This past week I attended the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. I am still processing everything I learned about the organization and about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. I’m also trying to figure out if there is a place for me within the AIPAC structure and what, if anything, my involvement could look like. I am not someone who can just write a check and leave the work to others. When I believe in a cause, I like to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I also believe in leading by example.
In any case, for me the jury is still out on whether AIPAC represents the totality of my feelings towards Israel. I was raised in the 1960s and 70s by parents who were Zionists. During their early lives, Israel wasn’t even a nation yet. In fact my maternal grandfather high tailed it to what was then Palestine, by way of Canada, the summer he was 15 years old in the early 1900s. Along with his best friend, they volunteered during the First World War effort by the British to seize power from Ottoman Empire. I remember the stories told by my mother, I have photos from my grandfather’s time in Palestine. And I also recall the wonder and joy that my parents felt when in 1948 Israel was recognized as a country and a homeland for Jews.
But Israel is a complicated place. Enemies surround it on all sides and every day presents existential risks. Internal politics are complicated as well. While she is a democracy, Israel has a parliamentary system with a coalition government. The current leadership represents the older generation who, like me, remembers the earlier days when idealism was a driving factor. But the younger generation struggles with how to make peace, determine borders and coexist with neighbors of differing religions and cultures.
These days it’s hard to remain idealistic and realistic at the same time. I believe, and will always believe, in Israel as a Jewish homeland. Israel is also a diverse and liberal society that accepts people from all walks of life. But as the country matures, it’s easier to see her flaws. After all, nothing is black and white. There are those who see Israel as an occupier of the Palestine territories while at the same time, those very Palestinians resort to constant violence against their Israeli neighbors.
As an organization, AIPAC’s mission is to support U.S. policies that support Israel. Seems pretty clear, right? Unfortunately it’s not that simple. There is partisanship and polarization both here and around the world. And while it may be easy for some people to compartmentalize this one issue, support for Israel, it’s harder for me. AIPAC’s By-laws state that it is a bi-partisan organization, and yet these days, with a conservative government in Israel and the U.S., it feels like it skews more to the right. This year’s Policy Conference made a valiant effort to woo progressives (AIPAC/Israel code for “liberal), and I did feel somewhat encouraged. I also believe that if people who think like me shy away from getting involved then we will have no voice in the organization at all. It’s up to us to hold AIPAC’s feet to the fire and make our progressive presence felt. Confusing? Yes. But in sorting through my feelings about AIPAC, I am reminded of the passion and commitment of my grandfather and others of his generation. If they hadn’t risked everything and jumped into the struggle, there would be no Israel. Perhaps it’s time for me to continue that struggle into our modern world. As our sage Hillel, said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
And, here’s Bentley waiting for Shabbat!