AIPAC is Not a Political Safe Space

AIPAC Policy Conference is not a political “safe space” where people will not challenge your deeply held beliefs with contrary views. If you want to attend a conference and not have your views challenged or potentially have your feelings hurt by someone telling you the truth as they see it, offering a different opinion, or even sharing feelings that may be impassioned and difficult to you hear, you may not be comfortable at AIPAC. AIPAC represents the diverse opinions of those supporting a strong US-Israel relationship, including ones at odds with one another. When issues are highly disputed among Israel advocates, AIPAC is a place to air them.

You are greatly misinformed about AIPAC if you believe that concerns about:

  • Settlement construction;
  • Relations between the IDF and Palestinians;
  • Human rights and civil rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories;
  • The necessary pursuit of a two-state solution;
  • The current Israeli Prime Minister’s policies;
  • The policies of the Israeli opposition;
  • The current American President’s policies;
  • The policies of leading politicians on both sides of the aisle in America; and
  • The policies and views of political leaders from other nations around the world in regard to Israel
  • are not regularly discussed with vigor and disagreement at AIPAC Policy Conferences and at other programs.

    That said, no single person has a greater impact on that relationship than whoever is sitting in the office of the President of the United States. Trying to create or maintain a relationship with those who are in the final stages of campaigning for that office is an essential work, even when it may be difficult to stomach from whatever political position an Israel advocate might hold.

    This role, taken on by AIPAC and advanced extremely effectively for decades, is vital. It doesn’t replace criticism of any leader’s or candidate’s policies or debates about promoting effective solutions to significant concerns in regard to the relationship or to events affecting Israel. It is a needed companion to that sphere of discussion.

    If you attended this year, you would have heard Hillary Clinton offer criticism of some of the Obama Administration’s policies, Republican candidates offering even more criticism, and Vice President Biden explaining why they were all wrong. All of these speakers received applause and no little of it. All of them said things with which many attendees agreed and with which no few disagreed.

    Advocates attending Policy Conferences generally clap for those statements with which they approve and remain silent for those they do not. Sometimes this means that most remain silent for an entire speech.Other times it means that a speaker with whom most¬†disagree on many things,¬†even significantly, receives several ovations. The reception that candidates received at the AIPAC Policy Conference this year was very much in line with this normal practice. What was not normal was the attention paid to the reactions to a single candidate’s speech, nor the expectation that this normal course of behavior would not apply to that candidate’s speech. Most people in the crowd were cheering policy position statements, not the speakers themselves and that applied, for a great many people in attendance, to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

    AIPAC apologized for that candidate offering ad hominem attacks against the President, because ad hominem attacks are not conducive the organization’s mission. Non-partisan advocacy requires some effort to maintain bipartisan support and the US-Israel relationship certainly involves maintaining as good a relationship as possible with the White House as well as the Congress, regardless of party affiliation. Personal attacks against elected officials with whom AIPAC needs to work are never helpful.

    Policy discussions on the other hand are necessary. Bringing together a diverse coalition with differing views is an important part of the task. AIPAC has done a tremendous job of outreach. It no longer is an organization solely of American Jews.

    AIPAC is a place for progressives and conservatives, religious and secular, LGBTQ and straight, people of all races, religions, and ethnicities who support a strong US-Israel relationship and want to hear from leading politicians, scholars, and activists as well as business people, students, and others about how to make that a reality.

    If you support a strong and vibrant Israel. You should support AIPAC.

    About the Author
    Rabbi David Kaufman is the Rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also the President and Co-Founder of We Are For Israel, the home of "Centrist Advocates for Realistic Peace" and created the news site about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, Rabbi Kaufman maintains an informational blog on which he posts sermons and other materials related to Jewish practice and belief at