Photo: AFP
Kerry at AIPAC conference. Ties with administration heads have slowly unraveled
Photo: AFP
Eitan Haber

AIPAC is not what it used to be

Op-ed: Obama's absence from this year's AIPAC conference marks Jewish lobby's decline in eyes of US administration.

People have been asking, mainly in the past few years, whether the prime minister doesn’t understand the American administration when he provokes the president and his envoys day and night and tries to publicly expose them. The standard answer to that is that Netanyahu is more American than the Americans and knows them thoroughly.



Moreover, he has built a workspace around him which is almost entirely American - Dore Gold, Ron Dermer, Ari Harow, Michael Oren – and some say they even speak American English amongst themselves at the Jerusalem bureau. (By the way, the Americans are very sensitive about language nuances. The secret of Bibi's success in America also stems from his perfect command of the language). A real Little America.


But it is the Americans of all people who are teaching Bibi these days that he is not up to date. What was true 25 years ago, when Netanyahu served at the UN, for example, is not true today. And if he fails to learn it himself, we – live from the White House – will teach him some wisdom.


For example, the latest AIPAC conference.


All of Israel's prime ministers always crawled to the annual AIPAC conferences. They knew very well that AIPAC is the State of Israel's real source of support in America. It is the shoulder; it is the back. The Jewish lobby in America was the second most important lobby in Washington (after the small-arms owners), and they all competed on fostering relations with AIPAC.


Thanks to a good Jew named Tom Dine, and many others in the US and Israel, AIPAC became the most influential body in America on anything it wanted to influence. With my own eyes I saw senior Americans weeping in front of AIPAC representatives, begging for their public life. The location of the Jewish lobby could be diagnosed in its annual conference: Everyone, but everyone, arrived. From the US president and vice president to the last Congress and Senate members and governors and mayors. All of America.


Too close to Republican Party

In the past generation, AIPAC's conduct has become pompous. Success went to its head. Since it always needs conflicts, problems, small and big wars for its existence, it also created them. Among other things, it tried to teach Israeli prime ministers a lesson too. For example, there was once a prime minister in Israel who was allowed to telephone the president in the White House directly. He did it and solved the problems on his own. AIPAC attacked him. How dare he? The Jewish lobby was so important and essential at the time, that that prime minister was forced to write an explanation and half-apology letter to the AIPAC activists.


But in recent years the situation has gotten out of hand. Because the last few governments in Israel have been rightist, and the Diaspora Jews – including AIPAC activists – hold views which are even more rightist, their ties with the heads of the administration in the US slowly unraveled. They, who had always worked for a joint Israeli-American statement, found themselves in a position in which they must "take sides." They, who had tried to maneuver between the Democrats and the Republicans, found themselves close, too close, to the Republican Party, which lost the last two election campaigns in the US.


The administration, which always treated Israel kindly, has been looking in other directions in the past few years, spoiling things for AIPAC. The administration is also noticing that the secular Jewry in the US has been moving away from its past intensive engagement in Israel's affairs. The democratic administration's offered a poignant response: The US president had the courage not to show up at the AIPAC conference, lawmakers who always flooded the conference's halls did not find the time to participate, senior administration officials disappeared. It seems that AIPAC is not what it used to be.


Against this grey background, the Israeli prime minister arrived to participate and share, calm and encourage, instill content and hope. But even he knows that a thousand speeches (good ones, as always) will not put out the fire.


פרסום ראשון: 03.13.14, 01:22
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