Helen Thomas bows out of anti-AIPAC conference, and is Code Pink 'shrill?'
04/21/2011 - 14:01
James Besser

 Some followups on my pre-Passover blog on the upcoming "Move Over AIPAC" meetings planned to coincide with the lobby group's annual policy conference in Washington:

A Code Pink supporter wrote that “I object to using the word "shrill" to characterize women activists. It's old school sexism and I think you can do better.”

Sorry, but I'm not sorry; I've used the word repeatedly in referring to groups whose primary mode of activism is...well, shrillness, in the sense of speaking very loudly without shedding much light on the issues that interest them. Code Pink's shrillness has nothing to do with gender, everything to do with political style.

JTA and others are reporting that retired journalist Helen Thomas has backed out of keynoting the upcoming counter-AIPAC conference, to which I add: who cares?

I understand why pro-Israel groups wanted to lash out at Thomas when she was still a major figure in journalism. But isn't there a point when it simply pays to say, “look, she's an old lady, nobody's paying attention to her, let it rest?”

It's like the pro-Israel leadership feels compelled to go after every fly buzzing around the issue with a howitzer, not a fly swatter. Thomas, whose statement about Jews in Israel speaks for itself, is hardly a major danger to the Jewish state.

Finally, I got a call from an old friend chastising me for attacking critics who – he said - are simply arguing that AIPAC uses crude politics to distort U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Over the years I haven't been shy about pointing out problems with AIPAC. But it seems to me you can't do that while weaving fantastic conspiracy theories about its “control” over U.S. policy.

Yes, AIPAC is as powerful as any lobby in Washington.

But there's a big gap between that impossible-to-deny influence, and the Machiavellian conspiracy theories that have developed around the pro-Israel lobby group – theories that I believe have almost no appeal to even those American Jews who have nothing to do with AIPAC.

Without AIPAC, would U.S. policy have been much more aggressive in pushing Israel and the Palestinians to conclude a peace deal? Possibly, although it's not certain.

Would that have made a difference in a region where almost everybody claims to have good reasons to avoid making concessions? Probably not. AIPAC is not the reason Israel and the Palestinians haven't been able to get together, or the reason a succession of administrations have tried to change that and failed.

By all means, debate AIPAC's positions and tactics. But it looks to me like the Move Over AIPAC conference scheduled to coincide with the big lobby's policy conference will be little more than a pep rally for those who already see AIPAC as demon possessed, and therefore will have almost no impact on U.S. policy or public opinion.


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Helen was eccentric. She was one of those people you can whole-heartedly despise sometimes and not others. What we should cheer Helen Thomas for is the words she shouted at President Bush that time. IT was the thing that caused him to ignore her from that day on. (I don't have that Helen statement in front of me. It was something like: "Why do you want to go back to that!?" She was talking about wars of religion and the thousands of years the human race has spent avoiding them.)

Mr. Besser,
I think your argument that Helen Thomas is no longer relevant to the debate on Israel is right on the button. People make a mistake when they pay more attention to something than it warrants. She will sink into well-deserved obscurity if left to her own devices.