I was reminded of my favourite joke the other day by a heroic group of American Jews who want to bring an end to US support for Israel’s brutal apartheid occupation of Palestine: A priest is performing the Last Rites for a dying Irishman and asks if he is ready to renounce the Devil and all his works. The dying man replies, “This is no time to be making enemies, Father!”
The progressive IfNotNow movement’s members are urging American Jews to renounce the powerful Zionist lobby group AIPAC. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is in its “death throes”, according to influential Jewish lobbyist and Haaretz columnist Lev Stesin, a founding member of San Francisco Voice for Israel.
Is it time for AIPAC to get the Last Rites? And am I really comparing this powerful pro-Israel lobby group to Satan? You bet I am!
The courageous Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar once described the influence that AIPAC wielded over members of the US Congress as powerful, “although not in a good way.” She sparked a frenzy in Congress with members of both parties stampeding to the microphones and issuing press releases denouncing her for daring to criticise the power and influence of a lobby group. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined her nemesis Donald Trump in condemning Omar.
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted, quoting Puff Daddy’s 90s song about money. Fearless, when asked to explain she said that she was talking about spending by the likes of AIPAC.
Lobbyist Ady Barkan wrote in 2019 that “[AIPAC] lobbyists on [Capitol] Hill are the best in the business, and their legislator junkets to the Holy Land are masterfully orchestrated. But money is central to the whole system.”
While reports of AIPAC’s demise might be premature, sadly, it is a fact that every organisation or institution has an expiry date and AIPAC is no different. However, even some of its admirers believe that its wounds are self-inflicted.
“AIPAC’s decision to indefinitely cancel its annual policy conference from last year is one such act of self-immolation,” wrote Stesin. “This decision takes the word ‘public’ out of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But without the ‘public’ – Jewish and other Israel-loving Americans – no political organisation dedicated to the hotly debated topic of US-Israel relations can survive.”
He added that AIPAC is shifting its strategy to emphasise electing “Israel-friendly” candidates from both parties. “That includes getting directly involved in the primaries. Given the polarisation and churn in Congress, this approach makes a certain sense. AIPAC is also holding video conferences and small local in-person gatherings.”
Tragically, Stesin pointed out, it appears that the old guard, “which really understands the politics of public endeavours – the folks connected with the people they represent – are stepping aside from leadership positions. The new generation of AIPAC leaders will likely run it as a business. And to use the vocabulary of business, they may provide a better short-term return for large investors, but the most important stakeholder, the Jewish people, will come out the loser in the long term.”
IfNotNow has just announced the launch of its “Reject AIPAC” campaign, which urges federal candidates to refuse endorsements and financial contributions from the lobby group. This campaign comes at a time when AIPAC has chosen to back far-right candidates like Representatives Jim Jordan and Elise Stefanik, both of whom have espoused anti-Semitic and racist views.
The sad truth is that AIPAC isn’t bothered about such details, as long as the anti-Semitic politicians in question “provide unconditional support for Israel, even as its far-right government further entrenches occupation and apartheid, passes authoritarian judicial reforms, and violently attacks protesters,” explained Matan Arad-Neeman of IfNotNow.
Some observers think Israel’s rightward lurch may signal the countdown to the Zionist state’s own implosion and eventual demise. We can always hope, but whatever the truth of that, AIPAC has chosen to remain silent on the Israeli government’s far-right extremism, which has angered IfNotNow supporters.
The movement launched its campaign with a national petition alongside six localised petitions in Massachusetts, California, Chicago, Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, addressing Congressional candidates for the 2024 election in each location. The petitions are coupled with launch events across the country, where hundreds of IfNotNow members and fellow progressive Jews are gathering to develop the movement of American Jews who reject AIPAC.
Eva Borgwardt, IfNotNow’s Political Director, admitted: “We’re at a crossroads. Our political and community leaders have a choice to make: are they on the side of equality, justice and a thriving future for all in Israel-Palestine and the US, or are they on the side of AIPAC and their extremist allies?”
AIPAC has also taken aim at progressive candidates by pouring millions of dollars into Democratic primaries. According to numbers compiled by IfNotNow, in 13 key races between progressive and centrist candidates in 2022, AIPAC and allies like the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) spent more than all other outside groups combined.
“AIPAC is not just an obstacle to progress for Israelis and Palestinians,” added Borgwardt. “Its intervention in Democratic primaries serves as a huge obstacle to necessary policies like universal healthcare, meaningful climate action and workers’ rights. AIPAC’s endorsement should be as welcome in progressive circles as the National Rifle Association or the fossil fuel lobby.” In other words, not welcome at all.
Pro-justice, pro-Palestine activists elsewhere shouldn’t think that the Israel lobby is only hard at work in the US. It isn’t. It is active everywhere, incredibly well-resourced, and quite possibly influencing how our own members of parliament make important decisions about justice and freedom. We can but hope that reports of AIPAC’s imminent demise are true, and that the gates to that special place in Hell reserved for Israel and its supporters are open, ready and waiting.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.