Archive for March 7th, 2013


This article was originally published by LobeLog, an indispensable source for foreign policy news and analysis. Check it out. 

The 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference wasn’t quite the same show of arrogant power that it usually is. There seems to have been a AIPAC-620x350note of unusual concern among the 13,000 or so assembled activists. And those concerns echo some of what AIPAC’s detractors have been saying for some time.

The tone was set by AIPAC’s president, Michael Kassen at the beginning of the conference. In what Ha’aretz reporter Chemi Shalev described as “… an uncharacteristic ‘adapt or die’ alarm to the American Jewish community,” Kassen warned of “the growing allure of isolationism among our new leaders”, which would include an aversion to difficult foreign policy issues…like Israel.

Kassen urged the AIPAC activists to expand the base from its overwhelmingly Jewish one, and highlighted the participation of representatives from the African-American and Latino communities in the conference. Yet, despite this outreach, The Forward’s Natan Guttman reports that “…a look at the audience made clear that AIPAC is still largely an organization made up of white Jewish activists.”

There’s more here. Orthodox Jews are disproportionately represented at AIPAC. The Orthodox community represents around 15% of all US Jews. Support among non-orthodox Jews has been dwindling in a hurry, and despite intense efforts by AIPAC to reach out to younger Jews, the crowd is heavily skewed toward grey hair. Guttman also reports that an AIPAC official he spoke to rejected the idea that AIPAC had lost many liberal Jews to the more dovish pro-Israel group J Street by saying that “…if anything, liberal activists are turning away from the issue of Israel altogether and are not seeking a different kind of political approach.”

What AIPAC seems to be facing is the fact that its base, while very active and willing to mobilize considerable wealth as well as time and energy to support the AIPAC agenda, is aging and increasingly out of touch with most Americans. This is something commentators like myself, MJ Rosenberg and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace have been contending for quite some time. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of AIPAC’s problems. (more…)

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The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been greeted with the expected polarized commentary. Chavez was a man both vilified and idolized outside and, to some extent at least for a while, inside Venezuela. It’s worth taking a look at the man now.

Chavez was a populist, socialist leader who wasted little time alienating both the United States and the Venezuelan upper class after he took office. Chavez became a global

The Late Hugo Chavez

The Late Hugo Chavez

hero for the left, and with good reason. He didn’t just promise to help the poor, he took action. He spent Venezuela’s revenue on education and health care. He pulled the country away from US influence. On the local level, Chavez set up groups – the Bolivarian Circles and Communal Councils – that were decentralized community boards of sorts that had real influence on local issues, a hallmark of participatory democracy that is very significant and rarely seen. And through nationalization of oil, agriculture and other business, Chavez both alienated major investors and substantially grew Venezuela’s GDP, at least for a while.

But while Chavez stuck to his guns when international investment plummeted, he, like most leftist leaders before him, was unable to figure out a way to contend with this. The US isolated Venezuela in the wake of his program of nationalizing the oil and other major industries in the country, costing US investors a lot of money. And Chavez welcomed that isolation; it allowed him to lead the fight against US imperialism, and he surely reveled in the role. And, while Chavez has kept the economy steady in recent years, it has been a patchwork project.

In his later years, Chavez followed an all too familiar pattern, vesting more and more power in the executive. Of course, after the failed coup attempt in 2002, and the ongoing efforts to destabilize his regime, there were real reasons for this. That’s the Castro argument, and the effects were the same. Chavez became more repressive, even earning some opprobrium from the left a few years back after he imprisoned a judge because he issued a ruling Chavez (and many Venezuelans) disagreed with. (more…)

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