Family Politics

by Sharon Rosen Leib April 26, 2017


musings-mayWe’ve been a unified American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) family until now. AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying organization, aims to empower activists across the racial, religious and political spectrum to engage politically and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship (per their website).

I joined AIPAC in 1991 as a member of its San Francisco Young Leadership Council. Having lived in Israel from 1984-85, I felt committed to supporting the country however I could from California. I enjoyed raising awareness of issues facing Israel and lobbying for the United States government’s bipartisan endorsement of the Jewish homeland.

My husband encouraged my efforts with his sound political advice and financial contributions. He became more involved in AIPAC after making his first trip to Israel for our Middle Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 2008. As his involvement grew, mine diminished. I was too overwhelmed by raising the kids and caring for dying parents to make Israel advocacy a high priority.

During those years, I watched AIPAC grow into a lobbying powerhouse and Israel mature into a prosperous first-world country and I became uncomfortable with AIPAC’s single-issue political focus. I wouldn’t vote for a racist, anti-abortion candidate just because he or she supported Israel. On the other hand, when my leftie, Berkeley-in-the-60s aunt assailed AIPAC as a tool of right-wing Republicans, I defended its mission as a bi-partisan, pro-Israel organization.

AIPAC supports whoever happens to be Israel’s Prime Minister – whether progressive Shimon Peres (a personal favorite who I met in 1985) or hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu (a not-so-favorite who has wielded power too long under the grandiose assumption he’s the only leader capable of saving Israel). AIPAC also works with whomever assumes the United States presidency.  Unfortunately, that now means Trump and his alt-right cronies. The toxic brew of Trump and Netanyahu makes AIPAC’s strict politics-blind policy tough to stomach.

Middle Daughter, a 21-year-old college senior, dedicated herself to AIPAC the past four years, attending two AIPAC Policy Conferences and a leadership program for college students in Washington, D.C. However, when AIPAC failed to speak out after Trump appointed Steve Bannon his chief strategist, daughter jumped ship. She felt that Bannon’s xenophobic, white-nationalist ideology made him “too morally corrupt to even try and negotiate with.”

Her disappointment led her to join J Street, “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people” (per their website). J Street advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Her defection did not sit well with my husband. He considers J Street too critical of Israel in light of Palestinian intransigence to the peace process. I have my own reservations about J Street being too knee-jerk liberal. But prompted by Middle Daughter’s new allegiance, I attended a luncheon featuring senior J Street Advisor Alan Elsner to hear him out. I was impressed by his big tent approach to the AIPAC-versus-J-Street divide.

“I’d rather people belong to either AIPAC or J Street than nothing at all. This means they care enough about Israel to belong to an organization that speaks to their principles,” Elsner said.

I agree. I’m glad Middle Daughter found a home where she’s comfortable expressing her passion for Israel.

My husband isn’t buying what J Street is selling. And I respect that. Just as I respect our daughter’s right to buck the family party line and join the group. We’re raising our daughters to be independent and critical thinkers. And wherever the pro-Israel activism chips may fall, I’m proud of that. Α

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