March 8, 2012

Occupy AIPAC: Sign Language

Cross posted from NIACampus.org Student Reporting:

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Occupy AIPAC was a summit timed to coincide with the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. Occupy AIPAC participants gathered to discuss issues, such as Iran, the Arab Uprising, Palestine and the affects of AIPAC in determining U.S. foreign policy on these topics. On Sunday, Occupy AIPAC activists rallied outside of the Walter E. Washington convention center, where hours earlier, President Obama and important names in the foreign policy world gave their speeches to the AIPAC Policy Conference attendees.
The purpose of the rally was to warn the American people of what the activists saw as the dangerous and overwhelming influence that AIPAC was having on United States’ foreign policy. Messages of justice for the Palestinian people and peace with Iran echoed throughout the event. Keynote speakers from activist organizations, musical performances, and poetry readings accompanied the long day of protest.
Although tensions were high between the opposing sides earlier that day, a patient few waited to the end of the AIPAC conference and greeted the AIPAC members as they exited the building. Despite the high emotions and impassioned speeches from earlier in the day, people from both sides of the issue came together on the sidewalks and began to respectfully share ideas, opinions, and stories.
I had the opportunity to speak with the diverse group of activists at the event. The following profiles present the various perspectives of these activists:
Name: Grant
Age: 46
From: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Director of Research Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy
Why are you out here today?
“Because you can’t just sit in an office and blog all day, you have to come out into the street you have to take actions that are visible you have to bring people out to protest in a peaceful, non-violent way and show, in this case AIPAC attendees, that we are opposed to their initiatives to launch war on Iran, to illegal settlements, to unwarranted influence in Congress that has no regulatory oversight whatsoever.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran:
“He needs to open a diplomatic presence. Why don’t they open up an embassy like the one they just built in Iraq in Iran—it is an extremely important country. They need to stop taking advice from the Israelis, who are absolutely hysterical about their IAEA regulated civilian nuclear program. They need to disregard AIPAC’s political pressure and go straight to the American people and say we’re not going to let Israel drive our foreign policy; we’re going to talk to Iran.”

Name: Yisroel Dovid Yisroel
Occupation: Rabbi, activist
From: New York City, New York
Age: 56
Why are you out here today?
“With the help of the Almighty, we’ve come as a delegation of Jews from around the world—from the Holy Land, Occupied Palestine, New York, Canada and so forth– to voice our frustration and let the world know that our identity, the name Judaism, everything that belongs to us has been hijacked, stolen by a movement called Zionism. They profess to represent Jews from around the world as a whole, and the Jewish religion, but in truth Judaism is the diametric opposite to what Zionism is. Judaism is a subservience to God, a religion, a covenant we made with God thousands of years ago, and we uphold throughout the generations. Zionism is a movement that started a little over a hundred years ago as a transformation into nationalism—to have a piece of land…. Creating the State of Israel in the land of Palestine, in the homes of the Palestinians, the Muslims, and even Christians, is breaching every concept in the Torah that you’re not allowed to steal or kill…. It does not in any manner shape or form represent what Judaism was or is.”
Advice for the Obama Administration about Iran:
“With most respect for our President, we plead with them to hear our voice. It is a voice of Jews who want no political gains we simply want what God wants—peace. We urge the President not to be influenced, intimidated by the Zionist lobby. We just came from Iran—I was just in Iran for three weeks, a beautiful place. We went to synagogues and met people practicing Judaism freely. And yet they’re vilifying [Iranians] in the world for hating Jews. Why? Because Zionists cannot accept or stand to have a country that says “we are NOT against Jews or Judaism but we consider the State of Israel a villain because of its oppression of the Palestinian people”…. We want the world to understand that. The impediment to peace is the State of Israel in this situation.”
Name: Wanted to be kept Anonymous, AIPAC attendee Anon
Age: 41
Occupation: Retired Military Officer
Why are you here today?
“I went to the conference because I want to do my part as a citizen of both the U.S. and Israel. Now I’m out here getting the opinions of the people that are protesting the organization I’m a member of. But I think it’s great. It’s what makes America, well, America– the right to free speech. I may disagree with somebody, but I would fight to the death—I think they’re wrong [pointing at the protestors]—but I would fight to the death for them to be wrong.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran:
“I think the course we’re on is the correct one, so I don’t know that I would have anything to add to the President’s position. I don’t know if I believe if the economic diplomacy is going to work—but I think it is worth trying. A nuclear wrong is unacceptable—if all else fails military intervention is going to have to take place.”
Name: Remi remi
Age: 30
From: Massachusetts
Occupation: Poet
Why are you here today?
“My grandparents are refugees from 1948, I’m out here for Palestinian rights. I’m a Palestinian poet, writer, and activist. I’m active in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—similar to the movement in South Africa. I’m out here supporting Occupy AIPAC; and for me after 63 years of ethnic cleansing, and our government giving 3.1 billion dollars a year of military aid to Israel, we have to stand up and act. The only thing that’s going to stop militarism is grassroots movement.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran: 
“Well, first I’d probably need 50 billion dollars to get through to him (laughs). I’m not sure Obama wants to go into Iran right now…. I think a lot of people are scared though, and people overreact. We are the most militarized state in the world; Israel has over 200 nuclear powers. They want nuclear weapons not to use them, but to use them as leverage—to not get bombed. For me I don’t want anyone to have nuclear weapons, but there’s a hypocritical stance by saying Iran can’t have nuclear weapons. Obama has military and economic interests, advisors campaign money that sway him. I would say to him try to think back to when he was young and idealistic, and he didn’t think killing civilians was okay. I hope to get him to be a little bit more nostalgic and realize that our policy has consequences, that the million dead Iraqis had names, had lives, family, stories, and we should see how our policy can dehumanize people—strip the life out of them.”
Name: Michael marine
Age: 21
From: Anchorage, Alaska
Occupation: Unemployed Veteran—Army for 3 years, Deployed in Iraq in 2008-2009
Why are you here today? “When it comes to the issue of the Palestinians, I’m fairly new to it, I’m getting caught up to speed I feel. But when you actually look at what is being done to the Palestinians and the way the Israeli government—not the Israeli people—the government is outright abusing these people, it’s really awful. And, the fact that Israel is our number one ally in the world, and that we [the U.S.] funnel all this money to Israel. Obama asked for 3.1 billion dollars in aid to Israel, we could be using that money to help people in this country. So I’m here today basically because they are murdering innocent Palestinians—hurting regular Palestinian people, not just militants. Also, as a veteran, the fact that we might go to Iran is scary.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran: “We couldn’t handle Afghanistan and Iraq—the veterans coming home don’t even get taken care of in the first place. And now we want to invade a third country? Iran is no joke, they actually have a military, if we do invade, it would be the biggest, how to say it politely, um, “quagmire,” in the history of the United States. If we invade Iran, it will cost the United States—it will destroy the empire…. We need to tell Israel, “Calm down, you’re not going to bomb another country and drag us into to something we don’t want, cause if you do we’re going to cut off all our funding to you”
Names: Tony and Trishtony and trish
Ages: Tony- 40, Trish- 35
From: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Occupiers, Freedom Plaza
Why are you here today?
Tony: “Came here to volunteer with Code Pink—we’re by no means representatives of Code Pink by the way– who organized most of what is going on here today. I have been wearing the President Obama bobble head today—you may have seen me dancing on stage with the bobble head of Bibi that Trish was wearing. We’ve been here since 5am. We set the stages up, unloaded the trucks, making the signs—We’ve been making the signs for about a week now. Now we’re selling ‘No War on Iran’ buttons to fundraise. We’ve been preparing for this for weeks, a lot of work involved.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran:
Tony: “Leave office and let a Palestinian in there. That’s the truth, I mean.”
(“Do you have anything to add Trish?”)
Trish: “Nope (laughs)”

Name: Mike mike_bomb
Age: 51
From: Knoxville, Tennessee
Occupation: Business Owner
Why are you here today?
“Well, first and foremost, I came out here in support of the nation of Israel. Basically, for a political stance of what our country represents to our best ally in the Middle East. The message [the ‘Bomb Iran’ sign] might look a little outrageous, but it does send a small message. But I think it sends the strong message that the Iranian people—the people—of Iran, need to know that this is serious business. I know there are 2 or 3 factions of true Iranian people who are not pleased with the regime that controls the country. And they had a good leadership. The bottom line is, everybody wants to say “Peace,” yet not a lot of people are willing to do what it takes to get it. You know, sometimes the methods you have to go through to have peace, sometimes it takes a mighty left hand, and that mighty left hand coming from the United States government unfortunately may come down to force. We are dealing with a regime that has made some statements that personally scare me. If you tell me you’re going to do this or do that, I’m going to take you at face value. I grew up in an age where the Iranian government took over our embassy, held Americans hostage, and paraded them through the streets like dogs for 444 days, while a milquetoast president—Jimmy Carter—allowed them to basically embarrass the United States. Did I take it personal? Well probably not, I was a 12-year-old kid, but that still stuck in the back of my mind, and when we’ve got a new regime saying “we got to wipe Israel off the map, they don’t have a right to exist, they are less than human,” well we can’t be embarrassed again.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran:
 “Obama has been back-dooring Israel for far too long, he needs to stop and support them. That’s what the word ‘ally’ is all about, that’s what friendships and bonds are founded under. He has given Netanyahu no choice but to move forward on his own if he can’t trust his best friend, his ally the United States. They need the strong arm of the United States military to defend a surrounded and threatened ally…. I’m not afraid of a retaliation of a strike, let me tell you what I’m afraid of: letting these people proliferate these nuclear weapons, we one day are going to have to fight that battle here, and that’s not a war I want to hand down to my children and grandchildren. I’d hate it for them to have that. That region has been unstable since the beginning of time, and will always be, until somebody steps and says “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
paulName: Paul
Age: 72
From: Upstate New York
Why are you here today?
“Well, for 175 different reasons (laughs). I guess one of the important ones has to do with this vest I have on that says, “Don’t bomb Iran.” My wife and I have been talking about this today and this particular vest, and we thought that the message could have been better put if it says “Don’t bomb the people living in Iran” because Iran is a state, and a state in many people’s minds is kind of a nebulous certain thing—it doesn’t eat, it doesn’t breath, it doesn’t go to bed at night. And if you drop bombs on a “state,” then it’s going to kill real people…. I don’t want anyone dropping bombs on Iran. I don’t want Iran dropping bombs on Israel either! The threat is more at this point in time, between the U.S. and Israel.  It seems that Israel is the most likely to drop a bomb on Iran. It’s not in the best interest of anyone I can conceive of…. If it does happen, it will continue the pattern that they [Israel and the U.S.] share as being aggressor nations, and pursuing policies not consistent with human rights.”
Advice for Obama Administration on Iran:
Talk! It’s spelled T-A-L-K! Or if you want to get a little bit more sophisticated, D-I-A-L-O-G-U-E. There has been so little dialogue between the Iranian government and the American government… if you are sincere about not wanting to destroy another government or the people in another government, regardless of all the speeches you make, you have to make an effort to sit down at the table and talk. That is if you really are interested in peaceful solutions and coexistence…. We’ve heard rhetoric about sanctions, “if we make these sanctions stricter and stronger, somehow the Iranian people are going to rise up and overthrow their government.” This is categorically bovine excrement—this was the same story they mouthed over Iraq. This policy of this government—it’s insane. We need to change, we need to talk.”
Name: Mike mikeunderthebox
Age: 23
From: Baltimore
Occupation: Student, Salisbury University
Why are you here today?
“My grandfather came over here from Amman, originally born in Palestine. I am of Palestinian decent, so this is an issue that hits close to home for me.”
Advice for Obama on Iran:
“Simply don’t—don’t take military action. Diplomacy. We already have top military advisors saying Iran is only a threat unless provoked and attack, so no threat if we don’t initiate anything. Open diplomatic ties, offer reparations for what we [U.S.] did concerning Mossadegh, and let bygones be bygones. Generally speaking, Iran at the present does seem to be a logical actor, they haven’t done anything drastic, and it’s not like they’re not sending suicide bombers. We have shown them since the 50’s such a lack of diplomacy, and especially when we imposed the Pahlavi Dynasty—I mean of course the Iranians are going to be irate at us! We’ve been meddling in their affairs ever since the Anglo-Persian Oil Company decided they want all the Iranian oil for themselves. So, yea, advice to Obama—leave Iran the hell alone. If they’re not bothering us, we’re not bothering them, they’re not bothering us—easy solution!

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