I consider myself a dedicated progressive. Until November 8, I was the Public Relations Director for my school’s chapter of Hillary for America. Every two weeks, I write op-eds for my school newspaper in support of progressive causes like reproductive rights and ending rape culture. I campaigned for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and local Democratic candidates in my hometown of Philadelphia. In addition, I am president of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA). I see no inherent contradiction in my identity as a progressive Zionist.
Unlike Claremont’s chapter of J Street U, an Israel-related campus group linked to the liberal advocacy group J Street, CPIA is not affiliated with any outside organizations. Some of our members, myself included, have attended conferences hosted by the main pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). However, we also have relationships with other national groups. We do not agree with all of their views. In fact, we pride ourselves in our independence because it allows club members to engage in open discussion about their diverse views on the Israeli government and its policies. Personally, I support a freeze on settlements in the West Bank and dislike most of Likud’s domestic agenda. However, other members of my club are freely allowed to disagree with me. Our board meetings often devolve into intense discussions about current events. The only thing that all CPIA members must agree on is support for Israel’s existence as the world’s only Jewish democracy.
Members of CPIA share common progressive values with members of J Street U. Last year, we even issued a joint statement denouncing the anti-Semitic rhetoric in Donald Trump’s campaign. But despite my progressive views and distaste for Donald Trump, I have no qualms about attending AIPAC conferences. As a lobbying organization focused on maintaining good US-Israel relations, AIPAC has a duty to maintain good relations with both the Israeli and American governments. In my mind, this serves the higher moral purpose of protecting the state of Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people. To anti-AIPAC progressives who claim to support Israel, I ask you: would it be better for AIPAC to alienate Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic administration and possibly put the existence of Israel in jeopardy? Or should we support AIPAC in its efforts to maintain America’s historic bipartisan support for Israel? I remain supportive of AIPAC because I believe that American support is critical to Israel’s continued survival, not because I have any special love for Donald Trump.
This may be surprising to people who are only familiar with J Street’s consistent misrepresentation of AIPAC. Because J Street is affiliated with the Democratic Party, its leadership attempts to set itself up as AIPAC’s liberal counterpart and refuses to portray AIPAC as a bipartisan organization, even though AIPAC initiatives are supported by members of both parties (in fact, Ted Cruz once refused to sign an AIPAC open letter because it was too supportive of a two-state solution). I have had the privilege of seeing Democratic heavyweights like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Paul Begala speak at AIPAC events.
To date, J Street’s most egregious and damning AIPAC-related lie involved AIPAC’s 2016 Policy Conference. AIPAC has a longstanding policy of inviting every presidential candidate to speak at Policy Conference during election years. This year, Donald Trump was one of the invited speakers. So was Hillary Clinton; Donald Trump’s presence at the conference did not signify AIPAC’s support for him. However, at the conclusion of Donald Trump’s speech, J Street immediately sent out an email with the subject line “They Stand for Trump. We Stand for Something Different.” The dishonest email claimed that Policy Conference’s 18,000 attendees had given Trump an enthusiastic reception and multiple standing ovations. As someone who was there, I can assure you that this was simply untrue. Everyone who spoke was received politely, but the audience’s reaction to Trump was far less enthusiastic than the reception given to Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz. Many of the people seated near me refused to clap for Donald Trump at all, even as they clapped for every other Republican and Democratic candidate. This was not reflected in either J Street’s original “They Stand for Trump” email or in a subsequent email they sent out entitled “Word on the Street: Defending Decency.” In the second email, J Street painstakingly described Republican candidates’ speeches in detail while failing to even mention Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden’s speeches.
But although I personally support AIPAC’s mission, I am not part of an AIPAC-affiliated club. Bafflingly, some members of J Street U refer to CPIA as an “AIPAC club” even though I have explained to multiple members that we are not. These problematic attempts to conflate CPIA with AIPAC are a misguided attempt to paint my progressive club as a conservative organization – and, by extension, support for Israel as a conservative issue. If pro-Israel groups are serious about their mission, we should support each other and not spend time infighting and adding fuel to the fire of the opposing side.
The fact is that most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support Israel. This includes a majority of college students, who tend to be more liberal than the rest of the country. Most Americans would likely agree with me that supporting AIPAC’s mission is not immoral and does not make me less progressive. Moreover, the idea that Zionism implies support for Donald Trump is absurd. Multiple CPIA members, including me, have attended anti-Trump demonstrations since the election. We are progressives, we are Zionists, and we are serious about our mission.