Whether intentionally or not, Steven M. Cohen’s “Prophets, protectors, and the pro-Israel divide” (Feb. 9) challenges the credibility of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose annual Policy Conference will take place March 4-6 in Washington, DC.
First, the overwhelming majority of American Jews support the Democratic Party; nonetheless, Cohen loosely equates AIPAC with the Republican Party in a list of institutions that “see advancing Israel’s cause in the public arena as a moral imperative.”
Yet AIPAC is blessed with extensive bipartisan and mainstream Jewish appeal. Democratic and Republican members of Congress and the Senate attend and address the policy conference precisely because they realize that a healthy spectrum of American Jews is present. In my own congregation, the AIPAC cochairs are life-time Democrats, who will proudly lead a bipartisan delegation of more than 80 to Washington.
Second, Cohen’s op-ed suggests AIPAC supporters, as “Protectors” of Israel’s security, are unconcerned with the Jewish values that “Prophetic” groups employ to point out Israel’s shortcomings. However, “Protector” and “Prophetic” Zionism ought not be a question of “either/or.” Many American Jews are both AIPAC supporters and advocates on behalf of Israeli social values. More than 100 members of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, including many of its top leadership, will participate actively as “Protectors” in the policy conference. These very same RA members also are engaged in “Prophetic Zionism.” They are vocal advocates of Israeli religious pluralism, women’s and minority rights, ecological concerns, and social justice causes.
Third, Cohen’s essay identifies AIPAC, as an organization of “Protectors,” with Revisionist Zionists and their Likud heirs, as opposed to the Labor Party and perhaps Kadima. Here, too, his dichotomy is misleading. Throughout its history, AIPAC has invited Labor, Kadima, and Likud politicians to its conference. AIPAC has sought to educate both parties on Capitol Hill about the policies of Israel’s sitting governments, whether those governments are led by Labor, Kadima, or Likud.
Fourth, Cohen inaccurately associates AIPAC with the “hawks” or “national camp,” when the overwhelming majority of AIPAC supporters long for the day when a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine live side-by-side in peace and security. The consensus among AIPAC delegates is that direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions are essential. AIPAC participants also concur that a peace process must isolate extremists such as Hamas, whose leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, proclaimed only recently that “we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance…. No compromise can be made with the enemy.”
Finally, in imagining how “Prophets” view “Protectors,” Cohen writes, “How does the Protectors’ discourse reeking with self-righteousness motivate Israelis to avoid committing the most egregious abuses in several spheres — and in particular in conducting the Occupation — abuses that are wrong morally and harmful politically?”
If indeed the “Prophets” view the “Protectors” this way, it displays a degree of hostility that calls into question whether the views of the “Prophets” can be harmonized with any genre of Zionism whatsoever!
Dr. Cohen longs for reconciliation between the Prophets and Protectors, hoping each side can “begin to see the value of the other’s” point of view. In fact, it is precisely a passion for being both a “Prophetic” and a “Protector” Zionist that compels me, my fellow congregants, and 12,000 Israel supporters to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference.
Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex