The latest ‘acceptable’ anti-Semitism targets AIPAC

To single them out for opprobrium based on double standards is discrimination—and wrong.

The 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2018. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
The 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2018. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Mark Goldfeder
Mark Goldfeder

Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the rise of anti-Semitism and called on elected officials and civil society leaders to combat any and all manifestations of it. Yet anti-Semitism has become more and more acceptable in many circles, including mainstream U.S. politics itself.

The latest wave of “acceptable” anti-Semitism involves left-wing politicians and liberal media pundits who demonize AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for the heinous crime of participation in the American political process through its political action committee, the United Democracy Project. AIPAC supports candidates who are in favor of a strong US-Israel relationship and opposes candidates who are not. While the attacks on them have varied in form, the ultimate message is the same: everyone should feel free to lobby on issues they care about, unless they are Jewish and/or pro-Israel.

Some influential leaders, like “progressive” Senator Bernie Sanders, have gone full David Duke with their tropes about Jewish power. They spin stories about billionaire cabals that secretly pull strings to “buy elections and control this democracy.” Sanders claims he is against all outside money involved in elections, but this appears to be the case only if the funds do not come from the Super PAC he founded or the one his acolyte founded, or any of the ones that support candidates he supports. Sanders has also called AIPAC and its supporters racist, sexist and anti-progressive—despite their clear history of support for candidates who are women, people of color and progressive, including in this very election cycle. None of these facts matter, because when it comes to groups that Sanders does not support, he doesn’t care about accuracy in the least.

Other outlets have gone straight to the classic dual loyalty canard. They described AIPAC as an organization that works on behalf of a foreign country. To be clear: AIPAC is a registered American lobby with American supporters who advocate for American policies. It is funded by private donations, and receives no financial assistance from Israel or any other foreign party. There are many reasons why the vast majority of Americans in both political parties, not just American Jews, remain in favor of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Perhaps first among them is the undeniable fact that to support Israel in its struggle against Middle Eastern terrorist groups and expansionist potentates is crucial for America’s own national security. To label anyone who works to protect the U.S.-Israel relationship as the agent of a foreign state, and imply that they are disloyal citizens whose true allegiance is to the State of Israel over their own country, is just another form of classic anti-Semitism designed to cast Jews as the “other” or some kind of fifth column that undermines the U.S. from within.

Still other public figures, like former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, were not satisfied to just describe AIPAC in anti-Semitic language. Instead, she went so far as to claim that AIPAC causes people to hate Jews. How exactly is AIPAC, a victim of anti-Semitic rhetoric, responsible for the rise in global anti-Semitism? Williamson explained that it is because of their “disgusting attempts to defeat candidates not in line with their right-wing policies regarding Israel.” For those like Williamson who might not know which policies AIPAC supports, the lobby is in favor of “peace through a negotiated two-state agreement.”

The overarching theme of the campaign against AIPAC has been the blatant use of a double standard to judge those who support the Jewish state. A prime example of how this plays out could be seen on MSNBC, where anchor Chris Hayes went on an all-out rant over how terrible it is for people who support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship to spend money on campaigns against those who do not.

Hayes’ basic argument is, more or less, that because AIPAC cares about one particular issue—i.e., the U.S.-Israel relationship—it offends his sense of fairness for them to criticize candidates who oppose that relationship on other unrelated issues, even if the attacks are justified.

In the six-minute piece, Hayes claimed it was “insidious” for AIPAC to ask if congressional candidate Summer Lee is an authentic Democrat by using her own statements against her. In theory, that should be fair game, since Lee has gone public with her desire to dismantle the Democratic Party. Hayes also noted with admiration that Lee was endorsed by Justice Democrats, a progressive PAC founded by former Sanders’ staffers, as if that should answer any questions about her record. Hayes also did not reveal that Justice Democrats revels in attacks on Democrats that it feels are not progressive enough. Nor did he take the opportunity to disclose that his own brother, Luke Hayes, works closely with the group, and has for quite some time.

It is, of course, legal and good strategy for advocacy groups to target candidates who disagree with them in any way that might be effective. That is why all of them do it and always have. Hayes and the others who attack AIPAC haven’t had a problem with it until now.

Indeed, we can see this by an examination of the very group Hayes praised in his monologue—Justice Democrats. In 2020, a Justice Democrats affiliate spent half a million dollars on ads that targeted then-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. Those ads, like AIPAC’s, were focused on whether or not the candidates were authentic Democrats. One, for instance, said that “Joe Biden agrees with Republicans that Social Security is too generous. Do you?” For the record, Biden has never called for his own party to be dismantled.

When it comes to tangential issues, again the Justice Democrats are instructive. They have a robust platform, but LGBT rights and abortion do not appear on it. Still, they took out ads that blasted Biden as anti-gay (he isn’t) and anti-abortion (he isn’t). They didn’t do this because they believed that he was either of those things, or because they were issues their platform deemed a priority. They did it because they thought it could help them get their preferred candidate elected. Hayes, of course, had no problem with that, because it was done by a group he likes for a purpose he agrees with. That is the definition of a double standard.

Moreover, after the Hayes piece aired, Justice Democrats put out their own wildly offensive and inaccurate video about AIPAC, complete with the naked tokenism of a vehement anti-Israel narrator who says “as a Jew” a few times, just to let us know that it was alright for him to say such horrible things. But what else can you expect when leading politicians and mainstream media networks feel free to engage in all kinds of anti-Semitic rhetoric whenever they think it might be helpful?

Congressional resolutions are nice, but it is more important for leaders to call out anti-Semitism when it happens. You can disagree with AIPAC and lobby against them, but to single them out for opprobrium is discrimination—and wrong.

Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is an international lawyer and Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.

This article was originally published by Jewish Journal.

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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