Case for AIPAC
New York Times
March 22, 2019
recently, if you had asked most Jews, it seemed like playing the Aipac card had
gone out of fashion around 2007. That was the year two political scientists
published a book called “The
Israel Lobby,” with its sensational claim that Aipac, short for the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other Jewish organizations
controlled American policy in the Middle East.
timing was lousy. By then, Aipac’s influence, whatever it had been, was
already in decline. After Barack Obama was elected, the group didn’t even have
enough juice to stop his Iran nuclear deal, despite a full-court press.
this Sunday, when 18,000 members and supporters are expected to descend on
Washington for the annual Aipac
Policy Conference, a new wave of anti-Israel critics, including several new
members of Congress, have resurrected the anti-Semitic canard that American Jews
have too much power. And they’re blaming Aipac
groups are demanding that Democratic presidential candidates, who in past cycles
might have rushed at the chance to address such a large and engaged crowd, stay
away. At least six, including Senator Kamala Harris, who addressed
the conference in 2017, have said they would comply.
groups and their supporters in Congress — above all Representative Ilhan Omar
— may not get points for originality, but demonizing Aipac still turns out to
be an effective dog whistle. As accusations are amplified across social media
and the press, Jews find themselves forced to defend — again! — an
organization that many of them never much loved in the first place. But Jews
know who the real target is. Aipac, c’est moi.
bill of particulars never changes: Aipac has too much money and power. Aipac
bribes Congress into twisting American foreign policy against the national
interest. American Jews are more loyal to Israel than they are to the United
States. And, most laughably, the Israel lobby silences all criticism of Israel.
to start? Maybe with this: Aipac’s success isn’t “about the Benjamins.”
It flows from the fact that a majority of Americans, not just Jews, are
predisposed to support Israel. Polls and surveysconsistently
is it so surprising, then, that a lobbying organization exists to channel this
support into political and legislative action? Labor unions do it, chambers of
commerce do it, abortion rights groups do it and Arab-Americans do it. It would
be weird if there wasn’t a pro-Israel lobby. “There’s nothing
new about lobbying on behalf of causes in foreign places,” Hubert Humphrey said in
1976. “It’s as American as a hot dog or apple pie.”
Aipac was never the big spender its antagonists claim. Its total lobbying
expenditures in 2018 came to $3.5
million, which doesn’t even put it in the top 50. (Realtors spent $72.8
million.) Instead, Aipac depends on grassroots organizing in every state. It
is built on people power.
that Aipac supporters are afraid to write checks — a nationwide network of
affiliated political action committees and donors is a key component of its
strategy. Still, the total amount of pro-Israel donations to members of Congress
came to $10.6
million in 2018, only the 34th highest among Washington interest
groups, behind the entertainment industry ($15.6 million), lawyers ($80.6
million) and retirees ($110 million).
idea that Aipac is tied at the hip to the Republican Party and Israel’s far
right is also an exaggeration. Aipac is more comfortable, and was always more
effective, as a bipartisan operation, positioned near the center of
Jewish-American politics. Today, it supports the
creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, a view that is widely held by
American Jews, but opposed by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s
2007, Sheldon Adelson, a major donor, broke
with Aipac over its conciliatory positions and established a rival
group to its right called the Israeli
American Council. And to its left is the liberal-Zionist group J
Netanyahu will address this year’s conference, but so will Benny Gantz, a
former general and Mr. Netanyahu’s opponent in next month’s elections.
It’s rare to have an Israeli opposition leader speak at Aipac on the eve of an
election. Simply by scheduling Mr. Gantz, Aipac is signaling its own Netanyahu
Aipac have failings? Sure. They are the same as those that beset any older,
established organization: bureaucratic rigidity and an inability to adapt
quickly to new challenges. In Aipac’s case, it was spoiled for years by the
absence of any serious opposition.
today Aipac is struggling to
adjust. Political and generational divisions are jeopardizing the
organization’s old-school, bipartisan approach. Aipac used to be able to
sidestep issues like settlements and the occupation, but now, with the Israeli
right threatening annexation of the West Bank, the occupation has become the
moral rallying point of the Jewish left, and Aipac appears paralyzed.
left and the right are again using anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as wedge
issues to break up traditional alliances. Anti-Zionist groups are working hard
to delegitimize the Jewish state, not only on Capitol Hill, but also on college
campuses and on the nation’s editorial pages.
hard-core pro-Israel response is to circle the wagons. Pro-Israel Zionists who
have criticized the occupation are excommunicated. This is crazy. Anyone who
believes in the legitimacy of the Zionist mission, whatever their political
stripe, should be embraced as an ally in this latest battle against anti-Zionism
Aipac wants to make itself useful in the hearts-and-minds campaign that lies
ahead, it should consider rewriting the rules, and make common cause with the
loyal opposition. By co-opting the Zionist left and welcoming the kind of
boisterous debate that Israelis themselves engage in every day, it might end up
with an even stronger case for Israel than ever before.