The Israel lobby group AIPAC kicked off its annual policy conference in Washington on the weekend, and speaker after speaker expressed fears that progressive Democrats are abandoning Israel. The speakers urged progressives to stay in the bipartisan fold of support for the Jewish state; they insisted that Israel is a progressive cause. But many also embraced Donald Trump and Nikki Haley– evidence of the rightwing character of Israel support, which is driving the partisan divide in our country.
Here are some of those voices.
Avi Gabbay, head of the Labor Party in Israel, said that Israel’s security is threatened if the Israel lobby fails to keep both parties together in their support.
“We must keep the support for Israel bipartisan,” he said. “This is a strategic asset for Israel’s security, and your work here today is more important today than ever before.”
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog made a similar point. Israel must fight partisanship in the U.S. and “make sure that Jews of all beliefs and all strains and all denominations are working together.”
Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat and former Michigan governor, devoted much of her speech to an effort to maintain progressive support for Israel. She said she had fallen in love with the country on three visits– and cited Israeli government policies that are still progressive causes in the U.S.
“As a progressive, I saw a nation that provides universal health care, a nation that protects women’s rights and LGBT rights,” she said. “It’s a progressive’s paradise.”
Granholm went on that, “I am not blind. I won’t argue that Israel is perfect.” The country struggles to get better every day, she asserted, but she said nothing about occupation or settlements of discrimination against Palestinian citizens.
Jane Harman of the Wilson Center, a former congresswoman, said that Democrats were taking risks for support for Israel by enabling very public fights amongst themselves– witness the “jungle primary” between California Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman in 2012– both of them Israel supporters– that resulted in the loss of Berman from the House.
Dems need to stay vigilant in support of Israel, she said, to counter the popular “fatigue about all the wars we’re in” — so that Americans “focus on the war we need to be fighting on many fronts, against malign behavior by Iran.” (A militant approach to Iran is the big policy push of the conference.)
We welcome all who want to be part of this amazing cause, and if someone says to you, you can’t be yourself and a Zionist, if someone says to you that your Zionism makes you unwelcome in any other political movement, don’t be afraid to call that what it is. It’s bigotry, it’s discrimination, and it’s wrong.
And know this: We in the pro-Israel movement, we will ask you to do many things, but we will never demand that you change anything about yourselves. We want you the way you are. So whatever your politics or your struggle, the color of your skin, the language you speak, the faith you hold close, no matter whom you love, we want you.
Kohr spoke after a video featuring testimonials from eight Democratic congresspeople, including at least two women of color. “The best is yet to come!” said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who represents Wilmington, Delaware.
AIPAC’s new president, Mort Fridman, issued an appeal to progressives.
The Progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling and critical as the conservative one.
But there are very real forces trying to pull you out of this hall and out of this movement and we cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen.
Fridman is a supporter of an illegal Israeli settlement.
Daniel Gordis, an Israeli author, acknowledged that Israel had failed to treat Palestinians as equals, so that it’s not an easy fit for progressives. The U.S. has a “universalist” political culture, as indicated by the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of mankind. For progressives, Israel is “strange.”
“We are not a liberal democracy, we’re an ethnic democracy… Israel is in the business of perpetuating a certain people and a certain religious community. That’s its goal. That’s its business.”
Progressives are drawn to Palestinians because Palestinians are the underdogs, because of intersectional politics that link Palestinian oppression with oppressed people in the U.S., and because of the “virus” of anti-Semitism, Gordis went on. But focusing on the conflict with Palestinians is a very narrow lens with which to consider Israel, he said. The U.S. has been at war every year since World War II, but progressives manage to put those conflicts out of mind and work at other causes because they have “other fish to fry.” If progressives used the same standard when they measure Israel, he said, they would see that Israel has outstripped the U.S. in many of their dearest causes, including gun control, health care, and women’s rights (where Jews have led a “revolution”), he said.
Many of the appeals to progressives at AIPAC had the air of “pinkwashing” — a strategy of citing gay freedom in Tel Aviv in an effort to get attention off of apartheid conditions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
More than one AIPAC speaker warned that if Israel becomes a partisan issue, the cause will be out of luck when the other party gets into the White House.
The we-are-progressive theme continues this morning at AIPAC.
“I am a progressive and I am a Zionist… working for a just and shared society,” said Rami Hod, the head of a liberal Israeli organization, the Katznelson center. He went on to attack the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which targets Israel for denying human rights to Palestinians. He said, “BDS shrouds itself in social justice language” thereby allowing progressive causes to “mistakenly” support BDS.
Some snark from Ron Kampeas on Hod’s message:
“We should do the exact opposite of what bds supporters advocate, we should provide a space for the multiplicity of voices,” Rami Hod says at @aipac where virtually every progressive breakout is closed press. #AIPAC2018
Even US progressives were on board for AIPAC. “This is this beacon of democracy… in a really tough.. neighborhood,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said of Israel. She ascribed her support for Israel to the attentions of Minnesota advocates for the state who had brought her out to Israel when she was running for the Senate.
Klobuchar deplored the growing partisan divide over Israel. We need to “stop people from injecting partisanship into the Israel-American relationship and push back,” she said. “If you’re a Democrat reach out to Republicans.” To reach young people, she said, Israel advocates should cite the politics of climate change, immigration reform, and standing up for refugees.
Klobuchar voiced no criticisms of Israel.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.