Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC , produced its usual successful annual Policy Conference this week, bringing some 18,000 bipartisan supporters of Israel together in Washington, it is necessary to ask how this gathering differ from all other AIPAC parleys.
According to several important surveys, the year 2017 may be marked as a “perfect storm” for Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, generated by differing perceptions among the communities regarding both their own identities and bilateral relations.
A report, for example, by the nonpartisan Reut Institute this month – under the title “The Future of the Nation State of the Jewish People: Consolidation or Rupture? – warns that unless Israel changes certain outdated mindsets and working assumptions, it risks ceasing to function as the national home of the Jewish people.
In addition to the AIPAC conference, this year will see the convergence of major Zionist events including the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the 50th anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. The latter will mark the liberation of Jerusalem as well as half a century of Israeli control over the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria, with no resolution of the conflict in sight.
No less a personage than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a speech at the conference that included the full text of a J Street letter – signed by 191 members of Congress, mostly Democrats – that urges President Donald Trump to support a two-state solution.
The J Street letter accuses the Trump administration and its support by the Netanyahu government of being “likely to place most American Jews and the Israeli government on two different sides of the political arena,” warning that Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the US.
The Reut report issued a similar warning. “Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is taken for granted, but the reality is that this has changed in the last few years,” Naama Klar, managing director of the Reut Institute, told The Jerusalem Post. “There is a problem and it’s our problem,” she asserted, warning that if certain questions are not asked by Israeli leaders and members of society, “we are on a destructive trajectory.”
Among recent Pew Research Institute studies, one found that, while Israeli Jews are skeptical that they can peacefully coexist with an independent Palestinian state, most American Jews are optimistic that a two-state solution is possible. On settlement building, for example, while the prevailing view among Israeli Jews is that they enhance Israel’s security, American Jews are more likely to say the opposite.
Another difference dividing the two communities is how each perceives the biggest problem facing Israel – a perception that defies the common wisdom. Pew found that roughly equal ratios of Israeli Jews cite economic issues (39%) and security (38%) as the biggest long-term challenges to the country. However, only 1% of US Jews cite the economy, while 66% of American Jews think it’s security.
A more distressing finding is that, while similar numbers of Republicans and Democrats have sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians ever since the late 1970s, today 74% of Republicans sympathize more with Israel, compared to only 33% of Democrats.
Even worse: For the first time Democrats are now almost equally split between sympathizing more with Israel (33%) and with the Palestinians (31%).
Pew ominously also reported that “While conservative Republicans favored Israel by a 44-point margin in 2001, the margin is now 70 points. And while liberal Democrats favored Israel by 30 points at the turn of the century, they now favor the Palestinians by 12 points.
American partisan politics are traditionally supposed to “stop at the water’s edge” with regard to Israel.
This year’s AIPAC conference indeed brought out bipartisan support, featuring cheerleading speeches by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer. But it is now Israel’s time to decide, while we still have bipartisan support in the US, on a policy that shows the world where we want to go as a government and a state.