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What’s a progressive Israel supporter to do? Boycott AIPAC

Rabbis who attend the conference prop up an organization that fails to challenge Netanyahu's reprehensible policies
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2015 Policy Conference, March 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2015 Policy Conference, March 2, 2015 in Washington, DC. (photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

In his recent opinion column, “What to Do as a Progressive AIPAC Supporter,” Rabbi Menachem Creditor outlines the challenge that he and other self-described progressive members of AIPAC face in light of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to form a post-election alliance with the Otzma Yehudit party. For me, and for countless other progressive Jewish leaders who find the racist politics of Otzma Yehudit reprehensible, the answer is simple: boycott AIPAC, starting with its upcoming Policy Conference. After all, if AIPAC could not bring itself to publicly and explicitly castigate Prime Minister Netanyahu for proposing this alliance, how can the organization possibly deserve his continued support?

Rabbi Creditor writes that AIPAC has been respectful toward the progressive rabbis among its members, for example, by not criticizing them for their walk-out during candidate Donald Trump’s speech at AIPAC’s 2016 Policy Conference, nor for their disagreements with AIPAC positions on various issues.

But what is the goal of trying to continue a dialogue with AIPAC from within the organization when past efforts have borne no fruit? Rabbi Creditor writes proudly of his participation in the aforementioned walk-out but admits that this protest was strictly “symbolic” (aside from a “good amount of media coverage”) and was overshadowed by the positive response Trump received from most attendees. Rabbis who attend the AIPAC conference provide moral credibility to an organization that is supporting a prime minister who is allying himself with a reprehensible group and who has been accused of corruption by Israel’s attorney general.

The logical conclusion for AIPAC to draw from the loyalty of self-identified progressive AIPAC members is that they can be mollified with token gestures such as meetings with Arab-Israeli civil rights activists while the organization’s overarching approach creates a platform for right-wing figures whose policies and worldview we find anathema.

In fact, Rabbi Creditor does not cite a single example in which the progressive wing of AIPAC has influenced the organization’s positions. This leads me to question why progressive rabbis feel they must remain loyal to AIPAC instead of associating themselves with an organization that is better aligned with their Zionist values.

I reject AIPAC’s uncritical response to Israeli government policies that prolong the occupation and the hardships that it creates for both Jews and Palestinians. That is why I support J Street, which has opened up a space for honest discussion of Israeli policies and is committed to the principle that working to end the occupation and supporting Palestinian rights are the best way to ensure peace and security for all of the region’s inhabitants. Those who believe in a two-state solution should not support AIPAC as it continues to support settlement expansion. They would have a more natural home in J Street which has a Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet with nearly 1,000 members.

What would it take for progressive rabbis within AIPAC to challenge AIPAC more effectively? It seems to me that a line has been crossed when Israel’s ruling party associates itself with an organization that AIPAC itself refuses to meet with because of its reprehensible views. Progressive rabbis within AIPAC have a clear choice to make if they believe that forming political alliances with overtly racist groups is beyond the pale. They should insist that AIPAC disinvite Netanyahu from speaking at their conference until the prime minister disavows Otzma Yehudit, or they should “pray with their unused plane tickets” and sit this conference out. This is not the time for constructive engagement or symbolic gestures but for real protest.

About the Author
Rabbi Andrea London is the Senior Rabbi at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL
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