Who speaks for the American Jewish community?
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OPINION

Who speaks for the American Jewish community?

There are many organizations that work within the American Jewish community — and work to represent our interests.

The interests of the Jewish community vary, and there is no one monolith. Yet as our community largely champions progressive values and candidates, we expect that those who claim to serve our interests would uphold those values.

However, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s new political action committee has recently done just the opposite. AIPAC’s very first slate of endorsees includes more than three dozen representatives who voted against the certification of Joe Biden as president on January 6, 2021. Among the endorsees were Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who has refused to testify about his involvement in the insurrection on the nation’s capital, and Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, who has publicly promoted white-replacement conspiracy theories.

The core of the special relationship between Israel and the United States is centered on our shared democratic values. In choosing to actively endorse lawmakers who have repeatedly disputed the results of our free and fair election process — even after a deadly insurrection — AIPAC puts that shared value at risk.

The list of critics who have spoken out against AIPAC’s endorsements include a wide range of members of the pro-Israel community, including past AIPAC board member Betsy Sheer and past AIPAC president Tom Dine, who said, before the endorsements, that he “would not give AIPAC PAC a dime” if it decided to support politicians who have taken these anti-democratic stances. Even Abe Foxman, past head of the ADL, called AIPAC’s move a “sad mistake.

For American Jews, the white nationalist rhetoric and anti-democratic claims championed by many of AIPAC’s endorsees are especially alarming. As an influential organization within many Jewish communities, you would expect AIPAC to know better than to give a stamp of legitimacy to those who threaten our shared values. Yet AIPAC seems to be comfortable with those who encouraged white supremacist and militant right-wing mobs to storm the U.S. Capitol.

You might wonder: how do they justify this? In a letter AIPAC wrote to its members after the backlash, it explained that this is “no moment for the pro-Israel movement to become selective about its friends.”

To many of us in the Jewish community, it is abundantly clear that AIPAC’s 37 endorsees who voted to overturn the election are no friends of Israel, and they are no friends of the Jewish community.

AIPAC’s rightward lurch, and its lack of regard for our basic and fundamental rights to a thriving democracy, are a part of the reason I and many other American Jews have found a pro-Israel and pro-peace political home in the organization J Street. Founded to give voice to those whose voices often weren’t heard in conversations about Israel, J Street has created a pledge never to endorse a candidate who upheld the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the election.

J Street knows that democracy is the pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Yet AIPAC seems to have decided that it is willing to erode democracy both in the United States and Israel, and at the expense of our community. If AIPAC is truly a single-issue organization, as it claimed to be in its defense of the endorsements, then there are no lines in the sand for them in regard to their antisemitic, racist, homophobic or other potential endorsees, as long as those endorsees fit their narrow view of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Debbie Schlossberg of East Brunswick is a member of the New Jersey J Street steering committee.

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