The Moral Bankruptcy of AIPAC

The Audience Applauds Presidential Candidate Donald Trump at the recent AIPAC conference.

What do Republicans Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have in common? Two things: (i) they voted against certifying the 2020 election results; and (ii) they are among the 37 Republican candidates who, notwithstanding their votes against certification, were recently endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Jim Jordan has also refused to testify before the congressional committee probing the January 6 insurrection despite his involvement in the violent events. Scott Perry has compared Democrats to Nazis and promoted white supremacist conspiracies. And a number of these AIPAC endorsees have disturbing histories of bigoted comments and actions against LGBTQ people and other minorities.

It is hardly necessary to elaborate on the danger posed to our democracy by baseless attempts to undermine the legitimacy of our electoral system just because we are unhappy with the results of an election. Not surprisingly, AIPAC’s endorsement of these proponents of the “Big Lie” has subjected the organization to scathing criticism from different quarters, including Tom Dine, a former Executive Director of AIPAC, Abe Foxman, a former head of the Anti-Defamation League, and pro-Israel organizations such as J Street that are also deeply committed to the basic values of liberal democracy and, consequently, have pledged not to endorse candidates who voted against certifying Joe Biden as U.S. president.

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What is perhaps most disturbing about AIPAC’s endorsements is the justification AIPAC has offered its critics, namely, that AIPAC is a single-issue organization focused exclusively on Israel. Indeed, AIPAC’s reputation as one of the two or three most effective U.S. lobbies is often credited to its razor-sharp focus on Israel. However, even if we assume that having Jordan, Perry, and others of their ilk in Congress is genuinely beneficial to Israel, it is impossible to ignore basic principles. After all, we teach our children that the ends cannot always justify the means. AIPAC does, indeed, have a long history of flouting this principle by, for example, using coercive methods to intimidate politicians, academics, and others who do not toe the AIPAC line and branding critics of policies supported by AIPAC as Anti-Semites. 

But surely there must be some red lines for an organization based in the U.S. that purports to be the leading voice of American Jews? AIPAC’s last round of endorsements lies beyond the moral pale and crosses these lines. As Richard N. Hass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations stated in response to AIPAC’s endorsements: “… it is morally bankrupt and shortsighted to back [those] who undermine democracy just because they support Israel. What ties the two countries is a commitment to democracy. An undemocratic America could easily distance itself from the Jewish state.”

Putting aside AIPAC’s blatant disregard for the interests of American democracy, this seems like a good time to raise a different but related question, namely, what exactly has AIPAC’s laser focus on policies it perceives as being in Israel’s interest actually achieved for Israel? Even the most myopic supporter of Israel, even those who somehow have got comfortable with the notion of “managing the conflict,” must concede that the status quo is less than ideal and that a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appears nowhere in sight. 

For decades a two state solution (TSS) was widely regarded as the most promising framework to achieve such a resolution. Clearly, primary responsibility for the failure to implement the TSS lies first and foremost with the parties themselves, both the Palestinians and the Israelis. However, it would be an understatement to say that AIPAC’s policies and actions have contributed significantly to this failure. For decades, AIPAC’s lobbying efforts have only resulted in a distorted U.S. foreign policy toward Israel that has provided unconditional political cover and financial support for a host of Israeli policies and practices that have severely damaged the prospects for the TSS, including massive settlement and other infrastructure projects resulting in the de facto annexation of the West Bank, and unrelenting punitive measures of incarceration, deportations and targeted killings of Palestinians that have undermined the development of a united and more moderate Palestinian leadership. U.S. foreign policy toward Israel has, in fact, only played into the hands of the most right-wing, ultranationalist and expansionist elements of the Israeli polity.

There can be no doubt that AIPAC bares significant responsibility for this state of affairs. In his recent book, “Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality,” Ian S. Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has written: 

The massive, indeed overwhelming support that successive American administrations gave Israel, which crippled Israeli moderates and empowered Israeli maximalists, was sustained not by presidential preferences, cultural affinities between Israel and the United States, or prudent considerations of American national interest but instead by the calculations of American politicians facing a sophisticated, powerful, single-issue movement [emphasis added] … The American-spun cocoon around Israel has vastly distorted Israeli perceptions and greatly reduced the country’s ability to gauge the real effects of its policies. The cocoon ruined the careers of dovish politicians while enhancing the prospects of those catering to Israeli fantasies. Opportunities for peace that might have been grasped were missed or destroyed.  

Indeed, we now face a situation in which an increasing number of critics and students of the conflict, including Professor Lustick, are sounding the death knell of the TSS. These scholars maintain that years of settlement activity and other policies and practices inimical to the TSS have resulted in an irreversible one-state reality – a reality that will no longer allow the successful negotiation of two separate states. These views rely on a wide range of cultural, geographic, demographic, and infrastructural considerations, but tend to emphasize the presence of some 620,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As a diehard supporter of the TSS model, I find Professor Lustick’s analysis and conclusions both compelling and disturbing and like to think there are still, under the right political conditions, chances for the TSS to succeed. But what if Professor Lustick is right, what if the window for implementation of the TSS has finally slammed shut? What next? How does one move from a one-state reality to an acceptable and just one-state solution? What would such a solution look like?  

Undoubtedly, the death of the TSS would pose significant conceptual and other challenges for individuals and Israeli and U.S.-based organizations, such as B’Tselem, Peace Now, the New Israel Fund, and J Street, which have dedicated so much time and effort to supporting and advocating for the TSS. However, these organizations have other things going for them. Any viable and just one-state solution will have to be based on the basic values of liberal democracy, including equality, toleration and self-determination, and self-realization for diverse constituent groups. These organizations, aside from being pro-Israel, in the very best sense of this term, are also deeply committed to these values. Consequently, if the future, indeed, lies with a one-state solution, these organizations will be able to adjust and play a constructive role in helping to fashion and support such a solution. In the case of J Street, for example, these values are firmly expressed in the organization’s mission statement: “Our work is grounded in the Jewish and democratic values on which we were raised. These values are central to who we are as a people: the principle that you should treat others the way that you would want to be treated yourself, basic notions of justice and freedom, the pursuit of peace, and tikkun olam —seeking to make the world a better place.” 

Unfortunately, and as may be inferred from the organization’s unprincipled support for politicians who may justly be labeled enemies of truth and fundamental democratic values, the case of AIPAC is different. As noted, for decades AIPAC has played an instrumental role in frustrating the realization of the TSS. Today, when the TSS may no longer be feasible, AIPAC, by endorsing and thereby siding with the most illiberal and chauvinistic forces in this country, has, in effect, also revealed itself as a likely opponent of any future attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the establishment of a robust liberal democracy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, within which both the Jewish people and the Palestinians can fulfill their legitimate national and cultural aspirations while sharing the land and living in peace as equal citizens. It appears, then, that the status quo may well be all that AIPAC really has to offer. It is, therefore, reasonable to question AIPAC’s moral fitness to serve as a legitimate political home for American Jews who care deeply about both the future of Israel and the health of American democracy and the liberal principles and values upon which it rests. 

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