I recently attended the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I have found it important to attend this yearly event because I firmly support the idea that the United States of America is well-served by a strong and secure Israel. I also think the Jewish people are well-served by a strong and secure Israel, even though that is not AIPAC’s mission. In the last few years, every AIPAC conference comes at an interesting time, and this year is not an exception. Soon there will be an election in Israel and once again security is the main issue which Israelis bring with them into the voting booth.
In addition to Israel’s political choices, the rift between the right and left in our country has become an increasingly fraught framework in which to view AIPAC. As The New Yorker magazine (the commentator Bernard Avishai) put it this week, “If past is prologue, the delegates will applaud both sides from both countries—proving, as the aipac (sic) Web site puts it, ‘bipartisan’ support for a ‘sister’ democracy—but the tensions at this year’s conference are unprecedented. Netanyahu has crossed what, for most American Jews, more than seventy-five per cent of whom voted Democratic in 2018, should be lines of principle, and often in ways that mirror Donald Trump. The Democratic 2020 candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris have announced that they will not attend.”
The tensions were palpable. Republican leaders hailed Trump as the best president for Israel, ever. Democratic leaders who spoke, such as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, affirmed their commitment to Israel as well. Nevertheless, the general feeling on the floor of the convention center was that Israel’s security needs override any U.S. domestic concerns. The recent rocket attack near Tel Aviv (which was not a rocket type that Israel currently can shoot down) strengthens this viewpoint. And yet, reading Tom Friedman this week (March 25) in the New York Times reminds me that, without creating a separate state for the Palestinians, Israel is moving closer to a demographic time bomb in which it will either become an Arab-led state (although democratically elected) or a Jewish-led non-democratic state. Friedman:
Indulging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his quest for permanent Israeli control over the West Bank, Trump, the Congress and the Israel lobby are going to create a situation whereby the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will eventually collapse. The Palestinians there will then say to Israel, as some already have, that they want Israeli citizenship. Israel will then find itself ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians with the choice of either sharing power with them on the basis of equality or systematically denying it to them.
I would add that the current policies of the U.S. administration, thus far, does not seem to grasp this awaiting disaster.
I travel next week to The West Bank to meet with Palestinians and hear their stories. I know they are suffering. I also know that Israel’s security must be supported. What I do not know is how supporting Israel without asking for any Israeli concessions to the Palestinians is in the long-term best interest of Israel or the Jewish people. Reasonable and emotional arguments can be made for relocating the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and the annexation of the Golan Heights. But allowing the Prime Minister of Israel to not bring anything to the table in return endangers a peaceful solution in the Middle East.
Once again, I quote Friedman:
So Trump will get his campaign contributions from Adelson; Bibi will try to win re-election with Trump’s help, to avoid jail by partnering with a racist Israeli party; the Palestinians will get blamed for everything, only some of which they’ll deserve; Aipac will have a banner year raising money; Israel will keep moving toward formally or informally annexing the West Bank; and the question of whether or not to still support Israel — when it’s no longer a Jewish democracy — will tear apart every synagogue and Jewish organization across the world. And the Aipac convention of 2022 will feature a panel it’s never had before: “Who lost Israel?”
This is my nightmare too, and so far, I have little reason to hope it will not come to pass. Perhaps I will return from Israel and the West Bank with some solutions to share with you.