There is little question that AIPAC has an extraordinary record of success in promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. And the rising number of participants of all ages, colors, faiths and political stripes in AIPAC’s yearly Policy Conference — more than 18,000 gathered this week in Washington, D.C. — reflects the popularity of the pro-Israel agenda and a giant embrace of what is universally recognized to be one of the country’s most effective political organizations. But despite all that success, there is a strong sense that AIPAC has an image problem — even if caused by events that are largely out of the organization’s control.

First came the ascendancy of three remarkably anti-Israel progressives to the House of Representatives in the 2018 election, and the varied responses to some of their more offensive pronouncements. Second, there have been mixed reactions to what are seen as one-sided Israel-related declarations and policy pronouncements coming from U.S. President Donald Trump. And third, there has been increasing discomfort with certain policies and positions taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rightwing coalition government — all on the eve of Israeli elections scheduled in less than two weeks. 

Somehow, that all became AIPAC’s problem. One almost got the sense that the organization was being criticized for doing its job too well. So when MoveOn called on the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders to boycott the AIPAC gathering — an event in a non-election year to which very few of them had even been invited — the fact that some of them were ready to stand on the anti-AIPAC side was disheartening, and only sharpened the perceived domestic political divide and finger pointing that has plagued our country’s political reality.

AIPAC is really good and remarkably effective, but not perfect. That said, our critique has more to do with the organization’s slow pace of adjustment than with its fundamental goals and positions. AIPAC’s mission is straightforward: to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel. Who can argue with that?

As a bipartisan organization, however, AIPAC must strive for neutrality — and the appearance of neutrality — in U.S. politics and in Israeli politics. But even though AIPAC doesn’t decide who will lead either government, critics have focused on AIPAC’s unyielding support for Netanyahu and on its domestic embrace of the Republican Party and perceived distancing from the Democrats. 

Some will say that these challenges are simply the reality of today’s toxic political environment, and that AIPAC should just continue doing what it’s doing so well, stay focused on its mission and let the chips fall where they may. We think that is a mistake. We hope that AIPAC will consider ramping up its public relations game and burnish its strong bipartisan credentials and bipartisan support in both Washington and Jerusalem. 

Above all, AIPAC deserves our continued support, and needs to do what it can to help make that possible. JN

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