The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a uniquely American organization supported by the majority of American Jews, is the most important global Jewish association engaged in Israel advocacy.
Jews on the far left, like those associated with J Street, an organization created with the sole objective of discrediting AIPAC, seek to besmirch it. They accuse its leaders of being partisan right wing extremists out of synch with the attitudes of the majority of American Jews. On Sunday, Amos Oz the talented Israeli author whose political sophistication regrettably does not match his literary talent, told the J Street Conference: “I have been waiting for you all my adult life” and condemned AIPAC for being “militant”, “extremist” and “hawkish”.
Other detractors, highlighted by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, accuse AIPAC of imposing “a stranglehold on US Congress” and distorting American foreign policy.
Israeli fringe groups also try to demonize the organization which is committed to their security and wellbeing. Former Meretz Minister Yossi Sarid recently remarked pathetically that “AIPAC is a hostile organization: Those Jews are endangering our lives here, now more than ever. If only they would leave us alone, if only they would stick to their own affairs and release us from the punishment of their support…Why do you insist on being portrayed as the ones who are pushing your country into another war? Why are you doing this to yourselves? …Is it right for you to once again reawaken the question of dual loyalty?” Most Israelis would dismiss such remarks as demented ravings.
Founded in 1963, AIPAC has blossomed into a 100,000 grass roots movement. Over 13,000 Jews travelled from every corner of the United States to attend its annual conference last month – hardly indicative of a right wing fringe group.
Whilst representing a wide spectrum of political views, ironically, most supporters would probably be considered liberals and supporters of the Democratic Party rather than “conservatives”. Indeed retiring chairman Lee Rosenberg was one of Obama’s leading Jewish supporters.
What binds AIPAC supporters together is a love and passion for the Jewish state. With one exception, it rigidly adhered to the formula of “we support the policies of the government democratically elected by the people of Israel”.
A substantial proportion of participants at the conference, including 1600 student activists, are enthusiastic and committed young American Jews, exposing the absurdity of claims that most young American Jews have turned against Jewish state.
The 13,000 participants queued up for hours to gain entry to individual sessions and hear speeches and evaluations presented by a wide variety of personalities, ranging from the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Israel, leading presidential candidates and diverse experts updating them on Middle East developments.
Over half of the US Congress was present, surely a most impressive tribute to the relevance of the organization.
The greatest achievement of AIPAC has been its ability to effectively promote the policies of the elected Israeli government whilst retaining bipartisan support.
AIPAC does not directly contribute to or endorse politicians but it does lobby on issues and legislation relevant to Israel as well as organize trips to Israel for policymakers and aspiring political leaders. It has probably more effectively promoted the case for Israel than all the local American and global Jewish organizations combined.
An astonishing aspect of AIPAC is that hardly any outsiders would be able to identify by name the retiring president or his successor or for that matter its Chief Executive Officer, Howard Kohr. That is because AIPAC concentrates exclusively on its objectives rather than competing with other organizations or seeking to obtain media coverage for its officers. Most of its lobbying activities are not even publicized.
There were two occasions in the past when AIPAC could be faulted. One was when a minority opposed the Rabin government’s Oslo Accords. Even though many believe that their opposition was subsequently vindicated and that Oslo has proved to be the source of most of our current problems, it was utterly inappropriate for a Jewish diaspora lobby group to seek to influence or determine Israel policy. Fortunately this was a notable exception and never recurred.
The other was in April 2005 when the AIPAC Board fired two of their long-standing and devoted officials, Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman whom the FBI sought to entrap for having allegedly passed on classified information to Israel. All charges against them were subsequently dropped but the failure of the AIPAC Board to stand by their employees left a bitter taste.
The powerful campaign to discredit AIPAC by far-left Jews including J Street, George Soros, Peter Beinart and all the darlings of the American left-liberal media failed abjectly. Despite immense media coverage, J Street was marginalized and other than naïve fellow travelers, its members comprised primarily of hard core anti-Israeli leftists. Even J Street’s initial protégé, the Obama Administration, was obliged to distance itself. In fact J Street effectively strengthened AIPAC because their supporters became more resolute in their commitment as they faced onslaught from these parties and the liberal media.
The toughest trial for AIPAC was the painful confrontation between Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and the newly elected Obama administration. The initial hostility directed against the Israeli government led to unprecedented attacks on AIPAC, including allegations that it was encouraging American Jews to transfer their loyalties to a reactionary foreign government which purportedly obstructed a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The repeated clashes between Obama and Netanyahu threatened to undermine AIPAC’s grass roots support and undercut the bipartisan support for Israel which had been nurtured over the years.
AIPAC overcame the challenges by remaining “cool” but committed to its core pro-Israel objective, circumventing stands on overall settlement policies, avoiding direct confrontations with the administration, and quietly concentrating on promoting the positive aspects of Israeli policy.
Despite the fierce hostility directed against it by far-left Jewish groups and the liberal media, notably the New York Times, AIPAC actually increased its support levels amongst Jews and successfully encouraged many non-Jews such as Christian evangelicals, African-Americans, Latinos and student activists to become directly involved and even attend their conferences. In a demographic environment where the Jewish proportion of the population is shrinking, the strengthening of such alliances was an important step forward.
No one can predict the outcome of the Iranian threat. However, it is undeniable that AIPAC played an immensely important role in cajoling the Obama administration to adopt a more aggressive stance in relation to sanctions and obtain recognition that Israel is entitled to defend itself from a nuclear Iran. If the Iranian situation is resolved in the absence of war, AIPAC will deserve much of the credit.
All in all, AIPAC has emerged as the most effective political lobby group on the American scene and must be commended for its outstanding achievements. But none of this could have been accomplished had there been any substance to the repeated mantras chanted by the anti-Israeli left claiming that the Jewish community and in particular young Jews have become alienated from the Jewish state.
The writer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org