The master of ceremonies at Monday night’s AIPAC gala, introducing hundreds of
leading American senators and members of Congress to 13,000 enthusiastic Israel
supporters, joked that “the chosen people” were now encountering “the elected
This AIPAC Israel love-fest, more freewheeling and fun carnival
than dark political conspiracy, highlighted the deep, enduring, constructive
friendship between the United States and Israel.
Washington’s packed Convention Center, seeing so many manifestations of the
extraordinary American-Israel bond, I was struck yet again by how hard Israel’s
enemies – call them the benighted people – work to hijack the debate and rob us
of anything good. The harshness of the criticism polarizes the debate and
inflames the region, making these people, who call themselves progressives, a
destructive, reactionary force advancing war, not peace, unreason, not reason,
hurting all involved, damaging their supposedly beloved Palestinians as well as
their intended target, the Jews, er, Israelis.
You feel the poison in the
exaggerated attacks on AIPAC and the American-Israel friendship. The notion that
these two countries might have a natural alliance, reflecting shared values and
common interests, is too threatening to the Israel bashers, these Islamist
fellow travelers. So they concoct a claim echoing longstanding anti-Semitic
fears of Jewish power and attribute this authentic friendship to the supposedly
all-powerful, mythical, mystical Jewish lobby. To mask charges of anti-Semitism,
they call it “the Israel Lobby,” but the effect is the same. They are
caricaturing the relationship as artificial, not organic, Astroturf, not
grassroots, imposed from without by these alien forces, not generated from
within by these similar ideals and pressing needs.
The bashers also take
all that is good in Israel and try turning it into something manipulative and
nefarious. Unable to process the contradictions between their liberal positions
on gay rights and women and Palestinian homophobia and sexism, they try
diminishing Israel’s moral stature on that front. The result is the ridiculous
“pinkwashing charge,” another attempt to rob Israel of its ethical advantage by
claiming that Israel’s progressive position on homosexuality is a propaganda
move to divert attention from the Palestinian problem.
environment, denying any genuine friendship between Israel and its allies,
negating any possible good that comes from the Jewish state, provides the
traction needed to attack Israel’s existence. Or to use the language of former
British prime minister Tony Blair, in an extraordinary speech he delivered in
Herzliya on August 24, 2010, calling it a “democratic duty to counter
delegitimization of Israel,” “soft” delegitimization encourages “hard,” violent
delegitimization of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The soft form, Blair explained,
“is a conscious or often unconscious resistance, sometimes bordering on refusal,
to accept Israel has a legitimate point of view,” for example, criticizing
Israel for acts of self-defense every other nation would undertake when
Blair called this form “insidious, harder to spot, harder to
anticipate and harder to deal with, because many of those engaging in it, will
fiercely deny they are doing so. It is this form that is in danger of growing,
and whose impact is potentially highly threatening, in part because it isn’t
This form, often masked in the language of human rights,
catapults Israel bashers from Lobbylibels and false “pinkwashing” claims to
apartheid weeks and racism charges to the Turkish premier’s latest rant calling
Zionism “a crime against humanity.”
It is easy, when enduring this kind
of unrelenting attack, to succumb to bitterness, to sacrifice nuance, to squelch
all dissent. This is why I warn about the Israel Exaggeration Factor; that our
enemies’ hysterical attacks risk inducing equally hysterical responses –
although we must be careful, while being self-critical, to reject any
suggestions of moral equivalence. I might criticize some partisans who take an
Israel-right-or-wrong stance, but we cannot compare them to those evil
extremists who take an Israel-can-do-no-right and has-no-right-toexist stance.
We must distinguish between defending a democracy, with all its flaws, and
comparing it to totalitarianism, marinating in evil.
opposite occurs, again and again: the vitality of Israel eclipses the evil of
As a result, the Zionist movement does not simply “not
succumb to bitterness,” it celebrates life; at the AIPAC conference, throughout
the Jewish community, and in Israel everyday.
And someone like Tony Blair
joins many others in refusing to sacrifice nuance, never fearing to criticize
Israel regarding all kinds of policies while refusing to join the
Hard-Left-European pile-on against Israel’s essence or existence. And Israel,
despite being the world’s most embattled democracy, is one of the world’s most
dynamic democracies, too – although wouldn’t it be great if someone could
explain to Israel’s police that, in the democratic spirit we champion, the
women’s prayer at the Western Wall next week on Rosh Hodesh Nisan should proceed
with no arrests. I still do not get what they arrest these women for: illegal
prayershawling? Unauthorized enveloping? All this does is embarrass Israel and
inflame the situation.
One of my fellow speakers at the AIPAC conference
approached me and asked “as an American historian – do you think the Founding
Fathers ever imagined this” – marveling at this uniquely democratic three-ring
circus, with 13,000 citizens, many from the world’s most hated minority uniting
with others from once-dominant majorities and equallyhated minorities, running
around America’s capital, hobnobbing with America’s leaders, serving as living
bridges between the global colossus America has become and the extraordinary
old-new state now flourishing in the once benighted Promised Land.
course not,” I replied. But the magic seeds of liberty, equality and democracy
the Framers planted had the extraordinary ability to exceed their imagination
and create an America of today far better than it was, populated and led by many
citizens who once lacked the most basic of rights, supporting an Israel that did
not even exist.
The author is professor of history at McGill University
and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow. He is the author, most
recently of Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism,
published by Oxford University Press.
Watch the new Moynihan’s Moment
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!