Updated 6:45 p.m.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not issued a public statement about the killing of George Floyd, a decision that has greatly upset several activists and former staffers.
“AIPAC will argue that it’s outside their purview. But they often rely on the African-American and Latino communities to advocate on their behalf in communities with little to no Jewish presence,” said former AIPAC employee Julian Viso. “I would imagine there will be many difficult conversations ahead with these activists, as there should be.”
AIPAC, the country’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, is virtually alone among Jewish or Israel-focused groups not to have made public comments about Floyd or the ensuing wave of protests against police brutality.
J Street, which often criticizes AIPAC from the left, and the Zionist Organization of America, which does the same on the right, rarely make statements about subjects outside foreign policy, but both did so in this case.
An AIPAC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. (Full disclosure: I interned at AIPAC for a college semester).
After this article was originally published, Jewish Insider reported that AIPAC leaders had sent a private letter to African-American members on Sunday expressing solidarity with the black community.
“Like you, we are horrified by the violent death of George Floyd and are angry, sad and hurt over the inequities that still exist in our country,” CEO Howard Kohr and co-CEO Richard Fishman wrote in the letter.
AIPAC’s website boasts of its African-American outreach program. It frequently sponsors events and Israel trips for African-American leaders, and has panel discussions at its annual policy conference about the importance of African-American activism.
AIPAC’s public silence was criticized in a Facebook post by Matthew Epstein, a law student who worked as an AIPAC field organizer from 2017 to 2019.
“We must show the Black community that we actually care about them, make spaces for them, and recognize that systematic racism is real and must end,” Epstein wrote. “Allyship means nothing if we don’t use our platforms to amplify THEIR voices. Time after time we ask from our Black brothers and sisters. I know too many incredible Black people who have sacrificed years of their lives to support the Jewish community. So, where are you AIPAC?”
He called on white Jews to be allies to African-American activists, support black-owned businesses and join peaceful protests, among other measures.
Epstein declined an interview request, saying that he didn’t want to detract from his call for allyship by focusing solely on the silence of one organization.
The post has received more than 180 likes and dozens of comments. Other former AIPAC activists shared his frustration over the organization’s lack of statement.
“How can AIPAC post millions of photos about our African American allies without speaking out???” asked one commenter, a college student who interned for AIPAC last summer.
“‘We’re a single issued based organization’ can no longer be an excuse when you’re actively recruiting Black students at HBCUs to advocate for Israel,” added another commenter, an African-American man who went on a AIPAC-sponsored Israel trip in 2018.
While AIPAC has not made a statement about Floyd or his death at the hands of a white police officer, it did announce on Monday that it was cancelling its 2021 conference due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aiden Pink is the deputy news editor of the Forward. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @aidenpink