Last month, I published a piece, “How AIPAC Failed Us,” arguing that AIPAC misinforms the Orthodox Jewish community about its policies and practices in order to recruit members and fundraise. The following week, the paper published “In Defense of AIPAC” (DOA), which was signed by two distinguished rabbis based on information provided to them by AIPAC. There is no doubt that the rabbis mean well, but AIPAC, in my opinion, exploited their trust and reputations. That article should be preserved as Exhibit A of the deceptive messages AIPAC feeds our community.
Everything I write is from personal knowledge and is easily verifiable. Since I’m revealing what has been largely Washington-insider information, it’s been suggested that I should share a little of my background. After attending Ner Yisroel, Yeshiva University, and Yale Law School, I worked on Capitol Hill as counsel to U.S. Senator John Danforth (R-MO) and to the Senate Commerce Committee. For the past 20 years, I’ve been a professional lobbyist and communications strategist, both for clients and as senior management of national media companies, including CBS News. I hold appointments and leadership positions at a number of national policy organizations and foreign-policy think tanks. I am of counsel to a Washington, DC public-interest law firm that represents the State of Israel in international tribunals, and where I fight BDS. As a lobbyist, I successfully represented victims of Palestinian terror against the State Department and defeated a plan which would have divided Jerusalem, lobbying against the State Department—and AIPAC. I plan to post this article (and the previous ones), with supporting links backing every point, at www.IronDomeAlliance.com.
Let’s start with a revolutionary but obvious truth: AIPAC is not Israel. AIPAC is an establishment American-Jewish organization with its own agenda. Given that reality, it actually would be strange if there weren’t a significant gap between the Orthodox community’s overall outlook and that of AIPAC.
For example, in December 2013, when Obama’s plans for Israel and Iran were clear to all, AIPAC called a special meeting of the Conference of Presidents to demand that Jewish groups stop criticizing Barack Obama. AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr declared at that meeting that AIPAC and Obama share the “same goals” and have only “a difference of strategy.” I don’t share Obama’s goals. Nor, I believe, do most Orthodox Jews.
Is it possible that AIPAC didn’t really mean they share Obama’s goals and AIPAC’s silencing of Jewish criticism was a purely tactical move? Sure. If so, it was a tactic that spectacularly failed.
But it does seem to be ideology more than ineptness. In the words of one veteran House chief of staff after reading my article, “My colleagues in Israel would affirm that AIPAC no longer advocates for Israel in Washington [but] rather pushes the Obama agenda in Israel.” In my experience that’s right…but it certainly isn’t what AIPAC tells our community.
DOA made four arguments. Let’s evaluate them:
1. AIPAC and Bipartisanship. Every lobby in Washington wants to achieve as much real bipartisanship as possible. Yet, whether it’s the NRA (pro-gun), Planned Parenthood (pro-abortion), Chamber of Commerce (pro-business), United Federation of Teachers (pro-union), or any other issue, it is obvious that it matters to them which party controls Congress and each fights actively to make sure the ‘right’ side wins. “Control matters” isn’t partisan; it’s Lobbying 101. AIPAC’s mantra that it makes no difference to Israel who controls the White House or Congress isn’t “bipartisanship”; it’s absurd.
Do I want to see the Republicans in control of Washington? You bet I do. Not because of “partisanship,” but because it’s a matter of survival for Israel. If that changes, I’ll be fighting for the Democrats to take control.
But it won’t change anytime soon—not any more than guns or abortion or business or unions. The Democratic party is overwhelmingly split between liberals whose support for Israel is predicated on creating a Palestinian state, and progressives for whom the Jewish state is irredeemably racist and criminally colonial.
It’s obvious that control matters and it’s obvious which party is more pro-Israel. AIPAC’s phony version of “bipartisanship” is precisely why it fails as a lobby when the chips are down. Democrats know that AIPAC will protect them because AIPAC is a Jewish group whose base has Democratic loyalties for reasons having nothing to do with Israel.
To its eternal shame, in order to protect that illusion, AIPAC told Democrats that it won’t score the Iran vote as a vote against Israel. And AIPAC already is busy pushing inconsequential ‘consensus’ legislation to rehabilitate Democrats’ “pro-Israel” status and making sure money continues to flow to the same Democrats who stabbed Israel in her back in her time of greatest need. That’s not bipartisan support for Israel; that’s selling out Israel.
Which brings me to DOA’s next argument.
2. AIPAC and Money. DOA makes the astonishing claim that AIPAC isn’t involved in directing support for political candidates. Setting aside the issue of AIPAC’s track record for actually staying within the law, DOA’s response is misleading, and assumes the reader to be stunningly naive.
AIPAC’s influence on money via the PACs and bundling operations run by AIPAC members is the worst-kept secret in Washington. In fact, you can find it on Wikipedia, which describes the entire rationale for AIPAC’s existence. According to former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine’s playbook: “While AIPAC would not be able to deliver significant numbers of Jewish voters…it could deliver campaign contributions…”
Or see AIPAC’s own website for the example of AIPAC’s “Congressional Club” for individuals who pledge to give annual minimums in direct political contributions. As Foreign Policy reported only last month, AIPAC relies on “an army of bundlers to funnel money to candidates and party committees.”
Recently, I met with a businessman from our community who wanted advice on how to respond to AIPAC’s request that he organize a massive fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. AIPAC’s request came just two days after Mrs. Clinton gave the knife in Israel’s back a twist by taking credit for being the mastermind behind the Iran Deal.
AIPAC is most definitely involved in the money end of politics; but the real problem is where the money goes and why. As former AIPAC policy director Steve Rosen said the very same week that DOA appeared in this paper, “There is no question AIPAC lay-leaders will in the future be holding fundraisers for Democrats who voted for the Iran deal.”
Why shouldn’t Democrats vote against Israel in its time of greatest need when they know AIPAC will cover for them and keep the money flowing regardless of how they vote?
3. AIPAC and Policy. DOA next claims that AIPAC would never take a position in opposition to the government of Israel. But I already pointed in my first article to a recent case—last year’s reversal on Iran sanctions—where AIPAC publicly did exactly that, lobbying directly against Israel.
Here’s another rather significant example, courtesy of the Zionist Organization of America: “AIPAC has always said that it supports the policies of the Israeli government, but it now supports a Palestinian state while the Netanyahu government has taken no such position. On other occasions, it is also true that AIPAC has not supported Israel’s policies. For example, when Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir asked AIPAC to support the right of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria, AIPAC refused.”
Speaking of Judea and Samaria, DOA asserts that I wasn’t telling the truth when I wrote that AIPAC takes congressmen to Ramallah to hear Palestinian propaganda and then refuses to take them to Jewish Judea and Samaria. I’ve invited the rabbis to Washington to hear it for themselves from some of the many congressmen and staffers who have experienced it. Meanwhile, to get a sense of AIPAC’s views, here’s an experiment you can try at home: Go to www.aipac.org. Search “Judea and Samaria.” Then search “West Bank.” Now go to www.zoa.org and do the same searches. You’ll get the picture.
4. AIPAC and America. The most treacherous of AIPAC’s claims, and one that does incalculable harm to Israel, is DOA’s fourth argument: that it is “because of AIPAC” that Americans support Israel and specifically that it is due to AIPAC that Americans opposed the Iran Deal. The idea that the Jews and their lobby are behind America’s support for Israel may feed egos and line AIPAC’s pockets, but it is straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
To briefly state the obvious: (1) Even using the most expansive definition of “Jewish,” Jews are less than 2% of the U.S. population. (2) The majority of American Jews don’t consider Israel’s wellbeing a major priority, placing it well below issues like abortion, income inequality, global warming, etc., or are anti-Israel by any reasonable definition. (3) The false narrative that support for Israel is primarily a Jewish/AIPAC issue restrains the true dominant American pro-Israel base (peace-through-strength and Christian conservatives) from asserting its own ideas and leadership. (4) While this favorite AIPAC propaganda does nothing to help Israel, it insults those in Washington who support Israel out of conviction and validates all the worst anti-Semitic, anti-Israel libels of excessive Jewish money, power, influence, and manipulation as the source for American support of Israel.
The American public’s rejection of the Iran deal has little (if anything at all) to do with AIPAC—many of whose leaders joined the Israeli left to criticize Bibi for taking Israel’s case directly to America via his address to Congress. It is, however, a sign of the tremendous gap between AIPAC’s reputation as a lobbying titan and the reality of its inability to deliver when the chips are down, that they couldn’t even get Senate Democrats to support Israel—a Democratic ally with a 72% favorable rating among Americans—against an unpopular deal with Iran—a jihadi terror sponsor with an 84% unfavorable rating.
In short, DOA’s four claims are a combination of outright lies and intentional distortions—and precisely the kind of misleading propaganda that AIPAC has been using to woo Orthodox Jews.
For those who still aren’t convinced, however, I leave you with this comforting thought. Don’t worry too much about AIPAC. Another little Washington secret is that when Israel loses big, AIPAC wins big. AIPAC already is exploiting their Iran Deal loss and expecting a huge fundraising windfall as a result. “This fight has been good for AIPAC in that it brought in a lot of money,” Steve Rosen told ForeignPolicy last month. Estimates are that AIPAC hopes to jump from a $120M annual budget to at least $140M and maybe as much as over $200M as a direct result of the Iran Deal fiasco. That’s what happens you have a monopoly. Meanwhile, in Washington, the professionals shake their head in wonder at the rubes. You hear it often in politics, but never more than these past weeks: “I don’t get it; I thought Jews were smart.”
You don’t have to be a political insider to know that if you hired a lobbyist to save your company and instead ended up with the disastrous results AIPAC delivered on the Iran Deal, you’d be in the market for a new lobbyist with a new plan, not doubling down on failure.
If you were satisfied with AIPAC’s results, if you believe it doesn’t matter to Israel who runs Washington, if you feel that money should keep flowing to those who voted for the Iran Deal, if you think Jewish families in Efrat, Tekoah, and Bet El are the problem and the solution is a PLO state, then you probably should support AIPAC.
If not, I invite you to join the Iron Dome Alliance.