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An open letter to Democrats about AIPAC

Attendees applaud Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during her address to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington on March 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joshua Roberts *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-TRUMP-JEWS, originally transmitted on March 21, 2016.

Dear Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls:

Since I have noticed that the vast majority of you are not Jewish, I thought that I would tell you a little about the holiday that we Jews celebrated yesterday.

It’s called Purim. It celebrates the Jews’ victory over their enemies in ancient Persia. The particular commandment on Purim is to get so drunk that you are not able to discern the difference between the wicked Haman and the righteous Mordecai; between evil and good; between lies and falsehood.

I can only imagine that a hospitable rabbi, or rabbis, invited you all for Purim and that you heavily imbibed.

Because you must be drunk.

I am referring to the decision that many of you have made to boycott the upcoming AIPAC policy conference.

MoveOn has asked you to do this for several reasons:

  • AIPAC’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to be a featured speaker at AIPAC. MoveOn says that Prime Minister Netanyahu might have overseen war crimes. Moreover, he recently forged an alliance with a far-right, xenophobic party.
  • AIPAC has invited suspected Islamophobes to appear at its conferences.
  • AIPAC has failed to condemn figures close to US President Donald Trump who are in bed with the far right.

I could spend your time interpreting and refuting these claims.

  • Regarding the Iran nuclear deal: there were reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue.
  • AIPAC, whose mission is to strengthen the relationship between America and Israel, has always invited Israel’s Prime Minister to speak at its national conferences.
  • AIPAC condemned the Kahanist party — in no uncertain terms. Along with almost every other American Jewish organization.
  • Are there people who are critical of Islamic extremism who speak at AIPAC? Yes. Along with African-American leaders, Hispanic leaders, left of center Jews, centrist Jews, right of center Jews, and some of the finest teachers in the Jewish world. They all have one thing in common: they want to strengthen the relationship between America and Israel. Moreover, I challenge you — and anyone — to find a richer, more diverse assemblage of speakers — anywhere in the Jewish world today. Anywhere.

But, that is about substance, about which people can agree to disagree.

I am urging you right now, as Purim fades into Shabbat:

Change your minds. Go to AIPAC, if you can and if you think it is an appropriate use of your valuable time.

Why?

Because you listened to bad advice — advice that will have far-reaching implications for America and for American Jewish voting patterns in 2020.

Here is what your refusal to attend AIPAC will do.

When Democratic politicians vociferously refuse to attend AIPAC, that move completes the process of making Israel a wedge issue in American politics.

Ever since the controversy over Ihlan Omar, Republicans have been having a festival of ecstasy, trying to woo Jews away from the Democratic Party. It is called Jexit — as in Jews exiting the Democratic Party. The rhetoric of Jexit is, to say the least, intellectually shoddy and even libelous. It doesn’t matter. Some Jews are going to buy it.

Your refusal to attend AIPAC amounts to really bad optics. There is nothing that the Republican Party would like more than to continue their fallacious narrative that the Democrats are anti-Israel.

By this move on your part, you have handed the Republicans a wonderful Purim gift. You have helped them advance the rumor that the Democrats are apathetic to Israel and to American Jewish concerns.

If that was your intention, then you have done a good job.

And, if that was MoveOn’s intention, shame on them. They just spat in the face of all of us who have been saying that the anti-Israel wave in the Democratic party is more akin to a ripple that is controllable. Thanks, MoveOn.

At this moment, I see no evidence that American Jews are, en masse, abandoning their decades-long attachment to the Democratic Party.

But, fast forward to 2020.

If the Democratic Party continues on its present leftward course on Israel, and other things, they will lose the support, and votes, of American Jews.

As one long-time, generous Jewish giver to the Democratic party told me recently: “If Bernie is the candidate, I won’t vote.”

Let’s say that American Jews simply refuse to pull a lever on Election Day, 2020. Or, they decide to vote for the Republican candidate (full disclosure: many of my closest friends are Republicans. I do not begrudge them their commitments, as they do not begrudge me mine).

Would you like to play that one out? I am writing this to you from Broward County, Florida. Once you get out of the three southern counties in Florida — Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach — Florida becomes red really quickly.

Were you paying attention to how pivotal Florida is in national elections? The Democrats lost Florida in 2016. You factor in a bunch of alienated Jews in the southern counties — and the Democrats can kiss Florida goodbye in 2020.

Let’s go to Ohio. Did you like the way that things played out in Ohio in 2016? Guess what. Factor in angry Jewish voters in 2020, and you lose Ohio.

And, we will be looking at another four years of — well, let’s not talk about it.

There are many ways of supporting the America-Israel bond that have nothing to do with AIPAC. I get it.

And, there are many things that this government in Israel does that, frankly, deserve condemnation — especially from its friends.

As many people who attend AIPAC would repeat to you, as well.

The Democrats are playing with fire here. It has nothing to do with AIPAC’s influence. It has everything to do with American Jewish voting patterns. It has everything to do with optics. It has everything to do with how your ideological opponents are already using your decision not to attend AIPAC.

It is not too late for you to change your mind.

I beg you to do so.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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