Unpacking the liberal attacks on AIPAC

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr (screenshot)

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  August 21, 2022

A recent J Street critique of AIPAC encapsulates the moral bankruptcy of liberal Zionism.

In a rare interview with the The Washington Post last week AIPAC’s CEO Howard Kohr was asked about the group’s support for Republicans who deny the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. “We’re about addition,” responded Kohr. “We’re not trying to constrict the community. We’re trying to enlarge the community that’s both on the left and on the right.”

Kohr was then asked if there was anything a pro-Israel candidate could do that would rule them out for AIPAC support. Here’s what he said: “I’d have to think about that. Again, because we’re a single issue organization and we’re bipartisan, that’s the reason that the majority of Republicans and the majority of Democrats have been recipients of our PAC support. The good news about American politics is that there are many organizations that deal with a whole range of issues that are in the American political system.”

So, no.

Kohr’s comments caught the attention of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group that’s squared off against AIPAC in a number of Democratic primaries this year. Of course J Street doesn’t have the resources to really compete here. They spent something like $700,000 backing Andy Levin in Michigan and AIPAC spent something like $5 million on Haley Stevens, who won the race. At any rate, the two groups often back opposing candidates and they criticize each other on social media so J Street naturally gets grouped in with other Israel critics. For instance, a couple weeks ago Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Dr. Oz shared a Mondoweiss piece about the (uncharacteristic) lack of social media support that Israel had gotten from Democrats in response to its attack on Gaza. A picture of Oz’s opponent, John Fetterman, was used for the piece. “It’s no surprise that a radical left anti-Israel website is praising John Fetterman for not standing up for Israel,” wrote Oz. “This comes after far-left J Street endorses him. John Fetterman is no friend of Israel. I will stand up and fight for Israel.”

One can probably assume that J Street sees the association as something of a smear and why wouldn’t they? “We believe in the Zionist ideal on which Israel was founded—that of a Jewish homeland where Jews can always go to be secure,” explains its website. “We hope that Israel will live up to and represent the core Jewish values of justice, equality and democracy.” We like to consistently point out that AIPAC purposely neglects to mention Israel in its ads because the country no longer polls well with Democratic voters, but it’s worth remembering that J Street doesn’t mention it’s a pro-Israel organizations in theirs either.

J Street’s comments on the Kohr interview are worth taking a look at. “It’s staggering that AIPAC needs to be prompted to think about the impact of their actions and the risks of supporting anti-democratic candidates,” said the organization’s Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy Dylan Williams. “They clearly need to think harder about their values, the direction they’ve chosen and setting some moral red lines. They need to listen to the clear majority in the pro-Israel community who know there can be no excuse or justification for giving financial support to the most dangerous pro-conspiracy theory, anti-democratic Trump Republicans.”

The stuff about AIPAC (a group that was literally created to run PR for Israeli atrocities) thinking hard about values and setting moral red lines is objectively funny, but look who they’re supposed to listen to here. “The clear majority in the pro-Israel community” who know that January 6th Republicans are awful. What makes Williams think this is a majority, much less a clear majority? A great number of pro-Israel Americans are obviously Republicans. Does anyone think the people attending Christians United for Israel conferences disagree with Trump’s conspiracies about the election?

Williams continues: “AIPAC’s aggressive support for dangerous politicians and massive spending from far-right donors is harmful to American foreign policy, harmful to our democracy and, ultimately, harmful to bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. Rather than building sustainable, bipartisan support, AIPAC is turning Israel into a hyper-politicized wedge issue and using its Super PAC to defeat pro-Israel, pro-peace leaders who actually represent the balanced, nuanced views of the majority of Jewish Americans. Our shared democratic values are the foundation of the US-Israel relationship. Undermining those values on either end of that relationship undermines its future.”

J Street’s real beef with AIPAC doesn’t involve Palestinian human rights, apartheid, or Gaza being bombed. In fact, the group put out a statement in support of Israel’s most recent attacks, which killed a number of civilians.

They’re concerned about the deterioration of the United States/Israel relationship and AIPAC is bad for the brand. These critique echo similar criticisms we’ve seen in recent months. For instance, when the North Carolina Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus rescinded its endorsement of an AIPAC-backed candidate, they declared that the “damage done by the January 6 insurrectionists cannot be ‘overcome’ by AIPAC’s support of Israel.” In other words, AIPAC’s goals are good. The only issue is its connection to Trump Republicans.

Actual opponents of that relationship presumably have no problem with it becoming a “hyper-politicized wedge issue.” Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians should constitute a divisive line and should obviously be politicized. AIPAC already sees the fight in these terms, it’s the liberal Zionist groups that seem be in denial.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss