
I've been interviewing the leaders and spokespeople of the Jewish alternatives to AIPAC-- J-street, Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun and his Network of Spiritual progressives , and Brit Tzedek v Shalom;, Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace-- which have all called for stopping the violence, the invasion and who describe themselves as supporting Israel AND peace.
All of the pro-Israel, pro-peace groups spokespeople I interviewed told me, in different words, that Israeli policy had lost the vision of its founding values, and that it is controlled by the Israeli equivalent of neocons-- radical conservatives. The problem with Israel is they have a parliamentary system where inclusion of small, extremist conservative groups has, historically, been necessary to build a majority. We have similar problems in the US, where, in the senate, one senator may represent 200,000 voters, while another may represent 10 million or more. Both the Israelis and we in the US are stuck with flawed democratic systems that give non-democratic power excesses to extremist right wing minorities.
Now, with liberals running the congress, well, at least center and left of center legislators, we have a unique opportunity to re-frame what it means to support Israel. What's that? You say stop supporting Israel altogether? Stop sending any funding? Sorry. That's not going to happen. Here's why.
There are over 5 million Jews in the US. Jews vote at the highest level of participation, so 5 million Jews might, because of their proclivity towards voting, might represent ten million average Americans. And the Jews are influential. Conservative Jews, through direct contributions, give a lot of money to conservative politicians and, according to Chris Hedges, through AIPAC, give a lot of money to almost all politicians, even ones with very few Jewish constituents. The conservative Jews make up just 20% of Jewish voters.
Eighty percent of Jews tend to vote for Democrats. Ninety percent of the Jews I know oppose the combative policies Israel has taken in recent years. They DO support Israel and its right to exist, but they are angry, frustrated, embarrassed, even ashamed by Israel's recent actions. But the liberal Jews, the vast majority, have not had a strong voice until recently.
Regardless of ideology, the vast majority of American Jews consider Israel their homeland, more so than the land their parents emigrated from. That same vast majority want to see a safe, secure Israel at peace. They want to see the US maintain a strong alliance with Israel, but they are willing to see the US take a more active role in making peace happen-- an approach that is very different from the AIPAC approach, which has, for the most part, taken a rubber stamp approach to extreme right wing Israeli leaders.
The bottom line is that the Jewish vote is highly influential. But it is not necessarily devoted to AIPAC.
If legislators can be persuaded that there are nuances in the positions American Jews have toward Israel, they (congress and Obama) will be able to take a more directive role with Israel. They'll be able to do what George Herbert Walker Bush tried to do-- insist that new settlements by the furthest right wing Jews-- almost always Orthodox extremists-- be halted, even shut down. They can demand that Israel use some of its US funding to help Palestinians-- to take a Three Cups of Tea approach.
This does not mean that the US will lower it's support for Israel. That would not work. A tiny majority of Jews might accept this, but even the liberal, peace-wanting Jews would not accept reductions in support. From the perspective of supporting Israel, almost all Jews are Zionists, just as most Muslims support Mecca as a place for Muslims, where no Christians or Jews are allowed.