Maimonides wrote that from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, it is customary to give generously to charity…to a greater extent than during the remainder of the year.
I am an AIPAC Washington Club member and I am raising my annual AIPAC donation to $3,600. AIPAC might seem an odd charity destination for a rabbi, and, after what seems like AIPAC’s biggest loss this past week, my donation might be odd timing, but AIPAC’s work of strengthening the US-Israel relationship ensures the safety of American and Israeli Jewry. With 9/11’s anniversary a mere few days ago, it is clear that if America’s far off enemies are left unhindered, they will end up attacking Americans on its own shores. A secure ally like Israel, fighting freedom’s battles in a dark neighborhood, ensures a secure America.
Jews running the world behind the scenes is a well known anti-Semitic canard. As AIPAC grew in influence, its success played into the charge that Jews ran America’s Congress. Who can forget Thomas Friedman’s infamous essay that spoke of a Congressional standing ovation for Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu as, “Bought and paid for by the Israel lobby”?
Recently, AIPAC has been the subject of strong criticism. AIPAC and its members — myself included — lobbied strongly for the rejection of an Iran deal we consider dangerous to global security. Many consider the passing of the deal a massive blow to AIPAC’s reputation as one of the strongest lobbying groups in America. Former Congressman and supporter of the deal, Robert Wexler said, “The strength of any 800-pound gorilla lies in the perception that his power is so significant that no one challenges him, but if the 800-pound gorilla challenges and loses, then the deterrence factor is seriously weakened.” Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev seemed ready to pronounce AIPAC’s demise, writing, “The defeat of AIPAC and the Jewish establishment that supported it, is already clear and present, whether it was determined from the outset or a consequence of tactical mistakes made along the way. Persuading only four Democratic senators, along with a dozen or so party representatives, to oppose a deal described as an existential threat to Israel is a minuscule achievement indeed for a body claiming influence and leverage on both major parties.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
Six months ago, the average American couldn’t point to Iran on a map. They couldn’t tell you that Iran was the largest state sponsor of terror. They weren’t aware that Iran was holding four Americans prisoner, or that they chanted death to America while burning American flags at state sponsored rallies. They didn’t know that more than 500 American soldiers were killed in Iraq with Iranian bombs — sent by Iran to kill Americans. Six months ago, the biggest issues facing Americans were healthcare, immigration, the economy, and same gender marriage. Iran didn’t make the list. Today, Iran is on everyone’s list.
Educating Americans about Iran — That’s an AIPAC victory.
Six months ago, Americans weren’t concerned with the Obama administration’s negotiations and had never heard of Lausanne, Switzerland. It wasn’t that Americans were in favor of a deal or against a deal, it wasn’t even that they didn’t care — Americans weren’t aware, because no one was making it a priority for them. When the President announced the deal, he did so at 7:00 AM Eastern time, 4:00 AM in California, hardly what you would call a prime time announcement. Six months later, Americans with previous limited foreign policy knowledge all have opinions on the Iran deal and can easily rattle off facts about 24 days notice and secret side deals that allow Iran absurd self-inspections.
Making the Iran deal an American priority — That’s an AIPAC victory.
Not only did AIPAC bring the Iran deal to the forefront of Americans’ concerns, it ensured that the majority of Americans, Republicans, Democrats, and anyone in between rejected the deal as untenable. Poll after poll demonstrated that the more Americans learned about the deal, the more they felt it shouldn’t go through. As hard as the White House fought to get their narrative out there, it seemed the American people were buying into a different narrative. The American people saw AIPAC’s narrative as more factual.
Beating the White House’s publicity machine — That’s an AIPAC victory.
Most important, and what seems to be forgotten in this entire episode, is that Congress rejected the deal. Members of Congress expressed sentiments similar to Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel, who wrote, “The prospective nuclear deal with Iran is one of the most important votes I have faced in my public career.” Only the White House can claim that receiving 42 votes against 58 in the Senate, and 162 against 269 in the House, is a victory. The White House’s “victory” was won against the wishes of the American people and the American Congress and by procedure only. The American people’s voices weren’t bought by “The Jewish Lobby”; they were won over by educating the people on facts — exactly the way issues are supposed to be decided in this country.
Winning America’s opinion, on the street and in Congress, on the Iran deal — That’s an AIPAC victory.
If you are of the opinion that AIPAC lost its luster over this Iran deal, I suspect you might’ve bought into the notion of a Jewish lobby that controls the Congress. If you see AIPAC’s influence based on a black and white, win/lose spectrum, you don’t understand AIPAC’s true role.
Lobbying isn’t a dirty world. It is a right of every American. The first of the ten amendments adopted in 1791, and that make up our Bill of Rights, is the right to petition our government. A right denied to so many people, Americans should cherish and frequently exercise the right to tell our government representatives what we feel our government should be making a priority.
Unlike other large lobbies, AIPAC doesn’t hire a corporation full of lobbyists to make its claims. They ask donors, members and partners like me and my students to talk to members of Congress about why we feel it is in America’s best interest to have a strong relationship with Israel. I’ve never paid, strong armed, or threatened a member of Congress to ensure their support of Israel. I’ve simply come with the facts — and they almost speak for themselves.
Would the US-Israel relationship be a top priority for Americans and American lawmakers if not for AIPAC’s constant efforts of educating the American people and its leaders? I don’t think so. Would I have wanted the Iran deal to have been rejected? Of course. Do I lay the blame at AIPAC’s doorstep for that loss? Not at all. I look at it in the exact opposite way. If not for AIPAC, there never would’ve been a vote. If not for AIPAC, whatever efforts will be needed in the next 25 years to ensure Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon won’t be taken. The race to stop Iran from acquiring a genocide-enabling nuclear weapon isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and we aren’t halfway through the race. The American people will need AIPAC to win this race. During these auspicious days, I’m increasing my donation to AIPAC to ensure we keep the world a safe place away from a nuclear Iran, and I encourage you to join me.