The premier Israel lobby group AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — has announced the speakers for its annual policy conference in Washington this weekend and as usual there are a lot of liberal Democrats. AIPAC is an organization that stands with Israel at all times, whether it’s building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories or opposing the Iran deal or massacring whole families in Gaza.
And yet AIPAC is still able to summon the center-left of American politics by just crooking a finger.
Adam Schiff is speaking, the big Russiagate congressman from California. So are Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s former top aide; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Jane Harman of the Wilson Center; Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings; Ilan Goldenberg formerly of the Obama administration; Elizabeth Rosenberg ditto; Dan Shapiro ditto; Brian Katulis of Center for American Progress; Steven Cook of CFR, Ann Lewis the political heavyweight; Rep. Brad Sherman; Claire Shipman of ABC News; Yehuda Kurtzer the Jewish particularist; Emily Shire the feminist Zionist; Bakari Sellers the cable TV liberal; Michele Dunne of Carnegie; Yosef Abramowitz who is married to Rabbi Susan Silverman; and up-and-coming antiwar congressman Seth Moulton.
We say often here that the Democratic base is abandoning Israel. Young Dems, women, people of color — they’re gaining sympathy with Palestinians and seeking a fairer U.S. policy. But those Democrats are not represented at AIPAC, an organization that supported the Iraq War and opposed the Iran deal.
No, AIPAC’s heart is rightwing like Israel: And its coalition goes from Schiff and Wittes on the center-left to the far right. Countless neoconservatives are speaking: Bill Kristol, John Bolton, Mark Dubowitz, Shmuel Rosner, Jonathan Schanzer, Dennis Ross, and Jennifer Rubin. Not to mention Ralph Reed and Israeli rightwingers Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The purpose of AIPAC is to maintain US establishment support for Israel, and these centrist-liberals are serving that purpose (and surely helping their careers) by taking the podium for Israel. Lately, Wittes and Shapiro, and Kurtzer and Jane Eisner of the Forward have all praised AIPAC for just this function: sewing together both parties at a time when Israel support is fragmenting among progressives/leftwingers. The AIPAC speakers’ list makes clear that it’s working: the establishment is still pro-Israel, and support for Israel is a necessary credential for entry into the establishment. No wonder my liberal Congressman says he’s with Israel till death doth them part. The progressive base is not able to call him to account, yet.
As no one is calling Wittes and Shipman and Kurtzer for speaking alongside Ayelet Shaked, who has posted racist screeds comparing Palestinian children to snakes, or Dror Ben-Yemini, who has said that a Jewish “sickness” explains young American Jews’ sympathy for Palestinians.
Yet some folks are calling AIPAC to account. Jewish Voice for Peace actively opposes AIPAC and points out its rightwing agenda in an email today:
What has always made AIPAC so effective is their ability to repackage an ultra-conservative vision as bipartisan unity. Just like the NRA, they have perfected the art of presenting their own narrow agenda as in line with the interests and values of the American people— even though it’s anything but.
And the liberal Zionist group J Street is trying to build an Israel lobby to AIPAC’s left, by opposing Netanyahu and supporting the Iran deal. Jeremy Ben-Ami warns that AIPAC serves a rightwing function:
[Trump and Netanyahu’s] dangerous views will be on full display next month, when Netanyahu will address the AIPAC conference and hold a meeting with Trump.
They’ll heap blame on the Palestinians, ignore [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas’ proposal, and neither endorse a two-state solution nor present a viable alternative to it. Against the wishes and interests of the majority of Israelis and pro-Israel Americans, they’ll do whatever they can to prevent progress towards a viable peace.
Notice that Ben-Ami doesn’t lash out directly at AIPAC. Several speakers at AIPAC have also appeared at J Street’s conferences (Katulis, Kurtzer): Because they are both fervently Zionist organizations.
In fact, I don’t think AIPAC is practicing any deception on these liberal politicians. It is forthrightly always on Israel’s side; and liberal Democrats need the pro-Israel credential to get political funding and access. If you support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), you instantly make yourself radioactive inside the establishment. Those are the rules.
Meantime, none of these same Democrats would have anything to do with the NRA. They can oppose that agenda; and the media can talk about NRA boycotts and United and Delta Air Lines can dissociate themselves from the gun lobby. And AIPAC smells like a rose. Being pro-Israel is still the only game in town for liberal establishment funding.
Update. David Mizner says AIPAC failed to get potential Dem presidential candidates to appear. That’s great news, and speaks to the growing power of the base.
AIPAC couldn’t get a single one of the presumed Dem 2020 presidential candidates to speak at its conference. Its (oft-overstated) power is decreasing.