Two days after AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington DC, the organization sent out an email headlined: “Maps of Israel Security Threats.” Attached were three maps. The first, “Israel in the Middle East,” shows a little Israel within a broad sea of Arab states. The second, “Iranian Missile Threats,” displays how the entire State of Israel is within strike range of Iran’s ballistic missiles. And the third map shows the range of Hezbollah’s weapons, which, it turns out, also encompass the entire State of Israel.
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This series of maps epitomizes the narrative of AIPAC’s 2014 conference. I spent three days at the Washington Convention Center. Three intense, full, jam packed days. It was my first time at the conference, which has become synonymous with Jewish power in the United States and a show of force by the American lobby for Israel.
Some 14,000 people filled the Convention Center – singles, couples, families. Old, young, enthusiastic. Three days of speeches, debates, panel discussions, music, video clips and lectures. Three staged, orchestrated, scripted, perfected days, with superb audio-visual technology, precision background music, a meticulously chosen guest list, VIPs, and, most importantly, three days of concise talking points, from which no one deviated an inch. Three days which did not leave any room whatsoever for doubt or criticism. Three days at the end of which I didn’t recognize Israel, the place where I was born, where I have lived my entire life, the state where my son was born and where I raised him. The state where I built my career. My state.
In three days the organizers managed to flatten Israel into a two-dimensional placard, which can be summed up in three words: The Iranian Threat. With disturbing precision, the organizers took advantage of the three conference days to plant in the participants’ minds one single message: The Iranian Threat.
Israel of the AIPAC conference is a scared, fragile little state, dependent on the support of the world’s strongest superpower, the United States. AIPAC’s Israel is painted in only one shade: The Iranian Threat. In the Israel that emerged from the conference, women are destined to play only one role: To provide succor and to play on emotions. In AIPAC’s Israel there was no place for women among the list of plenary speakers. The Israel of the AIPAC policy conference is a state devoid of open, critical, democratic discourse. The AIPAC conference’s Israel is a state with a one-directional, one-dimensional, univalent message: The Iranian Threat.
AIPAC’s annual policy conference is the largest Jewish gathering in the United States. It’s not only a display of power and influence, it’s also the place to which Jews come from all corners of North America to be imbued with strength and support, to hear directly from leading opinion makers about Israel, to get information. But the 14,000 delegates who packed the giant convention were not permitted to hear about the real Israel. They were not allowed to hear any words of criticism, they did not hear the term “occupation,” they weren’t presented with differences of opinion, they weren’t given to understand that there’s a combative opposition, that the numbers of Israel’s poor and those suffering economic hardship are growing. The participants of the AIPAC conference did not hear about Israel. They heard about The Iranian Threat.
The real Israel is coming up to its 50th year of rule over another people and the dispossession of that people’s rights in nearly every sphere. This is the longest occupation in modern history. This occupation deprives hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their basic human and civil rights every day. And those who view themselves as its supporters and its representatives to the strongest democracy on earth must not ignore this. Reality is forever complex. It means, among other things, a multitude of views about this reality, and that the voices of dissent must not be silenced, the debate must not be distilled to just one issue: The Iranian Threat.
Israel is a vital society with much to be proud of, and it is a country wrestling with many serious issues. People who love Israel should be learning about and engaging with this real-life country, and not with a two-dimensional placard.
Anat Saragusti is a journalist and one of the founders of Israel’s Channel 2 News. She is the director of B’Tselem USA and lives in Washington DC. Follow her on Twitter: @Saragusti