AIPAC Post-mortem

AIPAC seems to have developed somewhat of its own agenda vis-à-vis Israel policy on a number of issues.

Larry Gordon,

OpEds Larry Gordon
Larry Gordon

Full disclosure dictates that I write here up front that we did not attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, DC last week. There were a number of scheduling conflicts as well as its close proximity to Purim that made it difficult to attend. In the past, those few days of the conference in Washington were filled with some of the most exciting meetings and events we have attended.

It is difficult to disregard what happens at these well-attended AIPAC meetings, as they are widely reported on in the press and the kind of stuff that political junkies like us live off. Needless to say, if it is an event that involves Israel and its relationship with the U.S., then it will be shrouded in controversy. That is just the nature of things, and that is unlikely to ever change.

This year in particular it was difficult to stay away because of the presidential election. But I knew that I would be able to watch most of the proceedings live online, and that is exactly what I made sure to do.

Before we get to the content of the candidates’ addresses, let’s deal with the issue of AIPAC and the complicated matter of bipartisanship and the organization’s commitment to a strictly evenhanded approach—which sometimes tilts the group in a wrong (in my opinion) or at least counterproductive direction. One of the commendable things about the success of AIPAC is its consistent ability to forge solid relationships with elected officials from both the Democratic and the Republican parties. But sometimes evenhandedness is not what the situation calls for.

Some people active in the organization with whom I shared some of my concerns said they agreed with a good deal of my objections to some of AIPAC’s policies. But they said they remained committed to the work of the organization because they are encouraged that people are involved in some level of support of Israel, whereas if there were no AIPAC, people would be just as pleased to be completely uninvolved.

So my issues with AIPAC are serious, but not very serious, if you will. I will, in all likelihood, attend future policy conferences because the folks referenced above are on target—AIPAC has developed a vital mechanism to support Israel and the U.S.–Israel relationship.

If Ms. Pinkus thought it right to defend Mr. Obama because of Mr. Trump’s off-script remarks, what about the possibility of offending Mr. Trump, who might be the next president?
But there are still some drawbacks. Yes, it can be argued that AIPAC only reflects the policies and positions of the Israeli government that happens to be in power at any given time. And while that might be so, it also seems that AIPAC has developed somewhat of its own agenda vis-à-vis Israel policy on a number of issues.

For example, what is AIPAC’s position on the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria? You can rest assured that the rank and file of AIPAC members and policy-conference attendees have mixed feelings on these issues. Those who are in favor of a two-state solution believe, a bit fantastically, that in an ideal situation, Israel would withdraw from East Jerusalem and uproot the over 150,000 Jews who live there so as to make way for a Palestinian capital there with no Jewish presence.

The same folks believe that Israel also has to remove about 500,000 Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria and deliver to the PA as well the territory in which over 130 settlement communities have been established. Any sensible person knows that this is impossible. Withdrawing from these areas is a great philosophical and political discussion, but that is exactly where it begins and ends—talking about it.

A conference attendee asked what AIPAC will do next year, during the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, which included the retaking of East Jerusalem and the establishment of a unified capital city. Are they going to completely sidestep the commemoration of that miraculous military feat? How is that going to play itself out?

I find it bothersome that at AIPAC, East Jerusalem and the territories are not even mentioned or acknowledged. These are urgent, major issues that define the core of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

Additionally, why is it left to people like Senator Bob Menendez and presidential candidate John Kasich to refer to the ancient biblical description of the rights of Jews to the entirety of the land of Israel? Menendez makes a point of the fact that Israel was not something that simply emerged out of the ashes of the Holocaust. The senator says with pride and even delight that the Jewish attachment to the land is rooted in the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants and G‑d’s promise to give this land unequivocally to the Jewish people.

Governor Kasich, in his concluding remarks, referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital and uttered the simple words, “G‑d bless you.” Ted Cruz jolted the crowd by talking about the holiday of Purim and the great miracles wrought by G‑d in ancient Persia so as to rescue the Jewish nation from a death sentence hatched and developed by the ancient Haman. Purim began less than 48 hours after the AIPAC conference concluded, but there was almost no reference to it from the podium.

And then finally there was the controversial handling of the Donald Trump address. Trump departed only slightly from a carefully prepared script but wandered off a bit from his prepared remarks when he said, “President Obama was the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me.”

Newly elected AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus pretty much apologized and distanced AIPAC from Trump’s remarks by saying that while AIPAC might have policy differences with Mr. Obama (specifically the Iran nuclear deal), they still have deep respect for the office of president and for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Trump didn’t say that he does not respect the office that he is seeking, the presidency of the United States. He just said that Mr. Obama has dealt or has for years intended to deal harshly with Israel but has so far fortunately been unsuccessful on that count as well.

If Ms. Pinkus thought it right to defend Mr. Obama because of Mr. Trump’s off-script remarks, what about the possibility of offending Mr. Trump, who might be the next president?

This is where AIPAC loses itself sometimes. The stern commitment to bipartisanship in instances like this goes off track. Prominent Democrats like Senators Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez and Representatives Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey voted against the Iran deal because they believed that the deal was irresponsible and posed a potential danger to Israel’s existence.

These Democrats and many others in Congress—including those who voted in favor of the Iran deal—do not need AIPAC’s bipartisanship in order to support Israel. They support and speak up for the Jewish state because it’s the right thing to do and in the best interest of the United States.

I understand that part of the problem is that these positions expressed here are not shared by the majority of those at the policy conference. But then again, who were all those people standing and applauding Mr. Trump when he so directly criticized Mr. Obama?

It’s time for AIPAC to consider telling it like it is. And a good place to start with would be the matter of defining the rights of Jews to lands administered by Israel for the last half-century. Enough of the evasion of reality. The nation of Israel lives in the land of Israel. That is simple and not radical or extreme.

It’s the kind of thing that can easily get a standing ovation of its own.