By Adam Basciano
As the director of Israel Policy Forum’s IPF Atid young professionals initiative, I attended this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, paying particular attention to developments regarding next generation support for Israel and the two-state solution. What can one even make of this year’s production, when depending on whom you speak with, either U.S.-Israel ties have absolutely never been better or growing partisanship is seriously jeopardizing the relationship moving forward?
Navigating the two-state issue is becoming increasingly complex. Key mentions of support for two states came from AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Israel’s Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay and others. Vice President Mike Pence also reiterated that if both parties agree, the administration will support it. This vocal support is notable because it is no longer enshrined in official Republican foreign policy, supported by Israel’s governing coalition or championed by many key American philanthropists. It also comes in the context of an incoming veiled administration peace plan and four separate corruption cases open against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The settlement lobby in Israel responded harshly to AIPAC with a letter, claiming its position has “no basis in fact.” The movement hosted its own event three blocks away from the convention center, partnering with Israel’s ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy in support of annexing Judea and Samaria, with notable MKs like Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked proudly proclaiming “the two-state solution is off the table.” It is unclear how many in the room grasped what the event’s vision truly entails — annexing Area C to Israel, leaving Palestinian cities and villages to be islands without contiguity — but the enthusiasm and messianism was palpable and disturbing. It is clear that the two-state vision is under more serious assault than it has been since its widespread acceptance two decades ago.
Also on display, however, were Israel’s groundbreaking innovations, which are prominently highlighted by most pro-Israel American organizations and at each Policy Conference. The problem arises when this inspiring narrative is paired with how every mention of peace — or two states — is associated with Palestinian rejectionism as the ultimate, insurmountable obstacle. Including the questionable claim perpetuated by the organized Jewish community that Israel — in its current leadership — supports a Palestinian state and a peace process, active observers can see clearly through the consensus talking points. If Israel can bring water out of thin air, then why can it not, as a peace-loving nation, make strides toward the two-state solution?
While the answer lies partly with Palestinian rejectionism, it also partly lies with an Israeli political philosophy that is not aligned with peace at the moment. The “next-generation Jewish community” knows this because they read Israeli news and talk to their Israeli friends. While the organized Jewish community has succeeded tremendously in passing along strong Zionist ideals to my generation, it has failed in telling the truth about political and regional realities.
The troubling trend is to ascribe all the blame on these issues (and others) to the fault of AIPAC. I admit that such backlash is understandable when one hears so many plenary speakers discuss an Israel detached from reality, with no mention of issues that currently dominate Israel’s headlines such as Netanyahu’s crippling corruption cases, the attack on Israel’s democracy from within, and the Israeli right’s abandonment of the peace process. The answer of course is: Why would they? The pro-Israel lobby’s focused mission is to support the U.S.-Israel relationship by rallying American support. In this sense, AIPAC is playing an important role with each administration through new pro-Israel legislation, and it is fulfilling its stated role precisely as it should.
The storm AIPAC and American Jewry have to weather is Netanyahu and his long tenure, which has been defined by policies that run contrary to much of what the American Jewish community represents and advocates. Netanyahu and the Israeli right wing have been more successful than their Israeli opponents in appealing to the organized Jewish community in America, especially in the aftermath of a failed Oslo process and the Second Intifada. In this sense — by not portraying and advocating for the full Israeli landscape — the entire Jewish community, and not as much AIPAC, is playing the negative role with each rising generation and its declining support for Israel.
For the majority of young (and perhaps non-young) pro-Israel Americans who work to support Israel in efforts towards an eventual agreement with the Palestinians and broader Arab world in our lifetime, and maintain bipartisan U.S. support for Israel and its security, there are clearly many reasons to be concerned.
However, as a community professional who has hosted many policy events around the country the past two years, I can track how the perspectives of younger American Jews differ from their older counterparts. A shift is beginning to reflect the Middle East of 2018 and not 1967. These shifts primarily include Israel’s qualitative military edge and Arab-Israeli relations inching towards normalization, both of which were made possible by the assistance of the United States and AIPAC’s leadership.
With nearly every industry beyond politics being disrupted and now defined by entrepreneurs under the age of 40, the time is ripe for the organized pro-Israel community to not just cater to younger generations, but to elevate and integrate these great thinkers into leadership and advisory roles.
Their integration is a matter of when and not if. The question is whether or not major Jewish communal organizations are forward-thinking enough right now to embrace today’s reality.
Adam Basciano is the strategic initiatives coordinator at the Israel Policy Forum. A version of this article first appeared in the Matzav Review, the IPF’s online publication.