Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Some Thoughts on AIPAC 2015

I have recently returned from the 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. Sadly I missed both of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches, the first to AIPAC and the second to Congress due to travel considerations. I missed the first while traveling to conduct a funeral back in Baltimore and the second because of impending inclement weather.

That being said, I have taken a little time to process any number of things associated with these past several days, and I have a few thoughts:

First off, I am trying to see things through the lens of different perspectives, and because of that my comments may bother some of my readers. My apologies, that is not my intent. Also, I also registered for AIPAC 2016, which I hope demonstrates my commitment to this important organization.

With regards to AIPAC, it was wonderful to gather together with 16,000 lovers of Israel across all sorts of spectrums be it Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Christian, Evangelical, Republican, Conservative, and even a few independents. Also, as great as it was to see that there were over 500 hundred rabbis in attendance, even more exciting were the over 3,000 high school and college students, fighting the fight for Israel on the ground of our academic institutions.

However there were two central themes that dominated the experience: Iran and Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, both of which I will admit, I am conflicted about.

With regards to Netanyahu’s speech, there are those who accuse him of acting for purely political reasons. I do not believe this is an entirely fair accusation. Netanyahu has made it a singular focus of his political career to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability. He has spoken out at the UN and just about anywhere else to make this point. He has focused on it so much that many Israelis are frustrated because they feel like he has ignored internal Israeli challenges like the dominant issue of the affordable housing crises. At the same time, Netanyahu spoke at Congress during the middle of the day, which is prime time viewing in Israel. His speech may have been focused on Iran, but it was also very much a campaign speech, he is a politician after all.

I also believe that there are many in the House and Senate, on both sides, who are very much concerned with the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and they very much wanted to hear from Netanyahu. At the same time, by giving him a platform, they were lobbing a direct insult against the President, which in turn has created a mini-political firestorm in Washington. The President is the head of the Democratic Party, and many in Congress chose to forgo this speech in public because they support their leader. This in turn is simply bad news for Israel and AIPAC, as the goal of AIPAC is to garner bipartisan support for Israel. A divided Congress when it comes to the question of Israel is never a good sign.

The President for his part has also handled this badly as well. Israel is a true ally of the United States, and that partnership should be unshakable. All criticisms should be done quietly and behind the scenes. I am sure there were ways to better handle this speech, but instead it became not just a battle, but it is a distraction to the greater issue, which is a potential nuclear Iran.

Obama and Netanyahu have to very different approaches to solving this problem. Obama’s administration is working to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, whereas Netanyahu wants to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce a bomb all together. Now I am not saying which one is the right approach, as I am not a diplomat, or even which one would work, but my wish is that the two of them could sit down and figure it out. Partners talk to one another and not at each other. I believe all sides, including the players in Congress are to blame for making this central security issue into a political one.

North Korea has taught us that any nation that is truly determined to acquire a nuclear weapon can do so. Sanctions will not prevent it. North Korea is the most isolated nation in the world, and yet, it has a nuclear bomb.

So the real question is, why is Iran pursuing nuclear ambitions? As far as I can tell, is once you have nuclear capability, you are treated differently by the rest of the world. Iran wants to be the dominant country in the region. It funds terror as a means to undermine its enemies and further its stature in the Muslim world. By getting rid of Saddam Hussein, we effectively curbed a regional ability to counterbalance Iran’s growing ambitions. Iran wants to be on the biggest stage and wants to have a seat at the table, and it wants to be taken seriously. This does not mean we have to take it seriously. In order to defeat Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we have to understand them.

The other problem is that by framing the nuclear issue around Israel, which many in the world already hate, there are many who do not understand that a nuclear Iran will lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. Saudi Arabia, a major rival to Iran, will most likely begin to pursue their own nuclear program, along with many other countries in the region. This is not Israel’s problem alone, this a problem for the whole Middle East, and by extension, the whole world.

I stand with Israel, however I do not stand with the politicization of Israel. I support AIPAC because I want the relationship between the United States and Israel to stand the test of time regardless of political affiliation. Israel should be a non-political starter, and it should not be treated as a political football to win votes, support, or money. Israel is doing far too many important things in the world, and it means far too much to us as freedom loving Jews to not support. It is our people’s ancient and modern homeland, and my prayer is that it will always be there for all of us, flaws and all. And this is why I support AIPAC, even if I am sometimes conflicted by the conversations at AIPAC, because I am proud to be able to have those conversations.

Here's the link to learn more: AIPAC

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