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March 5, 2014
Crossing the Divide for Israel Advocacy
The pre-eminent pro-Israel lobby took an important step forward this week in reasserting its bipartisan bona fides. And that’s a good thing. Now the challenge is for pro-Israel activists to continue the effort after returning home from a heady few days of solidarity and advocacy at the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Our community has become increasingly vituperative in blaming the other guy — or party — for the ills that surround us.
The anxiety is understandable as the stakes are high: Diplomacy with a nuclear-driven Iran; a soon-to-be released plan by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; and, to top it off, beyond the scope of the Middle East, an escalating crisis with Russia, eerily reminiscent of the Cold War, over Ukraine.
But rather than debating the policies with reason, our community too often becomes shrill. Concerns about Kerry’s peace plan and tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran are real. But the notion, heard too often these days, that AIPAC’s policies align only with hardline Republicans is counterproductive — and wrong.
“We must affirm bipartisanship in our own ranks if we want support for Israel to be championed by Democrats and Republicans alike,” Michael Kassen, AIPAC’s chairman, cautioned the delegates at the conference’s opening plenary on Sunday. “AIPAC’s political diversity is critical to our continued success.”
It was reassuring to see Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives, as well as non-Jews of different ethnicities, standing up for the pro-Israel message. AIPAC always puts on a good show, but beyond the glitz, the coalition it assembles is impressive — and important — especially when it comes to bringing student leaders from campuses across the nation.
With all these constituencies, it’s important to stress that there is a place in the pro-Israel tent for all political persuasions. If AIPAC becomes identified with one party or the other, its support in Congress is eroded and the effectiveness of its message is diluted.
Both Kerry and Netanyahu tried to change the tone during their appearances at the conference.
“I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors,” Netanyahu said. “Peace would be good for us, peace would be good for the Palestinians, but peace would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world.”
It won’t be easy to get there, but that’s a vision we should all welcome, no matter our politics.