AIPAC’s new strategic approach to ensuring a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has earned many new friends and deepened bonds with old ones. It has also revealed new critics and deepened the enmity of those already known.

Much has been written about AIPAC’s new strategy for strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. Unfortunately, much of it falls into the category of misinformation — some from those who legitimately misunderstand the strategy, and even more from those who oppose AIPAC or Israel and find the new strategy threatening. As a pro-Israel activist for four decades, a member of AIPAC’s national board of directors for two of those years and its national president from 2008-2010, I am well- positioned to add some light to all the heat this subject has attracted.

David Victor
David Victor

One of the things I most admire about AIPAC is its constant introspection and perpetual quest to improve. For over 30 years, AIPAC’s strategic model served our mission well — indeed quite well with AIPAC consistently rated among the most effective and respected single issue advocacy organizations in the country, in the company of much larger and better- funded organizations. While these plaudits were validating and appreciated, our own over-the-horizon assessment given our country’s unprecedented political environment made clear a strategic shift was needed.

Hyper-polarization, skyrocketing costs of campaigns and the ascendance of anti-Israel far-left politicians were among the political trends conspiring to demand profound change. AIPAC could no longer focus exclusively on issue advocacy while leaving political engagement to individual pro-Israel activists. Instead, AIPAC as an organization needed to enter the political arena in its own name, assertively helping our friends and pushing back on those seeking to undermine our mission.

To achieve this goal, AIPAC established a federal PAC and a SuperPAC. AIPAC’s federal PAC — the AIPAC PAC and AIPAC Political Portal — are the vehicles through which voters can support pro-Israel candidates throughout the country, enabling them to define themselves to their electorates. Further, AIPAC’s PAC publicly endorses candidates from both parties (in roughly equal numbers) exclusively based on their support of the U.S.-Israel relationship. This designation makes clear to all which candidates and members of Congress are pro-Israel and which are not. As myriad polls have shown over many decades, our country is uniquely pro-Israel. Organizations and legislators seeking to weaken the U.S.-Israel relationship know that very well and for that reason cynically call themselves “pro-Israel” while acting to the contrary. The AIPAC PAC endorsement clarifies which legislators are pro-Israel and which are not, shutting down efforts of Israel’s detractors to appropriate the “pro-Israel” label for their political purposes and redefine it to mean the opposite.

AIPAC’s SuperPAC, known as the United Democracy Project or UDP, has a different purpose. It is designed to play a determinative role in selected electoral contests between strong supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship and those who seek to undermine it. Like all SuperPACs, UDP can make unlimited independent expenditures in support of its preferred candidate, and it can do so in coordination with other SuperPACs that may be focused on different policy issues but desire the same electoral outcome. While a new organization, thus far in the primaries of this electoral cycle, UDP has proven itself exceedingly effective playing a critical role in the defeat of eight anti-Israel candidates and electing pro-Israel Democratic champions in their place.

Second to our track record, the clearest indication of the efficacy of the new AIPAC are the breathless libels of our and Israel’s detractors. They have declared “war” on AIPAC. They accuse AIPAC of targeting progressives because they are progressives. A total lie, and they know it. AIPAC has endorsed over half the progressive caucus in Congress.
They accuse AIPAC of targeting women of color because they are women of color. A total lie, and they know it. AIPAC has played decisive roles in the election of women of color to Congress and has endorsed over half of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And they seethe with outrage at AIPAC for engaging in our democratic process in a manner identical to organizations they applaud because they share their politics. Indeed, these double standards sometimes flirt with age-old antisemitic tropes by asserting AIPAC undermines our American democracy with its “dark” money and uniquely evil influence. They hope these attacks will intimidate pro-Israel Americans into silence, into forgoing our democratic rights. They could not be more mistaken.

AIPAC’s new strategic approach to ensuring a strong U.S.-Israel relationship has earned many new friends and deepened bonds with old ones. It has also revealed new critics and deepened the enmity of those already known.

Individuals, organizations and movements are judged by the company they keep and the enemies they make. So far, AIPAC is greatly encouraged by both.

David Victor is a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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