The 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference wrapped up yesterday in Washington, D.C. Considered the top annual gathering for pro-Israel activists, countless synagogues and on-campus Hillel chapters across the nation send representatives to the Policy Conference each year.
Although Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is organizationally larger, AIPAC is oftentimes considered more powerful and influential for at least three reasons. First, it is wealthier. Second, it is more closely associated with the American Jewish community, which remains the traditional — though, by no means whatsoever, the future — bastion of American pro-Israel sympathy. Third, in contrast to the more conservative-leaning and Republican Party-friendly CUFI, AIPAC’s entire raison d’être is to protect and promote bipartisan support for the Jewish state.
It is the third plank — bipartisan support for Israel — that forms the true backbone of AIPAC’s institutional identity. Paradoxically, however, it is also the plank that makes the future of AIPAC the murkiest.
As I wrote earlier this month, the Democratic Party — the political party of Harry Truman, who first recognized the fledgling Zionist state in May 1948 — is quickly and irrevocably transmogrifying into an institutionally anti-Israel, anti-Jewish party:
Tough as it may be for inveterate leftist Jews to process, true Corbynization — the metastasization of the once-pro-Israel Democratic Party into a U.K. Labour Party-esque leftist outfit that routinely shills for Jew-haters — continues apace. How far — and how quickly — we have fallen from Islamic Republic of Iran Sycophant-in-Chief Barack Obama’s egregious description of a 2015 Parisian kosher supermarket shooting executed by Islamic State jihadis as “a bunch of folks [randomly shot] in a deli.” Four years later, Obama’s party cannot bring itself to support a toothless, anodyne, non-personalized resolution that is merely condemnatory of the world’s oldest, bloodiest, crudest, most systemic bigotry.
The central tension inherent in AIPAC’s over-arching purpose — the maintenance of bipartisan support for the Jewish state in a world in which one of America’s two political parties is quickly approaching something closely akin to full-on BDS advocacy — has therefore long been apparent to savvy observers. The rise of J Street, the wildly anti-Israel agitprop outfit that farcically summons the chutzpah to dub itself “pro-Israel,” has long provided breathing room on the American Left for the percolation and normalization of “anti-Zionism”-masquerading Jew-hatred. The rise of J Street’s clout on the Left has transpired in close tandem with the rise of the progressive base’s inherently anti-Semitic “intersectionality” cult of faux-intellectual doltishness. It should thus be little surprise that, for a political movement for whom such Jew-haters as Linda Sarsour and Ilhan Omar serve as the new “it girls,” it is now de rigueur for the movement’s presidential contenders to forswear attendance at AIPAC’s Policy Conference.
And yet AIPAC is hardly a particularly conservative group. Indeed, many of us in the more traditional, Eretz Yisrael-inspired camp of Zionism tend to view AIPAC as a nuisance at best and a counterproductive gadfly at worst. AIPAC stubbornly continues to lend de facto support to the Oslo Accords — the single biggest geopolitical blunder in Israel’s national history. Two bloody intifadas, countless thousands killed by Islamist extremism, and one outrageous Gaza unilateral withdrawal later, AIPAC continues to support a “two-state solution” entailing the carving out of a new PLO terrorist state somewhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. AIPAC’s institutionally self-aggrandizing support of mass U.S. military aid to Israel, furthermore, actually redounds against the long-term interests of Zionism.
AIPAC’s dilemma is thus real. Caught in the middle between an increasingly “anti-Zionist” Democratic Party and a Republican Party with many passionate Zionist supporters whose views on Jewish rights in the Jews’ homeland of Judea and Samaria do not align with the horrifically failed vision of Oslo, it is not immediately obvious what role AIPAC serves in the year 2019.
Consider the following conclusion of Jeff Ballabon, written at Tablet in July 2016 around a year after AIPAC’s catastrophic failed attempt to kill the affirmatively evil capitulation to fundamentalist jihadism commonly known as the “Iran nuclear deal”:
The pro-Israel community should push AIPAC to reposition itself with a clear eye on contemporary reality. AIPAC can best serve the pro-Israel cause by redeploying its formidable assets to help pro-Israel, national-security-conscious Democrats defeat the anti-Israel progressives ascendant in their party — certainly the most effective way to ensure continued bipartisan support for Israel. New organizations promoting policy innovation and adaptive political strategies must also enter the pro-Israel market, however, to address challenges, push policies, and forge alliances on behalf of Israel that run counter to AIPAC’s strategic approach and the preferences of its members. AIPAC’s directors and customers — i.e., the Jewish community’s leading philanthropists and the grassroots activists who genuinely want to protect Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship — should accept nothing less.
Ballabon is right to encourage the rise of “[n]ew organizations” to enter the “pro-Israel market.” (Jexodus, perhaps?) And cynically, it does perhaps seem that the best present function of AIPAC is to serve as a (much) less awful outlet than J Street, for purposes of Democratic political fealty. To AIPAC’s credit, it is increasingly focusing on the need for progressive outreach. Finally, there are also external third-party actors seeking to retain some degree of pro-Israel support within the Democratic flank.
But as the two political parties drift even farther apart on U.S.-Israel relations, AIPAC’s central tension may become unsustainable. And as much as true Eretz Yisrael-inspired Zionists (including yours truly) may look scornfully upon AIPAC, a possible future demise of AIPAC would likely only buttress J Street.
That should scare everyone.