This week, lobbyists, politicians, academics, and all the glitterati of the Israel lobby are gathering for the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, DC. Under the Trump administration, AIPAC has maintained a strong relationship with Republican members of congress, far right-wing Israeli politicians, and Christian Zionist groups. But the organization is facing a serious challenge: It increasingly has no cred with young Jews.
As AIPAC continues to embrace far-right politicians and lobby for militarism against Palestinians, more and more Jewish people are turning instead to political movements based on equality, dignity, and justice.
As a Jewish kid, I remember learning about AIPAC at my suburban Conservative synagogue. Members of my congregation eagerly attended the conference each year, and our Rabbi shared anecdotes from AIPAC on Yom Kippur as he preached the merits of buying Israel Bonds. It seemed to me, as a kid, that going to AIPAC’s annual conference was part of a Rabbi’s job description. And it wasn’t just at my shul. I heard rabbis singing the praises of AIPAC at the Reform temple down the road and at many bar and bat mitzvahs I attended.
But by the time I got to college, like many young Jewish people, I began to question the idea that AIPAC represented me. As I joined friends at vigils against Israel’s blockade on Gaza, AIPAC fought to increase U.S. funding of the military. As I scribbled notes at teach-ins about combating Anti-Semitism and White Supremacy, AIPAC repeatedly hosted far-right speakers, like Steven Emerson, a nearly annual speaker who has been called “a ‘leading light’ of the Islamophobia industry.”
As more people are making connections between Standing Rock and Khan Al Ahmar, between Ferguson and Gaza, AIPAC has made clear that it has no place within progressive politics. This year alone, the speakers list is rife with controversial figures, like Knesset Member Naftali Bennett, who once bragged, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.” This year’s speakers also include representatives from several prominent Evangelical Zionist groups, arms- and oil-industry lobbyists, and the Israel On Campus Coalition (ICC), which made headlines for surveilling left-leaning Jewish college students.
I was working as a Jewish educator in Durham, North Carolina (the land of the Eno/Occaneechi Nation) when Donald Trump was elected. In the years since, Durham has repeatedly faced hate crimes anti-Black, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic hate crimes. More and more young Jews — especially queer and trans Jews and Jews of color — are seeing the need for us to build a united movement against white supremacy, militarism, and racist policing. We know that there is constant work to be done to make our own communities more welcoming and to channel resources into protecting those in our community who are most vulnerable to state violence. Groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Network Against Islamophobia, and Movement to End Islamophobia and Racism (MERI) are growing rapidly, as demand increases for workshops about Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Meanwhile, organizations like Dream Defenders, Red Nation, Jewish Voice for Peace, and BYP100 are building a powerful network that connects local activism to Palestinian resistance, whether by fighting racist policing or resisting the theft and environmental devastation of Native lands. That’s not to mention growing involvement in advocacy groups like If Not Now, whose counter-AIPAC marches draw hundreds of young Jews.
This year, I began Rabbinical School in Jerusalem (a year in Israel is a long-standing requirement at most U.S. Rabbinical schools.) It’s very clear that my peers, the up-and-coming rabbis and cantors from every denomination, are setting out to turn the political tide. Many future cantors, rabbis, and Jewish educators actively support Palestinian civil resistance, from planting olive trees in lands threatened by settlers to spending the night alongside Palestinian and Israeli activists to prevent the demolition of Khan al Ahmar. We’re part of a growing trend of faith leaders from around the world, led by Palestinian theologians like Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, who believe that tearing down walls and prisons– fighting for true equality between Palestinians and Israelis– is one of the ways we honor God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Up-and-coming Jewish leaders don’t buy the “love first, questions later” approach to Israel. We don’t believe that loving Jewish people means staying silent every time a Palestinian teen is put in jail without a trial or every time a family is torn from their home to make room for a new settlement. We don’t believe that loving Jewish people means lobbying to increase the number of Made-In-The-USA bombs that are dropped on Gaza. Quite the opposite. Loving Jewish people means being part of mass movements against repressive regimes, racism, and militarism.
To the rising Jewish leaders of the Trump era, supporting AIPAC is a stone’s throw away from touting the NRA. We don’t want anything to do with far-right politicians, arms-industry lobbyists, or national security “experts” preaching a gospel of Islamophobic pseudo-science.
To most young Jews, AIPAC has no cred.