by Jim Lobe
In my 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service, only one institution has denied me admission to their press or public events. That was the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) shortly after the broadcast in 2003 of a BBC Panorama program (its equivalent, more or less, of our “60 Minutes”) on neoconservatives and their promotion of the Iraq war. The segment was entitled “The War Party” and I was interviewed at several intervals during the program. In that case, I was told forthrightly (and somewhat apologetically) by the think tank’s then-communications chief, Veronique Rodman, that “someone from above” had objected strongly to the show (I had my own reservations about it) and my role in it and had demanded that I be banned from attending future AEI events. My status as persona non grata there was reaffirmed about five years later when LobeLog alumnus Eli Clifton went there for an event and was taken aside by an unidentified staffer and told that he could attend, but that he should remind me that I was still unwelcome.
Now it seems I’ve been blackballed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, although, unlike AEI, AIPAC has so far declined to give me a reason for denying me accreditation for its annual policy conference, which runs Sunday through Tuesday. All I’ve received thus far is this email that arrived in my inbox Thursday morning from someone named Emily Helpern from Scott Circle, a public relations firm here in DC.
Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press. However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.
I emailed Emily back as soon as I received it to ask for an explanation and pointed out that this is the first time in a decade that I’ve been denied credentials to cover the AIPAC conference. When no reply was forthcoming, I sent a second email to her and to Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC’s communications director, seeking an explanation, but, alas, it seems I’ve become a non-person.
Now, it bears mentioning that I am not the first to be blackballed by AIPAC, apparently for political reasons. As the JTA’s Ron Kampeas reported in 2012, three journalists were denied credentials to the policy conference that year:
Journalists turned away include Mitchell Plitnick, a liberal blogger who has sparred with right-wing pro-Israel groups as well as anti-Zionists, and who was going to provide coverage for Inter Press Service, which emphasizes developing nations coverage as well as what it calls marginalized groups; Adele Stan of AlterNet, a news site that says it encourages advocacy in a number of areas, including human rights and social justice; and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss, an anti-Zionist site.
Plitnick had been cleared for coverage, only to be told that it was rescinded, and Weiss has covered AIPAC policy conferences at least three times without incident.
Barring coverage in Washington is rare; Government institutions in Washington are known for accommodating a broad range of journalists, including those adamantly hostile to the government of the day.
Actually, at least four journalists were barred from the 2012 conference. Alex Kane, who writes for both Mondoweiss and Alternet, was also denied credentials. Mitchell’s exclusion was particularly bizarre, given the sudden turnabout and the fact that he is a “non-Zionist” — as opposed to an “anti-Zionist” like Phil (who was barred again this year) — who also believes there should be a state where Jews should be able to gain refuge in the event that they ever face a threat like Nazism again. Of course, his past associations with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and with Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) may have been too much for AIPAC to bear. I have no such organizational affiliations and probably fall somewhere along the spectrum between Mitchell’s idea (my parents were German Jewish refugees) and liberal Zionism to the diminishing extent that it remains a realistically viable option.
Now, however, it seems I’ve been added to AIPAC’s blacklist.
This raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is how thin has AIPAC’s skin become in light of its recent defeats on Capitol Hill. Another is whether it’s also barring its right-wing critics like Adam Kredo who, like me, has written a lot recently about the group’s travails in trying to maintain its bipartisanship while also doing the bidding of Bibi Netanyahu and his Republican and neoconservative allies here. But, of course, AIPAC’s right-wing critics, like Sheldon Adelson and Bill Kristol, have serious money — or access to it — while people like Mitchell, Phil and me don’t have quite as much to offer (although this letter is an encouraging development).
While I am under no illusions about my very marginal impact on the fate of the Israel lobby’s premier institution, I do think the fact that AIPAC would actually take the trouble to exclude me from its conference this year testifies — at least a tiny bit — to the organization’s current weakness, or, more precisely, its loss of self-confidence. Aside from AEI, I’ve never been excluded from any organization, no matter how politically or otherwise obnoxious it was to me or I to it. I have attended briefings and events by the the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Hudson Institute, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, for example, and have always been treated with civility, if not cordiality. It’s hard to believe that AIPAC, which is far bigger and more powerful than any of these others alone or in combination, would think that my presence at a conference attended by 14,000 devoted followers might pose some kind of threat to — or, constitute an unacceptable blight on — its proceedings.
Meanwhile, read John Judis’s excellent analysis of the historical roots of AIPAC’s current plight. Maybe now that he’s published a revisionist history of Harry Truman and Israel AND critically assessed AIPAC’s problems, he’ll be blackballed, too. I’ll have to ask him.