Last year we reported that the leading Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, was panicked by the prospect of progressives abandoning Israel, and the fracturing of Democratic support for the Jewish state has only continued apace since then. Now a new lobbying group featuring a number of AIPAC pals has jumped onto the stage. The New York Times reports that the new group, the Democratic Majority for Israel, is led by Democratic Party loyalists who are trying to maintain the party’s solid backing of Israel by keeping progressives in the tent.
The Democratic Majority for Israel’s launch video seeks to package Israel yet again as a progressive cause. Its speakers reel off their political values: “women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, safeguarding the environment, worker’s rights, health care as a fundamental rights, voters’ rights,” till Ann Lewis chimes in, “And I believe in United States support for Israel.”
Pollster Mark Mellman says, “A majority of Democrats are pro-Israel,” then Peter Villegas, a corporate exec, adds, “But we need more.”
The ad repeats the word progressive many times. Amanda Breslauer of the College Democrats of America is the one young person in the ad, saying, “I support progressive values, and I support Israel.” Though the Times coverage of the new group helpfully quotes Simone Zimmerman of IfNotNow saying that “the American Jewish establishment and the Democratic establishment” have let Trump and Netanyahu off the hook.
So the function of this new group appears to be just what AIPAC’s function is: to make sure there is no daylight between the American government and Netanyahu/the Israeli government. And they have a lot of money behind them, Mellman told the Times.
“Some Jewish Democrats have suggested that Mr. Mellman’s group represents a Democratic arm of Aipac, though he said they are ‘separate and independent,’” the Times reports.
But here are some of the AIPAC connections.
–Peter Villegas is also a member of AIPAC’s “national council.”
–Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor, who is on the new group’s board and pictured in the Times story, gave a speech at AIPAC last year, praising Israel as a “progressive paradise” and a “role model for other nations including America.” She said, “Despite a wildly polarized political environment, I pledge to continue to reach across the aisle to support AIPAC’s work, to educate and engage both conservatives and progressives, and ensure that Israel remains a bipartisan issue.” She also stated that, “There is a strong pro-Israel voice within the Democratic party.”
–Ann Lewis is an AIPAC regular and has also worked, AIPAC says, with its spinoff the American Israel Education Foundation “to bring groups of progressive women leaders to Israel.” Lewis has told Democrats not to criticize Netanyahu: “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to pick and choose from among the political parties.”
The Times says that the new group is a “counterweight” to J Street, though their agendas overlap. J Street also seeks to package Israel as a progressive cause, and while it has criticized Netanyahu fiercely, it has lamented the possibility that Israel will become a partisan football, and has not endorsed the new progressive class of Congresspeople who are critical of Israel: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, congresswomen who support Boycott, Divestment (BDS) targeting Israel, and rising Democratic star, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
According to the Times, the Democratic Majority group’s action list includes defending Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries from a possible leftwing challenge organized by Ocasio-Cortez. Politico said the rivalry between the New York reps Ocasio-Cortez and Jeffries is “personal,” due to a caucus battle in the Democratic Party, but Israel is also a clear divider.
In 2014 in the midst of Israel’s slaughtering civilians in Gaza, including 500 children, Hakeem Jeffries went to a pro-Israel rally and said “Israel today, Israel tomorrow, Israel forever,” in an echo of George Wallace’s segregation today, tomorrow, and forever speech.
Particularly since that massacre, progressives have been walking away from the Democratic Party over Israel; and Bernie Sanders made the Gaza slaughter an issue in the 2016 New York primary, and he also took on Netanyahu. This new group may answer an anxiety, but it won’t answer the problem.