I voted for Obama. Twice. I also voted for Hillary and her husband (twice). I support, financially and otherwise, Democratic candidates, and I receive daily updates from the Democratic Party.
And I support AIPAC, passionately and wholeheartedly.
As I see it, it’s very simple. AIPAC is indispensable to Israel’s survival. My logic is, to me, irrefutable: Israel doesn’t exist without U.S. aid (about $3.7 billion annually), and U.S. Congressional support doesn’t exist without AIPAC. So, without AIPAC, I honestly believe Israel’s very survival is in peril. I recognize that many people — including lots of Jews — will disagree with me, but I think they’re wrong.
So why is it that so many Jews, especially young and liberal ones, are uninvolved and sometimes even hostile to AIPAC, an organization that exists solely to strengthen U.S./Israel relations? Is that based on some thoughtful analysis or just a failure to take the time to understand what AIPAC really does?
As one of AIPAC’s “lay leaders,” I often have people tell me that they lost interest in AIPAC when it “became so Republican.” They saw the political leanings of many of its members and concluded that the organization doesn’t represent their values, and so they stopped listening.
But if they were to take a closer look, they just might see that they’re missing the larger picture. The political whims of AIPAC’s members have always shifted over time, but that’s actually irrelevant because the organization itself is fiercely bipartisan. These aren’t mere words. AIPAC really does walk the bipartisan walk; it’s actually the group’s most enduring principle.
Yet, the misconceptions about AIPAC continue and, sadly, many good, bright pro-Israel people have bought into a false narrative and walked away. So, it’s especially important to enlighten people about AIPAC, starting by separating fact from fiction.
The Facts on AIPAC
AIPAC, most people don’t know, openly declares its support for a two-state solution. “The two-state solution,” said a senior AIPAC official recently, “has been and continues to be the goal that we aspire to.”
The organization does not endorse prime ministers in Israel or presidential candidates in America. Every year at Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., major leaders from both parties speak. Each presidential election year, the organization routinely invites all candidates to present themselves to its members (in 2016 Bernie Sanders declined the invitation).
President Obama spoke at Policy Conference in 2012 and proudly announced that “America stands shoulder to shoulder when it comes to Israel’s security.” Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-Kentucky, told the crowd in 2011 that it’s “good to celebrate something we all agree on and that’s our support for Israel.”
When candidate Donald Trump criticized Obama at the Policy Conference podium in 2016, the very next morning AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus made an unannounced appearance and distanced the organization from Trump’s remarks. Each year at the conference, an impressive and eloquent array of bipartisan leaders — from ultra-liberal to ultra-conservative — praise AIPAC for its extraordinary work in garnering broad support in such a divisive political world.
AIPAC frequently sponsors bipartisan trips to Israel, including the recent “Bipartisan Allies Mission” involving the leadership of College Democrats of America and the College Republican National Committee. These young men and women saw firsthand how bipartisan AIPAC is, and they learned how essential that strategy is to AIPAC’s ability to succeed.
AIPAC’s sister group, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), has brought 50 percent of Congress members from both parties to Israel. These trips do wonders in creating real and lasting bonds and friendships among people with vastly different political views.
AIPAC’s Education Efforts
From an educational standpoint, AIPAC provides its members with mountains of information. Members get exposed to regular lectures, conferences (featuring both Democratic and Republican speakers), articles, breaking news, updates and analyses. Many AIPAC members, I would say, are thoroughly versed on Israel issues. Leaders of the organization, in my experiences, are walking encyclopedias on Israel and the Middle East. It’s actually quite impressive.
I believe that too few people — including Jews — fully understand the true crisis in which Israel finds itself. The Webster Dictionary defines “war” as “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations.” Israel is, by any account, in such a situation today — at this very moment. It is under regular missile attacks (in both the north and the south); it is subjected to constant shootings, stabbings and bombings; and is targeted for boycotts, divestiture and sanctions.
Its enemies mince no words in their declared intentions, openly stating their goal is to “wipe Israel off the map” (anti-Israel protesters in Iran last summer unveiled a digital countdown clock showing 8,411 days until the “destruction of Israel”). Sad to say, but let’s be real, Israel is literally at war — and has been every day since it was founded in 1948.
In 2014, approximately 4,600 rockets were launched toward Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system (with strong support from President Obama) intercepted about 90 percent of these rockets. But the enemy’s rockets now, according to all reports, are far more advanced. Many “zigzag” closer to the ground to evade detection. In response, Israel has developed the next generation of missile defense known as “David’s Sling,” which appears to be effective but (fortunately) has not been tested in any massive air attack.
A real-life weaponry race is being played out in the Middle East, pitting Israel against a potential onslaught of missile attacks from all sides. Israel’s future just might depend on the outcome of this race. Will the missiles penetrate Israel and threaten its existence or will Israel’s defense system successfully intercept them?
Financial Support For Israel
That’s exactly the kind of issue AIPAC is focused on. Israel needs that $3.7 billion a year to defend itself, and that aid is hardly assured forever. Every two years, AIPAC must educate and persuade a new class of Congress members to support Israel, many of whom have little knowledge or affinity for the Jewish state and often with a constituency that wouldn’t think twice to eliminate all aid to Israel. We hear that all the time at AIPAC, especially recently. But AIPAC doggedly makes the case for congressional support, an enormously difficult task.
Its detractors will sometimes dismiss this by suggesting that America will always support Israel, so it’s really no big deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s actually an extraordinarily naïve and dangerous position and Jews, of all people, should know better based on their history of going from acceptance to persecution in multiple countries around the world.
The reality is that getting (and then keeping) congressional support for Israel is a very heavy lift, requiring an inexhaustible amount of time and effort. The AIPAC staff, only about 300 people nationwide, diligently does its job with a sober grasp of what’s on the line. They have to always think long-term, constantly nurturing relationships that will hopefully prove helpful one day in the future, perhaps as long as 10 or 20 years away. Each day they tirelessly make their case to lawmakers and staff from both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on most things, but many of them sing the praises of AIPAC, who deal with them in a serious, fact-based and respectful manner at all times.
AIPAC has its flaws, of course, and doesn’t shy away from criticism. When a group’s goal is something as mindbogglingly difficult as safeguarding Israel. then naturally there are going to be missteps and regrets. This is tough stuff. There’s no how-to manual for exactly how best to execute this work, and AIPAC always seeks participation and debate from a wide range of diverse people, including African Americans, Latinos, veterans, LGBT groups, evangelicals and others, many of whom are active in the organization and regularly attend the annual Policy Conference in huge numbers.
The Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” literally means “the hope.” That hope, according to the lyrics, is for the Jewish people to “be a free people in their own land.” It’s a beautiful song with a haunting melody that tugs at the hearts of most Jews throughout the world. The song is played at the kickoff of AIPAC’s Policy Conference, alongside the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s a powerfully emotional moment to behold: the two flags standing side by side, symbolizing an alliance that — one would hope — is and will remain rock solid.
But as AIPAC honors that alliance, it knows it cannot ever become complacent. It knows all too well what too few people fail to realize: It must work its tail off to keep as many of those 535 congressional seats pro-Israel, and it doesn’t give a damn whether those seats are blue or red.
So, to people — especially self-described liberals and young people — who have walked away from AIPAC out of some misperceived view that the organization doesn’t speak for them, I urge you to re-familiarize yourselves with what AIPAC really is and what it really does. Stay at the table, listen to your fellow pro-Israel supporters, and lend your voice and your talent to what you think is right. You just might discover that your views and AIPAC’s are a lot more aligned than you ever possibly imagined.
Mark Jacobs is a member of the Michigan AIPAC Council and the Michigan Director for African-American Outreach.