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December 10, 2003

AIPAC Dinner Draws Peaceful Protest


by Michael Austin

"Who are we? AIPAC!
What do we want? Apartheid!
When do we want it? NOW!"

This was one of the most accusatory cries to be heard from the group of nearly fifty activists that gathered on Broadway in downtown Oakland, California Monday night to protest the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee at their Annual Northwestern Chapter Dinner. More commonly referred to as AIPAC, the organization's main purpose is to act as an advocate for the Israeli government, and it is one of the most powerful lobbies in America. According to Ken Galal and Heather Merriam of Tikkun (a peace group based on multi-faith spiritual solidarity), an organizer of the protest, AIPAC directly obstructs the hope for Middle East peace in three major ways: by lobbying Congress to adopt policies that are in line with the Israeli right (Likud) but not necessarily in the best interest of peace or American interests, by publicly supporting the President's "road map for peace" while trying to change it behind the scenes, and, most glaringly, by generally opposing and ignoring the Geneva Accord.

The economically, culturally and racially diverse crowd varied in age from mid-twenties to at least seventies, with a fairly even number of men and women. In addition to Tikkun, distinct peace groups represented among the activists assembled outside AIPAC's dinner included A Jewish Voice for Peace, Wall Busters, The Berkeley Women in Black, The International Solidarity Movement and Americans for Justice in Palestine-Israel. Each group had their own specific agenda and ideas to share, and their own way of sharing them, from the tragic to the comical. Americans for Justice in Palestine-Israel's Wendy Campbell and a friend were there talking up their Rachel Corrie Banner Project: Each month they show up in a prominent public place (often outside a politician's office) with a banner commemorating Rachel Corrie, a young peace activist who was senselessly murdered by Israeli bulldozers earlier this year. Henry Norr, a technical writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who has been in the news since being fired earlier this year after his participation in anti-Iraq-war protests, was proudly in attendance, having just returned from a tour of Palestine organized by the International Solidarity Movement.

One man simply stood quietly alone in the crowd with a sign proclaiming he was "Another Israeli Against the Occupation." Other signs read, "Why Money for tanks and occupation, none for jobs and education?" and "Congre$$ IS an Occupied Territory!" Several people had fliers and handbills for passersby; one man gave out stickers and postcards which at first looked like advertisements for a real household cleaner, but at second glance were a clever satire, proclaiming "Ariel Sharon's Concentrated Ethnic Cleanser: does all the dirty work for you." The most standout character in the crowd was a man dressed as Uncle Sam, bearing a sign which read "I Want You – To Die for Israel!" Some yelled, but most spoke quietly to each other and to passers by, discussing their feelings about why it was important to be there and to show dissent. Although there were certainly differing opinions about just how peace in the Middle East was to be achieved, or how soon it could be achieved, everyone who was there agreed on one thing: The US' blind and biased support of Israel's policies is a major hindrance to the peace process, a terrible drain on US resources, and an undeniable motivational factor in terrorist attacks against the US.

The newspaper The Jewish Bulletin was taking pictures for an article, and a Fox News cameraman interviewed various participants.

The peaceful assembly lasted from around 4:30 until well after 7 pm, and though there were a few motorcycle police keeping a watchful eye on things from nearby, there was very little conflict with or direct confrontation of AIPAC's attendees. Certainly no one obstructed the path of anyone, and response from the passersby varied from enthusiastic horn-honking and yells of agreement, to one man who leveled the accusation that the protesters were anti-Semitic. One protester decided to slip inside and see if she could pick up some AIPAC literature, or at least an agenda of who was to speak at the dinner, but she was unable to get past the registration desk, and was quickly escorted out by a security guard. Around 6 pm, at the height of the gathering, two AIPAC security agents, ear-pieced and stone-faced in impeccable dark suits, came out and took close up pictures of protesters' faces. This was apparently some sort of intimidation tactic, but no one in the crowd seemed very intimidated, and those who didn't jeer loudly at the photographers were happy to pose, many with their tongues extended.

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Michael Austin is the Outreach Coordinator for Antiwar.com.

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