There was a throng of protestors outside of AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington. This wasn’t the band of usual Neturei-Karta Jews dressed in Orthodox uniforms voicing their 69-year-old gripe that the State of Israel can only be brought by the Messiah.
This was a group of predominantly young people, many Jewish of different denominations, singing Jewish songs and chanting rhetoric against Israel and taking aim at the pro-Israel conference.
But why? Why here? Why now? Why AIPAC?
Sociologists would point to evidence that proves most of these protestors are college educated. Many came from acknowledged Jewish homes where parents would relish the idea of their kids engaging with AIPAC, not protesting against it.
Inside the building these demonstrators assembled outside of, gathered Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. These are the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, respectively. With the sole exception of the State of the Union, these congressional leaders will likely not appear together, anywhere, over the next year. Are you protesting bi-partisanship?
Inside the convention center 4000 students from universities around the country gathered in support for Israel: Republican and Democrat students, Jews and gentiles. In fact, 50 school presidents from historically black universities were standing with AIPAC. As Elon Gold remarked, Jews stood with the civil rights leaders during the 60s and today. How great that African-Americans are standing with us now. Latino students and leaders stood with AIPAC too.
Are you opposing diversity and student activism?
At the plenaries and breakout sessions women leaders were championed, including the president of AIPAC, Lilian Pinkus, and former candidate for Prime Minister and current Member of Knesset, Tzipi Livni. In addition, many other women Israeli leaders – almost 25% of the current Knesset are women – were celebrated.
Are you protesting women in the US and in Israel?
Members of peace groups and members of Knesset whose platform advances vigorously the peace process (I am referring, by example, of Meretz) were on the dais in numerous sessions speaking about the unrelenting pursuit of peace and the need for 2-states for 2 people. They were joined by other leaders – some elected and some heads of NGOs and NFPs – to promote this cause. Most of these sessions were sold out with standing room only.
Are you protesting peace and peace movements?
For the past six-years at AIPAC, Israeli innovation has been highlighted. This year, we learned about technology that pulls water from the atmosphere and is being used in drought ridden countries. We were also introduced to smart-phone technology that enables people who cannot use their hands to utilize a cell phone through head movements. This has allowed quadriplegics and ALS patients to surf social media, make phone calls on their own and integrate into parts of society that their physical challenge inhibited them from previously.
Are you protesting innovation? Are you protesting helping others?
During the opening plenum, we were introduced to Youssef, a sweet Palestinian boy that needed lifesaving heart surgery when he was in infant. Through the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, this child was able to be healed and now, as a young boy, could thank the Peres Center on the stage for saving his life and supporting his family through this harrowing journey.
Are you protesting Youssef? His family? The medicine and collaboration that saved his life?
At AIPAC, we applauded the IDF field hospital in the Golan Heights that has treated thousands of refugees from Syria over the past five years of its civil war. The same physicians that treat the wounded victims of Syria’s civil war are the first responders in the wake of natural disasters in Haiti, Thailand, Turkey, Japan and any place that has suffered devastating loss. Are you protesting doctors and saving lives?
Inside the Washington Convention Center, the 18,000 participants of AIPAC were comprised of Christians, Muslims, Jews and even atheists. We united in common values. In fact, AIPAC hosts a rabbis’ lunch every year. This year, more than 800 rabbis of all stripes: men and women, orthodox and reform, from Berkley to Bangor, broke bread together. Name one other place where the diverse stripes and varied backgrounds and passions of the Jewish rabbinic world convene together? Are you protesting religious unity?
I am befuddled. What are you protesting?
If you contend that you are protesting the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, I can hear that. But, as college educated people, you know that the situation is more complex and layered than you suggest. Does protest prevent you from acknowledging success? Did you protest the Palestinian Authority not accepting a treaty with Israel in 1947, 1967, 2000 or 2007 when bonafide and negotiated offers were made to the PA, brokered with the help of the United States, to finally establish two states for two people?
Were you protesting the use of violence by the PA, HAMAS and the PLO against innocent Israelis for too long of Israel’s existence? Did you protest Intifadas and suicide bombers? Stabbers and so-called freedom fighters?
You lament a separation wall. At times, I do too. I say that having spent time on both sides of that wall and seeing the realities and harsh challenges it presents to Palestinians, in particular. But, I also console a member of my community each year on the anniversary his mother’s death. She was blown up in the middle of a Passover Seder in Netanya, Israel, one of the impetuses for erecting the wall in the first place. I do not offer this story to counter your claim. Rather to highlight the layers of complexity and often competing and compelling narratives. Israel most certainly asks me to un-peel the onion, not exploit it.
Is your protest to insinuate that AIPAC supports Palestinian oppression? That is simply preposterous. Your promotion of such a falsehood is almost as criminal as the allegation in the first place. AIPAC has one simple mission: to promote a strong relationship between the United States and Israel. Why could anyone protest about that?
Israel is not immune to rebuke. Like all countries, it has strengths and warts. Still, one would be hard pressed to stand idly by while the United Nations continues to advance far too many strikes at the Nation State of the Jewish people. At times, Israel indeed needs it feet held to the fire. Other times, the baseless and scheduled attacks on Israel seem to play into the familiar anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist agenda of many hating nations. I am curious, are you protesting at the United Nations too? Why not? Are you protesting AIPAC because you want Israel to be singled out at the United Nations and treated differently than the other 192 other members of the family of nations? Why are you not draped in your tallit and chanting hymns against the evil regimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba?
One day, your children will ask what you did to advocate for peace in the Middle East. They will ask you what you did to celebrate Israel’s right to sovereignty while advancing a path for the Palestinian people and nation. Your loved ones will ask what you did to be a part of unity, bi-partisanship and healing the afflicted? Your sisters will ask what did you do to lend your voice to women’s rights and celebrate religious diversity. Your brothers will ask what did you do to engage in innovation to help the challenged and feed the hungry. Future leaders will ask what did you do to add your one voice to the choir of many that celebrates unity without unanimity.
I hope you will be able to answer them by saying you were a part of this great cause and rich conversation. And I hope you join the diverse ranks of people for that discussion immediately. Because, If not now, when?