January 19, 2012
Why I Declined to be on the Host Committee for AIPAC Conference in Los Angeles
In November I was invited to become a member of the Host Committee for a Gala Fundraising event sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Los Angeles in February, 2012. I have declined the invitation, with a heavy heart, and when the Southern Pacific Synagogue Initiative Director of AIPAC invited me to speak with him about why, I wrote this letter and welcomed a follow-up conversation with him. I wanted you to see an edited version of that letter.
I welcome the opportunity to meet and begin a conversation with you. Thank you for the offer and outreach.
By way of introduction, my involvement with AIPAC goes back to the 1980s. I was very friendly with Tom Dine (one of the first Executive Directors of AIPAC) who was a congregant when I served at Washington Hebrew Congregation in D.C. in the mid-80s. I have always been respectful and appreciative of AIPAC and its multitude of contributions to the security of the State of Israel through its advocacy in Washington.
One issue for me which keeps me from signing on as a member of the host committee is that too many people involved with AIPAC have become intolerant of American Jewish diversity and uncritical of Israel’s government policies that are undemocratic and reflective of extremist nationalism. For AIPAC (and for that matter, for any pro-Israel Jewish organization) to say nothing is essentially to give tacit support to those undemocratic forces within the government and Israeli society that run counter to the principles articulated in Israel’s own Declaration of Independence calling for a just, democratic society that includes all citizens of the Jewish State.
That is not the only difficulty I have, however. The refusal of AIPAC leadership to meet with J Street leadership, to join together as two pro-Israel organizations when there is consensus on a particular issue, or even to enter into a public debate with J Street President Jeremy ben-Ami about the differences between AIPAC and J Street in their respective approaches to American Jewish politics in Washington, D.C. vis a vis Israel does not serve the cause of Israel as a vital democracy and adds fuel to the flames of many Republican leaders in Congress and their Jewish pro-Israel supporters who seek to make Israel a wedge issue in American politics for political gain. This has never before happened in the 63 year history of the State of Israel vis a vis the American Jewish community.
I believe AIPAC could do much to change this negative and divisive atmosphere by addressing these undemocratic and intolerant trends directly and publicly, but it declines to do so. Remaining quiet is not good for Israel or for the American Jewish community.
Having said this, please understand my own Zionist and pro-Israel background and thinking. I am a national Vice President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), supportive of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), am a member of the Advisory Board of the Daniels Center of Tel Aviv, and have assisted as a congregational rabbi at my own synagogue in helping our Israeli Reform brothers and sisters build two Reform synagogue centers in Israel (Kehillat Mevasseret Zion and Congregation Darchei Noam in Ramat Hasharon). I take missions of my congregants to Israel every two or three years. My synagogue Day School has a 3 year exchange program with the Tzahalah Elementary School (in north Tel Aviv) as part of the LA-Tel Aviv partnership. I have raised millions of dollars for State of Israel Bonds. And I am an active member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street, though I have not always agreed with every position that J Street has taken.
J Street, in my view, is essentially correct in its approach to Congress and Israel, that we American Jews have both a duty to support Israel as a pluralistic democracy that champions human rights and civil liberties, as well as supporting all efforts that will bring about an end-of-conflict solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two-states for two-peoples living side by side in peace and security. I agree with J Street’s position, as well, that pro-Israel American Jewish supporters must be free to criticize Israel’s government (arguably the most right-wing extremist government in the history of the Jewish State) without fear of being placed in cherem (excommunication and pariah status) when it acts in ways that we, as American Zionists and lovers of the Jewish State, believe do not support a peaceful and secure two-state resolution and compromise with the Palestinians.
If you are interested, please read my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon this past High Holiday season which is posted on my synagogue’s web-site to learn what is behind my thinking about Israel, her security and liberal Zionist values.
This is why I have declined to be an active supporter of AIPAC, though again, I am grateful and appreciative of AIPAC for its many years of past advocacy for Israel in our nation’s capital. If you feel comfortable I ask that you share this letter with AIPAC leadership in Washington, D.C.
[Note: It is now the end of January and I have not heard back from the local leadership of AIPAC.]