I am a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the premier American
pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC plays a vital role in bolstering America's alliance with the Jewish state,
from galvanizing Congressional backing for U.S. military and economic aid, to marshaling moral and
political support for its right to self-defense. But AIPAC has not always defined "support for
Israel" the way many American Jews and Israelis do.
AIPAC claims that it champions the policies of the elected Israeli government, whatever they may
be. But it does not faithfully live up to this promise: Over the past 20 years, it has supported
right-wing governments in Israel wholeheartedly, while being halfhearted, or worse, about the
policies of left-wing administrations. And when Israel is ruled from the right, AIPAC's credo makes
supporting Israel synonymous with lining up behind policies which many American Jews - and often
the other half or more of the Israeli public - think baneful for Israel's quest for peace and
Indeed, AIPAC sometimes tries to be more Israeli than the Israeli government, urging American Jews
and their elected representatives in Washington to oppose moderate, responsible positions on
Israel, while hewing to the hardest line on the Israeli and American Jewish political spectrum.
Earlier this year, following the Hamas electoral earthquake in the Palestinian Authority, AIPAC
wrote and championed a bill called the Palestinian Anti- Terrorism Act of 2006, which fortunately
failed to become the law of the land. This bill called not only for sanctions against the Hamas-led
PA, but for a sweeping and unprecedented boycott of Fatah and PLO officials like Palestinian
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his allies in the Palestinian Legislative Council. In contrast to Hamas,
Abbas advocates peace and negotiations with Israel and opposes terrorism and violence. He merits
support, not sanctions.
Furthermore, the bill incorporated a laundry list of pie-in-the-sky conditions for removing the new
sanctions that were unrelated to Hamas or to stopping terror. It would have blocked the United
States from aiding or dealing with any part of the Palestinian leadership, even were Hamas sent
packing. It deprived the president of a national security waiver (common to other sanctions
legislation) for special circumstances when such flexibility is deemed essential for safeguarding
American security interests. And after U.S. intelligence agencies failed to predict Hamas'
electoral victory, the bill virtually barred the CIA from operating covertly in the Palestinian
arena to gather intelligence on Islamic extremists - another blow to U.S. and Israeli national
The bill was so blunt an instrument it might well have strengthened Hamas, spawning greater anarchy
and chaos in the West Bank and Gaza, escalating the security threats facing both Israel and the
United States in the region. Indeed, the Bush administration itself strenuously opposed the
AIPAC-backed House bill. It would have hamstrung U.S. efforts to ensure that Abbas "can fulfill his
duties as president, prevent Hamas from taking over the rest of the PA and the PLO, and prevail in
any confrontation with Hamas," according to a memo sent by the administration to Congress. Nor did
the bill's follies end there.
The saga of the bill's demise has become the butt of a new controversy sparked by the initiative of
three of America's leading center-left Zionist groups - Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy
Forum and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom - and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to explore, with
philanthropist George Soros and others, the possibility of forming a moderate, pro-Israel American
Jewish lobby in Washington. These groups have worked to change the terms of AIPAC's House bill, for
which they now stand accused, by AIPAC partisans, of irresponsibly opposing "legislation penalizing
the Palestinians for putting their government in the hands of terrorists." They came together,
charge the critics, "in an ad hoc coalition to shield the Hamas-led PA from Congressional
sanctions." In fact, all the groups supported sanctions against Hamas, but not the AIPAC bill's
more sweeping bid to ostracize all Palestinian leaders.
The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act was not scuttled by a cabal of left-wing American Jewish
Benedict Arnolds, but by AIPAC's own overreaching ultra-hawkish House bill, which was not amended
along the lines requested by the Bush administration. To no one's surprise, it proved difficult to
reconcile with the Senate legislation favored by the administration. Nor is the battle over: AIPAC
is mobilizing still to pass the anti-terrorism act. Will it now encourage the United States and
Israel to seize the opening of a new Palestinian technocrat government to help Israel achieve a
truce and progress toward a two-state solution? Or will it continue to throw unreasonable obstacles
in the way?
Few expect AIPAC to fight for a U.S.-Israeli peace initiative involving Syria or the Palestinians
when it is needed most, creating incentives for curbing Hezbollah and Hamas militants. We must, to
prevent a new and more ruinous war.
A new pro-Israel umbrella group or resource center would likely work in tandem with AIPAC for the
same robust American backing for Israel's military, economic and diplomatic needs, as its
constituent groups have long done. But when AIPAC sabotages the mission of dovish Israeli
governments, or of a U.S. president collaborating with them; when it flexes its political muscles
to push Congress to adopt reckless legislation which jeopardizes the chance for a future
Arab-Israeli peace; when it marches in lock step off the cliff with a pro-settlement Israeli
coalition opposed even to the most cautious peace probes with Israel's Arab neighbors - a new
Israel lobby could actively work to give voice to the many American Jews who see eye-to-eye with
the sensible and the sane.
I'm going to continue contributing to AIPAC, an indispensable bulwark for Israel. But that won't
stop me from helping other Jewish organizations and a pro- Israel American Jewish citizens' lobby
that is in better synch with my pragmatic Zionist outlook, my centrist American politics, my
commitment to the progressive values of the Jewish tradition, and to the policies that I am
convinced Israel's welfare and America's own national security demand.