Washington Report Conference Asks “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” at National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestine coming up in 2017, America stands at a crucial moment.

With our own U.S. presidential elections on the horizon, Israel is currently demanding an increase in its U.S. foreign military aid from around $3.5 billion each year to upwards of $5 billion a year as recompense for the Iran Deal.

The questions echo louder than ever before: Why? and What exactly is the United State’s interest in the Middle East, but most specifically Israel and Egypt, the top two recipients of unconditional U.S. Foreign military aid?

Learn More Timeline: Al Jazeera: Palestine Since 1915

Questioning Israel’s Influence

One of the most vital liberties Americans have is the freedom to ask questions and to speak out about injustices: whether it is Israeli forces using U.S. military jets, partially or fully funded by American taxpayers, to shoot down innocent Palestinian families and children

…or that American police forces use the same make and model of tear gas against peaceful protestors in Ferguson, Missouri that Israeli forces use against Palestinians.

In its third year, the annual conference “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” presented by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. opens a unique forum for activists, academics, former government leaders, NGOs, and journalists to engage in a fearless, open conversation about the Israel Lobby, AIPAC, and its unconditional, unquestioned influence on U.S. foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine, and impacting the security and stability of countries across the Middle East.

“Most neoconservatives are Jewish and increasingly republican, but neoconservatism is more of a worldview than a political ideology, ” said panelist Jim Lobe, former chief of the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service and manager of LobeLog, a blog focusing primarily on U.S. Policy toward the Middle East.

Lobe continued, “When neoconservatives talk about ‘democratization’ of other countries, they mean destabilization. They have a soft spot for ‘friendly authoritarians,’ and some actively promote ‘Islamophobia’.”

Watch the archived livestream of “Israel’s Influence” conference on YouTube:

“The Problem Is the Mainstream”

Journalist for Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Gideon Levy presented as one of the keynote speakers for the conference, following up on his presentation at last year’s “Israel Lobby: Is It Good for the US? Is It Good for Israel?” conference that went viral on YouTube with over 200,000 views.

This year, Levy shared in his keynote speech how he would answer AIPAC’s fully-funded tour of Israel for U.S. political leaders with a completely different tour that would introduce congressional members to Israel’s occupied territory.

“Israel’s brainwashing machinery is so effective,” Levy said. “But I have never met an honest human being who visited the occupied territory of Hebron and didn’t come back in shock. It looks like apartheid. It acts like apartheid. It is nothing but apartheid.”

Levy continued, “The American congressional members need to ask themselves, are you accepting an apartheid system in the Twenty-First Century? Are you funding an apartheid system in the Twenty-First Century?”

The problem of occupation and conflict in Israel and Palestine is the mainstream, Levy pointed out. “The mainstream closes its eyes, wants to feel good about itself–then the right-wingers can do whatever they want. Injustice is very black and white today in Israel and Palestine.”

Mainstream Media & Israel’s Influence

Keynote speaker Rula Jebreal is an award-winning journalist, author of the book Miral, and foreign policy analyst who speaks fearlessly about media bias, sexism, and the Israel lobby’s influence on mainstream media and government policies. Her novel Miral sold two million copies and has been made into a major motion picture. During her presentation “Voices prohibited by mainstream media and its role spreading Islamophobia,” Jebreal pointed out that mainstream media in America is “the most disappointing in my life.”

“Where are our Dan Rathers? Who are the great journalists now?” Jebreal questioned. “We must have the good follow-up questions. This is the beginning of the dismantling of democracy in America with police brutality and police in Ferguson trained by Israeli police operatives.”

Jebreal continued, “We must get behind the Max Blumenthals, Norman Finkelsteins, Noam Chomskys, the base will lead the change. The millions of neglected Egyptians stood one day and demanded an overthrow of a regime. It will rise again. It is not dead, it will rise again and we must support them. We are all connected and the people will bring the change soon.”

Following Jebreal’s keynote speech on mainstream media, panelists Catherine Jordan journalist, documentary filmmaker and producer of “Valentino’s Ghost: Why We Hate Arabs” and American journalist and co-editor of Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss joined in the conversation, speaking to the difficulties and roadblocks that journalists and documentary filmmakers face in questioning Israel’s occupation of Palestine and unconditional influence on U.S. foreign policy.

Catherine Jordan pointed out, “Mainstream media typically goes along with the narrative of the government, the government then recycles those stories to reinforce policies, it’s a form of self-recycling in an infinite loop.”

Jordan and her film partner Michael Singh, co-producer and director of “Valentino’s Ghost,” have faced those difficulties and roadblocks thrown up by Israel’s influence on the government-mainstream media loop. Their documentary film project “Valentino’s Ghost” was widely received in Europe, even receiving a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, but when the film was entered to the U.S. film festival circuit, it was turned down.

“At first we thought, was it not good enough?” Jordan said. “It received a glowing review and favorite pick in New York Times, yet a blackout with U.S. film festivals and distributors. We spent years and years making the film. Perhaps if the American public begins to understand then we can make progress towards peace.” Interestingly, many U.S. film festivals expressed deep interest in including the film, including Sundance Film Festival, run by Sundance Institute, the largest independent film festival in the U.S., and even Michael Moore, however when the film was submitted to them, no response back or festival invitation for “Valentino’s Ghost” ever happened…

Watch an excerpt from Catherine Jordan’s presentation on Gandhi’s Be Magazine YouTube Channel 

Watch the trailer for “Valentino’s Ghost”

Philip Weiss recently published a print publication of Mondoweiss entitled, “The World the Settlers Made.” Originally covered on Mondoweiss online on January 26, 2016, the team at Mondoweiss made the decision to expand the work to a print edition that can have a deeper, longer impact on the conversation about Israeli occupation of Palestine and a move toward seeking justice.

The introduction reads, “Given the nature of web journalism, this work was displaced quickly by the next days’ and weeks’ stories. So you hold in your hands our investment in giving this piece more exposure, longer and more thoughtful review by a broader group of readers over a more extended time.”

In the print edition, Philip Weiss expands on his travels in January 2016 to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. His conclusion is a moving synopsis of this generation’s most crucial moment to address occupation, oppressions, injustice, and apartheid.

“I learned more about Israel in these five days in Palestine than in any other trips I’ve made,” Weiss wrote. “These colonies were founded a generation ago with the aim of creating one state between the river and the sea, and they have succeeded. They are fortresses built with Palestinian labor. Today the mass of Israeli Jewish society does not want a Palestinian state, these settlers say; and the colonists would rise up in the hundreds of thousands before allowing such a state. The world I visited is the world that Zionists made, according to their ideal of Jewish sovereignty. And it is a world of segregation, with Jews on top.”

A Moment for Change?

This year’s “Israel Influence: Good or Bad for America?” is the third annual conference produced by Washington Report on Middle East Affairs at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and the attendance appears to have doubled since last year, and most notably the mainstream media blackout experienced at last year’s conference has somewhat lifted with C-SPAN 2 covering the event live this year.

Are these the beginning steps of change? This important public forum seems to parallel the beginnings of a shift in public opinion regarding Israel and Palestine and a growing momentum for a Free Gaza that has been building since Israel’s most recent siege on Palestine in 2014.

With the 50th Anniversary of Israel’s occupation, the U.S. Presidential Election, and Israel’s demand for an increase in U.S. Foreign Military Aid all on the horizon, America stands at a crucial moment in addressing Israel and Palestine and standing up for real democracy and human rights for all people, hopefully without fear or favor…

CLICK HERE to learn more about Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” conference and to watch archives from the livestream.

More coverage to come…

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