Protesters hold up a banner that reads "Jews won't be free until Palestinians are. Reject AIPAC. Reject Occupation"
IfNotNow protesters demonstrating at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 26, 2017. (Photo/JTA-Ron Kampeas)

AIPAC: not as monolithic as IfNotNow protesters believe

Just as a savannah waterhole attracts lions and zebras, so, too, do AIPAC conferences invariably draw noisy street protesters.

That held true at this week’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., but this time, with a twist: A vast majority of the several hundred protesters were Jewish.

The left-wing group IfNotNow took command of the anti-AIPAC protests this year. Demonstrators not only banged drums and shouted slogans, they also wore kippahs, chanted shacharit prayers and sang Hebrew songs, aiming to put a Jewish stamp on their opposition to what they view as AIPAC’s “Israel, right or wrong” mentality.

As Americans they had every right to protest. Too bad they didn’t register for the conference and take part. They might have learned that AIPAC is a much bigger tent than they believe.

Though opponents see AIPAC as a right-wing rubber stamp of Israeli intransigence, the truth is the organization’s members hold a wide spectrum of opinions on many issues: Zionism, Israel’s presence in the West Bank, religious pluralism in Israel, and more.

On the main stage this week, AIPAC presented speeches from Vice President Mike Pence as well as his political opposite in Congress, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who read from the podium the text of a letter supporting a two-state solution. That letter included language drafted by the left-wing pro-Israel group J Street, an organization that openly opposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Other speakers included not only reliable right-wingers such as Israel’s U.N. representative Danny Danon and Weekly Standard columnist William Kristol, but unabashed liberals and outspoken critics of Israeli settlement policy, such as Democratic pundit Paul Begala, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

AIPAC is nonpartisan. Its membership includes lefty Democrats, hard-right Republicans, and everything in between. They may disagree on a vast number of issues, but they do agree on one thing: The interests of America and the world are best served when Israel remains strong and secure, thriving economically and moving ever closer to its democratic ideals.

We respect the IfNotNow protesters for reminding the world that Jews do not march in lockstep, and that we care deeply about our collective Jewish future.

We would urge them to take another look at AIPAC and perhaps consider working with them, not against them, to effect change.

J. Staff