Anti-AIPAC Hypocrisy Rooted in Ignorance
We are Persian Jews one generation removed from the violent revolution that ethnically cleansed Iran’s 2,000-year-old Jewish community. Many members of our community had only one place to flee: Israel. We do not take having a Jewish state for granted, and we are drawn to the pro-Israel cause for the generations of persecuted Mizrahi Jews before us who dreamed for centuries of an end to our community’s second-class status throughout the Middle East. As Americans, we also appreciate Israel as a uniquely close ally that shares American values and intimately collaborates with the U.S. in multiple arenas. Israel is too important to be a partisan issue.
As young Democrats and Jews of color, we have strong personal views, and while we understand the natural inclination to disengage from an opposing political party with which we vehemently disagree on most issues, we also understand the significance of rising above partisanship for a cause that is personal.
Bipartisanship is increasingly impossible. We are not surprised that a small but vocal anti-Israel group has capitalized on these divisions and claimed that their issue with AIPAC, a bipartisan pro-Israel group, is the scope of its endorsements—namely, that it includes certain Republicans. We are Democrats who have exclusively worked on and voted for Democratic campaigns; we get it. However, if the scope of AIPAC’s endorsements were their only issue, these skeptics would support Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), which endorses only Democrats. Their issue with AIPAC is not the size of its big tent, but that a pro-Israel tent exists at all: a tent that includes one million AIPAC members and tens of millions of pro-Israel Americans.
We appreciate that there remains a healthy home for young Jews and allies who share our progressive values and understand our cause. Nevertheless, our Jewish education taught us to ask tough questions and think critically, and we have seen firsthand AIPAC’s receptiveness to constructive criticisms made in good faith through our work as the former student leaders of AIPAC’s affiliate group at UCLA.
To be clear, we agree that there is a fair conversation to be had regarding the effects of Super PACs and other “outside groups” on American politics. That is not what this piece is about. After all, the realm of politics is tough—and expensive. Congressional campaigns cost millions of dollars, and much of that money comes from outside groups such as pro-choice or gun safety organizations and their political opponents, pro-life and pro-gun groups. We felt compelled to write, however, after noticing that some voices are especially enthusiastic—or only enthusiastic—about characterizing outside spending as nefarious when it comes from pro-Israel groups, while gladly accepting outside money for their preferred candidates.
Arab American Institute President James Zogby tweeted that “[The] massive influx of dark money by AIPAC & DMFI subverts democracy.” Sen. Bernie Sanders concurred, “How pathetic! AIPAC and their billionaire friends are spending some $10 million” in races against Sanders’ favored candidates.
Zogby and Sanders are hypocritical, however, in their outrage. This year, in her second failed run for Congress in Texas, Jessica Cisneros, a Sanders-endorsed candidate, benefited from more outside group spending than every other candidate in the race combined. The pro-Sanders “Justice Democrats PAC,” “Working Families Party PAC,” and other outside groups spent over $3.6 million supporting Cisneros. That $3.6 million in outside spending was financed in part by big dollar donors. Charles Dunlop, a healthcare executive, donated $450,000 to Justice Democrats PAC in 2020 alone.
It appears that some are only opposed to outside group involvement when Jews and allies contribute to a cause they care about—not when others contribute to causes they care about.
It appears that some are only opposed to outside group involvement when Jews and allies contribute to a cause they care about—like Israel—not when others contribute to causes they care about. Did the $3.6 million “influx of dark money” in Cisneros’ favor, including at least $100,000 from J Street, not “subvert democracy,” Mr. Zogby? Was that $3.6 million in spending by outside groups not “pathetic,” Senator Sanders? Or is it only a pathetic influx of dark money subverting democracy when it is pro-Israel money?
These tweets are not only unfair, but also they perpetuate deeply dangerous, centuries-old antisemitic tropes regarding conniving Jewish influence, power and wealth. Many groups spend big in congressional races. Using a double standard to condemn pro-Israel spending as uniquely malicious legitimizes antisemitic conspiracies and normalizes them in the mainstream.
Others suggest pro-Israel groups target “progressive” candidates. That is inaccurate. Consider John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Sanders-endorsed pro-Medicare for All Lt. Governor running for Senate. He is endorsed by DMFI. AIPAC and DMFI also endorsed Rep. Lucy McBath, a candidate for Congress in Georgia this year who was also endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. McBath’s opponent is a member of the conservative Blue Dogs Caucus, and AIPAC and DMFI proudly supported McBath, the more progressive candidate. The strong support of Fetterman, McBath, and 42 other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus shows that AIPAC supports progressives who support Israel.
The strong support of Fetterman, McBath, and 42 other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus shows that AIPAC supports progressives who support Israel.
Failed two-time congressional candidate Nina Turner took it a step further when she tweeted, “AIPAC and DMFI spending monumental amounts of money in Democratic primaries has a common theme: it goes against progressive women of color, particularly Black women. It’s not ok.” Turner states that AIPAC and DMFI target Black women candidates when, in fact, AIPAC endorsed almost the entire Congressional Black Caucus. AIPAC and DMFI also endorsed and spent big on behalf of Valerie Foushee, a Black woman running for Congress in North Carolina. Meanwhile, Turner and Justice Democrats PAC spent money on ads attacking Foushee and supporting her opponent, who is not Black. Did Justice Democrats oppose Foushee because of her race? Of course not, and unlike the cheap shot by Turner, AIPAC and DMFI would never allege that. Another Black woman Democrat endorsed by DMFI in 2022 is Rep. Shontel Brown who defeated Nina Turner twice in elections for Congress in Ohio. Perhaps that is why Turner has a vendetta against DMFI.
Our democracy is full of groups focused on a single issue about which their members care. For AIPAC and DMFI, that issue is support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, and they support candidates of any age, gender, color or background—to that end. Like other interest groups, AIPAC’s or DMFI’s involvements in elections are legitimate expressions of advocacy, and suggestions that pro-Israel money is darker, dirtier, contributed based on race, or otherwise less legitimate than other groups’ money are ignorant at best and antisemitic at worst. Luckily, a 95% majority of Jews and 3 in 4 Americans stand with the only democracy in the Middle East and the only Jewish state on Earth, not with those dangerously accusing our community of undermining democracy.
Aaron Boudaie is a 2022 graduate of UCLA School of Law, where he was president of the Jewish Law Students Association and served on the governing nonprofit board of directors of Hillel at UCLA.
Amir Kashfi is a rising second year medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, where he is student body president and president of the Jewish Medical Student Association.