In the summer of 1973, supporters of Israel felt invincible. After thousands of years in exile and more than two decades of defending and supporting their newly restored state, the Jewish people finally believed they might be safe. Israel, a scrappy, upstart nation, had recently defeated five massive Arab armies and made a bold statement: We are here to stay.
However, in the fall, things had changed. On Yom Kippur, the most solemn of Jewish holidays, Israelis walked out of the synagogue shocked to see their nation under attack. Signs of an impending attack – warnings from foreign officials, intelligence reports – had been ignored. We have all learned the hard way about the dangers of our collective complacency.
This moment is no different.
Today, as in 1973, many supporters of Israel feel invulnerable. The Jewish state has never been stronger, with its booming economy, diverse and vibrant population, flourishing relations with more and more Arab nations, and a strong bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel.
And yet, real threats loom on the horizon. Iran, which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map and funds terrorism throughout the Middle East, is trying to acquire a nuclear bomb, threatening Israel’s very existence. International bodies like the UN strive every day to demonize and isolate Israel. And there is a growing movement around the world that actively seeks to weaken — and ultimately destroy — the Jewish state.
This movement has even reached Congress, where a small but strong minority is working to untangle US-Israeli relations. For decades, the pro-Israel community has managed to maintain a strong relationship, and critics of Israel have been kept at bay. But these enemies are increasingly numerous and influential, and it is no longer enough to speak out against them. They must be defeated in the political arena.
This is why I so strongly support AIPAC in its recent political fundraising initiative. AIPAC’s sole mission is to support and strengthen the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel. That’s it. And that requires broad bipartisan support.
Of course, AIPAC’s commitment to bipartisanship raises important moral questions. How can I work with an organization whose PAC helps many of those Republican members of Congress who refused to certify the 2020 election results? Didn’t the actions of these members fundamentally threaten our democracy? Doesn’t that make political contributions to those members trif? And do the contributions themselves have the potential to contribute to an erosion of democracy? The answers to these questions are not as clear cut as they might initially seem – or as divisive partisan groups would have us believe.
Yes, the refusal to certify the results of the January 6, 2021 elections is deplorable and poses a real threat to our democracy. The preservation of our democracy is a fundamental moral principle for which I fight every day.
To determine whether an organization’s political donations to members of Congress are trif, I look at two factors: will it help them get re-elected and what is the meaning of the donation. Any honest assessment will recognize that a PAC’s contributions to individual members of Congress are limited by law to such an extent — $5,000 per candidate per election — that they have no impact on the election outcome. They are symbolic and meant to send a message, in this case that a member’s political positions support the US-Israeli relationship.
And what does AIPAC hope to accomplish by building relationships with these people? Nothing less picuah nefesh – the preservation of human life – and the construction of peace.
It does this by ensuring that the broadest possible group of Democrats and Republicans support legislation that protects lives and advances the prospects for peace. No other group in Washington is doing this crucial work. Simply put, in today’s broken Washington, AIPAC simply cannot do the job of strengthening US-Israel relations and saving lives without working with Republican members who are anathema to me.
Consider the following examples:
In March, AIPAC worked with leaders from both parties to ensure that important legislation such as the Standards Bill and the $1 billion Iron Dome Supplement were included in the draft. omnibus spending law that funded Congress. Both of these legislative initiatives were initially blocked by individual Republican senators – Ted Cruz and Rand Paul respectively. If AIPAC were to boycott the many Republican members who failed to certify the election, they could not have overcome those senators’ ability to block these critical legislative priorities.
The omnibus spending bill also included the Nita M. Lowey Partnership for Middle East Peace Act, which requires USAID to establish a fund to promote Palestinian economic development as well as reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. . How many Republicans would have supported Palestinian economic development without AIPAC hekhcher? In a bill named for a Democrat no less. How many fewer Republicans would sign such legislation if AIPAC decided to boycott many of their ranks?
I’m not ready to see vital legislative efforts to save lives and support peace for the benefit of the Jewish state, as well as the Palestinian people, wither on the vine, so I don’t have to feel the taint of working with deplorable members of Congress who are going to get re-elected anyway.
While I will continue to do everything in my power to thwart the dangerous domestic agenda of these members, I am humbled enough to recognize that when it comes to the US-Israel relationship, we need much more their support than they need ours. Even if I have to hold my nose today, the next time Hamas decides to fire rockets into Israel – and when I see the Partnership for Peace initiatives begin to bear fruit – I will be grateful to AIPAC for making the decisions that were necessary to advance its crucial mission.
Some in Israel and here in America may take the Jewish state and the US-Israeli relationship for granted. But the Yom Kippur War teaches us never to take the perception of security for granted. Israel’s security cannot be guaranteed if we do not respond to obvious threats in Congress before it is too late. I am indebted to AIPAC for having the foresight and temerity to meet this challenge, and I hope you will join me in continuing to support the vital work of the organization.
Rabbi Jacob Herber is the spiritual leader of the conservative Herzl-Ner Tamid Synagogue on Mercer Island, Washington. He serves on the Washington State Council of AIPAC, is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and a member of the Executive Council of the Rabbinical Assembly.