Friedman is wrong about AIPAC

by | Apr 22, 2016 | Other News

Samuel Freedman is a respected author and astute observer of the American Jewish scene. His recent article in the Forward, however, comparing AIPAC to the notorious National Rifle Organization, falls victim to the mistaken, if now in vogue view, that AIPAC has gone from a bi-partisan advocacy group to a tool of the conservative Right in America and the Netanyahu government in Israel.

As a longtime member of AIPAC who is far from being a supporter of the American or Israeli political Right, I reject and resent Freedman’s simplistic characterization.

The annual AIPAC conference, held last month in Washington, brought together a diverse and impressive throng of 18,000 delegates. The AIPAC of 2016 includes whites and African-Americans, Jews, Christians (not all Evangelicals) and Muslims. There are LGBTs. There are Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. They range in age from baby-boomers like me to college students numbering in the thousands. We are brought together by one common cause— our love for the modern State of Israel and our willingness to work on behalf of the long-standing close relationship between the United States and Israel.

What led to Freedman’s article was the address at the Conference by presidential candidate Donald Trump. All candidates of both parties were invited to speak to the Conference in person. Not surprisingly, the address that brought the most attention and controversy was Trump’s.

It is true as was widely reported, that there were some who applauded and even cheered enthusiastically during Trump’s anti-Obama diatribe. Freedman cites that some delegates protested the Trump appearance by absenting themselves from the main hall and others by walking out. What he failed to say was that for every delegate who cheered, there were probably three or four who sat in silence and were bothered and embarrassed by the “red meat” attack on a president of the United States—so much so, that the new president of the organization publicly rebuked and apologized for the behavior and lack of respect shown by some of the delegates.

What Freedman also failed to point out was that the largest ovations were for the speeches of Secretary Hillary Clinton (certainly no favorite of the conservatives) and Governor John Kasich (the most moderate of the Republican candidates).

In fact, I would argue that the AIPAC delegates were most inspired by those appearances and videos which featured Republican and Democratic Senators and Representatives who stood side-by-side to express their admiration for the achievements of the Israeli people. I know that some have called that pandering. Call it what you will, when politicians who espouse very different ideologies come together in support of Israel, I find it both remarkable and uplifting.

It is true, as Freedman notes, that AIPAC publicly opposed and lobbied against President Obama’s efforts to forge the Iran nuclear agreement last spring. The reality is that many, on both sides of the Congressional aisle, had and have concerns about that agreement and the impact it will have on both American and Israeli security. I remember how in my early years of involvement with AIPAC, we worked (unsuccessfully here, too) to block the proposal of a Conservative Republican president (Ronald Reagan) to sell AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. We believed that sale would serve neither America nor Israel well.

A closer analysis of AIPAC today than what I believe is Freedman’s, which considers it to be “in the pocket” of the American and Israeli Right, will conclude that bi-partisanship at AIPAC is far from dead. Truth to tell, at this time of wide rifts in the American and Israeli society, keeping the commitment to bi-partisanship isn’t easy and takes a lot of work. But a healthy United States-Israel relationship demands it. It is precisely the broad make-up of AIPAC’s membership that allows it to work effectively on American-Israeli cooperation.

by Arthur Ruberg, rabbi emeritus, Congregation Beth El