‘Move over AIPAC’: Preaching to the extremist choir?

JTA is reporting that plans are underway for a “pro-Palestinian conference aiming to counter AIPAC’s annual gathering” in late May, featuring retired journalist Helen Thomas, Code Pink and scholars/ AIPAC critics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

I’m guessing AIPAC officials aren’t losing much sleep over the planned “Move Over, AIPAC” conference.

Despite their ability to create a stir outside the Washington Convention Center and attract some media attention, I doubt the anti-AIPAC activists will have much, if any, influence on the debate over Israel and U.S. Middle East policy – probably on a par with the Neturei Karta demonstrators who demonstrate in fron of every AIPAC policy conference and provide more comic relief than incisive commentary.

I’m ready to believe a majority of American Jews generally agree with the dovish views of J Street; polls show it, as does the continuing preference of Jewish voters for Democratic presidents despite several decades of GOP efforts to portray the Dems as hostile to the Jewish state.

I’m equally sure that same majority has little to no interest in the shrill voice of groups like Code Pink, the bizarrely anti-Israel positions of Helen Thomas, or the conspiracy theories about AIPAC’s iron grip over U.S. policy that preoccupy Walt and Mearsheimer – who’ve become sort of a two-name brand, like Ben and Jerry’s.

AIPAC is powerful, but if it was all-powerful, former George W. Bush wouldn’t have declared U.S. support for Palestinian statehood, his father wouldn’t have pushed Israel into the Madrid peace conference or knocked heads with it over settlements, Bill Clinton wouldn’t have pushed Bibi Netanyahu around in the late 1990s and Barack Obama would just forget about all this settlements nonsense.

According to JTA, the “thrust of the ‘Move Over AIPAC’ event will be ‘to learn about the extraordinary influence AIPAC has on U.S. policy and how to strengthen an alternative that respects the rights of all people in the region,’ according to its statement.”

That sounds like an exercise in preaching to the choir that is unlikely to have much of an impact on the press, which has a relatively sophisticated understanding of how AIPAC operates, the public, which doesn’t much care, or the Obama administration, which has heard it all before.

No doubt the conference and the noise participants may make outside the AIPAC gathering at the Washington Convention Center will be music to the ears of those pro-Israel activists who try to depict every criticism of Israeli policy and every demand that Washington become more assertive in pressing for Israeli-Palestinian peace as nefarious products of the far left.

You know the ones: J Street is “far left,” Abe Foxman and the ADL are “far left,” the Jewish Week is “far left.”

But in the end, that probably won’t have much impact, either, except in narrow communal circles.

More and more, it seems clear to me that even though the far-left and far-right fringes of the Jewish community are getting more aggressive and vocal, the vast majority of the community pays almost no attention to them.

Part of that is undoubtedly the fact that for most, Israel is a cool idea and everything, but it’s not a  priority; the strident voices of the far left and far right just don’t register with most American Jews.

And part of it is that American Jews probably don’t see extreme rhetoric as helpful in a conflict kept alive, in large measure, by extremists on all sides.

I think they’re smart enough to know that even when Israel pursues bad policies, it doesn’t mean the Palestinians have achieved perfection, or that the powerful Israel is solely responsible for the conflict, as groups like Code Pink seem to believe. I think they understand that there are no easy answers to this most intractable of conflicts, and those on the far left and far right pitching easy answers and simplistic notions of who’s to blame are really just peddling snake oil.

There are valid points to argue about AIPAC: does it tilt to right-of-center forces in Israel? Is it out of touch with mainstream American Jewry?  Does it do enough to keep support from Israel from being used as a political wedge issue by self-serving politicians?

GIven the cast of characters, you can safely bet that such a debate won’t take place at the "Move Over, AIPAC" meetings.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.