A tasty little partisan spat is playing itself out in the Jewish media right now over who loves Israel more, the D’s or the R’s. The episode speaks volumes about how far AIPAC has positioned itself in the Republican camp, how deeply in denial the Democrats are of this fact, and how deliciously divorced from Israeli reality the American political debate is.
The story is about the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill voted on in the House last week. With the House back in the Democrat’s hands, language was included to amend what is known as the “Mexico City policy” and to again allow US funding for overseas groups, whose positions on women’s reproductive rights may include the promotion of contraception and the option of abortion. In opposing this clause, 164 GOP Members voted against the entire foreign aid bill. So, how did the rubber hit the road, in this case the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway? Well, in opposing the Bill, the GOP of course found itself voting against aid for Israel. For a blow-by-blow account of what happened in the House, read the ever-reliable Lara Friedman’s of APN account here.
The aid to Israel, all $2.4 billion of it, is not in question. A formula without doubt will be found, but what happened next is what really speaks volumes. Nothing. Silence from AIPAC. The GOP explained its position. AIPAC chose not to score the vote, nor to in any way publicize any issue it might have with opposition to a women’s right to choose being a higher principle than aid to Israel for the Republican Congressional minority.
Democrats started falling over themselves with cries of foul play. Throughout their years in the wilderness of political opposition, the Dems have never been treated with such kid gloves by the, wait for it, non-partisan AIPAC. On a number of occasions “pro-Israel” Democrats had found themselves holding their noses, swallowing hard (temptation to make condom joke suppressed), and voting for Republican ForOps Bill to avoid incurring the wrath of the vote scorers. I am not sure which is more unfortunate, Democratic naiveté or the extent to which AIPAC has aligned itself with the Republican side.
Ron Kampeas, writing for the JTA puts it diplomatically, “AIPAC’s decisions to refrain from criticizing the GOP is likely to reinforce the view in some Democratic circles that the pro-Israel lobby has been favoring Republicans in recent years.” You don’t say! So the alliance with the neo-cons and the Christian right was not a heavy enough hint? Rapturous applause for Rev. John Hagee, compared to the boo’s aimed at Speaker Pelosi at this year’s AIPAC conference, meant nothing? Some Republicans were apparently even spinning the story to Haaretz correspondent, Shmuel Rosner, that Rep. Nita Lowey, who was behind the “Mexico City policy” amendment, only introduced it in order to trap the GOP, ignoring Lowey’s record of years of principled commitment to women’s reproductive rights.
I have on several occasions expressed my concern at the closeness of the relationship between AIPAC, the Christian right, and the neo-cons. I think it is unhealthy for American Middle East policy, unhelpful for Israel, and unpalatable for the Jewish community. Either AIPAC should undergo a radical rethink or the majority of the Jewish community that supports Israel, but that also supports progressive policies, peace, and the Democratic party, should find a new vehicle for expressing its opinions.
Of course people will say “But Israel should not be politicized or made a partisan issue.” Sure, the very basic issue of supporting Israel, or its relationship to the US, need not be questioned. But beyond that, the debate on Middle East policy, on what’s best for America (and by the way, for Israel), who to talk to, how much to promote peace, etc. should be discussed politically as these are political questions. The current Congressional approach, a continual race to prove who loves Israel more, hardly makes for mature or constructive policy. This is mainly because the love being expressed is of the – “I have no time for the real you, or what your problems may be, so I will simply shower you with toys, and thereby express my love for you.” This kind of love has done a great disservice to Israeli interests, and to American interests. As in any such situation, it is a love that encourages irresponsible behavior, the same kind of irresponsible behavior that would ban the provision of US funds to groups that encourage the use of condoms.