The strength of the strategic partnership between Israel and the United States derives from bipartisan support. For this reason, over the years AIPAC carefully avoided becoming identified with one party or another. Lately, however, it seems that those days may be nearing an end.
There is no question that trying to navigate between the deep revulsion for Trump felt by much of the Jewish community and the love for the president felt by the current Israeli government is very tricky. Yet AIPAC managed to distance itself from previous presidents when it supported an Israeli government position over that of the president (as in the case of President Obama, for example), and there is no reason it shouldn’t be able to distance itself from the current president. Instead, it is taking actions that, under the guise of “defending Israel,” actually smear the Democrats and make support for Israel a matter for one party alone.
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The early signs were apparent at the lobby’s 2016 convention. The raucous cheers for Trump’s appearance highlighted the gap between what was happening in the convention hall and what was happening in the American Jewish community. A representative survey of American Jews published this week found that 75 percent of American Jews do not support President Trump. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said he had an anti-Semitic worldview and 75 percent said he held racist views. These respondents see a direct connection between the increase in anti-Semitism they are experiencing in the country and the occupant of the White House.
In online ads published two weeks ago, the lobby chose to attack “the radicals in the Democratic Party who are pushing their anti-Semitic policies down the throats of the American people.” The three Democratic congresswomen who were shown in the ad hold very critical views of Israel and promote the idea that the bilateral ties with Israel should be linked to the Israeli government’s policy toward the Palestinians. The ads were removed and an apology was issued, but the damage was done. Rep. Betty McCollum, one of the congresswomen featured in the ad, asserted that “by weaponizing anti-Semitism and hate to silence dissent, AIPAC is taunting Democrats and mocking our core values” and went so far as to label the organization a “hate group.”
Adopting populist practices that lump together terrorists and American lawmakers, critical as they may be, is fundamentally misguided and can have a dangerous boomerang effect. Such practices will not be able to quash the change that the Democrats are undergoing or their willingness to take more progressive stands to counter the populist right-wing agenda. They cannot provide a solution to what a majority of American Jewry understands: Incitement, no matter at whom it is directed, will always hurt a minority.
The good relations between the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government are not relations between countries, but between parties and figures who view one another’s success as key to their personal interest. But America is not just Trump and it’s not just the Republicans. As this symbiosis between the leaders grows ever tighter, the bond between the Israeli government, its representatives and emissaries on one hand, and on the other the new generation of the Democratic Party and of much of American Jewry, who don’t believe in blind support for every Israeli policy, continues to unravel.
As the AIPAC convention opens to much fanfare, it would be wise not to take the cheers for Trump and the right-wing (American and Israeli) speakers at face value, and, too, to follow the results of Super Tuesday, the most important day of the Democratic primaries, when voters from large states like California and Texas go to the polls. This is where the direction of the Democratic Party and perhaps also of the next U.S. administration will be determined. That administration may not be impressed by the rhetoric heard in the convention hall in Washington.
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The writer is the director of J Street Israel.