If ever there was a time when AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, actually lived up to its meticulously guarded image of a measured, bipartisan nexus point in Washington, those days are long over. Gone is the mega-lobbying juggernaut for whom Republicans and Democrats could come together in their shared love of Israel, and also campaign donations.
While AIPAC’s facade of American political unity — earned or not — in support of Israeli political malfeasance had weathered more than half a century of scandals and embarrassing episodes, the malicious, and politically deliberate weaponization of antisemitism by Republicans up to and including former President Donald Trump has rendered the lobbying Goliath’s protestations of harmonious politics pathetically hollow. Israel’s own lurch to the right, stewarded by the perpetually-imperiled-but-never-actually-accountable leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu and cheered perhaps most loudly by a goulash of conservatives, evangelical Christians, and outright bigots has only served to highlight just how absurdly, unapologetically ultra-right-wing AIPAC has become. With American Jewish communities voting overwhelmingly for Democrats year after year, AIPAC has nevertheless seemingly embraced the calculation that its political future lies with the hawkish right, with the pretense of bipartisanship taking a backseat to outright partisanship and, accordingly, grotesque Islamophobia.
Consider this past week’s Israeli assaults on Palestinian residents of the Shiekh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, Muslim worshipers at Al Aqsa mosques, and Palestinian families all over Gaza . Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets launched into Israel by Palestinian militants has, for the most part, been wildly ineffective — the result of Israel’s Iron Dome interception system, and the crude, scattershot nature of the projectiles themselves. The result has been a wildly lopsided number of Palestinian casualties, estimated to be at least 212, while Israeli officials claim only 12 people have died as a result of Palestinian rocket attacks.
Pointing out the obvious disparity between Hamas rocket squads and a nuclear superpower with fighter jets should, in and of itself, be an incontrovertible matter of fact. And yet, when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar condemned the overwhelming number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israel as an “act of terrorism,” AIPAC joined the conservative chorus and pounced, using her words and image in a sponsored Facebook post which makes the not-so-subtle insinuation that she, herself, is somehow aligned with Hamas.
The ad is just one of several paid for by AIPAC this week, all of which exclusively attack Democrats for speaking out against the Israeli assault on Gaza.
While AIPAC has previously attacked individual politicians, including Omar, for speaking out against Israeli violence and the American financing of that violence, the thousands of dollars the lobby spent on this latest run of ads (ones which Facebook analytics estimate reached as many as 20,000 users in 24 hours) marks a mask off moment. By attacking not one, but a cadre of high-profile progressive Democrats with barely hidden Islamophobic insinuations, AIPAC’s precious veneer of bipartisanship has been irrevocably peeled back to expose the conservative rot roiling under its surface.
To some degree, this shouldn’t be a shock. AIPAC’s core raison d’être has been a fundamentally conservative one: Shoring up support for the Israeli government — any Israeli government – while inoculating it from any criticism whatsoever draws from the same wellspring of right-wing energy as the “America, love it or leave it!” crowd who fly into a blind rage at the mere suggestion that the United States has (gasp!) not been such a great force for good on this planet. If you’ve paid attention to AIPAC, with its funding dramas and embrace of Trumpian demagoguery, this all seems like the inevitable next phase of the group’s gleeful lurch rightward.
But no matter how inevitable this all may seem, the recent spate of Facebook ads are nevertheless a significant point of demarcation. Gone is AIPAC’s bipartisan plausibility (much as I’m sure it will continue to insist it is still a home for both Republicans and Democrats who act like Republicans). There’s no turning back after this. Sure, the Chuck Schumers and Steny Hoyers of the party will still probably make appearances at future conferences and on congressional junkets. But for a party that is increasingly younger, more diverse, and more willing to speak out against Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, AIPAC’s latest push is nothing less than an admission that it wants nothing to do with this next generation. It’s been a long time coming, and it’ll only get worse from here.