Just 13 months ago this writer was prompted to write, “What Should AIPAC Say?”, expressing mine and many other’s distress over the “ugly unprecedented partisan divide” exposed among America’s pro-Israel community by then Speaker Boehner’s back channel invite to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (to address a joint session of Congress). It’s more than ironic, then, that last week’s 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference appearance by Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump prompted a public apology by AIPAC leadership issued the following morning.
AIPAC’s newly elected President Lillian Pinkus along with longtime AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr stood before the full arena of 18,000 AIPAC Policy Conference attendees and assembled press — under a banner proclaiming this year’s theme, “Come Together” — and read this statement of apology, also adding, “we take great offense at attacks levied against the President of the United States of America from our stage.”
President Pinkus went on to say, “While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of President of the United States and our President Barack Obama. There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night and for that we are deeply sorry. We are disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with nor condone.”
The ongoing and growing pro-Israel and Jewish community partisan divide has been further exposed by harsh and swift reaction published on social media and in Jewish print publications. While the Washington Post called AIPAC’s public apology “unprecedented,” its coverage downplayed Trump’s remarks as “notable for their low level of invectiveness.” Huffington Post foreign affairs writer Jessica Schulberg also diminished the impact of Trump’s speech as “otherwise relatively benign.”
But, longtime Forward opinion writer Samuel Freedman compared AIPAC to the National Rifle Association, a gun safety organization taken over in 1977 by its most extreme gun rights hardliners, and Forward Editor Jane Eisner labeled AIPAC applause for Trump “shameful.”
Senior JTA writer Ron Kampeas wrote that the reception given Trump “undid AIPAC’s careful claims of bipartisanship”. The Times of Israel Washington correspondent Rebecca Shimoni Stoil however described the AIPAC apology as castigating and excoriating AIPAC “delegates” for their response to Trump.” And longtime Editor of The Times of Israel David Horovitz proclaimed that with his speech Trump “Conquers AIPAC.”
As for the AIPAC apology, social media commentators have shown brutal intolerance and rejection of President Pinkus’ inclusive message. One need only peruse the comments section of any article cited above to find mean-spirited and rejectionist opinions from those who parrot the Republican Jewish Coalition longtime campaign demonizing President Obama for all manner of insidious anti-Israel plots.
All of this, according to former Forward editor and columnist J.J. Goldberg is an outcome which should have been anticipated as the price AIPAC would ultimately pay for its growth over the past 20 years: “Lately, the drift [toward the right] is accelerating. That’s largely due to a much-discussed change in the broader Jewish community. Israel is gradually becoming an asset of the conservative minority while the liberal majority disengages. Some blame this on Israel’s behavior. Others blame it on American Jewish assimilation. They’ve both got a point. The worst part is, we can barely talk to each other.”
Contrary to J.J. Goldberg’s depiction, the worst part is that the AIPAC Policy Conference has become a meaningless pander fest of partisan point scoring. The cause has been denigrated, while well-meaning but naïve supporters applaud the demagogues.