I know many Jews from the older (than me) generation whose response to political issues was: “Is it good for the Jews?” The younger generations viewed this as myopic and anachronistic. Elderly Jews were particularistic; the younger “enlightened” Jews were universalistic.
Many conservative Jews of all ages have become increasingly like their grandparents. Throughout the Trump administration, they could set aside his transgressions because he was in their view the most pro-Israel president in history. Dayenu.
Now we have the controversy over AIPAC and its newly created political action committees. AIPAC members always knew who to support without guidance, so a PAC seemed unnecessary. With changes in election laws and the ability to fund super PACs, however, the opportunity to influence elections more directly with its potential war chest apparently convinced the organization’s board to create vehicles for raising money for campaigns. No doubt AIPAC was also motivated by the success of J Street, which contributed more money to candidates in the 2020 election cycle than any other “pro-Israel” PAC and uses some of its resources to back anti-Israel candidates like Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).
When AIPAC (I’m using AIPAC as shorthand for its PACs) announced its first 120 endorsements, it attracted scorn because the list included 37 Republicans who voted against certifying Joe Biden as president. Strangely, the very pro-Israel Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who rejected “the big lie,” was not on the list.
The organization’s response to critics was that it is a one-issue lobby, and anything unrelated to the U.S.-Israel relationship is irrelevant to its mission. This seemed like an invitation for being accused of dual loyalty, as the group was essentially saying that it did not care if it was supporting candidates viewed by many as undermining American democracy so long as they were—Dayenu—pro-Israel.
This reminded me of what my boss used to tell me when I worked at AIPAC many moons ago and disagreed with a position we were taking. He would patiently explain that AIPAC was not a protest movement.
As AIPAC’s defenders point out, candidates take positions on many issues that are controversial, but AIPAC can’t determine its endorsements based on their views on abortion, gun control, the environment or any issues unrelated to Israel, or they would be paralyzed. Critics counter that supporting people who undermine our democracy is different, as they are threatening the American way of life. Maybe, but is AIPAC supporting the “big liars” really going to undermine our democracy? AIPAC is just one of many campaign contributors, and if it wants to have friends in Congress, then it needs to be loyal to them.
Furthermore, AIPAC insists that the pro-Israel community cannot be too selective about its friends. It’s a choice between doing what is necessary to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship, and standing against unsavory politicians and those whose policies on other issues are objectionable. It’s a Faustian bargain that many Jews are willing to make to ensure Israel’s security and, one could argue, contributes to the welfare of American Jews who are increasingly threatened by the normalization of anti-Semitism by the radical members of Congress in both parties whose leaders have failed to censure them.
“Why are we so single-minded?” AIPAC’s leaders asked in an email to supporters. “Because no one else is. There will always be major issues that divide Americans. Israel’s enemies don’t wait for America to sort out our politics. They didn’t wait in 1948, nor in 1973, nor to this day. Israel needs America in its corner, always.”
The greatest hypocrites are the J Streeters who are attacking AIPAC. The objective of their organization, which speciously claims to speak for most American Jews, is to undermine Israeli democracy. By contrast, AIPAC does not believe in substituting its judgment for the will of the Israeli people who democratically elect the politicians who determine the nation’s policies. J Street is not interested in helping Israel or strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship; its goal is to create a J Street-U.S. relationship where the Street dictates to U.S. officials what it believes Israeli policy should be. J Street wants America to pressure Israel to accept the policies of the undemocratic and unelected American kibitzers pontificating from the safety of their homes 6,000 miles away while Israelis are burying their dead from the latest paroxysm of terror from the people J Street believes should be appeased.
Moreover, while J Streeters and other liberals have bemoaned what they believe was the abandonment of the historic bipartisan support for Israel during Trump’s term by pro-Israel advocates who found common cause with Republicans, they have no interest whatsoever in bipartisanship as evident from the fact that J Street only contributes to Democratic candidates.
Meanwhile, AIPAC only stoked more consternation by endorsing 27 politicians who supported the Iran nuclear deal. Even many of AIPAC’s supporters were stupefied that AIPAC would contribute to Congress members who were on the wrong side of the most important issue on its agenda and the Israeli government’s top priority. This isn’t surprising, however, given that many of the people who voted for the original 2015 nuclear deal did so to support their party’s leader at the time: President Barack Obama. Those members have otherwise been very pro-Israel. Support for these candidates shows that AIPAC is not expecting blind loyalty from its friends, as it is often accused, for which it should be applauded rather than denigrated.
J Street is probably most concerned with the fact that AIPAC’s contributions will dwarf theirs. J Street contributed nearly $2.7 million in the 2020 election cycle. In just a few months, AIPAC has raised $1.67 million for its PAC, and another $1 million for direct contributions to candidates. In addition, AIPAC has already given $8.5 million to its super PAC—the United Democracy Project—which does not mention Israel in its mission statement and its name (many pro-Israel PACs do the same). This was just the first tranche of contributions; presumably, there will be more.
Electing pro-Israel candidates may be more important than ever before as the anti-Israel “Squad” seeks to expand; anti-Semitism is tolerated by Congress; Biden appeases Iran; U.S. State Department Arabists reassert their influence and seek to redivide Jerusalem and undermine Israel’s security by adopting the discredited “evenhandedness” approach to the Palestinian issue; and the administration seeks to disengage from the Middle East. If AIPAC’s political action committees help pro-Israel candidates win elections, the pro-Israel community should say a collective Dayenu.