The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a uniquely American
organization supported by the majority of American Jews, is the most important
global Jewish association engaged in Israel advocacy.
Jews on the far
Left, like those associated with J Street, an organization created with the sole
objective of discrediting AIPAC, seek to besmirch it. They accuse its leaders of
being partisan right-wing extremists out of sync with the attitudes of the
majority of American Jews.
On Sunday, Amos Oz, the talented Israeli
author whose political sophistication regrettably does not match his literary
talent, told the J Street Conference: “I have been waiting for you all my adult
life” and condemned AIPAC for being “militant,” “extremist” and “hawkish.” Other
detractors, highlighted by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book
Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy
, accuse AIPAC of imposing “a stranglehold on
US Congress” and distorting American foreign policy.
groups also try to demonize the organization, which is committed to their
security and wellbeing. Former Meretz minister Yossi Sarid recently
remarked pathetically that “AIPAC is a hostile organization: Those Jews are
endangering our lives here, now more than ever. If only they would leave us
alone, if only they would stick to their own affairs and release us from the
punishment of their support... Why do you insist on being portrayed as the ones
who are pushing your country into another war? Why are you doing this to
yourselves? ...Is it right for you to once again reawaken the question of dual
Most Israelis would dismiss such remarks as demented
Founded in 1963, AIPAC has blossomed into a 100,000-strong
grass-roots movement. Over 13,000 Jews travelled from every corner of the United
States to attend its annual conference last month – hardly indicative of a
right-wing fringe group. While representing a wide spectrum of political views,
ironically, most supporters would probably be considered liberals and supporters
of the Democratic Party rather than “conservatives.” Indeed, retiring chairman
Lee Rosenberg was one of President Barack Obama’s leading Jewish
What binds AIPAC supporters together is a love and passion
for the Jewish state. With one exception, it rigidly adhered to the formula of
“we support the policies of the government democratically elected by the people
of Israel.” A substantial proportion of participants at the conference,
including 1,600 student activists, are enthusiastic and committed young American
Jews, exposing the absurdity of claims that most young American Jews have turned
against Jewish state.
The 13,000 participants queued up for hours to gain
entry to individual sessions and hear speeches and evaluations presented by a
wide variety of personalities, including the president of the United States, the
prime minister of Israel, leading presidential candidates and diverse experts
who updated them on Middle East developments. Over half of the US Congress was
present, surely a most impressive tribute to the relevance of the
The greatest achievement of AIPAC has been its ability to
effectively promote the policies of the elected Israeli government while
retaining bipartisan support. AIPAC does not directly contribute to or
endorse politicians but it does lobby on issues and legislation relevant to
Israel, as well as organize trips to Israel for policymakers and aspiring
political leaders. It has probably more effectively promoted the case for Israel
than all the local American and global Jewish organizations combined.
astonishing aspect of AIPAC is that hardly any outsiders would be able to
identify by name the retiring president or his successor or, for that matter,
its chief executive officer, Howard Kohr. That is because AIPAC concentrates
exclusively on its objectives rather than competing with other organizations or
seeking to obtain media coverage for its officers. Most of its lobbying
activities are not even publicized.
There were two occasions in the past
when AIPAC could be faulted. One was when a minority opposed the Rabin
government’s Oslo Accords. Even though many believe that their opposition was
subsequently vindicated and that Oslo has proved to be the source of most of our
current problems, it was utterly inappropriate for a Jewish Diaspora lobby group
to seek to influence or determine Israel policy. Fortunately this was a notable
exception and never recurred.
The other was in April 2005 when the AIPAC
board fired two of their long-standing and devoted officials, Stephen Rosen and
Keith Weissman, whom the FBI sought to entrap for having allegedly passed on
classified information to Israel. All charges against them were subsequently
dropped but the failure of the AIPAC board to stand by their employees left a
The powerful campaign to discredit AIPAC by far-left Jews
including J Street, George Soros, Peter Beinart and all the darlings of the
American left-liberal media failed abjectly. Despite immense media coverage, J
Street was marginalized and other than naïve fellow travelers, its members
consist primarily of hard-core anti-Israeli Leftists. Even J Street’s initial
protégé, the Obama administration, was obliged to distance itself. In
fact J Street effectively strengthened AIPAC because their supporters became
more resolute in their commitment as they faced onslaught from these parties and
the liberal media.
The toughest trial for AIPAC was the painful
confrontation between Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and the newly elected
Obama administration. The initial hostility directed against the Israeli
government led to unprecedented attacks on AIPAC, including allegations that it
was encouraging American Jews to transfer their loyalties to a reactionary
foreign government which purportedly obstructed a peaceful settlement of the
Arab-Israeli conflict. The repeated clashes between Obama and Netanyahu
threatened to undermine AIPAC’s grass-roots support and undercut the bipartisan
support for Israel which had been nurtured over the years.
the challenges by remaining “cool” but committed to its core pro-Israel
objective, circumventing stands on overall settlement policies, avoiding direct
confrontations with the administration and quietly concentrating on promoting
the positive aspects of Israeli policy.
Despite the fierce hostility
directed against it by farleft Jewish groups and the liberal media, notably The
New York Times
, AIPAC actually increased its support levels among Jews and
successfully encouraged many non-Jews such as Christian evangelicals, African-
Americans, Latinos and student activists to become directly involved and even
attend their conferences. In a demographic environment where the Jewish
proportion of the population is shrinking, the strengthening of such alliances
was an important step forward.
No one can predict the outcome of the
Iranian threat. However, it is undeniable that AIPAC played an immensely
important role in cajoling the Obama administration to adopt a more aggressive
stance in relation to sanctions and obtain recognition that Israel is entitled
to defend itself from a nuclear Iran. If the Iranian situation is resolved in
the absence of war, AIPAC will deserve much of the credit.
All in all,
AIPAC has emerged as the most effective political lobby group on the American
scene and must be commended for its outstanding achievements. But none of this
could have been accomplished had there been any substance to the repeated
mantras chanted by the anti-Israeli Left claiming that the Jewish community and
in particular young Jews have become alienated from the Jewish state.
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