Jeremy Wynes. Photo from Twitter

Meet Jeremy Wynes: The former AIPAC, RJC staffer running for Congress


While the 2018 Congressional elections are more than 18 months away, Republican Jeremy Wynes launched his campaign this week to represent Illinois’ 10th District. A father of three, the Depaul Law School graduate previously worked at AIPAC and then switched to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in 2015 due to his ideological shift towards the GOP party, especially on areas of National Security. With the Chicagoland district swinging back and forth from the Democrats to Republicans each election cycle over the last decade, Wynes makes sure to emphasize his moderate views on social issues. In contrast to others in the GOP, Wynes is pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Claiming that voters are tired of partisanship, Wynes stresses his background at AIPAC where he worked with both Democrats and Republicans. “I have close to a decade of focusing in a bipartisan way on issues in Congress that are hugely important and we can only solve when both parties are on board,” he told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. While Wynes repeatedly stressed his pro-Israel credentials, it’s worth noting he’s running against a sitting Jewish member of Congress, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). The Democratic lawmaker opposed the Iranian nuclear deal and voted with Republicans for House Resolution 11, which blasted the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in December.

“I don’t doubt that Congressman Schneider is a pro-Israel Congressman, but it’s also about to being a leader,” Wynes explained. “Let’s not forget that for a month that both Democrats and Republicans were in the trenches fighting that (nuclear) deal; when Members of Congress were making that decision whether they were going to be a no or a yes, we heard radio silence from Schneider on the issue.”

Wynes offered a more nuanced perspective on President Trump’s performance during his early months. He appreciates the Commander in Chief’s hardened policy against Tehran, but called the travel ban “misguided” and disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the TPP deal. “I don’t think firing the FBI Director was necessary at this point,” he added.

With Trump heading to Israel and the West Bank later this month to attempt to secure the “ultimate deal” between the parties, Wynes pushed for caution. “The Palestinian leadership has not acted as if they actually do want a peace deal… The ground-up approach is the only reliable, viable solution to the issue rather than a top-down diplomatic push.”

“We entrusted Jeremy with the responsibility of opening our Midwest office and building the RJC from scratch in the region. He did a superb job,” explained Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the RJC. “Over the years it was obvious to everyone he came in contact with that not only does he have a deep understanding of the policy issues facing the Jewish community but also a true passion for the cause. He will bring those same skills to serving the people of Illinois 10th congressional district.”

Accusing Schneider of nearly automatic opposition of the President and the Republican agenda, Wynes noting the highly competitive district and asked, “The question is whose message will appeal to the independent voters of this district who don’t care which party the Member of Congress aligns himself with? They care about what he says and his ability to be a leader.”

Jewish Insider: What makes your campaign unique when numerous Members of Congress have called for bringing “change” to Washington?

Jeremy Wynes: “I’ve actually done it and worked for close to 10 years on issues that are largely bipartisan when it comes to how Congress focuses on them. Part of what I did, both here in the 10th district and across the Midwest: travel around, advising and briefing Members of Congress and candidates on both sides of the aisle on these critical issues where too often the two sides can’t get together and work on this. So, I think that I have close to a decade of focusing in a bipartisan way on issues in Congress that are hugely important and we can only solve when both parties are on board.”

JI: You mention in your campaign video that you are “socially moderate.” Can you please list a few examples?

Wynes: “I’m pro-choice and support a woman’s right to choose. I am pro-LGBTQ rights and support gay marriage. Those are two big social issues where I think I show independence from national party leadership. Hopefully, over time there will be more and more Republicans that are willing to have this vision as well.”

JI: With President Trump heading to Israel and the West Bank later this month, what are the concrete steps you’d recommend that he takes?

Wynes: “The idea that it needs to be as a result of American pressure needs to be moved off of the table. Any deal will have to have both parties buy in. At this point of time, I’ve seen no signs that anything has changed with one-half of that calculus that the Palestinian leadership has not acted as if they actually do want a peace deal. They have been offered it multiple times over 50 years and they have always said nothing but no. Our position needs to be no preconditions and it has to come from both parties and can’t come through these big diplomatic pushes. It’s got to be built from the bottom-up and until we have a partner on the Palestinian side who is actually committed not just through their words not just committed when speaking with American diplomats, but through their actions on the ground. The ground-up approach is the only reliable, viable solution to the issue rather than a top-down diplomatic push.”

JI: Did you support the move to fire FBI Director James Comey?

Wynes: “I’ll have to take a look at this a little bit more, but I don’t think that this was the right road to go down here. We need to pursue a more independent commission and figure out what exactly Russia did during the election. There is no doubt that they intervened. What effect that continues to have? I don’t think firing the FBI Director was necessary at this point. It’s perfectly fair to criticize, both sides have. Certain things he said and did during the course of the election cycle perhaps was intervening too much in the election process.”

JI: How would you grade President Trump’s first months in office?

Wynes: “We’re four months in here. I don’t think it would be appropriate or fair to be giving any grades at this point a few months into his presidency. In my view, this is a big reason why I’m running and it’s different from the current Congressman of this district is that it’s not about automatic opposition or automatic support: It’s about calling balls and strikes. That is the position of any independent Member of Congress should take. There are things that the Trump administration has done in the first few months that I would not have done that are going down the wrong road. And there are things that he has done such as taking a tougher approach when it comes to Iran that I liked.”

JI: Where do you specifically disagree with President Trump?

Wynes: “I have a different position on trade and immigration than the current administration. I would not have voted to end the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I thought the travel ban was misguided. I’m hopeful on the tax overhaul, a fairer and more effective tax code. The job of a Member of Congress is not just to be partisan and say yes or no based on which parties is pushing the issue, it’s actually to say yes when it’s the right thing to do and say no when it’s the wrong thing to do and represent your district.”

JI: Congressman Schneider opposed the Iran Deal and joined with Republicans to condemn the UN Security Council vote in December against Israel. What makes you different on Israel?

Wynes: “It’s not just about your vote. The 10th district is very unique in that there are a large number of constituents here are very passionate about this issue and the US-Israel relationship. I don’t doubt that Congressman Schneider is a pro-Israel Congressman. I wouldn’t suggest that he isn’t, but it’s also about to being a leader and when it comes to the Iran deal, what we have seen over the past few years both when he was in Washington and a candidate is an example of him being unwilling to break from his party in a real meaningful way. Yes, I give him credit for eventually coming out against the Iran deal. Let’s not forget that for a month that both Democrats and Republicans were in the trenches fighting that deal when Members of Congress were making that decision whether they were going to be a no or a yes, we heard radio silence from Schneider on the issue. Even though he wrote an op-ed a month earlier that the deal needed to meet these conditions or it would fall short in his mind. Anybody who has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee knew that the deal fell considerably short in all of the preconditions that he said had to include so for a month I would question if you are going to be a leader on this issue: where was Congressman Schneider or then-candidate Schneider when those of us were in the trenches fighting? Is it leadership to wait a month until the party leadership gives you the ok because you are worried about a partisan primary? I don’t think that’s the leadership this district demands when it comes to this issue.”

JI: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Wynes: “The biggest thing people are wondering is what has Washington accomplished for them? We’ve seen the fighting and partisanship but we are not seeing a lot getting done. A lot of folks are wondering that Congressman Schneider has moved in and out of Washington over the last six years, they are wondering what is he accomplishing for this district and why is he different from any other Democratic candidate, what makes him an independent voice? I want to talk about new ideas and big ideas going forward and how can you tackle the short and long term problems. It’s early, the campaign just started yesterday but I am excited about the direction it’s going to go.”

JI: Do you believe that you have the fundraising and managerial skills necessary to win a complex race for Congress?

Wynes: “I do and I would not be running if I didn’t think that. My interest is in representing this district. This district has always been incredibly competitive for multiple election cycles and will remain the same. It will be a close race. I have no doubt that I will have the resources to run mine. The question is whose message will appeal to the independent voters of this district who don’t care which party the Member of Congress aligns himself with. They care about what he says and his ability to be a leader.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on April 25. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Nikki Haley’s chutzpah


Nikki Haley has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for only a few months, but she’s already achieved something virtually no other political figure in recent years has done: She’s united the Jewish community.

That’s saying a lot for someone appointed by a controversial president who managed to alienate 70 percent of the Jewish vote even as he claimed staunch support for Israel and his Jewish grandkids.

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche: “Nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.” She was confirmed 96-4, even as other Trump appointees were stonewalled, grilled and flayed.

At a time when fractious political divisions have split many Jews, Haley has emerged as a unifying figure. If there’s anything both progressive and conservative Jews can agree on these days — and there isn’t much — it is the longstanding hypocrisy of the U.N. Security Council, which routinely “condemns,” “deplores” and “censures” Israel for its actions while ignoring more egregious abuses of power elsewhere.

“It was a bit strange,” Haley said of her first Security Council meeting in February. “The [Security Council] is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal buildup of rockets in Lebanon … not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists … not about how we defeat ISIS … not about how we hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

That speech sealed broad Jewish support for Haley — and affirmed the conviction of right-leaning Jews that Trump would be a stalwart defender of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Haley’s “unequivocal support” and praised her agenda to put to rout the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias. “It’s time to put an end to the absurdity in the United Nations,” he wrote on Facebook.

At the AIPAC policy conference in March, Haley received a hero’s welcome, with a standing ovation that lasted long enough for her to bow, sit, then stand up again.

But even as Haley’s message was widely celebrated, I wondered whether they really were her words. Does her stance on Israel reflect her own personal values and commitments, or is she just one voice among many in an administration that often puts forth opposing views? How much freedom does Haley have to speak her mind?   

Apparently, too much.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Haley’s assertive voice is beginning to rankle those who outrank her in the White House.

As one of the few women in Trump’s cabinet and that rare non-white appointee, she is often “the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues,” the Times said. Her strong criticisms of Syria and Russia (sometimes at odds with her bosses) and her prescient observations about the link between human rights abuses and the eventuality of violent conflict have swelled her status as a voice of conscience. But they’ve also overshadowed her superior, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Now, the State Department is trying to rein her in. According to an email the Times cited, Haley was encouraged to use predetermined “building blocks” when issuing public remarks and was reminded to “re-clear” her comments with Washington “if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or [North Korea].”

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche.

How ironic that an administration led by the reigning king of running his mouth, a president who disavows formalities and prides himself on speaking freely, openly and often coarsely, would seek to silence one of its most eloquent spokespeople. How ironic that the target of this hushing is a woman, descended from immigrants.

Perhaps this is all part of Trump’s foreign policy plan to remain unpredictable. Better to beam out mixed messages and retain the element of surprise so that provocative foreign powers like Russia and North Korea are kept in the dark, guessing. But another read on his plan is this: A predominantly white male administration needs to remind the world who the real masters are by diminishing the star of its most promising woman (sorry, Ivanka).

The climate of fear and anxiety Trump wants to cultivate abroad, he cultivates at home.

Last week, when Haley accompanied 14 members of the U.N. Security Council to the White House, Trump put her out on the ledge.

“Does everybody like Nikki?” the president asked his guests, knowing they were the ones she had criticized. “Because if you don’t, she can easily be replaced.”

The council members laughed.

“No, we won’t do that, I promise,” Trump said. “We won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Episode 34 – AIPAC, weed, and the two-state solution with MK Tamar Zandberg


Meretz, one of Israel’s left-wing, social-democratic parties, was formed in 1992, winning 12 parliamentary seats in that year’s election. Over the years the party has sat on both sides of the aisle, even joining the ultra-orthodox Shas party in Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992 Labor-led coalition. Today, Meretz is part of the opposition and holds 5 seats, one of which is held by Tamar Zandberg.

MK Zandberg was elected to the Tel Aviv city council in 2008 as a member of Meretz. She was a key figure in the 2011 social protests, during which she led, along with other council members, Meretz’s withdrawal from the city council coalition. Zandberg was elected to the Knesset in 2013, and today she is one of the most well-spoken and thought-provoking Kenneset Members. She joins 2NJB to talk about the future of Israel’s left.

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Rep. Adam Schiff speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 30 about the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The making of Adam Schiff: Why is this man taking on the president?


This is hardly the first time Adam Schiff has had Russia on his mind.

Years ago, and long before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Schiff was a United States Attorney in Los Angeles who led the prosecution of an FBI agent  convicted on spy charges.

“Sex for secrets,” he recalled in a telephone interview with the Jewish Journal last month. “He was seduced by an attractive KGB asset named Svetlana — they’re always named Svetlana. I had to work extensively with the FBI even though it was the first time an FBI agent was ever indicted for espionage. … It’s so odd to be working on a case again involving the bureau and Russia. But it does feel like it’s come full circle.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, 56, is one of 18 Jews serving in the House, and these days, one of the most prominent of the chamber’s 193 Democrats. He’s been everywhere lately — a guest on CNN and MSNBC, a focus of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. His Twitter following is growing exponentially. Already, people are suggesting he could become a presidential candidate in 2020.

And all this for one reason: Schiff is the ranking member — the top Democrat — on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating whether the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had a role in it.

With Democrats in the minority, Schiff has only so much power in setting the panel’s agenda. Nonetheless, he has emerged as a forceful counterweight to President Donald Trump’s defenders, who insist the current investigations into Russia’s election activities — the Senate and FBI are holding their own probes — are little more than politically motivated witch hunts designed to undermine the Trump presidency.

“The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain [Trump’s] worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy.” — Adam Schiff

Undaunted, Schiff is pressing ahead, an effort that draws together the most salient parts of a life in public service — his Judaism, his law background, four years in the California Senate and his 16-plus years in the House — not to mention his role as a Big Brother to a young African-American boy who Schiff’s father, Ed Schiff, says made Adam “a better person.”

It’s a foundation that also has cemented his confidence in American institutions despite the current chaos of Washington.

“I think our democracy is resilient enough; we’ll get through this, I think, even if the president doesn’t operate within established norms of office,” Schiff said. “The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain his worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy. I think we’ll get through this. But certainly, there are some rough roads ahead.”

Schiff was born in Boston in 1960, a few months before John F. Kennedy was elected president, as the younger of two sons to Ed and Sherri Schiff. Theirs was a mixed marriage: Ed, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. — “living the ‘Seinfeld’ life,” his son said — is a Democrat; Sherri, who died around 2009 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was a Republican.

Adam Schiff poses during his bar mitzvah in June 1973 at Temple Isaiah in Northern California. Photo courtesy of Ed Schiff

Ed Schiff was a businessman who moved around the country as a regional sales director for Farah, a men’s pants manufacturing company. Sherri, “bored with country club life … went into real estate, where her boss said, ‘You are wasting time writing copy. Why don’t you get into sales?’ ” Ed said.

After a few years of living in Arizona, the Schiffs moved in 1970 to Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, where Ed got out of the “rag business,” as he called it, and purchased a building materials yard.

In those days, Adam was a studious boy who, according to his father, always did his homework, adored his mother and had a friendly sibling rivalry with his older brother, Dan, a relationship Adam would later write about in a screenplay — never produced — called “Common Wall.” Adam became a bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation in Lafayette, Calif., in June 1973.

“I certainly do remember making tape recordings of my [bar mitzvah] practice sessions on cassette tape with a little cassette recorder, and I think I may even have one of those,” Schiff said. “It’s funny to hear your voice back then.”

In 1978, he entered Stanford University. A pre-med student, he also studied political science, and upon graduation, he was unsure if he wanted to pursue law or medicine. He decided on the former and enrolled at Harvard Law School.

After graduating in 1985, he clerked for federal Judge Matthew Byrne, a Los Angeles native who presided over the trial involving Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Later, Schiff spent six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in L.A. During that time, he met his wife, Eve Sanderson Schiff — yes, they’re Adam and Eve — and prosecuted Richard Miller, the FBI agent convicted of espionage.

Schiff’s success against Miller, as well as Byrne’s influence, accelerated his interest in politics.

“After Adam convicted the FBI agent of treason, he called me and said, ‘Dad, can you imagine what it’s like to have representatives of the most powerful nation in the world calling you and offering to help you in any way they could? Dad, I will never have another case like that in my life,’ ” Ed recalled his son saying. “ ‘I’m going into politics.’ ”

Twice he ran unsuccessfully for the California Assembly but promised his supporters he would do better next time. In 1996, he was elected to the State Senate.

“Adam takes things in progression, and the learning curve … with each loss made it that much easier the next time,” his father said.

In 2000, Schiff ran for Congress to unseat Republican James Rogan in what was then the most expensive House race of all time. Rogan was a two-term Congressman who had his own national profile, in part, from working to impeach President Bill Clinton. Schiff sought help from his mother, asking if she’d make phone calls to voters on his behalf.

“He said, ‘Mama, I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to call these people and tell them a little about me and ask them to vote for me. She jumped into that for 2 1/2 years like it was eating ice cream,” Ed said. “Her spiel went like this: ‘Good evening. My name is Sherri Schiff. My son Adam is running for Congress in your district. May I tell you a little about him?’ ”

Schiff currently is serving in his ninth two-year term in the House, representing a district that now extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest. He has a reputation as a moderate who works with members of both parties. With a large constituency of Armenians, he has championed legislation that would formalize United States recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915-17. He once delivered an entire speech on the House floor in Armenian and worked with the Armenian members of a hard-rock band, System of a Down, toward seeking recognition of the genocide.

Regarding Israel, which is never out of the headlines, he said, “I’m deeply concerned with a trend I’ve seen over the last several years, where the U.S.-Israel relationship, which always had been very bipartisan regardless of who was in office in Israel or in the U.S., has been trending toward a situation where you have a GOP-Likud relationship and Democratic relationship with other parties in Israel. I think that’s a very destructive trend.”

In 2015, as Jews became polarized over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Schiff considered both sides, then came out in favor of it. Recently, he expressed concern that in the event Trump believes Iran has violated the agreement by developing a nuclear weapon, the president’s outlandishness on Twitter and elsewhere will undermine his credibility in efforts to galvanize allies into action against Iran.

“I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system.” — Adam Schiff

“If they are cheating and the president calls them out on it and thinks there should be some response to it, will the country believe it?” he asked. “The allies we’d need to participate with us, would they believe us? The intelligence agencies that he’s maligning? This is the reason why presidential credibility is to be treasured and not squandered.”

Like Trump, Schiff uses Twitter to communicate his positions. One of his most shared tweets — more than 43,000 retweets and nearly 83,000 likes — addressed Trump’s tweet aimed at the “so-called judge” who had blocked his executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.:

This ‘so-called’ judge was nominated by a ‘so-called’ President & was confirmed by the ‘so-called’ Senate. Read the ‘so-called’ Constitution.”

Tweets aside, Schiff’s 17-minute opening statement during the Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on Russia on March 20 was less attack-dog and, befitting his usual public demeanor in television interviews, more lawyerly. He cited events of the presidential campaign that could suggest coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign, improving the Republican’s chance of victory.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and are nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible,” Schiff said, addressing FBI Director James Comey and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. “But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected, and not unrelated, and that the Russians used … techniques to corrupt U.S. persons. … We simply don’t know.”

In the interview with the Journal, he said, “I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system, and so, I certainly think there is more than a grain of truth to the idea this is a different kind of role for me.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West L.A. met Schiff five years ago at a memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. Wolpe was leading the service, and Schiff said he was impressed with how eloquently and powerfully he spoke. The two struck up a friendship, exchanging book recommendations via email. The first book Schiff recommended to Wolpe reflected Schiff’s earlier involvement with Russia. It was “Eugene Onegin,” a masterpiece by the Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin.

“When he’s in town, we have lunch,” Wolpe said. “I talk a little bit about politics, but we talk a lot about literature and life.”

“When I saw him at AIPAC [in March], I told him how proud I am of how he’s been conducting himself,” Wolpe continued. “He’s in a tricky position. This is a very fraught time and I think he has conducted himself with a great deal of dignity. I am not trying to take political sides; I try my best not to. I think he is a nice, thoughtful, decent, caring and very intelligent man, so I’m impressed with him.”

Schiff’s own rabbi concurs.

“I felt personally very proud that Adam has taken stances on issues that really move him personally, and he hasn’t backed down on that,” said Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now.” — Ed Schiff, father of Adam Schiff

For all his supporters, not everyone appreciates his approach to the investigation.

“Adam Schiff is a bright guy. He’s a talented legislator, but right now, instead of focusing on the substance of the investigation, he’s focusing on politics and partisanship,” Ken Khachigian, a San Clemente-based Republican strategist and former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, told the L.A. Daily News last month.

Schiff and his wife, who is Catholic, are raising their two children, Alexa, 18, and Elijah, 14, Jewish. The family has belonged to Temple Beth Ami since 2010. They formerly belonged to Temple Sinai in Glendale. Alexa is involved with the Hillel at Northwestern University, where she is a freshman. She has traveled to Israel with a Jewish summer camp and will be working as a counselor at the camp this summer, Weiss said.

As a House member, Schiff said he draws on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to influence his work in Congress.

“We have a responsibility to mend the torn fabric of the world,” he said.

For all of his success as a prosecutor, state legislator and congressman, it might have been his experience with a Black kid from Inglewood that has shaped Schiff most. In his mid-20s, fresh out of law school, he volunteered to become a “big brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. He was paired with David McMillan, a child of a single mother who needed a male role model for her son.

The two hit it off immediately, bonding over “The Big Lebowski,” Billy Joel and the beach. Three decades later, they are still part of each other’s lives. McMillan, now a television writer and playwright living in Los Angeles, was in Schiff’s wedding and recently attended Elijah Schiff’s bar mitzvah. There, Adam’s father approached McMillan and said, “I want to thank you for making Adam a better person.”

“I certainly would like to hope my relationship has had a positive impact, not just in how he conducts politics but also as a human being,” McMillan said.

“My ‘big brother’ is leading the resistance and is emerging as a leader not just of the Democratic Party but of all people who care about our democratic institutions and making sure they just survive.”

schiff-bbbs

Left: In 1986, 25-year-old Adam Schiff gets together with David McMillan, his Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles “little brother.” Photo courtesy of David McMillan
Right: Congressman Adam Schiff and David McMillan were paired 30 years ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The two would become lifelong friends. Photo courtesy of David McMillan

Speculation over Schiff’s future includes whether he might run for the Senate to succeed Dianne Feinstein, who is 83 and shares the same birthday, June 22, as Schiff. Feinstein, a senator since 1992, has not said whether she intends to seek another six-year term next year, but Schiff running to succeed her is a possibility his father won’t rule out.

“I think it would be a tremendous honor for him to step into the Senate if he wanted it, but I don’t know,” Ed Schiff said. “From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now. And where that goes, how that goes, and so forth, I think it all depends on which way our country is going.”

In March, Schiff gave a speech at the Westwood home of Karl S. Thurmond, a friend of more than 30 years. In his 40-minute talk, Schiff denounced the president and expressed hope for the future of the Democratic Party before taking questions from the audience.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon. Below: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon.
Right: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Thurmond is an attorney and member of the Milken Community Schools board of trustees. He and Schiff were classmates in law school and both moved to L.A. after graduation, becoming part of a group that committed to becoming involved with a nonprofit to affect change. It was a pledge that led Schiff to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

They were 30 at the time, and Schiff was living in Venice. Training for the Los Angeles Marathon, he and Thurmond went on runs from Venice to Malibu and back, using the time to discuss career ambitions. Adam confided in Thurmond that he wanted to be president one day, to follow in the footsteps of his idol, John F. Kennedy.

“We would talk about our aspirations in life and one of his biggest from Day One was to run for political office so he could give back. His idol at the time, and I think still is, was President Kennedy,” Thurmond said. “I firmly believe, as he moves up, one day he will be running for president. And I can’t think of a better person to hold that office.”

For his part, Schiff declined to address his future.

“I don’t have much time even to eat lunch,” he said, “let alone think about anything other than what’s going on in the intelligence world.”

Gerald Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 2015. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Leader of anti-BDS group: Israel’s bill gives ammunition to its enemies


Despite the partisan sniping at this year’s AIPAC conference, one issue that garnered consensus among the lawmakers and lobbyists was the backing of bills targeting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

So it might have been jarring for some of the activists to be approached by an avuncular, kippah-clad fellow who lobbied against an anti-BDS bill — and even more jarring when they learned that their interlocutor was Gerald Steinberg, the founder of NGO Monitor, which targets the very groups advancing BDS.

Steinberg’s target was not the AIPAC-backed congressional bills that punish businesses that boycott Israel and its settlements — the measure uses penalties in place since the 1970s on businesses that comply with the Arab League boycott. Nor was it the many state laws divesting pension funds from businesses that comply with BDS.

It was an Israeli bill, adopted last month by the Knesset, that bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. The measure has already scored a hit, keeping out a prominent British pro-BDS activist.

Steinberg argued that the bill accomplishes little — Israel, like every country, already has broad discretion about whom to let into its borders.

Instead, he said, critics of Israel are using the bill as evidence of the Jewish state’s anti-democratic tendencies. Steinberg added that liberal allies of Israel in studies associations, who are seeking to block anti-Israel resolutions, are being undermined.

“The visa law doesn’t do anything, but it alienates the allies we have for these fights,” he said.

It may seem odd to hear Steinberg extol liberal allies — he and NGO Monitor have had a contentious if not adversarial relationship at times with the liberal end of the Zionist spectrum, particularly the New Israel Fund. (NIF will not fund “global” BDS activities against Israel, but will support groups that targets goods and services from settlements.)

But he suggested those fights are among family. Steinberg looked horrified when he recalled how Jennifer Gorovitz, an NIF vice president, was detained and questioned by Israeli authorities for 90 minutes upon arriving in the country in February.

Steinberg said it’s time for liberal pro-Israel Americans and right-wing Israelis to come together in fighting BDS.

“It would be useful for American Diaspora groups, including Reform and progressive groups, not just to whack back at Israelis, but to take time to educate” about the best ways of combating BDS, he said.

(In an earlier interview, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said his movement was doing just that, and made clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their most recent meeting how critical it was to combat BDS to maintain support for the two-state solution. “Without a strong commitment on two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” said Jacobs.)

Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, tried to reach out to the Israeli sponsors of the bill, but his appeals have fallen mostly on deaf ears. He said the sponsors were thinking domestically and trying to show their backers they were tough with Israel’s enemies.

So last week, he worked the AIPAC halls. He wouldn’t say with whom he met, but Steinberg made it clear that he believed some of the biggest movers and shakers in the American Jewish community could persuade Israeli right-wing politicians to stand down from provocations.

“I don’t think anyone involved in this legislation had any idea it was going in this direction,” he said.

Tough love for David Suissa


This past week, David Suissa penned an article that misrepresented our movement, as well as the American Jewish community.

We, IfNotNow, compose a community that is motivated by Jewish traditions of fearless questioning and an uncompromising pursuit of tikkun olam. It is not, as Mr. Suissa articulated, the desire to “look like an anti-establishment rebel,” that motivates us; rather, it is the values of love and justice that inform our movement.

Our upbringings, grounded deeply in Jewish ethics, have prepared us for this moment in history, as the first year of a Trump presidency converges with the fiftieth year of an Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In what one might term “tough love” for Suissa’s piece, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman correctly declares that, “the occupation has twisted our communal soul.” Now, especially, is the time for bold opposition to hate-filled politics. Yet so many of our communal institutions, including AIPAC, have demonstrated the ease with which the pro-Israel establishment can be swayed by fearmongering tactics and Islamophobic sentiments. At last year’s AIPAC policy conference, Donald Trump’s speech – characterizing Palestinian society as bloodthirsty and anti-Semitic – was given a standing ovation by the majority of those in the room. Since then, AIPAC has continually failed to condemn the policies and rhetoric of Trump and his administration – policies that encourage racism, sexism, and even anti-Semitism – in the name of unconditionally rewarding those who promote the right-wing, pro-Israel party line.

Just as importantly, an unquestioning antipathy towards communities who criticize Israel is placing our communal institutions on the wrong side of history. Their pro-Israel criterion has not only prompted hostility towards disapproving members in the Jewish community, but also of other marginalized communities. One need not look farther than Mr. Suissa’s own track record to see this trend. Long before he appealed to the Jewish community to give IfNotNow a dose of “tough love,” Suissa called for, among others, “Tough Love for Islam,” “Tough Love for Black Lives Matter,” and “Tough Love for Obama.”

Not only do Suissa’s calls for “tough love” mischaracterize and dismiss communities, movements, and figures, but they also indulge in blatant bigotry. They minimize the struggle of communities who experience daily mistreatment by illustrating a world in which the oppressed are coddled. Suissa’s article advocating that the Jewish community “offer [Black Lives Matter] some tough love and constructive criticism,” for example, completely diminishes the often-violent sacrifices protesters make in order to bring attention to a dire reality. He also suggests that the difficulties faced by the Jewish community are equivalent to those faced by the black community — they are not.

Suissa asserts that Jewish organizations, out of fear of “losing” young Jews critical of Israel, are handling them with “kid gloves.” But one must ask: who is, in fact, doing this? Hillel at Ohio State has disbanded its Jewish LGBT support group because it participated in an event alongside Jewish Voice for Peace. The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations refused to admit J Street, an explicitly pro-Israel organization that supports a two-state solution.

In Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, AIPAC ensured the arrest of seven IfNotNow members for occupying its lobby. Many IfNotNow members have family who will not speak to them because of their work in our movement. Each of our members – many of whom love the country deeply and have family there –  risks a refusal of entry into Israel. We are regularly shouted at, told that we aren’t Jewish, or that we’re kapos. With such rhetoric, it is no surprise that the Jewish Defense League, a right-wing terrorist organization, attacked IfNotNow demonstrators and a Palestinian man during a peaceful action at AIPAC last week. So, we must ask again: who is handling us with “kid gloves?”

Suissa argued that our last action in Los Angeles simplified the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He will get no argument from us when he says that it is complicated. Even now, Israel just approved the first settlement construction in the West Bank in over twenty years.

Every day that Israel denies Palestinians basic rights and freedoms is another day it cannot hope for any sort of security or an improvement in international standing. And, even more importantly, the chance of reaching a just and peaceful resolution grows increasingly slim.

We are under no illusions that ending the occupation will be easy. It is not “social justice on demand”; it will involve considerable risk. But the current methods by which alleged security is held in place are unacceptable, and we, as American Jews who are implicated in this violence, must work to end it.

In the face of this issue’s complexity, we ask a simple question – a question that our communal institutions have failed to answer for too long: Do we, as a community, believe that all peoples deserve freedom and dignity?

If the answer is yes, then we can no longer afford to advocate solely for ourselves. We cannot accept the vindication of a bigoted, xenophobic, and delusional leader based solely on his proclaimed support for Israeli policies. It is engrained in our Jewish heritage to stand with people in need. Will our communal institutions use their power to stand with those most targeted by a Trump administration? By a Netanyahu administration?

We reimagine an American Jewish community that fights for dignity and freedom for all, even if it goes against the policies of a particular Israeli government. We are building a community that is no longer complicit in upholding a system of violence against Palestinians. Mr. Suissa, join us!

The authors are members of IfNotNow.

David Suissa responds:

I stand by every word I wrote. By blaming only Israel for the absence of peace, the movement IfNotNow (INN) hurts peace. By ignoring Palestinian refusals to end the occupation, Palestinian teaching of Jew-hatred and Palestinian glorifying of terrorism, INN hurts Palestinians. And by ignoring the reality that Hamas and ISIS are likely to swoop in and massacre Palestinians after Israel leaves the West Bank, INN is dumbing down a complicated conflict. The community conversation is much healthier when everyone is challenged. Just as INN is free to challenge AIPAC and other groups, they should have no problem getting the same treatment. As they write, it’s the “Jewish tradition of fearless questioning.”

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

IfNotNow and AIPAC


It’s amazing to me that the Jewish community is making all the same mistakes with IfNotNow that it made 30 years ago with Peace Now.

Castigation, isolation, repudiation, denigration — all the same tropes and techniques, from leaders who should know better.

The no-longer-young mainstream critics of IfNotNow should know by now that their attacks, like those of the establishment on Peace Now, will produce only more youthful opposition and could very well incite violence.  It all happened before. It’s all happening again.

Last week, the campaign against IfNotNow reached a fever pitch when the group held a sit-in, first at the Los Angeles offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), then at the AIPAC’s national conference in Washington, D.C.

IfNotNow is a group organized in 2014 by American-Jewish 20-somethings to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. 

Here’s how IfNotNow describes its origin story on its website: “[Y]oung Jews angered by the overwhelmingly hawkish response of American Jewish institutions came together under the banner of IfNotNow to demonstrate their resistance through the beauty of Jewish ritual. Moved to act by moral anguish and inspired by Hillel’s three questions, they organized Mourner’s Kaddish actions in nearly a dozen cities across the country and lamented the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian life. They had three demands: Stop the War on Gaza, End the Occupation, and Freedom and Dignity for All.”

What this description should tell us is that IfNotNow, like Peace Now, is very much a movement from within the Jewish community.  It is not outsiders trying to tear down Israel; it is our kids trying to save us.

Simone Zimmerman, one of the movement’s founders, made this clear in an interview with Jewish Journal reporter Eitan Arom. 

“They attack us so much because they know that we are not a minority and that we are a growing voice in the community,” said Zimmerman, who is 26. “If they didn’t see us as a growing threat, they wouldn’t feel the need to attack us. I think they know that as the occupation hits its 50th anniversary, as the Israeli government moves more and more to the right, American Jews are moving left, a lot of us, and we’re not willing to check our values at the door to maintain this pro-Israel consensus. True safety and liberation for Jews in the U.S. and in Israel actually depends not on supporting the occupation but fighting for freedom for all people.”

Thirty years ago, Peace Now entered the American-Jewish scene with a similar point of view. One difference, not incidental, is that Peace Now was founded by reserve Israeli military officers who foresaw, based on bitter experience, what moral, security, political and demographic disasters awaited Israel if it didn’t work to make a two-state solution more likely. IfNotNow is mostly American voices saying the same, but has the logic really changed?

Perhaps because Peace Now began as an Israeli movement, it didn’t feel comfortable in publicly confronting the American-Jewish establishment. IfNotNow members are energized, not intimidated, by throwing all they’ve learned in day schools, Jewish camps and Birthright trips into the faces of the folks who paid for it all.

Those folks are reacting by supporting a law in Israel that would ban activists from entering the country and by calling them names. Last week, in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, Rabbi Daniel Gordis actually singled out Zimmerman as an “enemy of the state.”  His logic was that because Zimmerman sees the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a “legitimate, non-violent tactic” she must be a traitor.

It doesn’t matter to Gordis that Zimmerman herself, like IfNotNow, doesn’t subscribe to the BDS movement. She merely refuses to share Gordis’ exact view of it. And so — she’s out.

Sound familiar?  In the days of Peace Now, the red line was not BDS, but PLO. The establishment delegitimized Peace Now members because they dared advocate negotiating with the Palestinians. That was the establishment’s red line — talking to a terrorist who killed Jewish children and wheeled Jewish invalids into the sea. Now, mainstream Jewish leaders display photos of their visit with Yasser Arafat’s protégé, while calling anyone who refuses to condemn the boycott of Dead Sea body lotion a traitor.

Haven’t we learned that harsh language can paint a target on the backs of these protesters? It was just that rhetoric that resulted in the murder of Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig at a Jerusalem rally in 1983. In court, the man who tossed a grenade at Grunzweig argued that right-wing activists had convinced him Peace Now followers were “traitors.” 

It’s a sign of how the occupation has twisted our communal soul that our mainstream leaders are using words once consigned to the violent extreme.

I wasn’t at the AIPAC conference, where some in the crowd jeered at the IfNotNow protesters. But I remember vividly being jeered at decades ago at Peace Now rallies. I can tell you that being spat on doesn’t make you any less wedded to your convictions.   

I’m that strange Jew who believes we are a stronger community — and Israel is stronger — because IfNotNow, Peace Now, AIPAC and organizations on the right, such as the Zionist Organization of America, thrive. The truth doesn’t reside with any single one of them, and even those ideas we once thought of as fixed shift and evolve. What if instead of constantly looking for ways to march people out, we worked just as hard on bringing them in?


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the AIPAC policy conference, March 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of AIPAC.

Party leaders offer partisan shots at AIPAC conference


Democratic and Republican congressional leaders tussled on the AIPAC stage on the final day of its policy conference over which party’s prescriptions were better for Israel.

The display of partisanship on Tuesday morning, hours before pro-Israel activists headed to the Capitol to lobby for their issues, was an extraordinary moment for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where bipartisan comity has always been a paramount aim.

Equally as extraordinary, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read aloud a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution signed virtually only by Democrats – and drafted by AIPAC’s rival, J Street, the Jewish Middle East policy group.

The partisan splits illustrated the struggles of the lobbying giant as it seeks to reconcile increasingly divided notions of what it means to be pro-Israel. Traditionally, the final day of the conference features leaders of both parties saying that if they agree on little else, they agree on how to be pro-Israel — through working with AIPAC.

But the opening speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a jeremiad against the policies of former President Barack Obama that the Senate majority leader said had left the U.S.-Israel alliance frayed and Israel less secure.

“We’ve got to rebuild our partnerships,” McConnell said. “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.”

He said the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, had emboldened Iran, in part because Obama’s preoccupation with preserving the pact diminished the will to confront the Islamic Republic.

McConnell said Iran needed concrete examples of how it would be penalized if it launched a weaponized nuclear program, and pledged to lead Congress in an authorization of force in that instance.

He also pitched President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase the military budget, although the Kentucky lawmaker did not address one of AIPAC’s three legislative asks — namely sustaining the budget for overall foreign assistance against Trump’s proposal to slash it by nearly a third.

AIPAC has long argued that assistance to Israel, which Trump wants to maintain at current levels, should never be separated from foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is a positive way to project U.S. power, the lobby says, and helps open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties with the Jewish state.

Calls to sustain that assistance were central to the speeches of the Democratic leaders who spoke: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Pelosi cast support for foreign assistance as fulfilling a responsibility to Israel.

“A strong America in the world is good for Israel,” she said. “I fiercely oppose proposals that would slash our State Department funding by 28 percent.”

Both Democrats took shots at Trump’s alliance with leaders of the far right, including his appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt- or anti-establishment right.

Schumer’s barbs aimed at Trump were implied.

“There are some who would retreat from the world stage,” he said. “They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh.”

The aviator led the World War II-era anti-Semitic America First movement; Trump has embraced “America First” as one of his slogans.

Schumer joined a multitude of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who decried the Obama administration’s decision in its final days to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements.

“The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December and it should never use the United Nations as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement,” he said to thunderous applause.

But where Schumer was uncharacteristically restrained in criticizing the new administration and defending the past one, Pelosi was robust. She decried Trump’s “presidential campaign with hate speech that went unchallenged, an atmosphere that emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, white supremacists that feel emboldened and connected to the White House.”

Pelosi, like other Democrats who spoke throughout the conference, emphasized two states as the preferred outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Republicans pulled support for two states from their platform last year, and Trump earlier this year said he was agnostic on the issue, ending 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the solution.

But Pelosi took it a step further, taking out her phone to read out loud a letter sent last week asking Trump to reaffirm U.S. support for two states, emphasizing twice that the vast majority – 189 of its 191 signatories — were Democrats.

What she left unmentioned was that J Street drafted and lobbied for the letter; AIPAC did not have a position on it.

“I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context. I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish, secure and democratic Israel,” Pelosi said, borrowing rhetoric J Street might easily use. “An Israel that recognizes the dignity and security of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That line earned her moderate applause.

AIPAC has been trying, after years of its own tensions with the Obama administration, to reassert its bipartisan profile and hold on to the ground between  pro-Israel groups that appear to gravitate to the Democrats (J Street) or Republicans (the Zionist Organization of America).

Its three legislative asks, while crafted to earn support from both parties, do not include mention of two states. (All speakers endorsed the legislative agenda, which in addition to sustaining foreign aid backed bills that would add non-nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose fines on businesses for cooperating with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.)

The two-state notion persists in AIPAC policy. Its executive director, Howard Kohr, on Sunday evening envisioned “a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

But it is nowhere near front and center as it is with other centrist Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, each alarmed by erosion for support for the outcome among Republicans in the United States as well as in Israel’s government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union for Reform Judaism and was at the conference, said failing to robustly defend two states undercut AIPAC’s mission to combat BDS.

“Without a strong commitment to two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” he said. “The only way you fight BDS” on campuses and in churches “is to say it is undermining the two-state solution.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations NIkki Haley speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Notes from AIPAC: Is there really no daylight between the US and Israel?


1.

In year 5777 of the Hebrew calendar, just two weeks before Passover, the people of Israel are reliving the story of Pharaoh and Moses. The Pharaoh is not a king, it is an organization – the UN. The Moses is a brilliant Indian-American politician, a woman of ambition and courage – Nikki Haley. Their Moses made a promise yesterday at the annual AIPAC policy conference: there’s a new sheriff in town.

“The days of Israel bashing are over,” Haley told a crowd of pro-Israel activists already in awe with her performance. In the previous two days of deliberations, this crowd burst in applause every time her name was mentioned. She is easily the most adored US official among this crowd. She is easily the one about which there’s some kind of consensus. The US ambassador to the UN will part the sea of discrimination for the people of Israel; the US ambassador to the UN will bring them to a promised land of being treated like everybody else. The US ambassador to the UN will destroy the Golden Calf of Israel bashing.

The Trump administration, having spent more than two thirds of its first hundred days in office on juvenile skirmishes, can point to at least one great thing it did for Israel. Of course, Haley was not appointed “for Israel” – she was appointed to drive a message from the US to the UN. Can she change the UN? Can Trump tame this anti-Israel behemoth? That is too soon to asses. But no one can mistake Haley’s message: the days of Obama are over, the days of contemplating a vote against Israel without the US vetoing it are over.

2.

On the first day of the conference, Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer made the following statement: “For the first time in many years, perhaps even many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments.”

This is a statement worth parsing. Let’s start with the meaning of “many decades.” What does that mean?

“Many” means at least two. Two decades means going back at least twenty years, to 1997.

So Dermer is essentially saying that the current daylight situation is better than the one Israel had during the last leg of the Clinton administration, the full two terms of the Bush administration and the full two terms of the Obama administration. I cannot say this is wrong, because there are certainly things I don’t know about the current state of the relations. But Dermer, trying to be dramatic, put the bar high. This was a fancy assessment of the state of the relations.

3.

Continuing with Dermer. What did he mean by “no daylight between our two governments”?

You could say: no difference in assessing the situation and the necessary policies. But we know that cannot be the case. Had it been the case, Dermer would not busy himself in an attempt to reach an understanding with the Trump administration about settlements. It is really simple: negotiations between the countries are necessary because they don’t see eye to eye on the settlement issue. And since we have negotiations, we know there are differences. So “no daylight” can’t mean “no differences.”

What can it mean, then? It can mean “no public brawls.” It is noteworthy that negotiations between Israel and the US on sensitive issues are conducted civilly. The Trump administration and the Netanyahu government do not leak against one another, do not smear each other, do not try to alienate the other side by hinting to the press, or in a speech, that something is wrong with their counterpart.

This is indeed a welcome change from the Obama years. Let’s hope it lasts.

4.

“No daylight” could also be a wish more than a description. I’ve had several conversations in Washington in the last couple of days with people who have ties to the Israeli government and to the Trump administration, and in all of these conversations one thing was clear: the future policy of the administration is currently unpredictable.

This makes the job of officials in Washington difficult, because they don’t always understand what policies they are expected to pursue. It makes the life of the Israeli government, ambassador Dermer included, even more difficult. Because it doesn’t know what to expect.

And we should be clear: predictability is the most important quality of an American administration when it comes to Israel (except for general positivity). Predictability is much more important than agreement on a certain specific policy. Predictability enables Israel – for whose national security strategy the US is a main pillar – to plan ahead and calculate its next moves.

But Trump and his administration are unpredictable. This is partly because the president has such a temperament. It’s also partly because the administration is still missing key elements and it is not always clear who is supposed to be making specific policy decisions.

The result is ironic. Israel not only has to deal with an unstable and hence unpredictable region – it also must deal with an unpredictable policy of its most trusted ally.

5.

A few words about the meaning of “seriously considering.”

Vice President Pence says that the president is seriously considering a move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. What does he mean by that? Does he mean that the issue is no longer on the table – seriously considering in this case is more like indefinitely postponing. Or maybe he wants to hint that the issue is back on the table – seriously considering in this case is, well, seriously considering.

President Trump made a promise that the embassy is going to move. It is a promise that he could have easily decided to implement, but he did not. Escaping criticism over this will not be difficult, because Israel is not going to pick a fight over the embassy, and most other countries will praise Trump for climbing off this ladder. However, escaping mockery will not be easy. In two months Trump will have to either sign the waiver that keeps the embassy in Tel Aviv, or scrap it – and ignite the process of relocation. In other words: the option for him to ignore the issue doesn’t exist. He will have to actively show that his promise will not materialize, for now. Or – he can deliver.

I asked several diplomats what options they see for Trump on this issue, and two possibilities seem interesting. One – Trump will sign the waiver while making a promise that this is the last time for him to sign it, thus igniting a slower-moving process of relocation. Two – Trump will not sign the waiver and give Netanyahu this present in exchange for Israel announcing a partial settlement freeze. This could help Netanyahu silence criticism from the right. It could help Trump justify his move as quid-pro-quo diplomacy.

6.

There are some people around Trump who are somewhat suspicious of AIPAC. A lot of it has to do with last year’s policy conference and AIPAC’s decision to apologize for Trump’s attack on president Obama during his speech. AIPAC made the right choice and invited Trump to its conference last year. It made a more problematic choice by apologizing for his speech. I wonder if they’d do the same had they known that he was going to get elected.

Of course, this should be water under the bridge by now. Except that the Trump people don’t easily forget. The administration specifically asked several officials to refrain from attending the conference. The President did not speak at the conference (his VP, Mike Pence, did a fine job – but Trump’s absence still resonated). Members of Trump’s team hinted in private conversations that they want to see what person is appointed as AIPAC’s next president. If someone closer to the Trump camp is appointed, maybe they will forgive and forget.

On the other hand, if someone closer to the Trump camp is appointed, it will make AIPAC’s attempt to maintain a bipartisan approach much harder.

 

AIPAC and the meaning of love


How do we show our love for the things we hold dear?

How do we express this love when things get complicated?

Israel is a complicated country. Despite all of its amazing accomplishments in the face of relentless hostility, despite its courage, its resiliency, its vibrant culture, it still manages to attract serious opposition and even anger among many American Jews who claim to love the Jewish state. The key reason for this anger is well-known: Israel’s inability to make peace with the Palestinians.

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve seen two radically different approaches to loving Israel.

The first is the love I felt at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where 18,000 people came to network, listen to speeches, learn more about Israel, present their ideas, lobby Congress, and, essentially, find a safe space to show their love for the Jewish state.

Outside the main conference hall, I saw a whole other approach –demonstrators on the street, many of them angry, protesting AIPAC’s support of Israel.

In an ideal world, I’m sure these demonstrators would like nothing better than to see AIPAC join their protest against Israel. In fact, I’m sure they’d love to see all Jewish organizations follow their approach and bash Israel for failing to make peace with the Palestinians.

For the protestors, this failure is all-consuming. Yes, the conflict is complicated. Yes, the Palestinians have refused several offers in the past to end the occupation. Yes, Israel has made its share of mistakes. Yes, right now, with the region in violent turmoil, it could be disastrous for everybody — including the Palestinians — if Israel abandoned the West Bank and terror groups would walk in and wreak more havoc.

Yes, but.

A failure is still a failure. The bottom line for these anti-AIPAC demonstrators is that Israel has failed to make peace with the Palestinians, and that is simply unacceptable.

My question for the demonstrators, then, is this: Since you claim to be pro-Israel, how else do you show your love for Israel besides protest?

I get the tough love thing. I get that you want Israel to do as you wish, because it would be better for Israel and the Palestinians. I get that you’re tired of waiting. I get all that, and I also get that protest is a great Jewish value and that it’s part of the Jewish tradition.

I’m just curious: Is this your only way of engaging with Israel?

I’m especially interested because, when I love someone who does something I think is wrong, I always make sure to remind them how much I love them, how I value the things they do right, and how I value our relationship. For their own good, I will show some “tough,” but I always show some “love.”

I’ve seen your “tough” on Israel, but where are you hiding the love?

Are you looking for a safe space?

Panel at AIPAC Blasts Trump’s Proposed Foreign Aid Cuts


WASHINGTON – At an AIPAC panel on Sunday, the highlighted speakers assailed the Trump Administration for its massive reductions in the proposed foreign aid budget. Retired General Charles Walk asserted, “I have never heard of a general officer” who doesn’t support foreign assistance.

The speakers also noted that American aid to Israel’s neighbors who have maintained peace treaties with the Jewish state such as Jordan and Egypt significantly benefits Jerusalem. “The assistance we give to others for instance Jordan is in Israel’s interest as well,” noted Lindsay Plack, Director of Government Relations at the US Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC). The US assistance to Amman following the refugee spillover from the Syrian war “ensures that the Jordanian economy doesn’t crumble under the stress of all those refugees coming in,” she added.

Speaking in Tokyo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on March 16, “The level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past.. is simply not sustainable.” The top US diplomat added, “We are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.”

“I guarantee it, if we were to cut half of this foreign aid budget it would probably translate into some huge number of US engagements around the world,” Walk noted at one of the few hundred breakout sessions AIPAC has organized at its annual Policy Conference.

Last month, over 120 retired generals signed a letter pushing back against the White House’s plan to slash aid to USAID and the State Department as “critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

“The threats that we face, frankly it became most clear after 9/11, they can’t be solved with the military alone,” Plack said. “When America leads, it’s good for Israel. When we pull back, that is not good for Israel.”  

AIPAC has stressed the importance of maintaining the State Department’s budget by showcasing Defense Secretary General Mattis’ remarks on video screens throughout the convention center: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

As assistance to the UN viewed controversially in some circles, Plask pointed to the important work of UNHCR, the international organization’s refugee agency. “They are on the front lines of the refugee crisis and Syrian civil war, so our small investment allows them to be on the front lines instead of us.”

With dramatic reductions to foreign aid across the world while maintaining $3.8 billion annually to Israel, some pro-Israel advocates worry about the perception of foreign aid to the Jewish state among the American public. When USGLC was established 20 years ago, AIPAC was a founding member.

“The foreign aid bill has long been one of AIPAC’s highest priorities and it helps ensure that the country has the resources to lead in the world,” noted AIPAC official Dan Granot at the end of the panel urging the attendees to preserve a robust global foreign assistance and implicitly lobby against the Trump Administration’s cuts. “Tuesday morning, when you all go to the Hill, remember you are not only advocating for Israel’s aid but also to ensure US leadership around the world.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Notes from AIPAC: The lobby’s greatest battle of all time


AIPAC, whose annual policy conference opened yesterday in Washington, does not always win its battles. I wish it could, but that is not the case. More than thirty years ago, it surrendered to President Ronald Reagan – and an AWACS deal between the US and Saudi Arabia that AIPAC opposed and the president wanted was passed. More recently, it similarly surrendered to President Barack Obama – and the Iran nuclear deal that AIPAC opposed and the president wanted also passed.

In between these two there were other, smaller battles, some won, some lost. There were times of crisis, there were times of triumph. The lobby never rests, its opponents never rest, the Middle East never calms down. If it isn’t Iran, it is Syria; and if it isn’t Syria, it is Hamas, or Egypt, or the Palestinian Authority. But the battle lines are usually clear: on the one hand there’s what AIPAC pushes for – often similar, but not always identical, to what the Israeli government pushes for. On the other hand there is an administration that does not always accept AIPAC’s recipe, supported by organizations and governments for whom the US-Israel alliance is not as important, for whom Israel’s well being is not as important, or for whom what Israel believes to be in its best interest matters little – because they know better.

This year, and this is evident in almost every session I attended at the first day of the AIPAC conference (I’m attending as a speaker, cost covered by the organization), there is a different battle to be waged. It is a battle no less consequential, against a force much more profound than any American administration.

Administrations come and go. Political circumstances change quickly. Coalitions can overcome foes. You twist an arm here, you make a deal there. That’s politics.

But today AIPAC is trying to fight against social trends much stronger than a passing administration, much stronger than itself. It is battling the forces that make America a much more polarized society, a place in which a consensus, or a bipartisan cause, are a rarity. It is battling the forces (these are not always the same forces) that make the American Jewish community much less cohesive and much less likely to come together in support of one cause.

AIPAC is sailing against the wind by insisting on being an organization of “many voices, one mission.” Listen to AIPAC President Lillian Pincus’ address:

“Americans across the country are retreating to ideological corners. Too often we’re divided into us versus them, Democrat versus Republican. Goals are served by creating division, highlighting differences to score political points and advance partisan agendas. My friends, support for Israel is not immune to these divisive efforts. Elements on each side of the aisle are trying to fracture our movement to advance their own agenda, yet we’ve come together to take a declarative and defining stance, we will not allow—frankly, we cannot allow– support for Israel to fall victim to the same divisiveness that overwhelms nearly every other political issue.”

As I was listening to her, and to other statements of this nature later during the first day of deliberations, a nagging thought kept creeping back at me: Is it really in AIPAC’s power to prevent Israel from falling “victim to the same divisiveness that overwhelms nearly every other political issue״?

The hundreds of Jewish protesters outside the convention center made such a goal seem even less within reach. They were loud. They were angry. They did not come to engage or negotiate. They came to disrupt. They claim that AIPAC can’t speak for the community. Is this true? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but what is certain is that the protesters can’t speak for the community either – 18000 delegates attending the policy conference prove that. They can’t represent the protesters – but the protesters surely can’t represent them.

So, in fact, what the protesters are saying is that no one can speak for the community. They are not just challenging AIPAC – they are challenging the idea that someone, anyone, can speak for the American Jewish community on a matter that surely ranks high on the list of Jewish matters. The protesters sail with the wind. They preach for a fractured, polarized, Jewish community. They preach for rage, disruption, resistance. And they are joined by other rebellious voices.

Such is the voice of Molad, an Israeli radical leftist think-tank, whose executive director warned AIPAC yesterday to stop the masquerade: “Either it does not play a role in the political arena, and then is forbidden to interfere in controversial issues… or it has positions on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or Iran, and then must stop claiming it is not identified with either one of the camps.” In other words, AIPAC must choose. Either AIPAC says nothing of significance, or it becomes a partisan organization. That is, because today no significant position can be agreeable to people who do not belong to the same political camp.

But clearly, AIPAC and the many delegates who came here to support it have no desire to choose. They have no desire to declare themselves inconsequential, or to marginalize the organization by declaring it a representative of a certain political camp – they have no desire to sail with the wind. Counter to what you might expect or think about this institutional conservative behemoth – AIPAC is now the rebel warrior. While everybody is going in one direction – polarization– AIPAC is trying to go in the other direction. While everybody accepts a new reality – fragmentation– AIPAC is attempting to take a different path.

The question is not whether this battle for bipartisanship and unity will be easy. It cannot be easy. The question is whether this battle is winnable. The question is whether under the current circumstances this battle is worth fighting.

Two years ago, when AIPAC was fighting against the Iran deal, many sober observers of the Washington political scene were arguing that the deal is a done deal and that AIPAC should not climb the tree of resistance. There were even those within the circle of AIPAC supporters and funders who realized that the battle against president Obama was unlikely to succeed. But an argument was made at the time that there is no point in even having AIPAC if it doesn’t wage a battle against the deal. An argument was made at the time that some battles are worth waging no matter the odds of success.

It is not unreasonable to wonder if the battle to have “many voices” and “one mission” falls into the same category. It is not unreasonable to ask how many voices can truly share one mission without having to water down that mission.

Yesterday, I counted eighteen thousand.

 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, U.S., March 26. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

Pence touts Trump to AIPAC as defender of Israel and the Jews


Vice President Mike Pence delivered a fierce defense to AIPAC of President Donald Trump as a defender of Israel and the Jewish people.

“He’s a man of action,” Pence said of Trump Sunday, closing out the first day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. “For the first time in a long time America has a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to our enemies.”

The line earned warm applause, and Pence suggested that Trump, whose popularity ratings are unusually low for a new president because of recent legislative and legal failures, was popular among the 18,000 AIPAC activists in attendance.

“Thanks to the support of so many in this room President Trump won a historic victory,” he said. “All of you helped elect a president I know will make America great again.” Trump’s campaign slogan earned more applause.

Pence’s assumption of AIPAC support of Trump came amid the lobby’s endeavor to restore its reputation as a bastion of bipartisan support for Israel.

Pence also cast Trump as a defender of Jews, saying he was “never prouder” than when Trump condemned last month’s vandalism at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. But Trump’s statement, delivered through the White House, came several days after the vandalism and amidst criticism by many Jewish groups that he hadn’t denounced anti-Semitism earlier or more forcefully. Pence, in contrast, visited the cemetery and assisted in cleaning it up.

Pence, like other speakers at AIPAC, noted the change in rhetoric at the United Nations when it comes to Israel. Nikki Haley, the new envoy to the body whose name when mentioned at this conference earns robust applause, has been outspoken in defending Israel at the body, and helped bring about the withdrawal of a report by a U.N. affiliate likening Israel to an apartheid state.

The Obama administration also defended Israel in multiple U.N. forums, but the relationship ended on a sour note when as one of its final acts in December it allowed through an anti-settlements resolution.

“The United States will no longer allow the United Nations to be used as a forum for invective against Israel,” Pence said.

Pence also said he was looking forward to swearing in as ambassador David Friedman, Trump’s longtime lawyer who was confirmed by a deeply divided Senate, mostly along party lines. Democrats opposed Friedman because of his deep philanthropic investment in the settlement movement and his broadsides against liberal Jews.

On a range of other issues that AIPAC has long sought from successive U.S. presidents, Pence was cautious. Trump, he said, was “giving serious consideration” to moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, retreating from Trump’s campaign promise to do so. The Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, reviled by Republicans, Israel’s government and AIPAC, was “disastrous,” Pence said, but offered no hint Trump would touch it.

Trump also wants to see Israeli-Palestinian peace, Pence said, “and undoubtedly there will have to be compromises,” an allusion to Trump’s asking Israel to slow down settlement building.

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

IfNotNow protesters dance, chant outside AIPAC conference


Several hundred protesters coordinated by IfNotNow, a Jewish anti-establishment group, spent hours dancing and chanting outside AIPAC’s annual policy conference.

The placards and chants targeted the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for what the protesters said was its backing for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and for not speaking out robustly against President Donald Trump.

Protesters bore a banner saying: “Jews won’t be free until Palestinians are, reject AIPAC, reject occupation.”

Police allowed the protesters to reach the Washington Conventions Center’s glass doors. Some AIPAC activists stopped and took pictures of the protesters, as the protesters looked back, some waving and grinning.

“How can we have a sustained Jewish community in this country and a democratic Jewish community in Israel” as long as an occupation persists said Jeremy Zelinger, one of the protesters. “AIPAC does not represent us.”

AIPAC does not formally back the occupation and favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit in relatively muted tones. It blames the Palestinians entirely for the absence of peace talks and does not criticize Israeli policies, including settlement building.

Another theme was AIPAC’s supposed failure to confront the Trump administration on a range of other issues, including its restrictive policies on immigrants and refugees. AIPAC has rarely if ever pronounced on any U.S. government’s policy not having to do with Israel or its interests.

Several protesters bore placards imprinted with the image of Dona Gracia Nasi, the 16th century Jewish entrepreneur who used her wealth to rescue Jews fleeing the inquisition. “Reclaim, reimagine, resist,” the posters said.

A dozen protesters carrying flags of the Jewish Defense League occasionally clashed with the protesters, and police intervened.

AIPAC has drawn 18,000 activists to its policy conference this year, the largest ever. The theme is bipartisan support for Israel, and speakers include Vice President Mike Pence and both parties’ congressional leaders.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer addressing the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 26. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

AIPAC opens conference with appeal to bipartisanship amid polarization


AIPAC launched its annual conference with an appeal to bipartisanship, but Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer made clear his government’s preference for the Trump administration over its predecessor.

AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus cast the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in her opening remarks, as an island of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized political climate.

“Our nation is embroiled in difficult debates touching on who we are, what we believe, and what values we prioritize,” Pinkus said. “Americans across the country are retreating into ideological corners.”

Dermer, speaking at the same opening plenary, said that for the first time in years there was “no daylight” between Israel and the United States, and commended the Trump administration for “finally” bringing moral clarity to the United Nations.

Pinkus decried those who highlight political divisions to “score political points.”

“Support for Israel is not immune,” she said. “Elements on each side of the aisle are trying to fracture our movement.”

AIPAC has over the last year come under pressure from both the left and the right. Right-wing Republicans say divisions between Israel and the United States under the Obama administration were so profound and have so infected Democrats that Israel’s best path forward now is in an alliance with Republicans.

Liberal pro-Israel groups say President Donald Trump’s policies, particularly his animus toward Muslims and other minorities, and his retreat from endorsing a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict necessitate attaching the pro-Israel movement to resistance to Trump.

Pinkus’s message was an old one for AIPAC but freshly relevant to the climate: The best way to preserve the U.S.-Israel relationship is to work with both parties.

“We will not allow, frankly cannot allow, support for Israel to fall victim to the same divisiveness that overwhelms” other issues, she said. “We will work harder than ever before to hold the ideological center.”

Dermer also ostensibly pitched bipartisanship, but made it clear his government was relieved at the departure of President Barack Obama and his team.

“Perhaps for the first time in many decades there is no daylight between our two governments,” he said. Dermer may have misspoke, however; the embassy tweeted out the quote as “many years.”

Dermer listed among areas of comity a joint rejection of the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, although it is not clear that Trump favors scrapping the deal.

He also twice praised the Trump administration and its U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, for “finally” bringing moral clarity to the United Nations. Throughout President Barack Obama’s eight years, the United Nations was an arena where both nations worked closely; that was marred, however, in December when as one of its last acts the Obama administration allowed though an anti-settlements resolution.

Dermer praised several Republicans slated to speak at the conference, but only one Democrat: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of only two Democrats to vote last week to confirm David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Friedman was seen by Democrats as a divisive choice by Trump. A longtime lawyer to the president, he is heavily invested philanthropically in the settlement movement, and he has heaped abusive language on liberal Jews, something he apologized for during confirmation hearings.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey addresses the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2013. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Senate introduces bipartisan bill with new Iran sanctions on eve of AIPAC conference


A bipartisan slate of senators has introduced new sanctions targeting Iran for its missile testing and destabilizing actions days before AIPAC’s national conference.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 was introduced Thursday by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Ten senators, from both parties, co-sponsored the measure.

The act establishes new sanctions targeting Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and its backing for terrorism, and also seeks to block the property of any entity involved in the sale of arms to or from Iran. It does not reintroduce sanctions lifted from Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The text was not yet available.

The bill is timed ahead of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference taking place March 26-28 in Washington, D.C. AIPAC, after two years of tensions with Democrats over Iran policy, and emerging tensions with Republicans over the lobby’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wants the conference to celebrate its reputation for bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship was a theme in the release announcing the sanctions.

“The spirit of bipartisanship of this important legislation underscores our strong belief that the United States must speak with one voice on the issue of holding Iran accountable for its continued nefarious actions across the world as the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Menendez said.

Corker said the bill “demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions.”

Tensions arose between AIPAC and Democrats over the Obama administration’s deal with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback. AIPAC, along with the Israeli government and most Republicans, opposed the deal. A key stumbling block to bipartisan bills extending sanctions to Iran was Democratic fears that measures backed by republicans were aimed at killing the deal, known as JCPOA.

The areas targeted for sanctions in the new bill are outside the ambit of the nuclear deal.

“This legislation was carefully crafted not to impede with the United States’ ability to live up to its commitments under the JCPOA, while still reaffirming and strengthening our resolve by imposing tough new sanctions to hold the Iranian regime accountable for threatening global and regional security,” Menendez said in the release.

A staffer for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said Cardin led Democrats in their efforts to make sure the bill did not undercut the Iran deal. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., also played a leading role in making sure the bill was in compliance with the agreement.

Among measures favored by Republicans but removed by Democrats, the staffer said, were language that would have limited the ability of a president to waive the provisions of the bill for national security reasons; language that would have written oversight of the Iran deal’s sanctions relief into the new bill; language targeting the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, which was liberalized as part of the nuclear deal, and limitations on dollar transactions allowed Iran under the nuclear deal.

Also introduced this week in time for the AIPAC conference were identical bipartisan bills in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would “encourage new areas of cooperation” between Israel and the United States in the economic sphere.

AIPAC officials have said the lobby stands out as a focal point for bipartisanship at a time of polarization under President Donald Trump.

Photo by Reuters

Congress introducing legislation ahead of AIPAC week


Three days before the AIPAC Policy Conference commences, lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced bipartisan resolutions on Wednesday to strengthen US economic cooperation with Israel. Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX) are leading the House version with Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Jon Tester (D-MT) behind the Senate bill. The US-Israel “joint research institutions are collaborating on life-changing medical breakthroughs, and our technology sectors are fueling ground-breaking innovation,” Lieu said.

This post originally appeared at JewishInsider.com

AIPAC, J Street, AJC, the Jewish Federations of North America, and US Chamber of Commerce are all endorsing the bipartisan effort. The resolutions encourage the Trump administration to support new agreements with Israel in the energy, water, neurotechnology and cyber security sectors.

With over 15,000 attendees expected for the AIPAC Policy Conference next week, lawmakers are rushing to introduce bills attractive to the pro-Israel community. After intense deliberations with Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on a bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN) told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that “We’re down to just a couple of paragraphs and hopefully we will be able to complete discussions today.” A previous area of contention among some Democrats is whether any new sanctions against Tehran would be interpreted as an attack on the nuclear agreement reached by the Obama Administration. Democratic Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) noted, however, that he would back new sanctions targeting Iran.

The Delaware lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “Iran hasn’t in any way moderated its behavior with regards to terrorism. Iran’s bad behavior with regards to human rights violations and ballistic missile launches has not only not moderated, if anything it’s worsened, since the JCPOA. It’s important that we work to find a path a forward for a strong bipartisan bill that responds to the concerns.”

A protester with IfNotNow is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17. Photo courtesy of IfNotNow.

Seven arrested as IfNotNow protests target AIPAC


Leading up to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference later this month in Washington, D.C., the progressive protest group IfNotNow set its sights on the Israel lobby with a pair of protests against AIPAC’s conservative, pro-Israel politics that led to seven arrests.

The arrests came on March 17, when seven Jewish protesters were cited for trespassing after blocking off the entrance to the lobby of 1801 Century Park East, the Century City office tower that houses AIPAC’s Los Angeles office.

Two days later, a crowd of about 150 marched through Beverly Hills and Century City, chanting and waving signs, before arriving in front of the AIPAC office, where they danced, prayed and sang in protest.

IfNotNow is a progressive network of millennial Jews that challenges Jewish establishment support for the status quo in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Over the past two weeks, the group has held community meetings across the country, including in Pittsburgh; Tucson, Ariz.; Burlington, Vt.; and Washington, D.C., to prepare for protests that will coincide with the AIPAC conference on March 26- 28.

The morning of March 17 was the first time the group’s members were arrested in
Los Angeles.

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” IfNotNow organizer Michal David, 26, said as Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers prepared to arrest protesters. According to David, about a dozen protesters arrived at 9 a.m. at the building and blocked off entrances for about 40 minutes, encouraging AIPAC employees to go home “for a day of reflection.” By 10 a.m., those not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

“Shabbat shalom! AIPAC go home!” the seven protesters remaining inside chanted, seated against a marble wall facing the entrance.

The seven, who cooperated with police as they were led away in handcuffs, were Shay Roman, Sam Gast, Alex Leichenger, Alysha Schwartz Ben Koatz, Oak Loeb and Ethan Buckner, according to IfNotNow. More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests.

The protesters were taken into police custody after the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest, by which a private citizen technically is responsible for an arrest when a suspected crime occurs in his or her presence, according to West L.A. area commanding officer Capt. Tina Nieto.

AIPAC officials declined to comment for this story.

By March 19, all seven had been released and several were present for the second protest.

“They have a choice,” Roman, 27, said of AIPAC as she marched down Century Park East. “They can learn and respect and begin to understand. … They could have come down and talked to us, and they didn’t.”

The march began at nearby Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, with protesters sporting masks, crowns and makeup in the spirit of Purim, which took place the week before. Others wore Jewish ritual objects, like prayer shawls and tefillin.

Protesters march through Beverly Hills March 19 to protest AIPAC. Photo by Eitan Arom.

Protesters march through Beverly Hills March 19 to protest AIPAC. Photo by Eitan Arom.

The protesters marched 1 1/2 miles to the Century City office tower, blocking streets as they went. Many held signs aloft, while several carried a giant mock Torah scroll with the words “We will rise up” on one side and “We will not bow down” on the other.

LAPD officers blocked the short staircase to the office tower with their bicycles as protesters arrived. Standing in front of the officers, protesters gave speeches, led chants and read prayers, including a recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish to commemorate victims of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not all of the protesters were Jewish. Jean Beek, 91, said she came with her husband, Allan, after he heard about the protest on the internet. She said her son drove the couple from Newport Beach to attend.

Of AIPAC and the Israeli government it supports, she said, “We want to let them know that people don’t like what they’re doing to the Palestinians.”

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Why I’m skipping AIPAC this year


This weekend is the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. Many of you will be there, and for a long time, I thought about going myself. DC, lobbying, Israel, and good friends: it sounds like a weekend I couldn’t pass up.

But this year, the thought of attending AIPAC just didn’t sit well with me. I tried to get to the bottom of why, and I realized it wasn’t because of Israel or any of my disagreements with its internal politics or policies. I knew it was deeper than that, but like any good Jew, the more I tried to dig at my internal frustration, the further I got from any concrete answer.

Then I went home to Oakland last weekend. I walked into a lecture at my temple titled “Power, Privilege, & BDS,” not expecting to enter a talk that would culminate in a discussion about UCLA student government.

“Today, American Jews face an internal conflict,” Professor Mark Dollinger of SFSU said. “On one side, we enjoy power and privilege. On the other, we maintain a Holocaust-driven fear of being marginalized and oppressed.”

I resonated with this. Since beginning at UCLA, I’ve felt incredibly lucky: I was one of just four students in my high school graduating class of 500 to become a Bruin, and I knew that it wasn’t just my intelligence that got me here but the strong support network I had growing up. At the same time, in college I’ve felt the heat of anti-Semitism beyond what I could have ever imagined: I was once told by another student that eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was akin to supporting an institution as oppressive as the American slave trade — because Ben and Jerry are Jewish.

Then came the talk about student government. I listened eagerly to what he would say, not telling anyone I myself sit on the student government of UCLA.

“When Rachel Beyda was questioned for being Jewish, we all jumped so quickly to do whatever it is we could to defend her,” Professor Dollinger said. “We sent UCLA pages and pages full of suggested protective measures for Jewish students and threatened to pull our donations if they didn’t change.”

The response he described to the Rachel Beyda incident was not surprising. For a Jew to do anything he possibly could to defend his Jewish community is an imperative ingrained in the Jewish DNA: after what our parents and grandparents went through a generation ago, who can say this is a wrong thing?

But, as the lecturer suggested, today is not 1930. Jews have made it in this country. In America, we are not alone. We have politicians, law enforcement officers, and university administrators to stand up for us. Anti-Semitism has not gone away, but we’ve got new ways to fight it. That’s a big deal.

I’ve come to understand that that is what Jewish privilege looks like today. It’s a good thing we have it: after thousands of years of persecution, it’s the least we could ask for. But I think that with that privilege comes a sense of responsibility and engagement, an imperative to help those who don’t have it.

As a leader on campus through my position on student government over the past year, I’ve been asked by a number of Jewish students why I’m not more involved with pro-Israel groups, why I don’t speak passionately about the cause, and why, in the midst of a national wave of anti-Semitism, I’m not doing more to stand up for my community.

It’s taken me a long time to write this because at UCLA, I’ve felt uneasy talking about my Jewish identity – and not only because I’ve faced hostility as a Jew, but because of the the power and privilege I’ve been blessed to have all my life. Today I’m ready to share.

I believe that until the Jewish community recognizes that we must use our privilege to help others, we will not be able both to defend our Jewish identities and have meaningful and necessary relationships with those with whom may disagree.

I know by now some of you may be rolling your eyes. I get it. Privilege, oppression, power, and inequity. These are words thrown around college campuses all the time nowadays, and it can be hard to find real meaning in them anymore. Let me try and ground this a bit.

I mean to say that we should be using our close relationships with administrators and lawmakers to help those who don’t have the privilege and access that we do, not just to protect ourselves when we feel hurt. Our privilege must be used for more than just ourselves.

I challenge myself and other Jews in the community to question the institutions of power we rely on. Are these institutions fulfilling this broader vision of Jewish privilege not just by protecting Jews from oppression, but by standing up to support those who don’t have the same power?

This is where AIPAC comes in.

This weekend, thousands of Jews will gather in a huge hall to hear Mike Pence, our Vice President, speak at AIPAC. They will cheer and clap, and when asked why they are cheering for Mike Pence, they will respond, “I support him because he fights for Israel.”

And Jewish institutions across America, while perhaps not outwardly promoting President Trump or his administration, will in fact do so by failing to oppose it. They will mute their opposition to his Muslim ban, or his border wall proposals, or his efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. They will do this because they don’t want to risk losing his support for Israel.

I won’t be there. I won’t be there because it hurts me inside to see an institution justifiably founded to support the continued existence of the Jewish people abusing our privilege – my privilege – to support an administration that violates norms of decency and fairness to so many in this country.

I refuse to support an organization that adopts an “Israel-at-all-costs” attitude, an organization that has become a fellow traveler of the alt-right, an organization that today is the epitome of Jewish power and privilege without responsibility and morality.

I think It’s time for AIPAC to do a little soul searching and re-think its approach. We’ve got to remember why Israel was founded, and we’ve got to think deeply about how best to fight for its future.

And to all of you reading this, to my friends who have taught me what Jewish community means and who have filled my days at UCLA with Jewish learning and exploration, I ask you to join me on a mission.

Let us begin to ask: what are our values as Jews? How can we use our privilege to protect our own rights while also standing up to support those who need protection?

And to those who tell us we cannot support Israel while also supporting marginalized communities at home, I say that’s a load of crap. No one can say that I cannot support Israel while also standing up against police brutality in America. That’s not how justice works.

Let’s stop compromising our values. Let’s begin to use our privilege, as our rabbis and teachers have always instructed us to: let us love our neighbors as ourselves and do for them what we hope they would do for us.

I hope you will join me on this mission. It won’t be easy at the start, but I believe that once we stand up for what we believe is right, other people and other institutions will follow.

Until then, I don’t need your support, Mr. Pence.


Rafi Sands studies Business Economics & Political Science at UCLA and is External Vice President of the Undergraduate Students Association

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York speaking at a news conference held by Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee criticizing the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign spending, March 16, 2017. Engel is joined by Reps. Albio Sires, left, of New Jersey, and William Keating of Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of HFAC-Democrats.

Jewish groups, politicians deem Trump budget bad for Israel, other U.S. interests


Citing the importance to Israel of a robust U.S. posture abroad, Jewish groups decried drastic proposed cuts in foreign assistance funding in President Donald Trump’s budget, despite assurances that aid to Israel would be unaffected.

Israel’s guaranteed $3.1 billion defense assistance next year is a “cutout” and not subject to proposed drastic cuts to foreign funding, the Trump administration said.

“Our assistance to Israel is, if I could say, a cutout on the budget, and that’s guaranteed, and that reflects, obviously, our strong commitment to one of our strongest partners and allies,” State Department spokesman Marc Toner said March 16 in a call with reporters.

The reassurance came as an array of Jewish groups and Democratic Jewish lawmakers expressed alarm at proposed 31 percent cuts to foreign spending, saying it would undercut U.S. influence abroad and noting that it currently constitutes just 1 percent of the budget.

“Our consistent position has been that, along with security assistance to Israel, we have always supported a robust overall foreign aid budget in order to ensure America’s strong leadership position in the world,” an official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee stated in an email.

Rep. Lois Frenkel (D-Fla.) argued that foreign aid helps stem the unrest that threatens security interests.

“I wish the president would spend more time talking to the generals because they would tell you that pencils can be as persuasive as cannons and food can be as powerful as a tank,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said national security interests are at stake.

“The proposed draconian cuts in areas vital to executing U.S. foreign policy could adversely affect our national security interests by potentially creating more pressure on the American military while essential diplomacy is being undermined,” David Harris, the AJC CEO, said in a statement. “Deep cuts to the State Department, including in key educational and cultural exchange programs, will severely harm America’s ability to assert our interests and values abroad.”

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, decried what it said was the budget’s isolationism.

“Over the years, many pro-Israel organizations — including J Street — have argued that Israel cannot be treated as a special case, exempted from cuts to foreign aid while programs affecting the rest of the world are slashed wholesale,” the group said in a statement. “Ultimately, weakening US foreign aid, which is already far below the contributions of other advanced economies in percentage GDP terms, undermines Israeli security as well.”

Next year is the launch of a 10-year agreement that would see Israel receiving an average of $3.8 billion a year in defense assistance.

Centrist and left-wing pro-Israel groups have long argued that overall robust foreign assistance is healthy for the United States and Israel because it sustains U.S. influence.

Toner, the State Department spokesman, fielded a question from a reporter about whether the cuts would affect funding for U.S. defense assistance to Egypt and Jordan — policies that were written into Israeli peace deals with those countries and seen for years as critical to sustaining the peace. Toner deflected the question.

“With respect to other assistance levels, foreign military assistance levels, those are still being evaluated and decisions are going to be made going forward,” he said. “So we’re still at the very beginning of the budget process, and in the coming months, these are all going to be figures that we evaluate and look at hard, obviously bearing in mind some of our — or not some of our — our treaty obligations going forward. But we’ll have more details, obviously, when the final budget rolls out in May, I believe.”

Trump administration officials have said programs targeted by the cuts have not proven their efficiency or efficacy, a claim sharply disputed by Democratic Jewish lawmakers and some Jewish groups.

Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), wrote a letter to House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), urging him to reject the cuts.

“We cede the role as the world’s champion of democracy, freedom and justice. And what happens then?” Engel said at a news conference March 16 unveiling the letter. “Who steps into the void? Probably a country that doesn’t share our values or priorities. Think Russia or some other country like that.”

Other Jewish Democrats lambasting the cuts included Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

B’nai B’rith International, which advocates for international assistance and also focuses on assistance to the elderly in the United States, decried the budgets cuts in both areas. The organization noted a proposed 13.2 percent cut to the Housing Department, which would adversely affect the 38 buildings with 8,000 residents in the B’nai B’rith network.

“Lack of access to safe and affordable housing for all older Americans has deep ramifications for the health and welfare of so many,” it said in a statement.

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital


Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

Let’s stop patronizing the new generation


In the Jewish world today, if you’re young and cool and love to criticize Israel, community leaders will treat you with kid gloves, because they’re afraid of “losing” you. They’re afraid, among other things, that you might join one of those anti-Zionist movements like BDS or Jewish Voices for Peace, or just abandon Israel altogether.

Fear of loss can make people overly timid and deferential.

Take the case of IfNotNow (INN), a young and trendy Jewish activist group that regularly demonstrates against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. These activists are proponents of “Jewish values” who care about Palestinians and are giving Israel a dose of tough love.

Evidently, they believe that the best way to fight the occupation is to demand that it end now, and to demand that other Jewish organizations demand the same. It’s social justice on demand.

Because it’s never too cool to take on young activists who represent the revered “new generation,” there’s a general reluctance in our community and in the Jewish media to criticize INN and its demonstrations. But putting that reluctance aside, I think their PR spectacles can use some criticism. For one thing, they distort the reality of a complicated conflict.

To attract media attention, INN activists like to target high-profile Jewish groups and make an effort to get arrested, as happened last week in front of the AIPAC offices in Los Angeles and last year in the lobby of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) building in New York City. Their message is conveyed in cocky slogans such as, “Moral Jews must resist AIPAC” and “Dayenu—End the Occupation.”

It hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict.

Now, if I’m a typical Israeli voter who’d love to end the occupation but believes that, at this moment, it will lead to war rather than peace, I might look at such scenes and ask myself: What do these American kids know that I don’t?

To its credit, the ADL called them out last year in a statement from national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “It is unfortunate that INN seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace. Nevertheless, our doors are open, and our invitation to speak with INN still stands.”

They never took him up on the offer. Indeed, for young activists looking for action and attention, the notion of dialogue must seem dull and tedious. How do you compare a discussion of complex issues with an Instagram photo that makes you look like an anti-establishment rebel?

If there’s one thing rebels don’t like, it’s complications. When I meet with INN sympathizers, I try to offer at least one annoying wrinkle: After Israel leaves the West Bank, I tell them, it’s highly likely that terror groups like Hamas and ISIS will swoop in and start murdering Palestinians, as happened in Gaza. The ensuing chaos and violence would be a disaster for the Palestinians, significantly worse than anything they’re facing now.

That simple point alone gives them pause. It also challenges the delusion that Israel can just snap its fingers and end the occupation, as INN slogans demand.

It takes little courage to yell on a street corner and make demands on the most criticized country on earth. It takes even less courage to go after other Jewish groups because they don’t do things your way. Let’s see if INN activists will ever take on the biggest enemies of peace, those evil forces that make a living delegitimizing the Jewish state and promoting genocidal Jew-hatred.

Maybe one day, we’ll see some Jewish rebels protest outside INN offices and give them a taste of their own medicine. Here’s one idea for a pro-peace sign they can hold up: “Fight Jew-hatred: Are you INN or out?”

It should be clear by now that it hardly helps peace to make Israel look like the only bad guy in the conflict. If INN really wanted to work for peace, it would wrestle with the many difficult issues surrounding the conflict, as Greenblatt invited them to do. Last time I checked, wrestling with difficult issues is also a great Jewish value.

Of course, it’s always easier to just protest and make demands on the Jews, especially if you sense the Jewish establishment is walking on eggshells around you, because it’s so afraid to lose you. But from where I sit, I think we’ll lose the new generation a lot faster if we continue to patronize them and treat them with kid gloves.

Just like INN, I much prefer tough love.

Oak Loeb, a protester with IfNotNow, is arrested at the Century City office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 17.

WATCH: Seven Jewish protesters arrested at AIPAC L.A. office


Seven Jewish protesters were arrested March 17 in the lobby of the Century City office tower that houses the Los Angeles office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The protesters, who were affiliated with IfNotNow, a progressive network of millennial Jews opposed to Israeli policy, were chanting and stomping their feet when they were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, according to Capt. Tina Nieto, area commanding officer for West L.A. for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

“We are here to say that we’ll occupy this building until AIPAC is ready to stop supporting the endless occupation in Israel-Palestine,” said Michal David, 26, an organizer for IfNotNow, while a small group of protesters marched in a circle and chanted on the sidewalk behind her.

According to David, the protesters arrived at 9 a.m. at the building and blocked off entrances for about 40 minutes, encouraging AIPAC employees to go home, “for a day of reflection.” By 10 a.m., those who were not prepared to be arrested had moved to the sidewalk.

“Shabbat shalom! AIPAC go home!” the seven protesters chanted inside, seated against a marble wall facing the entrance.

Outside, the protesters, who numbered fewer than 10, responded with chants and statements of their own, denouncing AIPAC’s role in “propping up military occupation” and “cozying up to David Friedman,” President Donald Trump’s controversial pick for ambassador to Israel.

David said they had not contacted AIPAC before the protest. “There’s no more room for conversations behind closed doors,” she said.

More than a dozen uniformed LAPD officers and six police cruisers were on hand for the arrests. Nieto said the building’s management called in a private person’s arrest, also known as a citizen’s arrest.

The activists inside the lobby continued chanting until police led them away in handcuffs around 11 a.m., while the protesters outside continued to sing and look on. From there, they were taken to LAPD’s West L.A. Community Police Station, where anybody without an outstanding warrant would be cited and released, Nieto said.

The protesters ranged in age from 20 to 31 and hailed from L.A. and the Bay Area, according to IfNotNow.

On Sunday, IfNotNow is planning another, larger protest at AIPAC’s Century City office, to coincide with the L.A. Marathon, whose route passes AIPAC’s office.

AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

NORPAC passes on AIPAC conference this year


NORPAC, which calls itself the nation’s largest pro-Israel political action committee, is hosting a fundraiser for Senator Bob Menendez the same time as AIPAC’s annual Washington Policy Conference — in New Jersey.

[This article originally appeared on JewishInsider.com]

NORPAC President Dr. Ben Chouake told Jewish Insider that the date – Sunday, March 26 – was chosen by Menendez despite the fact that a number of would-be participants are expected to attend the AIPAC gathering in Washington, DC. “We are grateful for all participation in the process and while we regret the date, when a friend asks for help we are inclined to say yes even at difficult time slots,” he explained.

Menendez, a frequent speaker at the pro-Israel gathering since 2013, is expected to address AIPAC attendees on Tuesday, the third day of the conference, according to the Senator’s spokesperson. Although AIPAC’s website has yet to list him as a speaker.

Head of NORPAC Dr. Ben Chouake with Senator Bob Menendez (D/New Jersey). Photo courtesy of NORPAC.

Head of NORPAC Dr. Ben Chouake with Senator Bob Menendez (D/New Jersey). Photo courtesy of NORPAC.

Other high-profile speakers at the Policy Conference include Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

As for Chouake, he will not attend this year’s police conference due to prior commitments to participate in two local events on Monday, other than hosting Sunday’s fundraiser. “The AIPAC conference is very worthwhile,” he told Jewish Insider. “I join other times with AIPAC during the year as a member of their National Council. They have four meetings a year. I prioritize those other three meetings when I am needed more. I hope my colleagues at AIPAC will give me a pass on missing the conference.”

Lillian Pinkus, President of AIPAC, speaking at the 2016 Conference. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

AIPAC paid $60,000 to group that peddles anti-Muslim conspiracy theories


An AIPAC affiliate paid $60,000 during its campaign to thwart the Iran nuclear deal to a group that engages in anti-Muslim extremism.

Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which was launched in the summer of 2015 to rally opposition to the Iran deal, paid the money to the Center for Security Policy, according to a report Wednesday by LobeLog, a Middle East policy news and analysis site.

An American Israel Public Affairs Committee official confirmed the payment to JTA and said it was for an ad. The official did not describe the ad or where it appeared, but Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran ran ads from July 2015 through September of that year in a failed bid to have Congress nullify the deal.

The Center for Security Policy and its director, Frank Gaffney, have drawn fire for sweeping generalizations about Muslims and Islam, including from Jewish groups. In November, the Reform movement and other liberal Jewish groups urged Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, not to accept an award from Gaffney’s group because of his statements, which the Reform described as “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

The Anti-Defamation League stopped short of asking Dermer to turn down the award but decried “baseless claims or stereotypes” propagated by the Center for Security Policy.

Gaffney accuses officials in the U.S. government and elsewhere of acting on behalf of radical Muslims, often with scant evidence or because of tenuous associations. He has suggested that former President Barack Obama, a Christian, is a Muslim, and joined in condemnations of a Muslim community in Tennessee seeking to expand its mosque, calling the Muslims there “stealth jihadists.” Attacks on the Muslims in Murfreesboro have included violence and elicited expressions of support for the community from Jewish groups.

Gaffney is close to Steve Bannon, a top strategic adviser to President Donald Trump. In a New York Times report last month on people who have shaped the administration’s views on Islam, Gaffney described what he sees as a decades-long conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate all levels of American society, likening those he said were adherents of the Islamist movement to “termites.”

The Center for Security Policy also was adamantly opposed to the Iran deal, and its supporters would have been receptive to appeals to lobby congressmen to oppose the agreement. Additionally, the think tank, which advocates for increased defense spending, and Gaffney, a top Pentagon official under President Ronald Reagan, have longstanding ties to the defense and security establishment. Advertising in its published materials would reach important influencers in those communities.

The AIPAC official noted that the $60,000 was a fraction of the $20 million budgeted to defeat the deal, which Israel’s government, AIPAC and most Republicans opposed.

The deal traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration said it was the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; opponents said it facilitated the acquisition of nuclear weapons because some of its restrictions would lapse in a decade.

AIPAC’s respect for Israeli voters


The theme of this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference — “Many Voices, One Mission” — speaks to the importance the Israel lobby group places on attracting a plurality of voices. This focus on bipartisanship has long been AIPAC’s bread and butter. By being sensitive to the democratic choices of Israeli voters, whether on the left or the right, AIPAC always had what looked like a reasonable and fail-safe strategy.

Indeed, for many years, that approach worked to strengthen AIPAC’s bipartisan image. When Israel was led by aggressive peacemakers, AIPAC could appeal to liberals, and when it was led by hawks, AIPAC could appeal to the right. Generally speaking, as Israel went, AIPAC went.

The problem for AIPAC is that about 15 years ago, after the failure of Camp David II and the ensuing Second Intifada, Israel went right and hasn’t looked back. Israeli voters, for better or for worse, lost faith in the “peace first” approach and fell back on “security first.”

This shift was reinforced by Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. The typical Israeli reaction was: “We called their bluff and gave them land and all we got was war.” As a result, the Israeli peace camp lost much of its credibility. Long gone were the days when the world media would cover Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert busily engaging in peace talks.

Those talks may have failed, but they provided good optics for AIPAC, as it enabled the group to connect with peace-obsessed American liberals. In recent years, however, behind a right-wing government that has failed to generate any peace momentum, AIPAC has found it harder to maintain that connection. J Street, which feels no obligation to respect the choices of Israeli voters, has happily exploited that gap.

The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

AIPAC is faced with a tough balancing act. Although it has taken heat from some Jews on the right who feel it doesn’t go far enough, its biggest challenge is to maintain a connection with the new generation of liberal American Jews.

This challenge is magnified by the fact
 that American liberal Jews and Israeli Jews in general are going in opposite directions. While the peace camp may have shrunk in Israel, in America it is louder than ever. Liberal Jews not only idolize peace but they place most of the blame for its absence on Israel. They may be overly simplistic and idealistic, but their presence is real and growing.

So, is there a chance for AIPAC to attract more of these J Street Jews?

Only if it can create a deeper empathy for Israeli voters. It’s one thing to develop your political views while sipping cappuccinos
 on the Upper West Side or in Beverly Hills; it’s another to develop those views while calculating the 15-second distance to a bomb shelter in Sderot or Haifa. The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

At this year’s conference, AIPAC will showcase what it calls “the various communities that shape and define our broad, bipartisan movement.” In my mind, the community that most shapes and defines AIPAC is the broad plurality of Israeli voters who are torn between the dream of peace and the reality of war.

In his keynote address at the 2016 AJC Global Forum, my friend and frequent AIPAC speaker Yossi Klein Halevi captured that dilemma:

“We face vexing challenges we could not have imagined in 1967. How can Israel safely extricate itself from the wrenching dilemma of ruling another people? A majority of Israelis know we must end that occupation — now approaching its 50th year — but fear the absence of a credible partner for a durable peace.

“Much of the international community trivializes our dilemma by insisting that Israel’s choice is between occupation and peace — ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism and a poisoned educational system that teaches Palestinian children to hate Israel and deny any Jewish connection to the land.

“Israel’s critics all but ignore the terrorist groups on our borders — Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic State and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and speak of solving the Palestinian conflict as though Israel were an island in the South Pacific.”

AIPAC understands that Israel is not an island in the South Pacific, because it has always stayed connected to the complicated reality and hard choices of Israeli voters. Those voters live on the front lines, and if you ask me, 
it is their voices that American Jews of the left and right should hear first.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Feb. 24. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Mike Pence to keynote AIPAC conference


Vice President Mike Pence and a bipartisan slate of top members of Congress are scheduled to address AIPAC’s upcoming annual conference.

An American Israel Public Affairs Committee official confirmed to JTA that Pence will keynote the conference scheduled for March 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

Pence, who enjoyed a long relationship with the pro-Israel lobby as a congressman and later as Indiana governor, spoke last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual confab and has taken a lead in condemning recent anti-Semitic incidents.

Also scheduled to speak will be top lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., its ranking member; and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip.

Hoyer and McCarthy likely will continue a tradition of top Republican and Democratic lawmakers appearing to claim that while they may differ on some issues, they are agreed on support for Israel. However, fissures between the parties have emerged, with Democrats still forcefully backing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while President Donald Trump has retreated from explicitly backing that outcome.

Jewish Insider reported on Friday that a letter to Trump from House members asking him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution — led by Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va. — has so far gathered 115 signatures, only two of them from Republicans.

Additionally, Democrats want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal reached by President Barack Obama, while Trump is skeptical of the deal and has said he might want to pull out of it.

AIPAC continues to back the two-state solution and backs measures that would subject the deal to a review.

Another area where there might be partisan tension is around support for funding the Palestinian Authority. Republicans propose cutting funding to the PA as long as it disburses compensation to families of terrorists, while Democrats oppose the measure, saying that the authority helps keep the West Bank stable, which is critical to Israel’s security.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Republican Jews, Jewish Republicans differ on DNC race


The race for the new Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair is highlighting a split among Jews who support the Republican Party. In many instances, the differences stem from a matter of two identities and whether ‘Republican’ or ‘Jewish’ is the adjective or noun.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

For Jewish Republicans, who are more likely to actively support the Republican National Committee over bipartisan groups like AIPAC, the idea of Rep. Keith Ellison, a candidate who has attracted controversy over past remarks, winning Saturday’s election to become the face of the Democratic Party is a welcome one.

“To my friends at the DNC please please elect this man [Ellison] Chair,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks tweeted on Thursday, in reaction to comments Ellison made on Wednesday night defending his Israel record.

However, given Ellison’s record and controversial past comments, some Republican Jews worry that his election would allow more extreme views and policy positions into the mainstream, in a way that could be harmful to any remaining bipartisan consensus on the U.S. – Israel relationship.

“Politically, Republicans love the idea of Ellison at DNC; Jews, however, should be frightened over the further mainstreaming of a hater,” Jeff Ballabon, a Conservative-Republican activist, wrote on Twitter.

“I do not prefer to see Ellison elected,” Tevi Troy, former Jewish Liaison for President George W. Bush, told Jewish Insider. ” I think that both Israel and America are better off if we operate under the bipartisan consensus in favor of strong ties between the U.S. and Israel.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], Jewish attendees had divergent opinions. Yitchok (Ian) Cummings, 24, a first-time CPAC attendee from Linwood, NJ, told Jewish Insider that as a Republican Jew his partisanship doesn’t seep through when it comes to hoping Ellison wins the DNC Chairmanship. “I do think Keith Ellison’s anti-Israel views are dangerous. I think the fact that he’s such a powerful frontrunner for the DNC, is just indicative of the fact that the Democratic Party has moved to the far left and shifted on Israel,” Cummings said. “So even as a partisan, while there’s some advantage to see Ellison leading the Democrats, it makes me sad as a Jew that we may not have a loyal opposition that we respect and can work with.”

Eric Golub, a Trump supporter from LA, favored a more partisan approach. “Obviously as a Jew, I don’t want to see a Jew-hater get anywhere near the levers of power. As a Republican, I want the Democrats to have a complete whack job running their party,” Golub, a conservative comedian, explained while waiting for Vice President Mike Pence to take the stage at the annual gathering. “Now, my Judaism always comes first but here is why I am going to make an exception in this case: the heads of the parties are not significant. It’s not like he’s the presidential or vice presidential candidate. The DNC and RNC chairs are symbolic figureheads. So if the Democrats want to have the worst of all worlds for them, that’s a win-win situation for Republicans.”

During a televised debate on Wednesday, Ellison addressed the past comments and views that have caused many establishment Jewish Democrats to oppose his candidacy. “These are smears and we’re fighting back every day, he said. Adding, “I believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship is special and important. I’ve stood for that principle my whole service and my whole career. And you can trust when I’m the DNC chair that that relationship will continue. We will maintain the bipartisan consensus of U.S. support for Israel if I’m the DNC chair.”

The race between leading candidates Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, an establishment favorite, remains tight, according to media reports and internal pollingamong the 447 electors. Regardless of who wins the DNC race on Saturday, Tevi Troy says he is worried “about the direction of the Democratic party on the Israel issue.”

President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Does AIPAC prefer Pence over Trump?


AIPAC confirmed on Friday that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking at its annual Policy Conference in March. The pro-Israel group has remained mum about President Donald Trump implying, that unlike last year, the real estate mogul turned commander-in-chief is unlikely to attend this year’s gathering as well.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I am not surprised that Pence is going. AIPAC always plays it very straight,” Matt Nosanchuk,  former White House Jewish Liaison during the Obama administration, told Jewish Insider. “If the President would’ve wanted to go, I am sure — like last year — they would’ve welcomed him. But I also can tell you that not everybody would’ve welcomed him,” he added.

Josh Block, CEO of the Israel Project told Jewish Insider, “Pence was a strong leader on Israel-related issues in Congress and continued to be as Governor of Indiana is a sign from the White House to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community of the importance this administration attaches to the U.S. – Israel relationship.”

Last year, Trump delivered an impassioned speech at the conference calling for “dismantling” of the Iran deal and vowing to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The former GOP candidate also used his time to lash out at President Barack Obama. “He may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel,” while adding, “President Obama [is] in his final year — yay!” The remark received some applause from the packed crowd in Washington’s Verizon Center arena.

The next morning, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus publicly apologized for the applause and rebuked Trump. “Last evening, something occurred which has the potential to drive us apart, to divide us. We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense against those that are levied against the President of the United States of America from our stage,” Pinkus explained.

“Every time Trump speaks there is a layer of unpredictability. There is no doubt of that,” Tevi Troy, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush Administration, explained to Jewish Insider. Troy added, “Look I think it makes sense for all involved. Pence has a long history of being very, very pro-Israel. I think if Pence speaks there still might be some people who want to protest, but I think if the AIPAC folks said we’ve got to treat the administration and the Vice President with respect, then that would probably be heeded. But, I don’t think AIPAC is as confident that the same would happen if Trump were to speak.”

Other commentators emphasized that Trump not speaking at AIPAC is hardly unusual. Phil Rosen, a top GOP fundraiser and former foreign policy advisor to presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, noted in an interview, “The last time a US President spoke at AIPAC was in 2012 when President Obama was running for reelection. There has not been a US president speaking at AIPAC since that date and in fact, Vice President Biden and others spoke on his behalf.”

Troy added, “He is the president and he has a lot of competing obligations and offers. I bet Trump wasn’t thrilled with the way it worked out last time. AIPAC obviously had some issues. This is the best solution for everyone,”

“Pence is well known and trusted in the AIPAC community — I would expect him to further burnish his credentials,” Noam Neusner, former White House Jewish Liaison in the George W Bush Administration, told Jewish Insider.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spent more than 15 years in pro-Israel work, says she has seen evangelicals rallying to the cause. Photo courtesy of Cardoza-Moore

Evangelicals are ready to speak for Israel in Trump’s Washington


Evangelicals, who have been advocating for Israel for years, have historically let the Jews take the lead.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, for one, is excited that they are poised to take on a prominent role. An evangelical TV host and activist, Cardoza-Moore backs President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement who is deeply skeptical of the two-state solution.

And she is confident Trump will make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I am excited to see this development. It further illustrates the commitment of this [incoming] administration,” she recently told a Christian news service. “And God willing, Friedman will be the one who helps orchestrate that transition.”

Cardoza-Moore was in Israel last week filming a new episode of “Focus on Israel,” which is widely syndicated on Christian television. In an interview at a Tel Aviv café last week, she said in over 15 years of pro-Israel work as the president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, she has seen evangelicals rally to the cause.

“After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of Christians were ready to hear our message,” she said. “Having read the Bible, they felt we were under a curse and the way to change that curse was to make sure we supported Israel. I always knew if we could get the information to the Christians, they would respond and they would stand up.”

But while that support is undeniable and certainly welcomed by a Jewish state that could use all the friends it can get, it still discomfits many in the pro-Israel camp, especially liberals. They worry evangelicals’ Bible-based views are too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs.

“There’s a real danger because most evangelicals are very hawkish and hard-line on Israel,” said Dov Waxman, a political scientist at Northeastern University who studies American Jews and Israel. “The more they get involved, that risks alienating more liberal Jews from pro-Israel advocacy and from Israel.”

Cardoza-Moore’s commitment to Israel is unquestioned, and often indistinguishable from what mainstream Jewish groups might take on. In 2013, she gained national attention with a campaign against a geography textbook being used in her Tennessee school district that asked students to consider whether a Palestinian suicide bomber who kills “several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant” is acting as a terrorist or as a soldier fighting a war.

Cardoza-Moore spoke at school board meetings, gathered hundreds of signatures and appeared on Fox News to advocate against using the book. The local Jewish federation took her side. In the end, the school board concluded the book was not biased, but the publisher removed the offending line from electronic and future print editions.

Perhaps Cardoza-Moore’s biggest victory came in 2015, when at her urging, the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, the first of its kind in the nation. Although the resolution took no action against BDS, it labeled the movement “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

Since then, Cardoza-Moore has pushed for similar resolutions in other states. Ten states have now passed them, and three more are considering doing so. Governors in 15 states have signed laws that prevent the boycott of Israel.

It likely helps that the Republican Party in recent years has been dominant in state politics. The GOP has increasingly become the pro-Israel party. Evangelicals, who make up more than a quarter of the American population and overwhelmingly vote Republican, have shaped the party’s identity on Israel in many ways.

“If we look at why the Republicans tend to take pro-Israel positions, I think a major reason for that is evangelical Christians,” Waxman said. “In red-state America, it’s the views of evangelicals that really matter when it comes to Israel.”

And with Trump’s victory, red-state America is in control of the executive branch. Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, has been ramping up its activities in Washington, D.C. The Israel lobby claims 3.3 million mostly evangelical members. By contrast, the mostly Jewish AIPAC has approximately 100,000, though it is more experienced and better funded.

After long deferring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, CUFI founder and board member David Brog said his group planned to get “a little more aggressive” in pushing its policies in the Trump era, when it has clout and connections, including to evangelical Vice President Mike Pence.

“At a time when we have a Republican in the White House and Republicans control the House and Senate, we see CUFI as able to play a leading role in speaking to governing majorities that know they owe their election in large part to our base,” he said.

Brog described CUFI as “within the mainstream” and respectful of AIPAC’s history of bipartisanship. But he acknowledged that CUFI’s members tend to be “right of center” and “skeptical of the two-state solution.” The group, he said, would not necessarily sit out debates or avoid criticizing ideological opponents in an effort to keep them in the pro-Israel camp.

“We need to draw clear lines and be clear about where we stand,” he said. “That does not necessarily damage bipartisanship. Drawing clear lines may help define what it means to be pro-Israel.”

As Bloomberg’s Eli Lake pointed out, CUFI has not taken a position on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which AIPAC officially supports, and has backed legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority, which AIPAC has not. CUFI has also thrown its weight behind Trump’s pro-settlement pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Some Jewish observers have suggested that growing evangelical involvement in Israel advocacy could turn Israel into a right-wing Republican issue. Aside from concerns about the implications for Israel, they say, that could make it less attractive to more liberal Jews, who already are drifting away from the community and are increasingly critical of Israel’s policies.

“It’s like a brand. If Israel is associated with right wing and ‘reactionary’ forces, then it’s going to be a turnoff to younger American Jews,” Waxman said. “It may be superficial, but we’re talking about public perceptions.”

Brog, who is Jewish, argued Israel and its supporters could not afford to apply a “religious test” on the issue.

“I got involved in Christian advocacy because I can count,” he said. “If the pro-Israel community is limited to the Jewish community, it’s too small. The reason the American government is pro-Israel is because the American people are profoundly and overwhelmingly pro-Israel. But we can’t take that for granted.”

A senior official at a dovish Israel advocacy group said he thought American Jews and Israel would ultimately define their own relationship, regardless of who else was in the picture.

“I’d be foolish to say evangelical Christians don’t have an effect. But I don’t really care what they say,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “At the end of the day, it’s a homeland for the Jewish people. So it’s how we choose to express our love for Israel that really matters.”