In Defense of AIPAC


380px-AIPAC_logo.svg In a recent edition of the New Yorker, in a piece entitled “Friends of Israel”, Connie Bruck poses the following question: “The lobbying group AIPAC has consistently fought the Obama Administration on policy. Is it now losing influence?”

Throughout her essay, her answer seems to be yes. But in fact, by her own reporting, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has been incredibly effective at securing funds for Israel in times of crisis. If anything, Bruck’s own analysis indicates that AIPAC is as effective as ever. (The fact that she felt compelled to write a 12-page spread and, further, that the New Yorker chose to publish her essay seems to indicate that AIPAC is as—if not more—relevant now than ever before.)

Having been involved with AIPAC since my junior year of high school—attending conferences and hearing with Senators, Congressmen and AIPAC staff about the political climate of the Middle East, participating in their “Engaging Washington From Abroad” program, and ultimately interning for their New York office this past summer—I feel quite familiar with the organization, its mission statements, and its goals.

Though there were a nearly incalculable number of sentences that I found to be blatantly false and misguided, the piece that offended me most about Bruck’s article was the notion that AIPAC is group of all likeminded people who are somehow a satellite for right-wing Israeli politicians, seeking to undermine President Obama. Far from being a group of identical individuals, AIPAC brings together people who sometimes have only one thing in common: a dedication to the preservation and growth of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

The first time I heard the term “occupied territories” I was at an AIPAC conference. I almost walked out of the room, not overly concerned that my abrupt exit might offend the speaker. Thankfully, my 16-year-old self had enough sense to sit down and listen to the rest of the lecture. Having been raised in a fairly right-wing home, in which the West Bank is referred to exclusively by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria, the notion that an Israel supporter, someone who would take the time out of a presumably busy schedule to come speak to politically-minded young adults about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would refer to the area as “occupied” boggled my mind. The term is not ubiquitous at AIPAC events. Quite honestly, no one term is. Having had over 14,000 people at their last annual Policy Conference, AIPAC is a large tent, encompassing Jews and non-Jews, Democrats and Republicans, and people of all different ethnicities, cultures, races, religions, and, yes, political ideology—both in regard to the American system of government, and internal Israeli policy. But beyond that, AIPAC has programming and education for people in all walks of life, guaranteeing that its members shift their own opinions during their involvement with the organization. Over the years, my own thoughts on the conflict have certainly evolved, but never once have I felt that AIPAC did not speak for me.

For Bruck to set up a false dichotomy in which she connects her contention that “a growing number of American Jews… feel that AIPAC does not speak for them” with her claim that “44 percent [of American Jews] believe that the construction of new settlements damages Israel’s national security” is duplicitous. AIPAC does not take a stance on internal Israeli policy, probably because its members are far from thinking identically on the matter. Therefore, the fact that a percentage of American Jews feel that AIPAC doesn’t represent them is completely unrelated to how those same Jews might feel about the settlements. Within the large tent that is AIPAC, there are people who believe that Israel without the settlements isn’t really Israel, people that believe the settlements are Israel’s worst mistake, and a whole plethora of people who fall somewhere in the middle, much like myself.

Bruck also discusses some points of contention between the Obama Administration and AIPAC, largely ignoring that by standing up for the U.S.-Israel relationship, AIPAC has developed occasional differences with Republican and Democratic administrations over the years. The differences with this administration are by no means unique. What is fascinating to me is that one of the differences Bruck chooses to highlight is the fiasco of Iranian nuclear potential and its relation to the AIPAC-Obama dynamic, particularly regarding the P5+1 talks. She writes, with a tone that suggests the following is ludicrous, irrelevant, and/or imaginative, “for two decades AIPAC has been warning that if Iran acquired nuclear arms it would pose an existential threat to Israel.” While there are certainly those who feel differently, my feeling is that most educated people don’t find the notion of allowing a power, which has tendencies towards martyrdom and terrorism, to obtain the means to obliterate us all, ridiculous. In previous world conflicts, the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) ostensibly prevented basically equal powers from obliterating each other. When dealing with a nation that sanctifies death and glorifies martyrdom, the assumption of applying the concept of MAD is far from a logical step. It is incumbent upon every single world power to prevent this nightmare from maturing into reality, and as Americans—regardless of how we feel about the Israel-Palestinian conflict—we should be appreciative that we have an ally in Israel in this matter.

As both an observer and a participant, I believe that AIPAC has three large goals, under which the rest of their work can be filed:

  1. To prevent Iran from gaining nuclear power.
  2. To secure aid for Israel, either in economic or military stimulus packages
  3. To strengthen the US-Israel alliance through ongoing relationships with members of Congress and the administration.

By all counts, AIPAC has so far succeeded on these three fronts. To question their influence and relevance, and specifically to do so in a major spread, is ironic, imprudent, and misguided.