Opinion | AIPAC’s defense of extremist candidates is indefensible

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Jon Greenwald
Jon Greenwald (Courtesy)

By Jon Greenwald

A few weeks ago, the new Political Action Committee established by the influential lobbying group American Israel Public Action Committee announced its first 130 endorsements for members of Congress. The list was divided almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans — not a surprise since AIPAC calls itself bipartisan. But the inclusion of 37 Republicans who refused to vote to certify Joe Biden as president was a shock.

The vote in question, of course, came on Jan. 6, 2021, a few hours after a violent mob supporting then President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election had broken into the Capitol, threatening the lives of senators and members of Congress. The horrors of that day were witnessed across the country but experienced even more personally by residents of Washington, D.C., and its Virginia and Maryland suburbs. And of course, the stolen election lie remains a virulent element in today’s fevered political environment.

How can an organization that purports to ground its support for pro-Israel policies in the U.S. on the existence of shared national values put its seal of approval on politicians like Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who remain proud of their contribution to the fundamentally undemocratic activities of Jan. 6 and to the poisonous half-life of that shameful day?

Recently, in a letter to its members, AIPAC defended its endorsement of the 37 by arguing that “this is no moment for the pro-Israel movement to become selective about its friends.” But surely that argument is deeply flawed.

The U.S.-Israel relationship is indeed grounded in mutual respect for justice, equality and democracy. To say that one supports that relationship while simultaneously undermining its shared values, however, involves a dangerous contradiction.

AIPAC regularly describes Israel as the Middle East’s sole democracy and the U.S. as the essential strategic partner for securing that distinction. But can politicians who blatantly undermine democracy at home be relied on to uphold it abroad? Those who undermine American democracy are not true friends of Israel, and no amount of pro-Israel posturing can excuse endorsing them.

Many genuine friends of Israel have said as much.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, for example, wrote: “First you must be a defender of democracy …. After all, democracy is at the root of the Israel-U.S. relationship.”

Likewise, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas noted that what ties Israel and the U.S. together is “a commitment to democracy. An undemocratic America could easily distance itself from the Jewish state.”

And Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, said AIPAC’s decision was a “sad mistake,” and “those who undermine America’s democracy undermine America, and a weak America will not be able to stand and support its ally Israel.”

AIPAC’s letter stated that the organization “would base decisions about political contributions on only one thing: whether a political candidate supports the US-Israel relationship.” Endorsement of the 37 deniers of a free and fair election, however, is the latest indication that AIPAC is increasingly out of touch with the views and values of most Americans as well as most Jews.

For years, it has defended the Israeli government’s actions under nearly all circumstances, even as those actions have eroded democracy in Israel and led further away from the peaceful two-state solution that AIPAC says it supports. Now, the organization seems to extend its lack of care for democracy to include our own domestic politics.

Americans who fear for the future of democracy at home, in Israel and around the world need to make clear that AIPAC’s ideology and actions do not speak for us. We must show Congress and the world that most pro-Israel Americans fiercely oppose the kind of extremism AIPAC is now fundraising for, and that true support for Israel means defending democracy rather than sacrificing it for the sake of blind defense of Israel.

Simply put — AIPAC’s defense of extremism is indefensible.

Jon Greenwald is a former U.S. foreign service officer who worked on issues including the Middle East, counterterrorism and international law. Greenwald is also a former vice president at the International Crisis Group. This originally ran in Washington Jewish Week.

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