The antisemitic war waged on AIPAC - analysis

There is no question that we need to see less money in American politics and that America would be better off with campaign finance laws more similar to Israel and Canada than its outrageous system.

 SENATE MAJORITY Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), serving at the time as minority leader, speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, 2020. (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
SENATE MAJORITY Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York), serving at the time as minority leader, speaks at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, 2020.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)

Why do Jews get so defensive when antisemites accuse Jews of controlling the media, financial institutions, governments, and other antisemitic tropes – accusations that might not seem offensive with no historical context? Because those accusations are meant to intimidate us into a corner where we withdraw our involvement in any issue.

That is exactly what is happening now with the appalling smear campaign against pro-Israel voters in the Democratic Party. Repeated accusations of overinfluencing, racism and other arguments meant to push AIPAC out of primary elections are viciously hurled, meant to silence pro-Israel voters.

To be clear: AIPAC did not used to be a PAC (Political Action Committee). AIPAC was a grassroots organization that served as a unifying voice for pro-Israel voters across America. Even as AIPAC gathered tens of thousands of supporters of Israel, there were antisemites like John Mearsheimer (author of the infamous book The Israel Lobby) who went out of their way to accuse AIPAC of over influencing American politics).

Recently, AIPAC branched out and also opened a formal PAC that would raise money and support pro-Israel candidates. Progressives from the Bernie Sanders camp, who have been doing well for themes primarying and unseating incumbents, were appalled to see someone was winning them at their own game, which is when they began to look for scapegoats. When Sanders surrogate Nina Turner lost to Shontel Brown in OH-11 (Cleveland area), she blamed “evil money” for her loss, despite outspending her opponent and leading a crashing campaign that lost twice.

Like mushrooms after rain, tropes about Jews using money and influence to produce unfair outcomes became louder and louder. The New York Times, speaking to Jeremy Ben Ami, wrote: “Ben-Ami, of J Street, saw a pattern: ‘There seems to be something particularly on the line for some parts of the Jewish community when women of color speak out,’ he said.” In races, when two women of color ran against each other, AIPAC and its supporters were accused of racism despite their preferred candidate also being a woman of color.

Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, US, March 25, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, US, March 25, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

Plagues in American politics

To be clear: there is no question that the American political system is plagued with permissive campaign finance laws that allow money to have too much undue influence on our politics. That is exactly how Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and his allies got ahead in many primaries.

That is why Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan gets less than 10% of her donations from inside her state and why Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York gets less than 20% of her campaign donations from inside New York – the state that she is supposed to represent. Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota rely heavily on California-based donors.

There is no question that we need to see less money in American politics and that America would be better off with campaign finance laws more similar to Israel and Canada than its current outrageous system. As a progressive on many issues from healthcare for all and support of guns for none, I will say this: if you are more concerned by money donated by pro-Israel groups than you are by money coming from big pharma, banks, automakers, real estate lobbies, health insurance companies, Amazon’s lobbying, and other narrow interest groups, it is not about money in politics. Those crying foul about AIPAC’s PAC political donations, while silent on the other, are using antisemitic tropes with a dark history to silence and malign pro-Israel groups.

Some Jews might agree with AIPAC’s advocacy, while others disagree. Yet all Jews must call out the antisemitic slurs, dog whistles and tropes used to silence AIPAC and pro-Israel voters. From allegations of racism to accusations of buying power, we must call out this vile bigotry for what it is.

The writer is an eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network.