Partisan shots at AIPAC don’t help the US-Israel relationship

They do nothing to advance peace in the Middle East or ensure Israel’s survival; in fact, they take us further away from these goals.

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.
Jeff Mendelsohn
Jeff Mendelsohn

Even though Americans have become increasingly polarized over the past few decades, the pro-Israel community has long valued building and maintaining bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. For its part, Israel views bipartisan support as a strategic asset. But now, some organizations that claim to be “pro-Israel” are actively working to undermine bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and instead are taking cheap political shots at other pro-Israel groups. While these political barrages are increasingly tempting in our polarized environment, it’s a dangerous path—one that any organization that truly wants to advance America’s relationship with Israel should not go down.

With increasing partisan divisions based on ideology, religion, geography and racial lines, Pew Research concluded recently that “Democrats and Republicans are farther apart ideologically today than at any time in the past 50 years.” But the U.S.-Israel relationship can and should be something that unites and not divides us.

AIPAC’s recent decision to dive into politics directly and endorse candidates on both sides of the aisle was sure to bring out the knives, though it’s unfortunate that the blades are brandished by fellow Jewish and self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” organizations in addition to the expected anti-Israel chorus. The recent attacks—from the left and the right—on AIPAC PAC’s announcement of its first endorsed candidates amount to nothing more than partisan attacks dressed up with righteous indignation by organizations and others that only support one party. That might rile up one’s organizational base, but it’s not good for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Bipartisanship is one of the core strategic values of the pro-Israel movement, embodied most visibly by AIPAC.

Unfortunately, J Street is using its platform to attack the government of Israel and the very notion of bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. J Street’s broadside against AIPAC for endorsing the “wrong” Republicans is disingenuous and opportunistic—par for the course— since J Street opposes all Republicans, whether or not they support Israel and whether or not they voted to seat electors on Jan. 6, 2021. This is not new. J Street, which was founded essentially to be anti-AIPAC, regularly attacks AIPAC for its robust support of America’s alliance with Israel, essentially for being pro-Israel.

Disappointingly, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) has joined the J Street bandwagon and is singing the same partisan tune, again to the detriment of the U.S.-Israel relationship. JDCA says it supports a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and other policies “consistent with socially progressive, pro-Israel, Jewish community values.” That’s expected; they support only Democrats. What’s not expected is the ill-advised decision to add fuel to J Street’s fire by attacking AIPAC for endorsing Republicans since JDCA never supports Republicans, even those who support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. JDCA has even produced a line of anti-AIPAC merchandise it’s now selling on its website. The organization has clearly chosen a path that they believe will enhance their institution, rather than help support the very mission they purport to achieve.

Here’s where it is dangerous. These partisan attacks do nothing to advance peace in the Middle East or help ensure Israel’s survival; in fact, they take us further away from these goals. When groups like J Street and JDCA attack AIPAC for being bipartisan, they further the partisan divide in ways that will impair the critical bipartisan consensus on the U.S.-Israel relationship. They also provide cover for anti-Israel Democrats, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who quickly joined the chorus attacking AIPAC along with other anti-Israel voices. These critics are always happy to attack the idea of supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship at all.

Not wanting to be left out, voices on the partisan right also attacked AIPAC PAC for endorsing Democrats. Many in the pro-Israel world were severely disappointed by Democrats who advertise their pro-Israel bona fides, yet voted for an Iran deal that Israel and many in the United States saw as putting Israel’s security at great risk. But to attack AIPAC publicly now for choosing to endorse some Democrats who voted for the deal is another disingenuous partisan attack that does not help advance a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Bipartisan organizations work to build support for a specific cause among people who often disagree strongly on other issues. It can be difficult to do that, looking past positions on a host of crucial issues we care deeply about. Jewish individuals may share support for the U.S.-Israel relationship but disagree vehemently about other issues. However, we need to be able to put aside those other differences for a common cause. As the executive director of Pro-Israel America, a bipartisan political organization that supports candidates on both sides of the aisle, I know this firsthand. And believe me, we get a lot of feedback from grassroots supporters who have a hard time putting politics aside.

It is also the only way the pro-Israel community can move forward with broad support to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship is sustained over time, regardless of which party wins elections. That’s exactly what AIPAC is doing by prioritizing its longstanding and effective policy of evaluating a candidate’s record, their position in leadership, and their views and actions on the U.S.-Israel relationship without regard to party. Championing the U.S.-Israel relationship is what defines the pro-Israel community, and while we can disagree on many issues, we shouldn’t criticize AIPAC for putting the U.S.-Israel relationship before partisan politics.

We have enough detractors seeking to undermine America’s historic and vital alliance with Israel. Elevating partisanship and breaking our community into rival camps weaken the pro-Israel movement and fundamentally undermines the U.S.-Israel relationship. That’s exactly what these partisan shots at AIPAC are doing, and that’s what is setting a dangerous, irresponsible and indefensible path. It’s time to stop.

Jeff Mendelsohn is the executive director of Pro-Israel America.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates