VP Mike Pence at AIPAC 2019. Photo Credit: JPost

By Larry Gordon

Approximately 18,000 supporters of Israel gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conclave at the Washington Convention Center.

By Larry Gordon

This is truly an important demonstration of American Jewish political muscle, and despite the insistence of Israel’s avowed and determined critics, it’s nothing to apologize for but rather something we can all be proud of.

The objective of the policy conference was once to maintain the health of Israel’s connection with the United States and to harness the American Jewish community’s support of and relationship with both Democrats and Republicans in the sitting administration and Congress.

But now, especially since the election of Donald Trump, there is something new and even disturbing going on, a combination of two essential things. The first is AIPAC’s discomfort with President Trump specifically and Republican policy toward Israel in general.

AIPAC policy over all these years has been not to deal with the matter of East Jerusalem or a united city of Jerusalem, and certainly not with the issue of the territory located across what they refer to as the Green Line or Judea and Samaria. For years, it is precisely this dispute that has been the crux of Israel’s inability to achieve any kind of peace with their Palestinian neighbors.

The second matter is that although AIPAC leadership seems to be leaning in the direction of the Democrats, the organization is being openly rejected by Democratic leadership.

Senator Chuck Schumer. (photo credit: Courtesy)

There is little question that, at present, the Democrats are not being directed by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. For now, it seems clear that three freshman congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib — are controlling Democratic Party policy.

These three young women are determined to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel and to do what they can to finish what Barack Obama attempted but failed at —downgrading the U.S.–Israel relationship.

Now is the time to re-examine AIPAC’s absolute commitment to bipartisanship. The concept is that while we have a Republican president today, and the Senate is controlled by Republicans, we as a community and as people who support Israel, need to continue to curry favor with Democratic leaders in preparation for the inevitable time that a Democrat is back at the helm in the White House.

This way of thinking is straightforward and even logical. Regardless of the fashion in which high-level Democrats in Congress are kowtowing to anti-Israel fringe elements in the party, it is still best that we tolerate that type of behavior because you never know when they will be in power in Washington once again.

Now, there are indeed very pro-Israel Democrats in Congress. Two in the House who immediately come to mind are Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi. Both are deeply intelligent and understand what is at play. Congresswoman Rice, the former Nassau County district attorney, was one of those opposed to the reelection of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

For some reason, the voices of reason have been overwhelmed by first-term upstarts in the House who have either uttered or supported statements that are anti-Israel or antisemitic. Congressman Steny Hoyer made a good point at AIPAC the other day when he said that there are 62 freshman Democrats in Congress this year, not just the three you hear about constantly. Attention Democratic leadership: How about acting like that is the case?

Does the bi-partisan vision of AIPAC, where the pro-Israel community must endure such treatment in order to protect the U.S.–Israel relationship, still exist today? it is important to note that the U.S.–Israel dynamic has been altered dramatically since Mr. Trump arrived in Washington, D.C.

Democrats who are uncertain about their support for Israel because they are not sure where possible legitimate criticism of Israel ends and antisemitism begins should be excoriated or even ghosted. If we as a community, or even the leadership of AIPAC, believe that Democrats in Congress are going to turn on Israel at some point, that scenario is something between highly unlikely and absolutely impossible.

Demonstrating our unhappiness with their ideas, such as BDS being a matter of free speech and their sluggishness in condemning Jew-hatred, should put them on notice that we, as a community, are done.

Support from Congress is not so simple. It is no longer a matter of Israel being the recipient of American largesse conditional on Israel’s pursuit of peace and willingness to surrender territory captured 52 years ago, in 1967, in a defensive war. The issues of settlements and, more importantly, the status of Jerusalem, have faded from the top of the agenda.

Today, members of Congress cannot step back and withdraw support for Israel because Egypt and Jordan do not want them to anymore. It is not just those two immediate neighbor states of Israel. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Azerbaijan, and other Islamic-dominated countries have quietly developed important relationships with Israel.

Then there is a matter of Iran aiming their sights not only on Israel but at some of its Arab neighbors. It is outdated to focus only on the Palestinian issue when today that issue is considered an intrusion, if not a menace, to what has to be accomplished in the Middle East.

Of course, it would be preferable and ideal if Republicans and Democrats were on the same page when it came to Israel policy, and, to a great extent, I suspect they are. The policy and attitude shift comes to the fore when they address what they perceive to be their donor or potential donor base.

On Monday and Tuesday, both Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer addressed the gathering in D.C. Both pledged their uncompromising support for Israel, and the fact is that they are great supporters of Israel and Jewish causes worldwide.

The signals they send, however, to those they are supposed to be leading leave a great deal to be desired at this time. While it does not help that the American Jewish community itself is divided on Israel policy, that is a topic for another time. The base, though, can afford to take a unified position on these essential matters.

…To G-d’s Ears

Maybe it was his son-in-law Jared Kushner, or perhaps it was one of the yeshiva boys he surrounds himself with. At some point, someone imparted a piece of advice to President Trump telling him that if he is good to Israel, G-d will be good to him.

And it’s not exactly a farfetched idea. After all, the Torah states explicitly in the dialogue between G-d and Abraham that “Those who bless you shall be blessed.”

We understand that our Al-mighty G-d usually works in mysterious and certainly not obvious ways. But every now and then, He shows His hand, gives us a peek, and makes His ways somewhat clearer.

For the last two years, the Trump presidency has operated under a grey cloud. There was the matter of collusion with Russia, though even critics conceded that despite these efforts no one knew anyone who changed their vote because of something that someone from Russia said or did.

So, apparently, President Trump took his advisers at their word. At first, he indicated that a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict was OK with him. He then followed that with the bold act of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby providing a U.S. stamp of approval to the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s undisputed capital city.

That was a great and important move for both Israel and the United States. But still the president was being denigrated and ridiculed. The word in the mainstream media was that the president was in trouble and that things did not bode well for the future.

But then Mr. Trump made his move on the Golan Heights, tweeting his support for Israeli sovereignty over the massive strategic mountains and confirming that recognition when he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House on Monday.

As children, we were sometimes told by our parents that if we are good and do such-and-such with the right thought process and intent, Hashem will reward us commensurate with whatever we were involved in. But then we grew a little older, perhaps even became a little wiser, only to realize that He doesn’t work with that kind of simplicity.

When it comes to that sort of dynamic, in this case, the considerations can be very different. Donald Trump is a non-Jew without the various and extensive obligations that observant Jews have — such as Shabbos, kashrus, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, tefillin, tzitzis, Purim, Pesach, Sukkos. Sure, the White House makes a Chanukah Party but that’s about it.

Mr. Trump has none of these complex and detailed obligations to concern himself with. On these matters he’s a blank canvas. All he has to do is be good to Israel and, for all intents and purposes, he is fulfilling just about all his Divine obligations. It’s that simple.

Last week on Purim in Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an interviewer from CBN that he believed that Donald Trump might be the equivalent of the Megillah’s Queen Esther in terms of the role he is presently playing in the destiny of Israel and the Jewish people.

So what does Mr. Pompeo really know about the Megillah and whether Mr. Trump is playing a role in modern Jewish life similar perhaps to that of the ancient Mordechai and Esther? Probably not much, but the level of their scholarship in this area is basically irrelevant. Apparently, they know just enough.

And in the Trump case, it seems his good deeds and gracious acts are immediately rewarded. In one fell swoop, over one long weekend that began with Purim, Mr. Trump was fully exonerated in the two-year Mueller investigation into Russian collusion.

And then the president was given an additional and unexpected reward in the double indictments handed down in New York and California against one of his arch nemeses, his personal Haman for a long time, attorney Michael Avenatti.

It was a wild, whirlwind weekend of activity that for many was beyond exhilarating. All in all, however, the equation here is rather fundamental and even simple. It comes down to this: “Those who bless you shall be blessed…” 

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