Kings of Capitol Hill is an eye-opening look at the history of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its role in American politics.
AIPAC was founded in order to support a strategic alliance between the US and Israel. The large majority of the founders were Jewish Democrats. Eighty percent of Jews had been Democrats for decades and many had been politically involved. Some came into leadership positions because of American involvement in the Vietnam War.
Leave it to Mor Loushy to make the film that AIPAC does not want you to see. The fact that an Israeli makes this film is all the more telling. Had it been an American filmmaker, the wolves would be going after them. Because it’s an Israeli filmmaker, we’re getting a viewpoint that an American filmmaker simply couldn’t deliver. That being said, one of the key questions that the film asks is what real power does the Jewish lobby have and how long will it last?
There are politicians, including former Illinois Senator Chuck Percy (IL), appearing in archive footage that don’t see any significance in having a relationship with Israel. Jewish Democrats in Illinois wanted someone else to represent them. What happened is that AIPAC went to Paul Simon to recruit him. Simon was very open about this in his memoir. This marks the point in time where AIPAC became seen as a lobby to be feared. If you so much as refuse to align with AIPAC on policy issues, a candidate would be recruited to run against you.
In 1989, then-CEO Tom Dine publicly called for a Palestinian state. Suffice it to say, this did not go over well in some circles. Some were forced out as a result of being pro-peace. Among them, Dine and others. Others chose to leave because they were simply not right wing enough. And then come summer of 1993, late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered secret talks with the Palestinians. This led to historic Oslo Accords.
According to interviews, AIPAC couldn’t stand either Yizhak Rabin or Shimon Peres. And yet, AIPAC officials were against Oslo because of wanting peace? There’s a clip of Netanyahu giving a speech during this time. Basically, AIPAC was saying to be skeptical of the Palestinians. If you ask me, we should be hoping for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Howard Kohr would succeed Dine as AIPAC CEO. Dine was a liberal Democrat whereas Kohr is a Republican. Oh, is he ever! Everyone fell in love with Benjamin Netanyahu at all of these events. Netanyahu would win 50.4% during the 1996 Israeli elections so this made AIPAC leaders happy.
Former AIPAC board member Ada Horwich (2000-2016) is someone we need to be listening to when it comes to AIPAC. The credibility and expertise that she brings to the film is invaluable. How the organization directs money to candidates, etc.. Technically, AIPAC doesn’t rent the rooms where candidates make their pitches to campaign donors. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are donated to these campaigns according to Horwich. AIPAC wouldn’t encourage supporting anyone that went against certain policies. Meanwhile, if you had a certain view on a policy, you would be booed at an AIPAC conference. Horwich also talks about her discomfort with AIPAC bringing evangelicals on board.
President Barack Obama got close to 3 million Jewish votes in 2008. The former president’s views on Israel are different than that of longtime AIPAC policy or even Netanyahu. He was critical of the settlements. Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor under Obama, openly speaks about Netanyahu and Obama’s relationship. Netanyahu outright lied about their conversation. Rhodes later discusses the flight to Israel for Shimon Peres’s funeral. Rhodes mentioned how Bibi had no legacy. Obama pointed out that Bibi destroyed the Israeli left. Is this a good legacy? Probably not.
Matt Nosanchuk, President Obama’s Liaison to the Jewish Community, remembers the morning that the Iranian deal was announced. Netanyahu was very critical of the deal. He would not be silent about it either. Would AIPAC sit on the sidelines or take a side?
Netanyahu broke protocol by addressing a joint meeting of Congress. AIPAC took notes of who didn’t attend or who didn’t stand up. Democrats and even some Republicans were uneasy about Netanyahu’s attacks on President Obama. Horwich was embarrassed by Netanyahu’s attacks. Until this point, there had been bipartisan support of Israel but that speech changed everything.
And then there is Donald Trump, who has managed to gain a cult-like following in the Orthodox Jewish community. Trump was against the Iran deal and he remains very much against President Obama. He has spoken in anti-Semitic tropes while there are Jews who love him for having a Jewish son-in-law (Ivanka had an Orthodox conversion). Netanyahu and Trump have a very tight relationship, which should be troubling. This bothers Horwich because Trump is “a terrible man.” Netanyahu–among foreign leaders–treats Trump like a puppet in essence. Their relationship is honestly scary.
“His need for love is beyond psychiatric help,” Dine opines about Trump.
John Hagee consecrating the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem is what’s referred to as “a slap in the face.” Hagee had no business speaking at the embassy opening. He might love Israel for biblical reasons but he doesn’t love Jews according to the film. This really speaks to the evangelical support for the Jewish homeland. They don’t love Israel because of any political reasoning but because of the Bible. AIPAC’s message basically becomes not caring if somebody is anti-Semitic as long as they love Israel. This should make anyone uncomfortable and yet I see people who give them a free pass and welcome their support.
In the days after the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, Netanyahu wouldn’t bother to even acknowledge that right-wing white nationalists killed Jews. It’s simply ignorant–mind you, anti-Semitism isn’t immune to any side of the political spectrum. I have personal experienced anti-Semitism in left-wing transgender spaces and it’s enough to make one very uncomfortable. How can anyone not acknowledge this and yet there are ORTHODOX AMERICAN JEWS and ISRAELI JEWS who see Donald Trump as the Moshiach. This is blasphemy and yet we see it spoken in 2020, too. You should see what right-wing Orthodox Jews are saying on social media. Frankly, it goes against Torah values. I don’t know what this Judaism is but it’s certainly not my Judaism! Meanwhile, Batya Unger-Sargon asks how can we defend a country that is doing things that were done to us for a long time?
Of course, you can’t make a documentary about AIPAC without discussing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) comments about the US-Israeli relationship. There isn’t much to be said in the film about her comments but it leads to a segue with former activists. They open about how their views evolved upon talking with Palestinians. Simone Zimmerman would eventually go onto co-found If Not Now organization.
Horwich stepped down as a board member because she felt that Israel was becoming an apartheid state. Listen to Ada Horwich when she talks about her AIPAC experience. I cannot stress this enough about what she brings a lot of credibility to the table as a former AIPAC official.
Asked about his feelings on If Not Now and other groups, Dine starts to chuckle before responding, “G-d bless them. Do it. You may not win now but you’ll eventually win. I have great faith in them.”
File this under words never expected to come out of a former AIPAC CEO’s mouth. I may disagree with INN and JVP over their tactics. You should never ever deliberately target an Orthodox LGBTQ group simply because they are LGBTQ. It’s a hate crime any way you look at it!
None of the Democratic candidates running for president showed up to the AIPAC conference. A lot of controversy was made about this–I remember being personally angry. But watching this film? I can’t be angry anymore. I’m a Zionist and while I have a love for the Jewish homeland, I cannot sit by in silence watching ring-wingers destroy the very ideals that Israel represents. There is no reason to be favorable to anti-Semites simply because they love Israel solely for biblical reasons. While I can no longer say that I’m on board with AIPAC, I cannot explicitly endorse organizations such as INN or JVP either. The latter of which intentionally targeted Jewish Queer Youth, an Orthodox LGBTQ Jewish organization, marching in the Israel parade in New York a few years ago.
Current AIPAC officials declined to be interviewed for the film. How unfortunate. It’s on director Mor Loushy to speak with former officials like Dine and Rosen to talk about the history and change in AIPAC’s platform through the years. Loushy even spoke with activist friends of mine but their interviews did not make the final cut.
What filmmaker Mor Loushy does with Kings of Capitol Hill is make the film that AIPAC does not want you to see and she should be commended.
DIRECTOR: Mor Loushy
FEATURING: Ada Horwich, Batya Unger-Sargon, Ben Rhodes, Doug Bloomfield, Jacob Plitman, Jonathan Wissman, Keith Wisman, Tom Dine, MJ Rosenberg, Matt Nosanchuk, Steven J. Rosen, Simone Zimmerman, Sarah Persitz
Kings of Capitol Hill holds its international premiere during DOC NYC 2020 in the Investigations program. Grade: 4.5/5