OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

AIPAC apology sparks broader debate about strategy

AIPAC needs to decide what its purpose is: ensuring that candidates who threaten to withhold U.S. aid to Israel do not attain office, or making nice with everyone regardless of where they stand on issues important to U.S. Jews.

A view of the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference proceedings in Washington, D.C. Source: AIPAC via Twitter.
A view of the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference proceedings in Washington, D.C. Source: AIPAC via Twitter.
Brooke Goldstein
Brooke Goldstein
Brooke Goldstein is a human-rights attorney and civil-rights advocate.

Pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC issued an apology this weekend for an advertisement and petition that they recently published. While a small portion of the content was controversial and undoubtedly warranted the apology, the aggressive nature of the advertisement speaks to the dire situation that Jews and pro-Israel groups are facing in an increasingly anti-Semitic world.

The advertisement stated that “radicals in the Democratic Party are pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people. … Sign the letter to Democrats in Congress—don’t abandon Israel!” The petition linked to the ad read, in part, “radicals in Congress are threatening the U.S.-Israel relationship by reducing or cutting aid and military assistance, encouraging the boycott of Israeli companies, and using plainly anti-Semitic language. … It’s critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and—maybe more sinister—right here in the U.S. Congress.”

Was it aggressive language? Of course. The ad was designed to get attention and inspire people to take action. And AIPAC made a critical mistake comparing members of the U.S. Congress to designated terrorist groups. It crossed a line and AIPAC was forced to apologize.

However, we cannot let politically correct outcry distract from the greater issue. There is no doubt that the greatest threat to American Jewry today is the radical, sinister and anti-Semitic agenda that some in the Democratic Party are pushing. Standing up to that radical element in the Democratic Party will mean ruffling some feathers, making our priorities clear and speaking uncomfortable truths to power.

AIPAC has long made allies in both parties in the United States, to the benefit of the American Jewish community. But in a time of great division, the broader Jewish establishment, including AIPAC, must aggressively and publicly push back against those in either party who threaten the security of Jews and Israel, even when doing so becomes politically incorrect. AIPAC’s attempts to stand firmly for bipartisanship in the face of leftist pressure have made many in the Jewish community question some of their decisions.

It was a poor decision when AIPAC refused to back Israel’s sovereign right to deny entry to members of Congress who were scheduled to meet with supporters of genocidal terrorism. AIPAC sent a terrible signal when it distanced itself from a major Israeli philanthropist for calling out the anti-Semitism of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib D-Mich.). It was inexcusable when, following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s historic announcement, AIPAC refused to take a position on the legality of the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. But AIPAC’s strategy to appease the left is backfiring: The more AIPAC gives, the more confident opponents of Israel become in their marginalization of AIPAC.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared that she was going to skip the AIPAC policy conference before AIPAC ran its advertisement. Rep. Tlaib has said that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. The truth is, there is nothing AIPAC could do to become left enough for some in the Democratic Party to accept them.

AIPAC needs to decide what its true purpose is: to ensure that candidates who threaten to withhold American aid to Israel do not attain office, or to make nice with everyone regardless of where they stand on issues important to American Jews?

We have been told that AIPAC’s bipartisanship strategy is vital to secure our interests, but when the time came to protect Israel against the existential threat posed by a nuclear Iran, AIPAC’s strategy failed. AIPAC did not get the votes it needed on the Iran deal because members of Congress knew there would be no consequences if they voted against Israel’s interests. They would still be invited to AIPAC’s annual conference, and the doors of AIPAC-affiliated donor salons would remain open.

There are groups like the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) that unabashedly and aggressively lobby for the interests of Jews and Israel. And they are gaining traction. Bipartisanship can only go so far when one side disproportionately attacks the interests of their constituency.

The Jewish community is no stranger to fighting back against elements who would do us harm. It must be made clear to the enemies of Israel that there will be a price to pay at the ballot box for extreme anti-Jewish views. It is time to re-evaluate the strategy of bipartisanship that prioritizes the appeasement of those who will never support us over real action on behalf of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the optics of this apology, warranted or not, just feed the appeasement narrative.

Brooke Goldstein is a human-rights attorney and civil-rights advocate.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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