The 2018 AIPAC policy conference, held earlier this week in Washington, D.C., opened with an appeal to pro-Israel progressives. Come back to the fold, speaker after speaker proclaimed from the podium. It’s time to reclaim support for Israel as a bipartisan cause.
The plenary speakers themselves reflected that hoped-for diversity. Everyone from liberal House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to conservative U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley brought the crowd to its feet.
Pelosi is no stranger to AIPAC. The San Francisco resident has been a staunch supporter of Israel going back to the days when that support was a given among all political persuasions.
Those days may be over.
A Pew poll from January revealed a shocking disparity in support for Israel between Democrats and Republicans, with 79 percent of the latter holding positive views of Israel versus just 27 percent of Democrats. That gap has been widening for years, threatening to make support for Israel part and parcel of a conservative agenda.
AIPAC noticed, and made a concerted effort this year to reach out to disaffected Jews and Democrats. Thus, from the plenary stage came strong backing for a two-state solution and a trumpeting of Israel’s liberal values, such as women’s equality and LGBTQ rights. Will it work? It’s worth a try, and we applaud AIPAC for the effort.
However, we were dismayed to learn that AIPAC still hasn’t shed its longstanding suspicion of the media. The New York Jewish Week was one of several Jewish publications that boycotted the conference because of AIPAC’s policy of blocking reporters from virtually all breakout sessions — including this year, with laughable irony, a session on freedom of the press in Israel, where all the panelists were journalists.
— Allison K. Sommer (@AllisonKSommer) March 4, 2018
If AIPAC wants to appeal to younger and more progressive Jews, it needs to counter its prevailing image as a secretive organization with monolithic political views. That won’t happen so long as the press is unable to report on its proceedings. Reporters are used to navigating closed sessions and respecting off-the-record interviews, but there has to be some give-and-take. When every door is closed, one wonders what’s going on behind them.
So while we are heartened by the organization’s recent bipartisan outreach, we cannot help but view it as one step forward, one step back. AIPAC should keep trying to be inclusive, and that means including the press.