If AIPAC can apologize to the Democratic party for a mistake they made on Facebook, they can apologize to President Donald Trump for a mistake they made before 20,000 of their members.
AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — is the most important organization representing pro-Israel Americans who believe that a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is in our national interest.
One of AIPAC’s strengths has always been a bipartisan approach to lobbying, and a recognition that both Democratic and Republican support is essential for the U.S.-Israel alliance alliance to endure.
In a rare misstep, AIPAC recently placed Facebook ads that blamed “radicals in the Democratic Party” for “pushing their antisemitic policies down the throats of the American people,” and asking supporters to sign a letter telling Democrats not to “abandon Israel.” One version of the petition said “It’s critical that we protect our Israeli allies especially as they face threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and – maybe more sinister – right here in Congress.”
The ad was surprising, because AIPAC’s philosophy has always been that elected officials are potential friends rather than enemies. The language was also surprisingly strident for an organization that prides itself on its political acumen.
Substantively, the ads were on point, in identifying the growing danger of radicals taking over the Democratic Party and turning the United States against Israel. Three congresswomen who apparently were in a graphic attached to the ad are among those seeking to undermine the relationship.
Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are antisemites who promote the “boycott, divest, sanctions” (BDS) movement that seeks Israel’s destruction. The third woman, Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, has spread lies about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors and introduced legislation seeking to cut aid to Israel based on the information she is disseminating from Palestinian propaganda groups.
The AIPAC ads targeted “radicals,” but they could also have applied to several of the Democratic candidates for president who want to return to the catastrophic nuclear deal with Iran, condition vital military aid to Israel, and return to the failed “peace” initiatives of the past.
Predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the radical left-wing J Street organization, accused AIPAC of attacking “progressive voices who are seeking peace, justice and right for both Israelis and Palestinians” and suggested the lobby is too supportive of the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister.
His response highlights the difference between the two organizations. Unlike J Street, AIPAC understands that to be effective you have to work with the leaders in power. Unlike J Street, AIPAC represents the views of most pro-Israel Americans. Unlike J Street, AIPAC believes in bipartisanship rather than being cheerleaders for Democrats critical of Israel. Unlike J Street, AIPAC respects Israel’s democracy and believes the people of Israel should determine their fate rather than kibitzers 6,000 miles away who want to substitute their judgement for the people who must live with the consequences. Unlike J Street, AIPAC does not believe the Palestinians are blameless for the ongoing conflict, nor does it advocate one-sided pressure on Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands.
Those differences explain why AIPAC is considered the most powerful foreign policy lobby in Washington and J Street’s influence is non-existent.
The speciousness of the J Street accusations are also apparent from AIPAC’s hypersensitivity to upsetting Democrats. After the ads were criticized, AIPAC issued a rare statement apologizing for offending Democrats with the ad’s “imprecise wording.”
To its credit, AIPAC did not totally surrender to its critics, saying that the ad “alluded to a genuine concern of many pro-Israel Democrats about a small but growing group, in and out of Congress, that is deliberately working to erode the bipartisan consensus on this issue and undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
I am an AIPAC supporter and have attended its annual policy conference for nearly three decades. But AIPAC has someone else to whom it should apologize: President Donald Trump.
In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump spoke to the AIPAC policy conference and received enthusiastic applause when he said President Barack Obama was “maybe the worst thing to happen to Israel” and added, “Yay,” after mentioning the president was in his final year. The applause was not meant to insult the president but expressed two years of pent-up frustration at his push for the Iran deal, which legitimized Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel and gave the terrorist regime $150 billion to murder innocents across the globe.
The next day, then AIPAC president Lillian Pinkus tearfully apologized. “We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense to those that are levied against the president of the United States of America from our stage.” She added, “While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of president of the United States and our president, Barack Obama. There were people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night, and for that we are deeply sorry. We are disappointed that so many people applauded the sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”
There was one major problem with the apology: It did not anticipate that Donald Trump would be president seven months later.
The Washington Post noted the apology was “unprecedented.” Trump was not the first speaker to criticize a sitting president. In fact, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), speaking after Trump, compared Obama’s catastrophic nuclear deal with Iran to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich in 1939.
Pinkus may have disagreed with Trump’s sentiments, and AIPAC was probably pressured by the White House and Democrats to defend the president. But what Trump said should not have been a surprise. Moreover, the crowd’s response indicated his views were popular with many who viewed Obama’s presidency as problematic for Israel.
Now, almost four years later, Donald Trump has proven to be the most pro-Israel president in history and a dramatic contrast to his predecessor. After AIPAC’s public criticism of his words, it is perhaps not surprising that he is the first president in years to refuse to appear at the conference. Even this year, a presidential election year, he is not slated to appear at the AIPAC Conference in March.
The pro-Israel community deserves to hear from the president, and it’s my hope that AIPAC can repair relations with the president by doing for him what they did for Democrats last week.
AIPAC is America’s most important Jewish organization. It’s time they repair their relationship with a President who has had Israel’s back since the day he took office.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 33 books, including the upcoming Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.