Jewish Journal

Right turn was wrong turn for the Israeli American Council

Sheldon Adelson (Photo by Reuters)

I did not attend the Israeli American Council (IAC) conference in Washington this week. It was the first IAC annual conference I did not attend. But I followed it from afar, and I disliked what I saw. A few days ago, when I was interviewed by the NY Jewish Week prior to the conference, I pointed out the delicate political balance that this Sheldon Adelson-backed organization has to keep: “Israeli-Americans represent a diverse political group,” I told Orli Santo. “In certain moments, the organization needs to choose between offering a broad tent [in which] most of its constituents will feel well represented, and serving as an ideological organization, in which some Israelis cannot feel comfortable.”

I guess this year the organization, or at least its backer, made the choice. Adelson explained that the IAC, unlike other Jewish organizations in the US, “could be an unequivocal support organization for Israel. There’ll be no political correctness, there’ll be no questions about whether we can keep the White House door open to us.”

Adelson deserves a lot of credit for helping this organization become a player in the field of Jewish organizations. It is a field in which there are too many players already, but the IAC filled a void. It was necessary. But it was necessary not because of an urgent need to strengthen the pro-Israeli community and give it yet another tool with which to make its voice heard — it was necessary as a cultural tool connecting Israelis abroad to their culture, heritage and beloved country of origin. That it also has a political agenda is fine, if this political agenda doesn’t interfere with its more important mission.

I am hardly an opponent of pro-Israeli advocacy and am not afraid of organizations with “unequivocal support” for Israel. But regrettably, what Adelson said will make it harder for the IAC to achieve its main mission for three reasons:

1. Israelis abroad do not agree on a certain political agenda — and if the organization becomes more politicized, some of them will feel misplaced and leave (or will not join in). Josh Nathan Kazis was right when he commented in his article that “Adelson’s vision for the group seems like it may be in conflict with that of its Israeli-American rank-and-file. That tension was on stark display in the final days of the group’s fourth annual conference.” He might have overstated his case — many Israeli Americans could feel at home in an organization with rightwing tendencies. But numbers and data we have on the views of Israelis abroad support the conclusion that there are also many Israeli Americans who would not feel at home in such a place.

2. Adelson just armed the opponents of IAC with ammunition with which to prove that the organization is all about hardcore rightwing policies. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev described Adelson’s move as follows: “Sheldon Adelson has hijacked the large Israeli expat community in the United States. He has recruited them under what can arguably be described as false pretenses, and is now planning to use them for his purposes.” Adelson is the puppet master, the IAC is the show, and the members are the puppets. I would really rather not see articles by wise columnists in which wealthy Jews are described as political puppet masters, and I do not think Israeli Americans are puppets. But Shalev gives voice to the opposition that will not intensify its attacks on the organization and add a tag of illegitimacy to being a member of it.

3. Why pick a fight with AIPAC? What can IAC gain from such a fight? One of the main goals of the IAC — at least the way I understand it — was to give Israeli Americans a voice that will add something to the ensemble of American Jewish voices. It was supposed to help Israeli Americans integrate into the American Jewish community. Will taking a stab at AIPAC, and alienating all leftist Jews, be helpful in achieving such a goal? I doubt it.