Last week, a familiar Washington ritual took place: Leading American politicians from both parties lined up at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to vie with each other over who could pledge the most undying fealty to Israel. As usual, much of Congress showed up — half of the members of the U.S. Senate and more than half of the House, including figures like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, along with Vice President Dick Cheney.

It was a typical AIPAC parallel-universe extravaganza, marred only by partisan rifts that have begun to appear over Iraq. (Even some of the AIPAC crowd, who overwhelmingly supported the war at the outset, have begun to realize that it has been a disaster for both the United States and Israel.) Cheney got a standing ovation, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said via a video link that winning the war in Iraq was important for Israel, Nancy Pelosi was booed for criticizing the war, a fire-breathing Christian dispensationalist who believes that war on Iran will bring about the Rapture and the Second Coming was rapturously greeted, and Barack Obama took heat for having the audacity to mention the suffering of the Palestinians.

But AIPAC showed its true power — and its continuing ability to steer American Mideast policy in a disastrous direction — when a group of conservative and pro-Israel Democrats succeeded in removing language from a military appropriations bill that would have required Bush to get congressional approval before using military force against Iran.

The pro-Israel lobby’s victory on the Iran bill is almost unbelievable. Even after the nation repudiated the Iraq war decisively in the 2006 midterms, even after it has become clear that the Bush administration’s Middle East policy is severely unbalanced toward Israel and has damaged America’s standing in the world, Congress still cannot bring itself to stand up to the AIPAC line.


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