Educating AIPAC

Categories: Letters From Leadership
By Judith Gelman

Representing Ameinu, the largest progressive Zionist membership organization in the United States on AIPAC’s National Leadership Council is not easy.  At this Sunday’s National Council meeting I introduced the following amendment to AIPAC’s Action Principles:

AIPAC supports Israel’s commitment to democratic values and the rule of law, including the protection of minorities and the dismantling of illegal settlement outposts.

The amendment was defeated, but it was an important first step in our efforts to ensure that AIPAC truly represents the beliefs of American Jews.  Ameinu introduced this amendment because we care deeply about the future of Israel and we believe that AIPAC can no longer simply assert that the US and Israel share democratic values. We need to talk about what those values really are. To us, the core of a democracy rests on a few central pillars. Among others, these include 1) protecting the rights of minorities and2) ensuring that all citizen groups live within the rule of law.

As committed American Zionists, Ameinu believes it is vital that AIPAC, as the Jewish community’s lobby for Israel, not be perceived as selectively supporting only those aspects of Israeli government policy that appeal to the right wing in the American Jewish community. We know that protecting minority rights and dismantling outposts can be controversial among some American Jewish groups and among some American non-Jewish supporters of Israel. However, these are important tasks facing the current Israeli government and when they need support on these tasks, AIPAC needs to stand ready to help them.

As the American Zionist group most often in dialogue with the far left on the issue of Israel, Ameinu knows that the best defense against the unacceptable charge that Israel is an Apartheid state is to highlight minority rights and show that even the most extreme Israeli nationalists must live within the law. When AIPAC lobbies on Capitol Hill, it should speak about Israel’s commitment to the rights of Arab citizens of Israel and other minorities and to champion the Israel government for taking on the difficult task of reining in its unruly ultra-nationalist youths.

Finally, we all support peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We all know that part of making peace work will require at the very least that Israel dismantle most or all of the illegal outposts. Dismantling communities, whether legal or illegal, is tough and divisive work. We are hopeful that a compromise is in the works on the Migron dismantlement but there are many other outposts that are obviously impediments to peace. It is conceivable that part of making dismantlement agreements work as a peaceful and orderly process will require financial help from the US Congress. Ameinu believes it is essential that AIPAC stand ready to lobby on this issue on Israel’s behalf. It can only do so if it is authorized in this document.

Ameinu wants AIPAC, America’s most influential pro-Israel organization, to be representative of the broad pro-Israel community. We have no doubt that the vast majority of American Jews support Israeli democracy, minority rights and the rule of law and we had hoped that AIPAC would lend its support as well. So naturally we are disappointed that AIPAC’s National Council voted against our amendment.

But this setback will not stop Ameinu’s efforts to mobilize American Jews who seek opportunities to foster social and economic justice both in Israel and the United States. As Zionists, we understand that a secure peace between Israel and its neighbors is essential to the survival of a democratic Jewish state. With this in mind, Ameinu will continue build support within AIPAC and the American Jewish community for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

About Judith Gelman, Vice President and Chair of the Executive Committee

Judith Gelman is the Chair of Ameinu’s Executive Committee and serves as the Chair of the Fundraising and Membership Committee. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Habonim Dror Foundation and on the Camp Committee for Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, where her three children represent the fourth generation of her family associated with the camp. Prior to attending Oberlin College and MIT, Judith participated in the Habonim’s 23rd Workshop at Maayan Baruch. In addition to her work with Ameinu and Habonim Dror, Judith sits on the International Council of the New Israel Fund and on the NIF DC Local Council. Judy also serves on the Montgomery County, MD Steering Committee for J Street and on the board of a local private high school. She is a former President of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, MD. She has previously worked for the Council of Economic Advisers and the Federal Trade Commission, and is currently employed at Salop Economics in Washington, DC.
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