I knew it was just a matter of time before my old friends at Muzzlewatch stumbled on this video that’s been floating around the Internet, usually bracketed with frightening text announcing that AIPAC is trying to take over America’s college campuses.
Naturally, Muzzlewatch throws in its own little flourish, trying to add a level of paranoia to the student government elections at UC Berkeley by musing about an “AIPAC-Manchurian candidate” which they bet (only in jest, of course) that everyone at Berkeley should be looking for.
Now I have a little perspective on this issue since (1) I’ve been dealing with the Berkeley divestment issue for many weeks; (2) I’ve been dealing with Muzzlewatch for many years; and (3) I attended the session on the video Muzzlewatch is using to try to whip up hysteria on yet another college campus (yes, I attended my first AIPAC Policy Conference this year – Boo!).
To put thing into context, AIPAC’s involvement with college campuses began as a way to connect with students who are interested in student government with the expectation that the political and leadership skills that would lead them to take part in student councils at the high school and college level mean these people may become the political leaders of tomorrow. As a lobbying group (one that takes part in the American political system alongside thousands of such groups), AIPAC stands out for thinking long term (something I see very little of in either public or private enterprise) by investing in tomorrow’s leaders today.
With regard to the comments Jonathan Kessler makes in this video, this was in response to a question from the floor (one I heard repeated at nearly every Policy Conference session I went to) with regard to what AIPAC was going to fight against divestment resolutions like the one that was vetoed recently at Berkeley. In response, Kessler said that AIPAC would do nothing with regard to protesting the vote, bringing pressure to bear on the university or organizing letter-writing or other lobbying to existing student leaders. Rather, their goal (again, thinking long-term) is to ensure that student leaders who support Israel develop the skills they need to succeed politically, and that student leaders who are not interested in Middle East politics at least have a strong enough understanding of the issues to not fall into the often brain-dead party line that passes for a Middle East debate on many college campuses.
Now here I have to return to what I will call the Surasky Formulation, named after Muzzlewatcher-in-Chief Cecilie Surasky who repeatedly claims that the BDS activity that Jewish Voice for Peace and allies groups spend their mornings, noons and nights campaigning for on campuses across the country is the direct responsibility of not JVP but of Israel. If Israel just did what it was told, Surasky has said, these activities would stop immediately.
But in the case of Berkeley, the only reason AIPAC has anything to say about campus politics is because friends of JVP (such as Students for Justice in Palestine) are perpetually inserting the Middle East conflict into those campuses by, among other things, drafting divestment resolutions and pressuring the Berkeley student government to pass them.
If they were not engaged in these activities, then AIPAC’s role on campuses would be limited to establishing relationships with student leaders with an eye towards the future, and most other Jewish organizations wouldn’t be involved with campuses at all beyond educational and cultural matters.
But as it turns out, JVP and its pals have put decades of effort into ensuring that America’s campuses become hotbeds of anti-Israel activity with Apartheid Week protests, divestment resolutions, teach ins that tell one side (and only one side) of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and so on and so on and so on. In other words, AIPAC’s activities on campus would have nothing to do with day-to-day campus politics if those that follow the Muzzlewatch line didn’t make it their business to make condemnation of Israel the business of student politics.
Now Cecile and her allies, like the rest of us, live in a democracy where they are free to take part in the political process in any way they see fit. I only wish that they would show enough respect for those with whom they disagree to let them do the same without declaring that anyone’s political activity outside of their own is part of an illegitimate “Manchurian Candidate” conspiracy.