AIPAC Protest at the U of M.

I have a complicated story to tell you…

Complicated, in that America’s relationship with Israel overshadows it, is all…

Both sides, have deemed this relationship strategic, and so all other rational considerations are sometimes pushed aside. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is not a polictical action committee, it does not give money to candidates, but it is a political lobbying group with legendary power.  

The New York Times calls it “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.”–This quote is not only in the wikipedia, but it’s also on AIPAC’s Homepage which tells you how they feel about it too.

In 1984 and 2005 AIPAC is known to have received secret documents.

From Jeff Stein’s Spy Talk Intelligence blog in the Washington Post comes this telling paragraph after “Franklingate“, when a Bush administration official was indicted with two others inside AIPAC of passing high level secrets to Israel :

“In their defense, Rosen and Weissman were preparing to subpoena top administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to make their case that the United States regularly used AIPAC to send back-channel communications to Israel. Last year, the charges were dropped.”

This story is echoed by peace activist, former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley 40 seconds into the video.

So, AIPAC isn’t your normal political lobby, it seems when you point to AIPAC you point directly to Israel, and Israel and maybe the political policy attached to it have become a kind of sacred cow in American Politics.  Not only are Jews and friends of Israel expected at these events, but so are politicians and at least Gubernatorial Candidate Mark Dayton walked in to support Israel.

Outside on the sidewalk were friends of Palestein, and Gaza, and peace and they were there enraged at the isolation of the Gaza strip and the violent result to the supply ships, with 9 killed, that attempted to run the blockade to Gaza.  Without the violence on that ship though, many might not have come to the AIPAC meeting.  AIPAC, brought out peace groups across the spectrum to the U of M campus : WAMM, Students for a Democratic Society, Gaza Freedom March and more.

Between the Peace Activists and AIPAC, stood U of M Police Chief Greg Hestness.  He showed up with a Sargent before the protest began to talk to Marshals and lay out the boundaries for the evening, after that he was always on the front lines of the protest.  If the Chief had been elsewhere, he still would have been held responsible for what happened, and he decided to be there from start to finish.  Maybe no one was happy, the Peace Activists wanted to be closer to the door, or even inside with real access to talk to people, the attendees didn’t want to be harassed or chanted at, they would have wanted the Chief to push the protesters away.  Chief Hestness had to compromise, and do so on the fly.  I commend him for being firm with the protesters and keeping a lane open and them off of Mcnamara property, but arresting no one either.  If he had–who would have won?  It would have made bigger news and called more attention to the event.  It could have injured someone, or taken years to resolve in the courts at great expense.  While the Mcnamara Center’s rented land became private, its sidewalks and the parking ramp right next to it were public property.   Early after the start, activist lawyer Jordan Kusher occupied the stairwell closest to Mcnamara, which all who parked there would use to either cross the street to Macnamara or take the tunnel in the basement across to the private function.  In the stairwell, protesters wore life jackets and red-stained bandages to remind attendees of the Gaza Flotilla dead.   Chief Mcnamara could have been second-guessed for years in the courts by arresting some protesters.  At the fulcrum point in the public stairwell to the tunnel and parking ramp, was a lawyer that’s taken at least two cases to the Minnesota Supreme Court Jordan Kushner, and two Lawyers Guild Legal observers with a video camera.  But instead of arrests, everyone went home.

The next day I called him, and talked about this.  “We think of the whole campus as a free speech zone, and try very hard to stay out of the story.”  And I suppose he’s right, because almost every day someone puts up a sign at the U of M…  So the Chief had massive resources available, and they stood mostly out of the way.  And the Chief, was at the front of the action always prodding the protesters back but letting them access public space too.  Security was heavy, and men in suits with earpieces stood around and talked to their sleeves.  I thought they might have been FBI, or Secret Service or some other high level security, but Chief Hestness would tell me next day on the phone that they were private security and likely off duty police.  They stood silent witnesses to the whole thing; and I took them seriously, I noted on one’s tie-clasp : “SWAT”.

Few were satisfied by Wednesday night’s outcome, the attendees and the protesters…   And that mirrors the situation in the middle east, where peace remains unresolved, and the echoes of it are felt back to Minneapolis.

Craig Stellmacher

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