Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yossi Shain wrote an op-ed for Ynet lauding the Trump administration for its support of Israel and claiming that AIPAC is no longer needed to shore up the US-Israel relationship. I couldn’t help but think how short-sighted that vision is. A stable, long-term US-Israel relationship cannot depend on two people, no matter how well placed they may be. Rather, it must be a bipartisan effort that involves Congress as well as the administration, Democrats as well as Republicans.
Pro-Israel activists must never be complacent as a result of the current friendliness between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – we must understand that neither of these men will be in office forever. Besides, the good relations we see today are the result of decades of lobbying and advocacy work. Rather than dismantle America’s pro-Israel lobby, we must lay the groundwork now for a long future of close American-Israeli partnership.
While it is true that Trump has prioritized a stronger relationship between the US and Israel, we would be remiss to ignore the decades of AIPAC’s work that paved the way toward recent breakthroughs. Trump’s promises to review and revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “Iran deal”) were a direct result of AIPAC’s work in critically analyzing the deal and helping the American public understand its flaws. Moreover, the basis for diplomacy with Iran in the first place is the regime of sanctions that brought Iranian leaders to the negotiating table – sanctions that are the fruit of AIPAC’s labor over the decades.
Other steps that Trump has taken – both announcing the beginning of the process of moving the American embassy to the eternal Jewish capital city of Jerusalem and holding the Palestinian leadership accountable for policies that harm the prospects for peace – have also accrued support from American politicians on both sides of the aisle as a result of many years of AIPAC’s efforts. Although Israelis can be appreciative of Trump’s decision to implement these policies, we should not forget the decades of public and private advocacy work that culminated in these important steps.
Shain is also woefully misguided if he believes that Congress, which is AIPAC’s primary strategic focus, is suddenly now irrelevant to American foreign policy. Congress forms the backbone of the US-Israel alliance. It is up to Congress to pass sanctions legislation, to allocate funding for foreign aid, and even, if necessary, to declare war. While the president’s foreign policy role is of course primary, the legal essence of the partnership between America and Israel emerges from Congress.
Moreover, whereas presidents have term limits, members of Congress often serve for decades, and Congress as a whole is less liable to radically change policies from one year to the next, especially on issues of foreign affairs. The precedent set by presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as well as Barack Obama, suggests that, over the course of an administration, even presidents who campaigned as pro-Israel candidates can become less supportive over time. Therefore, although a good rapport between the American and Israeli executives is vitally important, the most serious, sustainable work in support of a permanent US-Israel relationship must take place in Congress, where AIPAC thrives and Trump, even with his partisan majority, does not.
Finally, the importance of bipartisanship in maintaining the US-Israel relationship cannot be overstated. AIPAC has been successful because it has consistently worked with both major political parties, regardless of which party held the Oval Office at any given time. America is increasingly polarized, and if the US-Israel relationship comes to be seen as a Trump-specific initiative, it will lose the support of the Democrats, who will feel no obligation to continue what they see as Trump’s agenda as soon as they regain political power down the line.
For those of us who are passionate about the US-Israel relationship, and want it to last from generation to generation, it is important that we not rely on one party. Rather, we must work hard to maintain the support of both parties, so that no matter who is in power Israel will be able to count on American support.
Those who celebrate Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as genuine supporters of Israel and champions of the US-Israel relationship must not abandon AIPAC and its long-term, Congress-centered, bipartisan approach.
This is indeed a positive moment for the US-Israel relationship. We should take the opportunity to invest all the more in AIPAC and stabilizing the relationship for decades to come.The author is a licensed tour guide living in Jerusalem.