Of all the dramas that are unfolding over the Israeli government’s plan to annex large portions of the West Bank starting in July, one political marvel has gone largely unnoticed: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the fearsome Israel lobby in Washington, has had nothing to say, and indeed may be foretelling its own downfall with its silence.
That’s because the Israeli move is, without a doubt, a great threat to the future of the “Jewish state,” surely the greatest crisis Israel has faced in the last ten years at least, and yet the organization whose entire mission is securing Israel’s future has been completely silent. The AIPAC twitter feed is filled with chamber of commerce type promotion (“Israeli innovation keeps us safer and healthier”), and not a word about annexation.
But if you check in with individual leading Zionists in the United States, they are all against annexation, liberal to conservative. People like Jeremy Burton, Dennis Ross, Robert Satloff, Martin Indyk, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Jeffrey Goldberg, even Daniel Pipes. They recognize the threat annexation represents to the future of the Jewish state. The threat is manifold and obvious: annexation will isolate Israel in the world and make the Europeans impose sanctions on Israel; annexation threatens the peace treaty with Jordan; annexation will so further compromise Palestinian movement that it poses a real possibility of a third intifada, with even labor Zionists predicting “uprising” as a natural response of people pressed into a corner; annexation will fracture and begin to dissolve the Democratic Party’s support for Israel; annexation will make apartheid official and undeniable, even in the eyes of many American Jews who have resisted that understanding for years; and annexation fuels the boycott campaign.
The only counterclaim to this string of arguments is messianic delusion: God (or the British) promised the Jews the land, so what are you worried about? If you are a serious person who believes in the necessity of a Jewish state, this is a very dangerous time indeed. An Israeli government with a narrow purchase on public opinion is about to launch a new era that could produce years and years of isolation and violence in Israel. Even AIPAC favorite Yossi Klein Halevi, part of the settler movement, is against this!
Once again, the question is: Where is AIPAC? It’s the largest pro-Israel group, one that can get 76 Senate signatures on a napkin overnight, and 20,000 Israel lovers into a Washington, D.C. convention center every year. It is so well known that everyone recognizes it by its initials alone. And today all that firepower is silent. In a true crisis for the Jewish state, AIPAC has not a word to say.
There are a couple of plausible explanations for that silence. First, AIPAC never criticizes the Israeli government, per its own policy. Fine, but what if that government is about to push the Jewish state off a cliff? Is AIPAC so hardwired by tactical thinking that it can’t see a real threat when it presents itself? Maybe.
But in that case the lobby has shown that it has outlived its usefulness to Israel and is a victim of its own irresponsibility. For decades it has said that we will never criticize Israel as it colonized other people’s lands and now when Israel is poised to take a giant last step in that direction, it can’t reverse itself.
Or maybe AIPAC thinks it can’t be critical of a U.S. president, can’t endanger its access to the highest chamber in the land. Trump is all set on annexation. He thinks it can get him Sheldon Adelson’s millions and maybe Florida in November, and AIPAC can’t be the least bit critical of a president or it might lose access.
But here again, the Israel lobby’s flagship has sacrificed its real mission to a bureaucratic tactic. It built a juggernaut in Washington to support Israel, and now in an hour of crisis, it says nothing.
AIPAC’s failure has clearly empowered other Zionist organizations. J Street is leading the fight against annexation, along with Americans for Peace Now. The gradual takeover of the Israel lobby by J Street we’ve seen over the last year or so seems inevitable now, due to AIPAC’s abdication. In fact, the one commentator to point this out is the new head of APN, Hadar Suskind, who wrote in Haaretz that the leading Israel lobby organizations were allowing Israel to sacrifice its future “on the altar of ethno nationalism.”
Nothing less than the Jewish state is at risk, Suskind wrote in a desperate plea for help:
[W]hen this future is under threat, we will speak up, we will speak out, and we will fight for the vision that reflects both Israel’s founders and the view of the vast majority of American Jews. We call on all our colleagues to join us in protecting a Jewish and democratic Israel by clearly and forcefully opposing annexation. Don’t wait until it is too late.
Whatever you think of the Zionist vision — and we are against it — from a political standpoint, AIPAC’s abdication is both mystifying and pathetic, and could bring about a chaotic generational struggle inside the Israel lobby in which the young Jews in IfNotNow and Open Hillel are suddenly contending with the American Jewish Committee for leadership.
As an act of unforced political self-destruction, AIPAC’s silence is a wonder of the world — right up there with the lobby’s accumulation of power in the first place.