Why Sanders & Warren Boycott AIPAC

Over 25 years ago, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin complained about the anemic support of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) for his government’s efforts at peace, prompting the launch of a more dovish organization within the pro-Israel American-Jewish community, the Israel Policy Forum.  But AIPAC’s rightward trajectory has continued.  One of our colleagues, David Schraub, a lecturer in law and research fellow at the University of California, has written a piece for the Jewish news service JTA, entitled “Bernie Sanders skipping AIPAC shouldn’t be a surprise — AIPAC has already capitulated to the right,” arguing that AIPAC is endangering bipartisan support for Israel by being so accepting of Netanyahu’s policies.

It should be noted that Forward editor in chief Jody Rudoren (and others) disagreed with this decision in an editorial, suggesting that Sen. Sanders should have made his case before the lobbying group’s national conference, currently in session, against expanding settlements and annexation.  What follows is an abridged version of David Schraub’s article:


. . . The snubbing of AIPAC by Democratic leaders does not so much reflect a change in the party’s positions on Israel — both Warren and Sanders remain supporters of a two-state solution — as … that … American politics has changed, . . .  And if the Israel lobbying group doesn’t right course soon, it is on the path to becoming irrelevant. 

. . .  AIPAC historically has avoided narrow orthodoxies around Israel, instead centering its organizing model on relationships and compromise.  . . . But a series of high-profile, one-sided political interventions, such as the group’s opposition to the Iran deal, have severely damaged AIPAC’s veneer of bipartisanship — and Democrats are taking notice. 

While much has been written about the evolution in progressive attitudes toward Israel and the pro-Israel community over the past few years, there is a parallel shift in right-wing views. There is a conservative effort to convert Israel into a wedge issue via an insistence that “pro-Israel” only corresponds to a particular, far-right vision for the state . . . 

Thus AIPAC is under tremendous pressure from a right flank that will only accept the group as legitimate if it starts knee-capping the left. The fruit of this pressure campaign was seen in a recent ad campaign launched by AIPAC  that accused “the radicals in the Democratic Party” of “pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people,” and even suggested that Democratic politicians were more dangerous than Hamas and ISIS. 

AIPAC apologized when the ads came to light, but tellingly did not reveal who had approved them or what steps had been taken to ensure nothing similar would recur.  . . .

Meanwhile, for many Democrats, these ads were a particularly visceral illustration of a deeper rot. AIPAC, despite its nominal bipartisanship, had fallen into a trap I warned about years ago: It has treated Democrats as second-class friends.

While it’s true that AIPAC does not align with the political right on every issue — it supports a two-state solution, for instance — it is obvious that AIPAC does not pursue those issues with quite the same enthusiasm that it exhibits when attacking Democrats. AIPAC may murmur support for an eventual Palestinian state in a news release, but you will never see it drop tens of millions in a public campaign of opposition to Trump’s idea of a “peace plan,” as AIPAC-backed groups did in an effort to sink the Iran deal in 2015. AIPAC may not overtly favor infinite settlement expansion, but it wouldn’t dare run ads accusing Greater Israel-aligned Republicans of being tantamount to terrorists. 

AIPAC’s aggressive interventions in defense of conservative pro-Israel priorities would be much less aggravating if there were even the slightest chance it would do the same for the issues on which it nominally aligns with progressives. It is this failure of bipartisanship — punching down at the left while treating the right with kid gloves — that ultimately has generated the crisis that AIPAC faces today.

. . . .  Simply continuing to invite high-profile Democrats to the AIPAC conference, and paying lip service to a few progressive shibboleths, is no longer sufficient to preserve AIPAC’s bipartisan character. As the right is questioning the usefulness of any Israel organization that isn’t formally committed to burning down the Democratic Party, progressives are wondering what AIPAC has to offer in terms of ending the occupation and creating a lasting and just peace. What has AIPAC actually done concretely to support a two-state solution beyond saying “we support it”? . . . .

But if there is hope for a different outcome, it comes from those progressives who still attend or work at AIPAC. It’s no longer going to be enough simply to show up. The progressive contingent within AIPAC must start insisting on tangible action — real efforts and real investment in the areas that pro-Israel progressives care about . . . .

. . .  [If] nothing else, Sanders and Warren have delivered a wake-up call. AIPAC will either adapt to the new political terrain — or it will cease to be relevant.