For years I have been a supporter of AIPAC, both personally and professionally. I have made donations. I have attended policy conference. I have encouraged others to do the same. I have led groups to attend. This was for a simple and compelling reasons: Israel is not a partisan issue.
The truth was always clear and compelling: AIPAC invested in education of all members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation. AIPAC sponsored fact-finding missions for Congressmen and Congresswomen to learn for themselves how Israel is a democracy and ally to our core. AIPAC stood for the special relationship and alliance between our countries that would endure regardless of which political party or parties were in charge on either side of the relationship. And the AIPAC policy conference was the jewel in the crown where seminars, speakers, and vendors came together from across the political spectrum in unity and shared beliefs.
I was right then, but sadly those days are now gone. No more policy conference. And AIPAC is running US domestic agenda attack ads against primary candidates they oppose.
In the past year AIPAC has chosen to establish a superPAC, and has already begun doing exactly what I always said they would never do. AIPAC now directly funds candidates that they believe reflect a specific approach to the US Israel relationship, and one that has in the past 15 years trended sharply to the right in both Israeli and US politics. That means that some portion of every dollar given now will find its way not only into the political coffers of specific Congresspeople but specific candidates for Congress as well.
When they made that decision last year, I expressed my dismay, and held back my public criticism. I chose not to send my own donations through them anymore, since I wish to make my own political donations to the candidates of my choice - including my consideration of what is best for the US Israel relationship.
But now, it has gone further. I know this is the logical next step, but this is when they lose me completely I am afraid.
AIPAC's superPAC has now committed itself to actively campaign against chosen candidates for Congress by running attack ads on domestic American political issues. If an "undesirable" candidate is vulnerable because of their ties to criminal justice reform in the US, AIPAC will now run extreme ads accusing them of defunding the police. AIPAC has no actual policy position on US criminal justice reform. They will simply use it to attack. For me, it is a core betrayal of ideal I had believed in. AIPAC may not actually mention Israel at all in these campaigns. Whatever works to make sure the right person loses.
And, not surprisingly any more, they are not really involved in the Republican Primaries. It is almost entirely aimed at the Democratic Party. It will be a straight forward multimillion dollar campaign to seek to choose the leadership of the Democratic party and its delegation to the US Congress. I am appalled, quite frankly.
For members of the Democratic Party who wish to join a powerful pro-Israel voice, there already is the Democratic Majority for Israel. It is clearly a domestic political movement engaged in primaries and the general elections. AIPAC is duplicating this effort, and - in my view - in a disturbing way.
Now, I know how I sound. I can hear my fellow Zionists saying, "Don't be naive, Rabbi Tobin. This is how the game is played today." I get it. We live in a divisive, ugly political climate where money talks and extreme voices are too dangerous to ignore. I get it and you get it.
I will continue to work for candidates in primaries and the general election that are good for both America and Israel. I will consider broader issues and vote accordingly, rather than just weaponizing them for one side of this divide. And when I wish to be partisan, I will make that decision for myself.
AIPAC was supposed to be a different space. I lament the loss of AIPAC's legitimate non-partisan posture. I will miss the honest big tent where all views were welcome. And I am confident that my approach is the most appropriate for both this country and for Israel.
So, sadly, I remain where I am and wave goodbye from the docks as AIPAC sails its superPAC into the mud and muck of extremist domestic American politics.