AIPAC's bold move into a partisan world
AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group founded in 1963, announced last week that it was making a drastic shift in strategy. From now on, it will run two political action committees (“PACs”): a “regular” PAC, devoted to influencing legislation, as the group always has; and a “super PAC,” which will contribute to election campaigns. This dramatic change means that now AIPAC will not only try to advocate for Israel with members of Congress — it will also play a role in determining who serves in Congress.
Supporters of this move would point out that these days there is no cause that doesn’t have an associated PAC, from environmentalist organizations to Second Amendment groups, and there are even movements supporting certain candidates for nomination to the Supreme Court. So why should a pro-Israel movement be different?
Critics of the move would say it undercuts the highest priority of the organization — to remain bipartisan. Until now, all the organizations pushing an Israel policy agenda — the Republican Jewish Committee, J Street, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and Democratic Majority for Israel — have been identified either with a party or a particular ideological stream, and therefore have clear political goals. AIPAC, which strives not to be affiliated with a particular party or movement, is now walking into a minefield.
That is because there is no real way to fund campaigns while remaining bipartisan. To take a hypothetical example, what would happen in a race with two pro-Israel candidates, one Democrat and the other Republican, vying for the same Congressional seat? Which candidate would AIPAC fund?
Another problem that may arise is whether AIPAC will be able to fund Democrats and Republicans evenhandedly. For example, if the organization were to raise $50 million, would that amount be divided equally between the two parties? Or could most of the money flow to one party — for example, in an effort to help moderate Democrats beat progressives? Whatever AIPAC decides will no doubt be met with suspicion and criticism from quarters on both sides.
For decades, AIPAC was not so concerned about which party controlled Congress, because the assumption was that when it came to Israel, there would be widespread support on both sides. The strategy was to “work with the hand we’ve been dealt,” meaning to work with whoever was elected to Congress and to try to persuade them to support the Jewish state. But AIPAC always avoided taking sides in Congressional elections.
AIPAC’s decision to change this strategy is perceived by experts in Washington as an admission that it had stopped working. In other words, persuasive lobbying tactics are no longer considered effective, or at least need to be combined with active efforts to influence key races.
Will this change restore some of AIPAC’s lost relevance? Or will it incur more hostility? We will see that answer in about six months, when primary season begins for the midterm elections.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 892)
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