Appreciate AIPAC (No Boycotts)and a Dose of Humility, Rabbi

Rabbi Andrea London’s divisive and disheartening post on the Times of Israel blog calling for a boycott of AIPAC is alarming in its presumptiveness and for what it portends for America’s relationship with Israel in the years ahead. If Rabbi London’s approach becomes the norm, I fear Israel’s enemies will exploit the divisions among us at the expense of the country we all want to see survive and thrive for centuries to come.

Politics in Washington is already highly fractured and dysfunctional. Members of Congress arguably have reasons to be polarizing because we live in a democracy and it helps their re-election efforts in gerrymandered House districts and safe Senate seats. The rest of us do not have a similar excuse. More than ever, local leaders like Rabbi London should be setting an example for Washington and their communities by bringing people together, facilitating dialogue, and identifying common ground. Rabbi London’s divisive call for a boycott of AIPAC is exactly the opposite.

Boycotts are also tools for those who want to do harm. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is intended to destroy Israel. But AIPAC, with its success in educating members of Congress and their staffs on the history of Israel, the security challenges the country faces, and the values the two countries share should not be a boycott target, let alone by others within the American-Jewish community. I would argue that agree or disagree with any part of AIPAC, the organization and its leadership should at the very least be respected, if not outright appreciated and even celebrated.

Let’s not forget that Jews makeup just 2% of the US population and the number of American Jews who are familiar with and think about Israel on a regular basis is even smaller. Nevertheless, nearly every member of Congress and their staffs has a base level of knowledge about Israel and has a sense that the special relationship between the two countries should be preserved and, when and where possible, strengthened.

That should not be taken for granted and is the product of a lot of hard work by many national Jewish organizations led by AIPAC. In my brief time on Capitol Hill, I saw firsthand the extent and scope of the organization’s impact on Republicans and Democrats, most of whom were elected with little, if any, knowledge about Israel and the Middle East. But thanks to AIPAC’s leadership, that vacuum is filled by the voices of constituents who know their representatives personally and could tell Israel’s story while sharing their passion for the Jewish State.

Just as alarming is that Rabbi London justifies her call for a boycott by complaining about AIPAC’s stands – or lack thereof – on internal Israeli politics and policy decisions made by Israel’s democratically elected government. There is a long history of American Jews having opinions on Israeli politics and, of course, there is nothing wrong with that. At some point, though, a line was crossed where some think they know more about the security threats Israel faces than Israel’s leaders.

The starkest example of that was the Iran nuclear deal. Israel’s democratically elected Prime Minister was crystal clear in Israel’s opposition, yet some Jewish-American organizations and many community leaders including Rabbi London lobbied for it anyway as if they knew better. In the process, those organizations and individuals gave cover, whether they intended to or not, to a partisan exercise that was the Iran nuclear deal.

It is now increasingly acceptable for self-identified progressives like Rabbi London to divide the American-Jewish community even further with calls for boycotts because their views on how Israel should be run are not being followed. I don’t support President Trump, and I imagine Rabbi London doesn’t either, but at the same time I have no patience for any government, organization, or individual outside of our country having a say – or even thinking they should have a say – in our political and policy making processes.

The partisan divide created in part by the Iran nuclear deal and the divisions among the American-Jewish community are being noticed and exploited by those who want to see the Israel-American relationship weakened. There is plenty of evidence to that effect in the benign responses by many to the recent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Looking ahead, I hope no one heeds Rabbi London’s call for a boycott of AIPAC next week or ever and that community leaders like Rabbi London prioritize uniting the American-Jewish community rather than promoting their own ideas of what is in Israel’s best interest. Some might have to sacrifice having their personal opinions heard, but the reality is that our communities and the Israel-American relationship will be much better off.

About the Author
Todd Stein served as Legislative Director and General Counsel for Senator Joe Lieberman and as Majority Counsel for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Twitter: @toddstein6