PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu waves at the crowd at the AIPAC Policy Conference in 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the countless AIPAC events that I have attended over the years, I have always admired the long disclaimer of neutrality that is read at the start of the program.
Just like every commercial for medicine on TV and every package of cigarettes has a disclaimer, so do AIPAC events.
“AIPAC is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee,” the disclaimer starts. “AIPAC is not a PAC. We are neither Democrat nor Republican. We are neither Likud, nor Labor. We do not support any political party in Israel or the US.”
This statement of neutrality is a really dull way to start an event, but it is actually the key to AIPAC’s success. While other pro-Israel movements have come and gone, AIPAC has only gotten stronger, and the growing number of attendees at their annual National Policy Conference in Washington testifies to that.
In an age where TV news channels and newspapers no longer make an effort to hide their political bias, AIPAC’s neutrality on internal US and Israeli politics has been absolutely refreshing. It also is exactly what is needed for Israel, whose bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and across the US is its top strategic asset.
That is why I was so dismayed to see AIPAC’s response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s successful move to encourage the religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi, National Union and Otzma Yehudit parties to run together in the April 9 Israeli elections.
“AIPAC has a long-standing policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party,” the organization said of Otzma Yehudit.
The reason why AIPAC felt compelled to release this statement is that Otzma Yehudit is made up of disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was deemed racist and outlawed by the Israeli High Court of Justice. While Rabbi Kahane must also be remembered for his positive work for encouraging aliyah from Russia, I also disagreed with his views on minorities.
As a proud religious Zionist, I believe that Israel has a religious obligation to treat its minorities well. Improving Israel’s image around the world is necessary to ensure its future in a world in which the battles fought on social media are just as important as those fought on the military battlefield.
But I am not AIPAC. I don’t have that disclaimer of neutrality stamped on me. And there are plenty of people like me who have political views. There is only one AIPAC.
We need AIPAC to have that neutrality in order to protect Israel from its critics on the extreme Left, extreme Right and everywhere in between.
The moment AIPAC puts itself on that map, it renders itself as irrelevant.
Those defending the AIPAC statement have said that it is no big deal, because they are just distancing themselves from a fringe party. But the world has not interpreted it that way.
Netanyahu’s name was not in their tweet, but Otzma Yehudit would have had little of chance of crossing the 3.25% electoral threshold and entering the Knesset if Netanyahu did not pressure the heads of Bayit Yehudi and the National Union to give the party slots on their joint list. Netanyahu made the move in order to prevent the loss of thousands of right-wing votes that would have been thrown out.
Though it was obviously not intentional, AIPAC was seen as criticizing Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and the Likud, the ruling party of Israel, which won a quarter of the Knesset seats in the 2015 election and current polls suggest that it will win at least that many this time around.
What kind of message does that send to the new members of Congress, the overwhelming majority of whom still have so much to learn about Israel and the Middle East?
I urge AIPAC to reconsider its decision to interfere in Israel’s democratic election. After all, who knows better than AIPAC how important Israel’s democracy is to the future of the Jewish state?
Perhaps the next time an AIPAC representative begins a parlor meeting, the disclaimer can say that AIPAC also stands for Avoiding Israeli Politics at All Costs.
The author is the co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity and serves as a committee member of the Jewish Agency. He can be reached at martinoliner@ gmail.com.
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