Years ago, my wife and I sat in the House of Representatives dining room in Washington, DC, with our friend and now retired Congressman Henry Waxman when the Democrats held the majority in the House. I asked him what he thought of Republican Eric Cantor’s politicization of Israel behind the Republican Party. Henry recognized the danger to Israel’s security and American bi-partisan support for Israel and told us that he had personally told Congressman Cantor that he was making a terrible mistake by politicizing support for the State of Israel, that Israel had always been a bi-partisan issue among Republicans and Democrats, and it was in Israel’s best security and long-term interests as a thriving democracy and majority Jewish state for American political support to be unified behind her.
When the Republicans took control of the House in 2011, John Boehner became House Speaker and Eric Cantor became House Majority Leader, I asked Henry again what he could do to stop the Republican effort to make support for Israel a litmus test of conservative political support. He bemoaned the new political reality in DC and said, “I’m no longer in the majority and Congressman Cantor isn’t listening to me.”
Since then, as Tom Friedman correctly notes in his compelling piece, “Ilhan Omar, AIPAC and Me — The congresswoman and I have a lot in common — but not her stance on Israel” (NYT, March 6), AIPAC has done nothing to stop PM Netanyahu from making support of Israel a Republican issue. To the contrary, AIPAC has aided and abetted Israel as a wedge issue in American Jewish politics.
AIPAC didn’t cause the politicization of Israel, but it didn’t stop it either. The trend began in the mid-1980s when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called upon Jonathan Jacoby to create a new American political organization called “The Israel Policy Forum” that would counteract what PM Rabin considered harmful meddling by AIPAC in Israeli foreign policy in our nation’s capital. The IFP served as the precursor to J Street (founded in 2009), an alternative pro-Israel pro-peace organization that supports candidates for Congress who favor a two-state negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite what PM Netanyahu said publicly at Bar Ilan University during the Obama presidency, that he supports a two-state solution, his active support for the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and his most recent political alliance with Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”), a far-right Israeli political party referred to as Kahanist, anti-Arab and racist that supports the expulsion of Arabs from the West Bank, puts the nail in the coffin of Netanyahu’s claim that he supports a two-state solution. He does not!
I understand that AIPAC’s purpose has been to support whatever position the government of the State of Israel advocates, but there comes a time when we American Jews must stand for our liberal Jewish values (the vast majority of American Jews support a two-state solution) because only through a two-state solution can Israel remain a majority Jewish state and a democracy in which all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinian-Arab, have equal rights. This is a foundational principle articulated in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence.
It is time that American Jews understand that the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians is unsustainable, that Israel cannot continue to survive as a Jewish and democratic state without a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. For all the good that AIPAC has done over the decades in support of Israel and its security, its alliance with Netanyahu and its failure to resist the politics of division in American politics ought to persuade liberal American Jews once and for all that it is time to withdraw support from AIPAC and support J Street, a growing pro-Israel and pro-peace organization that supports candidates for office who believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and a two-state solution. J Street enables American Jews and others who support Israel to express their concerns for Israel’s security and democracy over the long term.
Note: I served as a national co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street from 2012-2016 and have recently resumed my role as a co-chair. I have done so because I believe that J Street’s positions reflect my love for the State of Israel and my fervent desire to support its Jewish and democratic character.