March 5, 2014

"I am AIPAC," and I have something to say.

I was fortunate to attend the main events at this week's annual AIPAC Policy Conference. One old-time friend was thrilled to see me, then asked why I'm "going after AIPAC". He was referring to my recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, anticipating the Policy Conference and its traditional grassroots mobilization on Capitol Hill. I had admonished AIPAC and other mainstream organizations to take some substantive steps to advance Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pro-peace rhetoric, which so far seem to be in short supply.

Why didn't I open my op-ed with this year's Policy Conference slogan, "I am AIPAC"? So, here it is: I am AIPAC. And I should be more careful to make this evident in all that I publish on Israeli politics. 

It should be evident that unapologetically pushing for proactive leadership in the cause of peace will advance U.S.-Israel relations and enhance Israel's long-term security. It should be evident that welcoming President Obama's very promising and tangible opening with Iran will advance the best chance for averting a nuclear-backed frenzy across the Middle East, as opposed to feeding a paranoid frenzy on Capitol Hill and throughout the Jewish community about the need for new sanctions added conditions, just as negotiations are bearing fruit.

It should be evident that full-blooded cheering and applause for attacks on the Administration are poor vehicles to advance AIPAC's brand, that allowing AIPAC to serve a platform for greater distance between the White House and Congress will not make Israel safer or AIPAC more effective.

I am very grateful that AIPAC exists, and I like to think I can have some input into the conversations. I do believe AIPAC and the organized Jewish community have missed some opportunities and made missteps over the past few years, and so do many of my professional colleagues across the Jewish community. I know many lay leaders are skeptical as well, but generally they have too much to lose personally to bother speaking up especially when it appears the final script has already been approved. 

While being at AIPAC makes me feel like the most liberal Zionist who still belongs in that room, I have never felt unwelcome, I have never felt like I was in the wrong place.

Some months ago, I blogged:

"For many years, I did my best to reiterate and promote the official policies of the Israeli Government, but then I realized that so many champions of Israel -- on the right and the left -- were using the Jewish State to advance their own ideological agenda in Israel and to score partisan points in U.S. politics. When I found myself free to speak my mind, thanks to politicized personnel decisions, I decided to seize the moment for as long as I could."

As I said at the time, "I don't especially like or dislike Prime Minister Netanyahu, though I would always give him my best advice with the goal of helping him make the most of whatever situation he chooses to seek for himself and for Israel. In the meantime, I will continue to speak my mind and try to listen to other views along the way."

AIPAC has always felt like home to me, its staff are true friends, and I have always respected what they do and they do it. If right-wing groups can attack AIPAC's very legitimacy and still be considered defenders of Brand Israel, I should be able to register my limited critiques, against a wall of apparent uniformity, without being considered outside the tent. And at AIPAC, this has always been the case. 

I should have reiterated my affinity for AIPAC's mission and people up front. It's that very affinity which drives my compulsion to advance my views.

It is unfortunate that many AIPAC supporters see any critique or dissension as an attack on the pro-Israel lobby and even on the State of Israel. More tragically, many of those critics who might otherwise be joining me inside AIPAC's tent now accept that as fact.

No comments:

Post a Comment