On the Uselessness of Street Protest; And the Usefulness of Web 2.0 Lobbying

This kind of headline about large street protests against the Israeli attack on Gaza annoys me no end.

The mechanisms are well known whereby the Israeli Right* is able to engage in this cavalier disregard for civilian life (and, some are saying possible occasional targeting of civilians.

I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t matter if tens of thousands of people demonstrate in Paris. Oh,it might put a little pressure on Sarkozy to remonstrate a little harder with the Israeli government, but in the larger scheme of things it isn’t very significant.

Europe has ceded dealing with the Israelis to the United States.

The people of the United States have ceded dealing with the Israelis to the US Congress.

The US Congress generally abdicates its responsibilities when faced with large powerful single-issue lobbies such as the National Rifle Association, the Cuban-American pro-boycott organizations, and the Israel lobbies.

So Congress has ceded Israel, and indeed, most Middle East, policy to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its myriad organizational supporters, from the Southern Baptist churches to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

The Israel lobbies take their cue on what is good policy from the Israeli government and the Likud Party.

So, US Israel policy is driven by . . . the Israeli rightwing. That is why Congress voted 309 to five to support Israel’s war on the people of Gaza, with 22 abstaining.

What do do about it?
Cont’d

Single issue lobbies succeed in US politics when there is no organized opponent on the other side of the issue spending as much money and doing as much lobbying.

If all those people waving useless cardboard posters in the air really want to change things, they have to change the US domestic political equation. And it can’t be done with easy things like boycotts (which is negative, not positive action).

The Obama campaign, which, despite rightwing denials, really did make a breakthrough in raising small sums on the Web, has shown a way forward to fight pernicious single-issue lobbies. Politics has been a high-stakes poker game played by millionaires and billionaires (look at the US senate), where most of us can’t even get into the swanky casino much less actually play some cards. The Web 2.0 now allows people to get into the game for $50. And if 50 poorer people give that amount, it is like one wealthy person giving the $2500 allowed for support to a politician’s campaign. But that new model of Web 2.0 giving can only work if it is organized and consistent with regard to purpose.

Dennis Kucinich also benefitted from this broader Web 2.0 support last year, raising $700,000 in his primary to defeat a wealthy former mayor who had a war chest of $350,000, which I think in the old days would have been decisive.

Consistency is important. AIPAC often arranges for small-town congressmen only $4000 or so per campaign. [pdf] Even its major contributions in 2008 are actually chump change as the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs points out. But a lot of US congressional races, which happen every two years, are close, and $4000 is very welcome, especially when there are no costs to signing AIPAC letters and supporting AIPAC positions because there is nobody to speak of on the other side. And if the money comes in every campaign, along with lots of office visits and letters and local community support, it builds loyalty over time.

AIPAC gets in before the ground floor, introducing potential candidates to big donors and has its supporters in the Democratic party machine, e.g., vet candidates. Tom Hayden, a leftist American if there ever was one, had to be approved of by the Bermans to amount to anything in southern California Democratic politics, and it led to his taking an unfortunate stand on the 1982 Lebanon War of which he came to be ashamed. If all this is true for Hayden, imagine how it is with some used car salesman in southern Indiana.

Vindictiveness works. AIPAC has a reputation for actively punishing representatives who step out of line on the Israel-Palestine issue. Paul Findley, Charles Percy, William Fulbright, Roger Jepson, Pete McCloskey, Earl Hilliard, and Cynthia McKinney were all successfully ousted by AIPAC-coordinated campaigns. US political races are often close and AIPAC apologists deny that they made the difference when they are criticized, but boast that they made the difference behind closed doors. Professional lobbyists have told me that in the late 1980s representatives declined to sign letters criticizing Israeli policy, actually citing Percy.

Joe Lieberman would make an excellent object lesson when he next runs for the Senate. Saxby Chambliss too.

Coordination works, even with supposedly charitable groups outwardly forbidden to directly participate in politics. Southern Baptist churches and some proportion of synagogues are networked to get out literally millions of emails to Congress and the media on Israel-related issues. This networking seeps over into political work, since congregations get the cue as to how they should spend their campaign contributions.

So if opposition to things like the Gaza war is going to be effective, something like a Peace Public Affairs Committee would have to be established. It would then coordinate peace-oriented synagogues, Presbyterian Churchs, Catholic churches, Mennonite and Quaker communities, mosques, Buddhist congregations, Unitarian Universalists, etc., to get out emails to congress and the media demanding a genuine peace process and a rollback of Israeli colonization of the Palestinians.

It would also coordinate the lobbying of those existing small PACs which are more narrowly focused but which have a strong interest in the peace process–J Street, the Peace Action Politica Action Committee, the Arab American Political Action Committee, the National Iranian American Council, etc., etc. MoveOn.org should also be involved.

A Peace Lobby is not partisan. Libertarians, Socialists, Greens and segments of the Republican and Democratic parties would all be constituents. It is not sectarian. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists and others would all be constituents. No one owns peace. 90% of Americans have a vital interest in it. At a time when the US is the sole superpower, it is unconstrained by rival powers and therefore its leaders and the 10% who benefit from war are horribly tempted by it. Since international conditions do not produce restraint at this juncture, it is especially important that domestic politics throw up barriers to ever more ruinous wars and to US support for the ruinous wars of others.

I underline that such an organized push in American politics for more equitable policies in the Middle East is not anti-Israel, but rather intended to help Israel find a way forward with its neighbors that does not involve continued displays of sado-masochistic politics on both sides. Make no mistake. AIPAC and other rightwing Israel lobbying organizations are enablers and drug dealers, hooking Israeli politicians on the high of power and violence, and we can only heal Israel and Palestine by cutting off that supply.

Such an effort would also have wider implications for US foreign policy. In the coming two or three decades, the US military industrial complex will want to fight several ruinous wars on major oil-producing and gas-producing states not in the US political orbit, such as Iran. At the moment, the US public is helpless before such ambitions, because the War Lobby is even more effective than the Israel lobbies are.

Whenever I rant like this people want me to organize the thing, or they allege that it already exists and is working quite well in Peoria, Illinois, or that it can’t be done, and et cetera. I am not good at organizing, I am good at scribbling and putting ideas out there. It obviously does not already exist on a sufficient scale or we would see its effects. And it certainly can be done.

We lost 2.5 million jobs in the US last year. This effort would create jobs for progressives. In fact, the people who get in on the ground floor organizing it will likely get to be rather well off. And, it might prevent another big terrorist attack on the US, or prevent your child from being drafted and blown up near some godforsaken oil well in Khuzistan someday.

(Someone asked if I am talking about a third party. Heavens no. In first past the post electoral systems, third parties seldom amount to much. I am just talking about a standing Peace Lobby. We have a standing army, after all– an idea the Founding Fathers opposed. We have a standing military-industrial complex. We need a standing Peace Lobby. Otherwise we’re just reactive, and the big decisions are taken behind closed doors, and we are merely reactive, shivering in the street with some placard and a few other brave souls whenever anything happens, to little real effect. It isn’t a mystery. I’m saying Organize!” It is just that poor Joe Hill did not have our access to a distributed information system, which is the very best way to organize, and can’t be broken up with a billy stick.)

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*I say “Israeli Right” because there is an Israeli Left that is very uncomfortable with what is being done, and some of them have demonstrated or spoken out despite Draconian, almost martial-law reprssive measures taken by the Israeli state to curb freedom of speech at this moment. Nor should it be forgotten that about 1.4 million out of Israel’s 7.2 million citizens are Palestinian-Israelis, and they are privately very disturbed by the whole thing. A few, including a Druze village and a Golan one, have dared demonstrate against the war. There was even a remarkable if small joint Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish Israeli nonpolitical statement of Jewish-Palestinian unity among Israelis which underlined good neighborliness inside Israel. While it is being advertised as apolitical to escape a crackdown, for Jewish-Israelis to form a human chain with Palestinian-Israelis at this moment speaks for itself.