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Speaking for American Jewry
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Speaking for American Jewry

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The Government of Israel is a sovereign State which has the right to make judgements as to its own best interests. It also ought to be supported in this effort by Jews throughout the world who care about the future and survival of Israel. This is precisely the role performed by AIPAC and its thousands of supporters assembled now in Washington at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. As anyone who has ever been involved with a lobbying organization—which is what AIPAC is—the leadership and the rank and file need to advise their client, the Israeli Government, what the state of affairs is concerning their issue. This is true among all those in the political process, the American people and among American Jews. The latter includes all Jews in the U.S. not just those who are members or are attending the AIPAC policy conference.

AIPAC performs the arcane, subtle, and technical aspects of tweaking legislation and policy emanating from any Administration better than virtually any other lobbying group in Washington perhaps with the exception of the National Rifle Association.  This explains why indeed both the Pentagon and the Israeli military recognize that Barack Obama was one of the most effective and strongest, pro-Israel presidents in history. He totally understood the need to provide and guarantee Israel’s safety and security. The problem for the Israeli Government–for which AIPAC is its advocate–is that Obama took issue with Israel’s settlement policy, the pace of its engagement in the peace process, and with how it conducted its opposition to the Iran deal. 

Today, the Israeli Government must deal with the Trump Administration. They are correct to praise the President and his approach to Israel. This is smart diplomacy, but they and the AIPAC leadership need to recognize that American Jews do not have very high approval of President Trump. As Gallup reported, while only 42% of all Americans approve of Donald Trump’s performance, even fewer, 31% of American Jews do. While AIPAC may like to delude itself that most of American Jewish movers and shakers are supportive of Trump, they ought to look much deeper. It appears that AIPAC needs to counsel the Government of Israel that its presumed perception of American Jews as having moved overwhelmingly to the right is erroneous. 

Trump can appoint whomever he wishes to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel. As the Senate now has confirmed him, David Friedman is setting up shop there. This does not mean that American Jews were very enthused at Trump’s choice. In fact, even among many Jewish leaders he was seen as a very provocative and inflammatory choice as U.S. Ambassador.

Similarly, it is fairly obvious at this juncture—and it will become much clearer in May when Trump must notify Congress in the President’s semi-annual report—that the U.S. Embassy is not moving to Jerusalem so fast. While Friedman may work several days a week out of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, that does not make it the U.S. Embassy.

AIPAC is truly taking a large risk if it only mouths bi-partisanship but does not act on it.  There are already holes in Democratic support for Israel in Congress, largely precipitated by Bibi’s end around game on the Iran deal and his perceived dissing of Obama. Everyone recognizes that eventually there will be another Democrat in the White House and the Democrats will be in control again of one or more House of Congress. Israel will do great damage to its relationship with the U.S. if it does not moderate its attitudes and policies on some of the key annoyances in the U.S.-Israel relationship. If Israel fails to do so—and AIPAC remains its cheerleader and not its counselor—then it may be much more difficult to control the damage later. 

Speaking for American Jewry

The Government of Israel is a sovereign State which has the right to make judgements as to its own best interests. It also ought to be supported in this effort by Jews throughout the world who care about the future and survival of Israel. This is precisely the role performed by AIPAC and its thousands of supporters assembled now in Washington at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. As anyone who has ever been involved with a lobbying organization—which is what AIPAC is—the leadership and the rank and file need to advise their client, the Israeli Government, what the state of affairs is concerning their issue. This is true among all those in the political process, the American people and among American Jews. The latter includes all Jews in the U.S. not just those who are members or are attending the AIPAC policy conference.

AIPAC performs the arcane, subtle, and technical aspects of tweaking legislation and policy emanating from any Administration better than virtually any other lobbying group in Washington perhaps with the exception of the National Rifle Association.  This explains why indeed both the Pentagon and the Israeli military recognize that Barack Obama was one of the most effective and strongest, pro-Israel presidents in history. He totally understood the need to provide and guarantee Israel’s safety and security. The problem for the Israeli Government–for which AIPAC is its advocate–is that Obama took issue with Israel’s settlement policy, the pace of its engagement in the peace process, and with how it conducted its opposition to the Iran deal. 

Today, the Israeli Government must deal with the Trump Administration. They are correct to praise the President and his approach to Israel. This is smart diplomacy, but they and the AIPAC leadership need to recognize that American Jews do not have very high approval of President Trump. As Gallup reported, while only 42% of all Americans approve of Donald Trump’s performance, even fewer, 31% of American Jews do. While AIPAC may like to delude itself that most of American Jewish movers and shakers are supportive of Trump, they ought to look much deeper. It appears that AIPAC needs to counsel the Government of Israel that its presumed perception of American Jews as having moved overwhelmingly to the right is erroneous. 

Trump can appoint whomever he wishes to be U.S. Ambassador to Israel. As the Senate now has confirmed him, David Friedman is setting up shop there. This does not mean that American Jews were very enthused at Trump’s choice. In fact, even among many Jewish leaders he was seen as a very provocative and inflammatory choice as U.S. Ambassador.

Similarly, it is fairly obvious at this juncture—and it will become much clearer in May when Trump must notify Congress in the President’s semi-annual report—that the U.S. Embassy is not moving to Jerusalem so fast. While Friedman may work several days a week out of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, that does not make it the U.S. Embassy.

AIPAC is truly taking a large risk if it only mouths bi-partisanship but does not act on it.  There are already holes in Democratic support for Israel in Congress, largely precipitated by Bibi’s end around game on the Iran deal and his perceived dissing of Obama. Everyone recognizes that eventually there will be another Democrat in the White House and the Democrats will be in control again of one or more House of Congress. Israel will do great damage to its relationship with the U.S. if it does not moderate its attitudes and policies on some of the key annoyances in the U.S.-Israel relationship. If Israel fails to do so—and AIPAC remains its cheerleader and not its counselor—then it may be much more difficult to control the damage later. 

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