The Brussels attacks today came one day after the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual meeting, dutifully attended by all but one of the 2016 candidates for president of the United States. What’s the link between the two? The Brussels outrage reminded the civilized world that the terrorist threat will be with us for a long time, susceptible to no easy solution. The AIPAC meeting reminded us (or me, anyway) that among the varied roots of jihadism is one that is never acknowledged as such in American politics, even though it is susceptible to action by the United States. That is the complicity of the West, led by the United States, in enabling Israel’s brutal occupation and effective annexation of Palestinian land.   A just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would remove the single most important, legitimate grievance that stirs practically universal resentment in the Muslim world, fueling the rage that jihadists exploit. But no ambitious American politician will ever say that. A just settlement would mean rolling back Israel’s appropriation of the West Bank. It is a no-no in American politics to even suggest that our national interests might not coincide exactly with those of the government in Tel Aviv.

And so one after the other of this year’s crop of presidential candidates—three Republicans and one Democrat—made their obeisances to AIPAC, declaring their everlasting love and support for our favorite ally.   I haven’t seen transcripts, but as far as I can tell, none of the speeches contained even a hint of criticism of Israel.   This was unsurprising coming from the Republicans, who after all have effectively forged an alliance with the dominant Israeli right. More might have been expected from Hillary Clinton. After all, Clinton has sought doggedly to associate herself with Barak Obama’s legacy, a legacy that includes the first persistent effort by a US administration to push back, however gingerly, against the hubris of its Israeli counterpart.   But Clinton went all out to assure the AIPACniks that she’s on their side.   Not only did she lambaste Donald Trump for one of the very few admirable things that he has said during this campaign—that he would attempt neutrality in brokering an Israel/Palestine settlement—she also moved to differentiate herself from Obama.   The administration is considering putting forth its view of the parameters of an Israel Palestine final agreement, perhaps in the form of a UN Security Council resolution. That step would be an important part of Obama’s foreign policy legacy—his last try at contributing to an eventual peace settlement. Clinton has disavowed any such attempt to “impose” a peace on a resistant Israel.

Enter Bernie Sanders. Or, rather, not enter Bernie Sanders: he was the only current presidential candidate to decline AIPAC’s invitation (read: summons) to address them. Bernie pleaded scheduling difficulties, but I don’t believe that. (Where there’s a will there’s a way.) I think the snub was calculated to show that Sanders does not genuflect before the Israel lobby.   If he had simply left matters at that, the snub would have been praiseworthy—a rare show of independence by an American politician. But Sanders went further, sending a copy of the address he would have delivered had he been there in person. This is not a speech that would have brought the audience to its feet. Mostly, it would have met with stony silence. Not that it is terribly harsh on Israel, but it does, for example, tell the assembled that we need to be friends “not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people,” and that a settlement will require Israel pulling back settlements, ending the economic blockade of Gaza, and recognizing the Palestinians’ rights to “self-determination, civil rights, and economic wellbeing.” Sanders condemned a recent further Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, called for an end to “disproportionate” Israeli responses to attacks, and even pointed to the unfairness of Israel’s monopolization of water resources on the West Bank.

Objectively, Sanders’ explicit and implied criticisms of Israel were fairly mild, but I am sure that they go further in criticizing Israel than any major party candidate for president—indeed, probably any member of the US Congress—has ever gone. That isn’t saying all that much, but it’s still saying something. It’s another reason to be glad Bernie Sanders is in this race.


  1. Richard Pious March 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    “government in Tel Aviv.” I am sure you know that the government of Israel
    sits in Jerusalem. The phrase you are using is code, but it is nonsense, and
    makes about as much sense as the US policy of non-recognition of China
    prior to 1973. Even the Arab governments and the Palestinian Authority don’t
    use that silly, hackneyed phrase.

    You need to brush up on congressional attitudes toward Israel. Much of the
    Black Caucus has taken critical positions, and there are other members as well.
    Sanders is hardly in the vanguard of congressional critics, and has hardly gone
    farther than some (although granted, not many) have gone.

    • tonygreco March 22, 2016 at 11:55 pm


      “The government in Tel Aviv” was indeed a slip, but I wasn’t aware of the code issue. Sorry if it gave offense.

      I know that some members of the Black Caucus have voiced criticism of Israel. I haven’t seen–and I would be interested in any citations you can provide–any statements as thorough-going as Sanders’.

  2. Lev Zilbermintz March 23, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Simply put, Israel is our only true ally in the Middle East. It does not play nice with terrorists, but beat the tar out of them. Time and again, Israel defeated superior Arab armies on the battlefield. This is why some Arab nations like Iran use terrorism, because they cannot best Israel militarily.

    “The government in Tel Aviv” did not sound like code to me. I visited Israel in 1989, and stayed there for three weeks. In the old days, it was much more peaceful than now. Not anymore, sadly.

    AIPAC is seeking to protect the Jewish people from having another Holocaust. This is why the “Jewish lobby” as you put it, puts pressure on Democrats and Republicans both to stand with Israel.

    Quite frankly, I think that if the Palestinians act like they do now, then they do not deserve their own country. What other nation in the world shoots at its neighbors, glorifies terrorists as martyrs, and indoctrinates its young ones from the cradle to the grave? I do not see Poland shooting at Germany, nor South Africa at Namibia, nor Russia at, say, Latvia or China. Only Palestinians, or rather, their armed factions and leadership, support terrorism as a means to an end.

    My family has been pro-Israel for more than a hundred years. My grand-uncle, the oldest brother of my mother’s mother, supported Jewish emigration to then Turkish-held Palestine in the 1910s. My grandmother, mother, and I have supported Israel.

    If Palestinians want a country, they should start acting like one. Renounce terrorism, recognize Israel, and accept international laws and treaties. Otherwise they will remain where they are: a bunch of fanatics, playing Israel for their own sins.

    Case in point.

    • tonygreco March 23, 2016 at 1:44 pm


      I disagree with pretty much everything you’ve written, but since a really adequate response would take a lot of time and space, i’ll simply leave it at that. You can get an idea of my views by checking some of my earlier posts, for example this, and this and this.

  3. Nelson Farber March 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm


    I certainly have no love lost for AIPAC and its blanket support of oppressive policies, whether the Gaza campaign or the occupation. It was a low moment indeed when the organization tolerated the presence of Donald Trump. Any Jewish organization that countenances a candidate that quotes Mussolini and has his supporters make a hand-motion evocative of ‘Heil Hitler’ lacks any credibility, either from a humanitarian perspective or narrow self-interest.

    That said, I see little if any connection between the AIPAC meeting and the slaughter in Brussels. Were the Israelis and Palestinians to join arms in brotherhood and sisterhood, be it in one state or two, I believe that this vile terrorist group would behave the same. While being rightfully critical of AIPAC and the pandering to AIPAC, one should be equally careful to avoid unnecessary and unfortunate scapegoating, which could prove alienating.

    • tonygreco March 23, 2016 at 10:06 pm


      Fair enough. But to understand the roots of jihadism is not in any way to excuse it. My point was that the US’s unbalanced support for Israel is one of a number of factors that feed the resentment that jihadists exploit, and the effective suppression of that reality in our political discourse (a suppression for which AIPAC can claim some credit) is one among many impediments to the fight against terrorism. I’ll quote the 9/11 Commission report: “Rightly or wrongly, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.”

      • Nelson Farber March 24, 2016 at 9:55 pm


        I understand your points. It is equally important to understand how many of us opposed to AIPAC’s philosophy and inordinate influence on U.S. policy nonetheless bristle at the suggestion of a proximate correlation between the recent AIAPAC meeting and the terrorist attack.

  4. Jeffrey Herrmann March 24, 2016 at 4:32 am


    Thanks for showing the courage to publicly state some mild criticisms of the policies of the current and recent Israeli governments. (Of course, now you are certain to be no-platformed if ever invited to speak in certain venues.)
    I think your identifying the motivations of recent European terrorists — feeling aggrieved over the treatment of Palestinians– is on shaky evidentiary grounds, however. Only a mentalist could know whether any given terrorist was motivated by theology, politics, economics, or psychological factors, and I don’t believe in mentalists. Even the admissions of captured terrorists must be viewed sceptically, both on grounds of veracity and lack of self-awareness of what drives one to act.
    The case for resolving the conflicts in Israel and the Palestinian territories stands on its own, without need to claim the additional, hypothetical benefit of reducing terrorism.

    • tonygreco March 24, 2016 at 10:56 am


      I probably need to clarify. I agree that we can’t know the thought processes of individual terrorists, but that is somewhat beside the point. Terrorism thrives in an environment in which certain resentful beliefs and grievances are widely held. The stronger and more widely held those beliefs and grievances, the greater the likelihood that terrorists will emerge from that environment. The individual terrorist may or may not share all those grievances, but he draws some support and encouragement from the culture of resentment in which he resides, and is thus eminently recruitable to the cause. As I indicated, resentment at US partisanship for Israel is only one of a number of factors creating that culture of resentment, but it is one, and one which we don’t talk about in this country because Israel is such a sacred cow. I’ll try a metaphor: Terrorists in their recruitment efforts fish in a sea of grievances. Solve the Israel/Palestine dispute and there will still be fish available, but a somewhat smaller number of them. (This reply would also apply to Nelson’s previous comment.)

      • Jeffrey Herrmann March 25, 2016 at 2:42 am

        I appreciate your clarification and agree with your points.
        We now know that two of the Brussels suicide bombers were bank robbers of Moroccan origin who were radicalized in jail. I would be surprised to learn that they gave a hoot about the situation in the Palestinian Territories.

  5. Mel Brender March 24, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I think your analysis of the American presidential candidates and AIPAC is spot-on, and I agree the issue deserves much more airing. Thank goodness at least Bernie is addressing it. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on how progressives can act wisely in the months ahead as the Clinton-Sanders dynamic plays out in the remaining primaries.

    But I agree with Nelson and Jeffrey that the linkage between the Palestinian/Israeli issue and the bombings in Europe is weak. Certainly the mistreatment (to use a mild word) of the Palestinians needs to be addressed, and the world would be a better place once that happens.

    The terrorist bombings are certainly motivated by many factors, and included surely is a vast sense of overwhelming grievance. But as Nelson points out, were the issue of the Palestinian grievances somehow resolved completely, I imagine the bombings would go on.

    I think there is a kinship between the kind of bombings/shootings we’ve seen lately in Paris and Brussels on the one hand, and the mass shootings we’re seeing lately in America. In all cases, the grievances given by the perpetrators seem to have only a tenuous connection with the events themselves. The actual motivating factors seems more like enormous alienation and diffuse anger. These then find outlet in actions that resonate with the perpetrators precisely because they outrage everyone else.

    I think we will only see improved prospects for fewer of these events (both the American style shootings and European style attacks) when we can somehow address the stratification and alienation that is rampant in both places. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

  6. tonygreco March 25, 2016 at 12:04 am


    I’m now seeing that it was probably a mistake to juxtapose the two events as I did, because it conveyed the idea that I was suggesting a direct link, maybe even a cause and effect relationship, between the two. As I said in my reply to Jeff, anger about Israel/Palestine is only one of a number of factors contributing to the alienation and resentment in the Muslim world. But I think most experts on the Muslim and Arab worlds will tell you that it is, indeed, one. No, the bombings wouldn’t just stop if there were a settlement in Palestine, but it’s not an either/or question (i.e., either they stop or they don’t). A settlement in Palestine would make it somewhat harder for the terrorists to recruit, and that, over time, would reduce their success rate.

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