Friday, March 04, 2022

The Crime versus the Blunder: AIPAC's Insurrectionist Endorsements

A few months ago, AIPAC announced it was breaking with its longstanding tradition to directly endorse and fundraise on behalf of political candidates. Several more liberal Jewish groups immediately pressed AIPAC to refuse to endorse any candidate who supported the January 6 insurrection by trying to prevent certification of Joe Biden as President. AIPAC demurred, and now we know why: its initial endorsement list contains dozens of GOP insurrectionists. Among the 61 endorsed Republicans (alongside 59 Democrats) are such luminaries as Jim Jordan(!!!), Nicole Malliotakis, and Tom Emmer. Shared values!

This decision is so obviously disgraceful that one could almost overlook how stupid it is too. But in the annals of "obvious 'pro-Israel' lobbying own-goals" this may well surpass anything DMFI has done, and that's saying something. What's so amazing about AIPAC's blunder here is that it's not only indefensible on the merits, but even the second-order apologias for why "even if this wasn't the wisest move they were in a difficult position" don't work either.

Most obviously: AIPAC did not need to do this. Any observer (read: this observer) could have told them that this election cycle was an especially fraught time to initiate overtly wading into partisan politics. It'd be one thing if these candidates were ones it had been supporting for years and was now being asked to explicitly withdraw support previously extended. They still should have done it -- friends don't stay friends with insurrectionists -- but at least that'd be an actual dilemma. But here AIPAC made the affirmative choice to initiate this support right now; voluntarily and consciously jumping into a political thicket. It could have avoided all of this merely by sticking with its longstanding practice of not endorsing candidates. It chose not to, knowing this was the consequence.

Other attempted excuses that try to move AIPAC out of "bone-headed" into merely "indefensible" fare no better. Let's run through a few:

"AIPAC has to maintain relationships with both parties."

First of all, if AIPAC cannot find enough Republicans to endorse without wading into insurrectionist territory, that seems like it should be a GOP problem, not an AIPAC problem. But in principle, I agree that AIPAC cannot jettison either party outright. In particular, it makes sense to put both parties' leaders -- Pelosi and McCarthy -- on the list; if that was all that was happening here, I could at least understand the logic notwithstanding McCarthy's insurrectionist ballot.

But this logic cannot explain why, say, Jim Jordan (again -- !!!!) makes the list. Jim Jordan isn't on the foreign affairs committee, he's not known as a crucial player in international relations, he's not some necessary bigwig you have to cultivate if you're going to succeed in pro-Israel lobbying. When it comes to Israel, Jordan is basically indistinguishable from the next marginal Republican who is not directly implicated in trying to overthrow the government. He brings nothing to the table other than being a frothing right-wing extremist and budding authoritarian, and so every observer who sees his name on AIPAC's list will assume that he's on there because AIPAC wants to curry favor with a frothing right-wing extremist and budding authoritarian.

If you're doing the "keep relationships with both parties" thing, put down the congressional leaders plus a dozen or so uncontroversial figures from both parties to keep up a balance. AIPAC didn't make that choice -- they deliberately put down some of the most extreme and inflammatory figures, for no clear political gain.

"AIPAC is a single issue lobby -- the only criteria for inclusion is a politician's Israel policy."

This was AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman's argument, and it's bull. To begin, if you're going to tie support for Israel to "shared values", then you can't say its irrelevant whether a given politician rejects the principle of democratically-elected governance. If you can't be trusted to defend democracy in America, you certainly aren't going to do it in Israel.

But moreover, particularly on the Republican side there's no Israel policy thread that distinguishes the GOP politicians who are on the endorsement list from those who aren't. I defy anyone to tell me how Elise Stefanik's Israel views differ at all from Lauren Boebert's. The reason the latter isn't on AIPAC's list has nothing to do with her not having the "right" views on Israel (from AIPAC's vantage anyway), it's because she's a loon and AIPAC doesn't want to be associated with her. But once it makes that judgment, it's entirely reasonable to hold them accountable for their cheerful association with the insurrectionist caucus. AIPAC is choosing to tie itself to GOP insurrectionists; it could have very easily chosen not to, and absolutely deserves to take all the hell in the world as a consequence of its indefensible and eminently avoidable choice.

"Sometimes, you have to support the lesser-of-two-evils, and support unideal figures to prevent someone with overtly anti-Israel from occupying these seats."

Again, the logic is fine, but the application to AIPAC's actual conduct is nonexistent. Problem #1: The vast majority of these congresspersons are not running in competitive seats. I have no idea who Jim Jordan's Democratic opponent is, much less what his or her Israel views are, but (regrettably) said opponent stands no chance of dislodging Rep. Jordan. And as for competitive races, I guess I can understand why AIPAC felt compelled to endorse Nicole Malliotakis, notwithstanding her insurrection vote, if the alternative would be known anti-Israel zealot *checks notes* Max Rose. Seriously -- that endorsement might be the biggest slap in the face of all: Rose is a pro-Israel darling, exactly the sort of Democrat AIPAC claims to want to foster, and AIPAC won't even support him (hell, won't even stay neutral) in his race against a woman who tried to overturn the 2020 election? Screw you!

The most likely place where we're liable to see a contested race where one candidate has (from AIPAC's vantage) a much worse Israel record than their competitor is in Democratic primaries where a strong pro-Israel Democrat might face a challenge from their left that AIPAC would want to fend off (the reason this doesn't apply to Republican primaries is that I doubt there is any rightwing position on Israel -- at least that which nominally drapes itself as "pro-Israel" -- that is too extreme for AIPAC to accept. But remember, they support a two-state solution!). This probably explains the Haley Stevens endorsement in her intra-party match against Andy Levin -- an endorsement which I have no facial problem with even if the rhetoric could stand to be tamped down a notch. But it's far from clear that AIPAC's endorsement is even beneficial these days in a Democratic primary, and associating AIPAC with GOP insurrectionists makes the brand even more toxic. If the top priority is keeping pro-Israel Democrats secure against flanking attacks, the main effect of AIPAC's endorsement list is to kneecap their own credibility.

What was it De Talleyrand famously said? "It's worse than a crime, it's a blunder." AIPAC's decision to endorse politicians who are barely a year removed from trying to overturn American democracy is a grave crime against political decency. But its criminality is almost exceeded by its sheer stupidity. AIPAC did not have to endorse candidates in 2022; indeed, 2022 seems like the absolute worst time for an organization that seeks to straddle partisan divides to initiate wading into direct political campaigning. And once it made that decision, it did not have to endorse GOP insurrectionists -- it very easily could have limited itself to at least less controversial figures on both sides of the aisle and stayed out of the fray. Instead, for no discernible reason, it made the conscious choice to single out some of the most overtly extreme and toxic figures in American politics and a wrap them in a big ol' bear hug. The result is already proving catastrophic for AIPAC's brand. And if AIPAC ever did care about shoring up support for Israel among Democratic politics, it's made that task far harder to accomplish as well.

Nice work, guys.

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