Opinion |

Forget Indictments. There Is Only One Reason AIPAC Will Ever Stop Standing by Netanyahu and Trump

Even if many Israelis are sick of Netanyahu, and most U.S. Jews despise Trump, AIPAC will back them unquestioningly. There is only one conceivable cloud on the horizon - and it’s not Mueller or the Israeli police

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Illustrative photo: Backdrop at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, March 2, 2015
Illustrative photo: Backdrop at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, March 2, 2015Credit: Bloomberg

With the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington only a couple of weeks away, there may be some in Israel who think the corruption charges that threaten to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will cast a shadow over the proceedings.

Any expectation that this will cause the throng that arrives in the capital to distance themselves from him are almost certainly mistaken.

Pro-Israel activists may worry about how Netanyahu’s legal woes will shape the Jewish state’s politics in the future but, for the moment, they’ll be sticking by him for the same reasons most are still firmly in the camp of President Donald Trump: They see no viable alternatives and they don’t trust his enemies.

The legal charges hanging over Netanyahu have prompted some facile comparisons between his dilemma and that of a Trump administration that continues to deal with the probe led by Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the president’s campaign and the Russians in 2016.

Talk about a "Goodfellas" summit between the two will prompt chortles as well as hopes about the ultimate political demise of both men from Israeli foes of Netanyahu and the anti-Trump "resistance." But those are not sentiments that will likely to be heard much at AIPAC.

AIPAC has come to be viewed by many on the left as a creature of the right, but that point of view misunderstands the way the pro-Israel lobby works.

AIPAC will always back any Israeli government, and will cheer any U.S. administration that supports Israel, regardless of party. That’s why the current coziness of Netanyahu and Trump makes pro-Israel activists so comfortable, even if many Israelis are sick of Netanyahu and most American Jews despise Trump.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington. March 2, 2015. Credit: AP

The very real possibility that Netanyahu will be indicted on corruption charges is worrisome to AIPAC activists. Most know nothing of Netanyahu’s possible successors within the Likud. Whatever sympathy some might have for opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Avi Gabbay, until either wins an Israeli election, few at AIPAC will waste much time thinking about them.

But as long as Netanyahu stays in office - and, given the realities of both Israeli law and the polls showing Likud and its allies winning a majority at the next election, he is likely to do so for some time - he will retain the unquestioning backing of the U.S. pro-Israel community.

The irony about the way Netanyahu and Trump are lumped together by their critics is that the two men couldn’t be any more different.

If anything, Netanyahu is very similar to former President Obama. In contrast to Trump, both men are arrogant intellectuals who have a low tolerance for criticism, a factor that contributed to their quarrels.

But Netanyahu has something in common with Trump: both men and their supporters view themselves as being locked in a war with their political foes in which no quarter can be given or received.

Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2016. Credit: Saul Loeb, AFP

Both Israel and the United States are suffering from the same malady: a bifurcated political culture in which many on the left and the right no longer read, listen or watch the same media and thus don’t listen to, let alone trust, the narratives accepted by those on the other side of the aisle.

Like Trump supporters in the U.S., Netanyahu’s loyalists view their leader as under siege by legal, political and media establishments that lack credibility and are dedicated solely to destroying their opponents. In this atmosphere, reasoned debate about Netanyahu’s ethics is about as hard to find as sober non-partisan analysis about Russia collusion. In both countries, where you stand on these issues is usually determined by where you sit on the political spectrum.

That means much of the pro-Israel community is more likely to believe Netanyahu’s denials than the accusations from the police. That is especially true for the Christian conservatives who are, even more than Jewish activists, the most effective foot soldiers for the pro-Israel cause in the U.S., and likely to view Netanyahu’s critics with the same disdain they treat Trump’s detractors.

With battle lines are drawn in this way, no one should expect either side to give an inch so long as either Trump or Netanyahu is still standing. And so long as that is true, AIPAC will be very comfortable cheering both men.

While not everyone at AIPAC is a partisan Republican, the shadow of the Mueller probe also won’t have much impact on the activists’ view of Trump. The reason for that is obvious. This administration has been a dream-come-true for the pro-Israel community.

IfNotNow protest outside AIPAC, March 2017Credit: Gili Getz

Two years ago, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus felt forced to publicly apologize for the cheers then-presidential candidate Donald Trump received from the group when he castigated Obama at the 2016 conference.

But after his statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, his closeness with Israel - personified by his appointment of David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement, as ambassador to Israel - and his public threats directed at the Palestinian Authority for its subsidies to terrorists, concerns about bipartisanship won’t restrain AIPAC’s praise for Trump’s policies.

Many Democrats will speak at the conference and the group will continue to work both sides of the aisle. But right now the Republicans are a lockstep pro-Israel party while the Democrats are increasingly divided about support for the Jewish state, even though that split is felt more by Democratic voters than among members of Congress.

That’s a concern for those who consider the very real possibility of the Democrats winning control of Congress this fall and taking back the White House in 2020. But even if that happens, for the moment, there is no real alternative for the pro-Israel community to continued support for an administration that has kept its promises to them in a way that none of its predecessors have done. The same is true for Trump’s likely Democratic successors.

The only possible cloud on the horizon at what will probably be a Trump lovefest stems not from the Democrats but from the administration itself.

The rumblings about Trump still harboring unrealistic ambitions about brokering the "ultimate deal" between Israel and the Palestinians should worry AIPAC.

If reports are correct, and even after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ January 14th speech, in which he trashed Trump and questioned Israel’s legitimacy, the president is still considering putting forward his own peace plan, that will alter and diminish the affection the group feels for him even if they - and Netanyahu - will likely count on Palestinian intransigence undermining Trump’s ideas, as much as they did Obama’s hopes for peace.

But unless or until Trump turns on AIPAC, it won’t turn on him or Netanyahu.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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