Skip To Content

Why the AIPAC Haters Have it Wrong

Advocacy and activism are two fields rarely cited for their warm embrace of nuance. In a stunningly schizophrenic demonstration of why that is the case, consider Tablet’s recent piece “The End of AIPAC’s Israel Monopoly” by Jeff Ballabon and Bruce Abramson.

A cursory reading of the text reveals nothing other than the authors’ predilection for criticizing AIPAC (full disclosure: I interned for them one summer and sat on their national council for a year). But why, from what vantage point, and to what end all remain unclear for much of the piece.

Under a veneer of semi-coherent rhetoric that dizzily leaps from right-wing to left-wing and back at subatomic speeds, Ballabon and Abramson bury their agenda—and their lede—concealing their viewpoint and confusing their readers.

It isn’t until the 13th paragraph that the authors show their hand, if only slightly, by championing the Zionist Organization of America—an unquestionably conservative group with minimal influence. It takes the authors 23 more paragraphs to actually state their objective: creating a new, powerful, pro-Israel lobby that rejects bipartisanship and adopts the conservative worldview. Interestingly, they do not explain why the ZOA hasn’t satisfied this niche, nor do they explore why it has failed to garner any real authority.

They characterize support for Israel as “a logical and consistent part of the conservative worldview, while an outlier among progressives,” to explain the need for a partisan organization. Let’s assume this statement is fact, and pause to consider another: there are plenty of progressives in politics, and they aren’t going anywhere.

Unless Ballabon and Abramson plan to create this organization in a Shangri-la of conservatism, in which every last politician—from president of the PTA to president of the United States—is a republican, one wonders why they feel it is strategic to issue a wholesale rejection of the Democratic Party—alienating potential allies— instead of fighting to change the tide of its evolution on Israel.

That the Republican Party is demonstrably more supportive of Israel than its Democratic counterpart is an indication that advocates need to do more, not less, to engage with the Democratic Party.

But upholding “less is more” seems to be a recurrent theme for the authors, who cite a 1996 speech in which Netanyahu “suggested that it was time for Israel to begin to reduce its reliance on U.S. aid,” and argue that the military aid the U.S. provides to Israel “may be more important to AIPAC than it is to Israel.”

In the 20 years since 1996, Israel has yet to demonstrate its disregard for U.S. aid. We’ll remember to check in after another 20.

But in the meantime, I recommend Ballabon and Abramson pick up a copy of COMMENTARY’s December issue in which Tevi Troy and Jonathan Tobin chronicle evolving attitudes toward Israel in the Democratic and Republican parties. Neither is static. In this, as in all other years, a bipartisan strategy is the only plausible course of action.

In their critique of AIPAC, Ballabon and Abramson analyze the organization through the lens of the corporate sector. They portray it as being interested only in furthering its own importance, with a sharpness that conjures up an image of AIPAC’s leaders cowering together to plot their dominance from a small, dark, smoke-filled room.

But AIPAC is not part of the corporate sector. Its product, if we indulge the authors and refer to it in such terms, is a stronger U.S.-Israel relationship. Unlike in the competitive structure they describe, if another organization succeeds in selling AIPAC’s product, AIPAC does not lose; it wins. In other words, the identity of the seller is not of concern—only that the product gets sold. That this point is in dispute demonstrates not that the authors dislike the approach of bipartisanship, but that they dislike and distrust the organization and its staff as whole.

That much is clear from the 35-paragraph war they wage on AIPAC before clarifying their desire to create what they would likely refer to as its competition.

A new lobby is necessary, they claim, because unlike AIPAC it would “pressure Israel’s neighbors to work with Israel” and be brave enough to take actions, even if they are “politically inconvenient.”

Time and again, Ballabon and Abramson criticize AIPAC for ever daring to diverge from the Israeli government, perhaps forgetting that AIPAC is not one if its consulates.

Indeed, they seem to forget entirely that AIPAC is an American lobby based in this country—not Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan or Gaza. It’s not entirely clear what kind of pressure they imagine the organization can place on Israel’s neighbors.

As for taking actions that are politically inconvenient—a lobby is an inherently political body. To take politically inconvenient action is to compromise the strength of the lobby—and by extension, its ability to accomplish anything at all.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we need 500 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Our Goal: 500 gifts during our Passover Pledge Drive!

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.