With the introspection of the YamimNora’im behind us, and as we look ahead to what 5776 may bring, it’s impossible to avoid the sobering–even frightening–significance of recent events in Washington. Many in our community are asking, “What can be done to protect Israel? What can I do?”
Together with a group of policy experts, political insiders, and campaign veterans, I have launched at least one answer to what can be done: the Iron Dome Alliance, the first pro-Israel SuperPAC. Iron Dome Alliance is the only initiative of its kind and one that has potential to make strengthening the U.S.—Israel relationship and protecting Israel a major factor in the 2016 elections. But before we move to “aseitov” it’s crucial that we understand the nature of the problem and engage in real “surmei’ra.”
In recent years, there has been an aggressive incursion into our community of a left-wing group that has misled people who are passionate about supporting and protecting Israel. Well-intentioned people who want to help Israel have given this group not only money, but the imprimatur of mainstream Orthodox organizations and congregations. In return, it has pushed the kind of leftist policies that most of our community believes are harmful to Israel’s safety and security and has even lobbied directly against Israel.
The group? AIPAC.
For years, Washington insiders who care about Israel have watched in dismay as AIPAC helped elect anti-Israel Democrats like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, assuring us that they were great friends of Israel. In election after election, AIPAC insisted that it absolutely did not matter which party controlled Congress or who sat in the White House–and then orchestrated delivery of vast funds that donors had allocated to Israel’s security to the very politicians whose abandonment of Israel we are witnessing today. Make no mistake–for years, AIPAC has been directing your pro-Israel donations to the politicians whose votes and actions threaten Israel’s existence. And they continue to do so even now.
If AIPAC knew Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry would be bad for Israel, then they lied to you and knowingly helped elect Israel’s enemies. If AIPAC didn’t know, then they were inexcusably clueless. Either way, they certainly do not deserve our support.
But it gets worse–this summer, months before the Iran deal debacle, I hosted meetings in New York where members of our community heard directly from a number of Members of Congress what I’ve known since I was counsel to a U.S. Senator in the early 1990s and have watched happen countless times in the 20 years that I’ve been a lobbyist: using its imprimatur as representative of American Jews, AIPAC routinely kills Republican-sponsored pro-Israel legislation–including vital legislation that can easily pass. This outrageous behavior was on public display last year when AIPAC openly lobbied against legislation that would have strengthened sanctions against Iran–legislation that had the votes to pass both the Senate and the House and that Israel said it needed. Why does AIPAC kill pro-Israel initiatives? Why would AIPAC lobby directly against Israel’s top priority? In AIPAC’s own words, because “stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support.” In other words, AIPAC cares less about helping candidates and promoting policies that protect Israel than about sustaining the illusion of bipartisanship, so crucial to its liberal Jewish donor base.
A few years ago, AIPAC set its sights on money from the Orthodox community. It wasn’t easy; AIPAC had an unpleasant history of being anti-Orthodox. They also had to cover up some very alarming practices. For example, did you know that when AIPAC takes members of Congress to Israel they refuse to take them over the Green Line–even if they request to go, as many truly pro-Israel congressmen do? Do you understand the toxic message that sends to Congress about Yehuda and Shomron? Because AIPAC does not reflect the views of “the democratically elected government of Israel” as they claim; AIPAC reflects the views of its overwhelmingly liberal base and liberal staff and they are opposed to Jews living in Yehuda and Shomron. Members of Congress are clear that AIPAC views those Jews as “obstacles to peace” because, like its rival J Street, AIPAC is committed to creating a “State of Palestine” regardless of the position of the Israeli government.
A few years ago, an exception was made to AIPAC’s Green Line rule. AIPAC still refuses congressmen’s requests to cross the Green Line to visit sites of Jewish and Israeli significance, but they now take them on a trip to Ramallah to meet Abu Mazen and hear his pitch. If you’ve been supporting AIPAC, your support has been used to consistently undermine the Jewish communities in Yehuda and Shomron and to pay for pro-PLO propaganda.
AIPAC would never tell you that, because AIPAC wants your money. AIPAC put up an Orthodox president and hired an “Orthodox outreach” staffer with YU semichah and an OU pedigree and set out to ensnare our community. No sooner did that happen than I received a series of calls from the Israeli Foreign Ministry asking if there is some way to stop this. I received similarly frantic calls when AIPAC decided it wanted to do outreach to Christian friends of Israel.
Unfortunately, as I told them, it couldn’t be stopped–not so long as they send the prime minister and others to AIPAC’s glitzy party in Washington each year. “We have to keep a relationship with the broader Jewish community,” is the Israeli government’s understandable rationale. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who stand more firmly with Israel than AIPAC does should be co-opted by their leftist appeasement agenda.
For years, dedicated idealists like Zionist Organization of America’s Mort Klein have criticized AIPAC’s approach to no avail while AIPAC dazzled friends and foes with its glamorous annual conference and deceptive display of apparently lavish influence. Now, all pretense has been stripped away. As should be evident from the Iran deal debacle, AIPAC isn’t a pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse at all; it’s a Jewish fundraising and marketing gimmick–a party planner, not a power broker. As Gil Troy, a pro-AIPAC defender would have it, people who criticize AIPAC have AIPAC all wrong: AIPAC isn’t a “political cabal,” writes Troy, but a “Zionist hootenanny.”
I’m all for Jewish pride, and given how low Israel ranks on the list of American Jews’ political priorities, a fun annual conference, or, in Professor Troy’s words, “a rousing, joyous, pro-Israel celebration” is a fine idea. But that isn’t how AIPAC portrays itself. Rather than presenting itself as a more elaborate Celebrate Israel parade, AIPAC sucks millions into its maw by making the case that it is a hugely powerful lobby. Worse, it interferes with actual policy lobbying, often going directly against Israel’s interests in order to keep the broadest possible swath of politicos happy to come to its big bash, the woefully misnamed “Policy Conference.”
Other AIPAC supporters tell a different tale, arguing to our community that extreme bipartisanship is actually part of their big “strategy” of engagement, of keeping doors open. Well, if so, the disastrous failure of AIPAC’s strategy is now on full public display. Israel, for the first time, reached out to the United States, seeking support to counter a genocidal plan that threatens the security of America and the existence of the Jewish State–a plan the American public rejects 2:1 and that should be easy to kill. AIPAC went straight into fundraising mode, boasting about the tens of millions of dollars it would spend on advertising and touting its hundreds of high-level meetings. The results of AIPAC’s big show? Catastrophe, utter and complete. Humiliation for American Jews and peril for Israel. AIPAC squandered millions to no avail and held meetings without effect. It was inevitable: this is the price of AIPAC’s fetish for “bipartisanship” and “access” to the chambers of power for fundraising purposes at the expense of actual pro-Israel policy.
But we must face an even more uncomfortable truth. The threat that we can confront, the threat that we have enabled, is not Iran. It is the AIPAC-endorsed anti-Israel Obama administration and its supporters in today’s Democratic Party. Working together, the U.S., Israel, and other Middle Eastern allies could have contained Iran. But Obama, Clinton, and Kerry withdrew American support for that containment. Instead, they made the deliberate choice to transform Iran into a nuclear power–and to send it hundreds of billions of dollars to fund its program of nuclearized global terror. Obama, Clinton, and Kerry decided to shift the balance of power in the Middle East to favor the world’s greatest funder of global terror, knowingly and willingly triggering a nuclear race among Muslim states.
Democrats in the House and Senate–including many other AIPAC favorites of long standing–have demonstrated the same contempt for AIPAC that AIPAC has shown for us. Though every poll shows that Americans hate this Obama/Iran deal by vast margins, Congressional Democrats have worked overtime to ensure that Obama’s plan comes to fruition. So powerless was AIPAC, so incapable of delivering any support, that rather than forcing the members to go on record with actual votes on this incredibly significant issue and forcing the president to veto a resolution of disapproval by the Senate, the Democrats were able to block the Senate from even having to cast votes on this deal–all to save President Obama the embarrassment of a veto.
Patriotic Americans, friends of Israel, committed Jews, you should be outraged. AIPAC’s self-serving argument that, unlike every other issue in Washington, when it comes to Israel, “access” and “bipartisanship” trumps policy, has been revealed as the sham it’s always been. AIPAC’s strategy of whitewashing and collaborating with Democrat hostility to Israel is a disaster. As I wrote in the aftermath of the Hezbollah war on Israel on the eve of the 2006 midterm elections:
Before the  election, Israeli polls showed Israelis overwhelmingly preferring Bush to Kerry .Â .Â . the Israeli government had a conspicuous preference for Bush. As the JTA reported in May 2004, however, “AIPAC has touted this election as a ‘win-win’ proposition.”
Bush and Kerry “win-win”? Republicans and Democrats indistinguishable? It would be funny if Jews weren’t being killed.
It’s time for a major change in the way we conduct pro-Israel lobbying.
The need for a true guardian of the U.S.—Israel relationship, the need for a new way forward–the need for the Iron Dome Alliance, a pro-Israel SuperPAC that will reward friends and punish enemies–is now more apparent than ever. Remember the “Unity Pledge” that leftist Jewish groups tried to push on us in 2012? To ostracize anyone who dared to state the obvious–that Obama was anti-Israel and that Democrats were worse for Israel than Republicans? That nonsense ends now. Control of the Congress and the White House are a matter of life and death for Israel. Our country’s alliance with Israel must be a front-and-center issue in the 2016 election. Iron Dome Alliance will ensure that it is.
This is not an easy or popular truth to reveal. I know how many people in our community have been conditioned to see AIPAC as an unmitigated good. I know how many have been generous with their money and time. And I know how breathtaking the spectacle of AIPAC’s annual conference is. After all, that is what it’s designed for: to impress you. But the situation has become too grave for silence–and the evidence is now available for all to see what Washington has known for many years.
Rabbi Noach Weinberg, z’l, of Aish Hatorah used to say, “For Patrick Henry and American patriots, the cry is ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ For Jews it is ‘Give me clarity or give me death.’” Our community has become involved and sophisticated in the workings of local government. Given the stakes, it is high time our community has clarity on how Washington really works. We must articulate clear principles and goals and actual policies–something AIPAC avoids at all costs. Then we must create incentives for supporting them and disincentives to thwarting them. Iron Dome Alliance is doing these things. We will support members and elect candidates for whom the safety and security of the Jewish state is a priority. We will oppose and unseat those who vote against Israel. We will fight strategically to keep control of Congress away from Democrats, but also to empower the few Democrats willing to fight for Israel so that others may join them–because bipartisanship is indeed a tactical advantage, but not at the cost of protecting Israel. And let us be clear: we are nonpartisan; we are driven exclusively by policy, unlike AIPAC whose primary concern is keeping Democrats happy because its liberal base requires it. It’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, but if we see a shift in policy between the parties, we will not hesitate to move our own political strategy.
As we enter this new year, the 2016 election season is well under way. Obama has ominously called for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Without doubt he now intends to force Israel to create an Arab state in Yehuda and Shomron and perhaps even to tear Yerushalayim in two. Our community must know that there are things we can do. No sector of the American public is more knowledgeable about or committed to Israel than Orthodox Jews. Instead of being followers, we should lead the way on Israel policy. Instead of being manipulated for others’ agendas, let us commit to renewing and strengthening the U.S.—Israel relationship; commit to fighting radical Islam; and commit to protecting the Jewish State. Let us commit to a fearless pro-Israel strategy that begins and ends with pro-Israel policy, commit to a political strategy that actually holds members accountable and delivers votes–rather than to a marketing gimmick featuring self-serving ad campaigns, ritzy self-aggrandizing conferences, and “lobbying” meetings that are nothing more than paid photo-ops. The time has come for clarity. The time has come for the Iron Dome Alliance.
Jeff Ballabon is chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance. For more information about Iron Dome Alliance, contact info@IronDomeAlliance.com.