This weekend, thousands of pro-Israel activists will arrive in DC for AIPAC’s annual policy conference. If you look outside, I’ll be there too — protesting from the street that is.
I’ve never shied away from talking critically about AIPAC, and why should I? As someone who grew up in a progressive Jewish household, whose Judaism has always been inextricably linked to the pursuit of social justice and human rights, and who, from a young age, was taught that Israeli-Palestinian peace would only come through advocating for justice for both peoples, I quickly learned that AIPAC’s hard, right-wing views would never align with my values – not as an American, not as a Jew, and not as a Zionist. But my reasons for protesting AIPAC this Sunday are far more than a simple progressive vs. conservative political disagreement.
As one of the largest and most powerful political lobbying groups in the United States, AIPAC works tirelessly to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship, yet with a clear and dangerous pro-Israel-at-any-cost approach. AIPAC’s top leaders and defenders, many of whom are former Presidents of the organization, influential Senators and Representatives, or reliable donors, are quick to cherish Netanyahu’s policies in the name of bipartisanship. In 2011, for instance, AIPAC gathered signatures from 466 members of Congress to oppose the Palestinians’ petition to the U.N. for statehood, a position Netanyahu has reaffirmed on multiple occasions. Using their lobbying power to amend legislation discouraging members of the European Union from boycotting Israel during free-trade negotiations, they effectively convinced the Senate to delete language in reference to Israel’s settlements in the Occupied territories. Though AIPAC does not take a stance on settlements, their subtle tactics ultimately legitimize them anyways.
This means that when AIPAC prioritizes supporting Israel’s every move over all else, and cozies up to American and Israeli politicians and their policies to get what they want, they effectively ignore the fundamental values of justice and democracy dear to most American Jews. And unlike what AIPAC might want to believe, there is nothing about the Occupation, creeping up on its 50th anniversary this June, forced Palestinian home evictions due to the sharp increase in settlement expansions, nor flagrant violations of Palestinian rights that will ever speak to these values.
This also means that when just yesterday, AIPAC congratulated David Friedman, the man who called J Street ‘worse than kapos’ and proudly funds Israeli settlements, on his confirmation as US Ambassador to Israel rather than condemning him, they demonstrated that Israel’s future in peace and security is not in their interest. It means that when they invited Donald Trump to speak at their policy conference last year, along with the rest of the presidential candidates, they chose to ignore his policies and rhetoric of hate and intolerance in order to selectively embrace his pro-Israel position. Though many in attendance did not support Trump, having foregone participation in the standing ovation after his highly-anticipated address in which he publicly denigrated Obama, and though dozens of Rabbis bravely walked out as planned, his speech was still well-received. His words even prompted a sheepish apology from AIPAC’s president, Lillian Pinkus, the next morning. And yet, I’m not at all surprised. When it comes to Israel, AIPAC has always asked American Jews to check their values at the door. So to me, it’s quite clear — the problem was never Trump’s presence at AIPAC, it has always been AIPAC itself.
After the election, AIPAC stayed silent on Trump’s pick for chief strategist, Steve Bannon, one of the founding members of Breitbart News, known for it’s racist, xenophobic, and anti-semitic views. Even the ADL, who generally stays out of partisan politics, opposed the appointment of Bannon. So would AIPAC rather align themselves with the staunch right policies of Morton Klein and the ZOA, the organization that has enthusiastically applauded Bannon’s appointment, rather than stand up for democracy, peace, and justice? Seems pretty clear to me.
Therefore, while AIPAC may not share my values, nor those of most American Jews, they certainly do value at least one thing: unwavering silence. By staying silent on some of the most pressing issues regarding the conflict, notably the Occupation, they have rallied American Jews into believing that there is only one way to be pro-Israel, and therefore, the only means of promoting Israel’s secure and democratic future must be to accept every Israeli policy. Perhaps even more alarming is that AIPAC has slowly manipulated progressive American Jews into believing it is entirely possible and justifiable to decouple their liberal values from their support of Israel. What’s evidently missing is the understanding that bold support for Israel must also mean being critical of Israel, especially when the Israeli government passes undemocratic policies to legalize settlements on private Palestinian land and perpetuate the Occupation, thus undermining a two-state outcome. But AIPAC doesn’t care, and in fact, never did.
So this Sunday, I will join IfNotNow and thousands of other activists to resist AIPAC, their actions to perpetuate the Occupation, and their deafening silence on Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Together, we will demonstrate what it looks like to build a strong Jewish community that stands against hatred and bigotry, and calls for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians. We’ll be there AIPAC — singing loudly and proudly, with posters raised above our heads. We are the Jewish resistance, and we’re not waiting for anyone.