are we? AIPAC!
What do we want? Apartheid!
When do we want it? NOW!"
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.
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.
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.
newspaper The Jewish Bulletin was taking pictures for an article,
and a Fox News cameraman interviewed various participants.
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.