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.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

The Best Little Antisemitism Training in Kentucky

A Kentucky state legislator went on a bizarre tirade about various Jewish connections to RU-486 (popularly known as "the abortion bill"). It really is impossible to summarize -- it features alleged connections to Zyklon B, musings about Jewish women's sexual practices, complaints about the Nobel Prize awards process ... really, just click through the link.

Anyway, the conclusion of the story informs the reader that "A spokeswoman for the state’s Senate Republicans told the [Louisville] Courier-Journal that the leadership will add training on antisemitism to the annual training senators receive."

Put aside whether any amount of training could anticipate ... this. And put aside whether we trust the Kentucky Republican Party to be even halfway competent in picking antisemitism training. My question is, even if Kentucky Republicans were being earnest here, what major counter-antisemitism training initiatives right now are primarily focused on the sort of antisemitism Kentucky Republicans are most likely to indulge in (see also: "Jew them down")? 

Regardless of your views on the nexus between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, I don't think Kentucky Republican politicos are especially likely to start endorsing BDS in an antisemitic fashion. And while I don't want to suggest, falsely, that the programs attacking contemporary antisemitism do not care about or cover more right-wing varieties, I do feel as if much of the new energy and material on the subject tends to focus on alleged left-wing iterations. The relevant curriculum and research on right-wing practices, in other words, perhaps hasn't been updated -- particularly with an eye towards moving past overt KKK style right-wing antisemitism and into the more "insidious" (to borrow a term) forms that are penetrating mainstream conservative politics.

Monday, February 28, 2022

On Non-Jews Telling Jews They're Bad Jews

A minor league baseball player, Brett Netzer, was released by the Red Sox organization after going on a bigoted tirade against a Jewish team executive, Chaim Bloom. There's plenty of awful here, but I want to flag one comment in particular: while agreeing(!) that his tweets were racist and homophobic, Netzer denied they were antisemitic because, he said, Bloom is "an embarrassment to any Torah-following Jew."

Netzer, I am pretty sure, is not Jewish. So this another example of non-Jews believing it is their place and prerogative to tell Jews what it means to be a good Jew.

This entitlement is one I am seeing increasingly often in right-wing discourse, and it is not getting nearly enough attention. It is, simply put, a monster lurking beneath the discursive waters about Jews, because it offers a way for non-Jews (typically Christians) to harmonize their abstract claims of being great friends of the Jewish people with their very concrete seething hatred for the actual Jews in America and around the world who do not behave according to their expectations. When they hate those Jews, it is not hatred of Jews; it is the opposite, it is hating those Jews for being bad Jews. In their twisted imagination, the most naked antisemitism becomes almost a form of allyship -- protecting "the Jews" from, you know, actual Jews.

Again, Netzer is not acting in isolation here. This sort of discourse is an emergent pattern, and mark my words, it is going to be a key driver of a new wave of antisemitism (thinly presented as philosemitism) that purports to love Jews even as it intentionally and expressly drives hate towards the vast majority of Jews. And this logic also of course fits in with Christian supersessionism -- the idea that Christians, ultimately, are the true inheritors of Judaism and so have the prerogative to declare what is and is not authentically Jewish. So even when it isn't overtly hateful, it's still inherently antisemitic. But increasingly, that hate and disdain for Jews is wide open.

Non-Jews have no authority to tell Jews what being a good Jew means. If Jews do not behave in manner that coheres to Christian understandings of what it means to be Jewish, that's a them problem, not an us problem. When it comes attached to such an obvious wretch as Netzer, hopefully that's obvious enough. But this is a problem that goes way beyond him, and as far as I can tell a lot of the big antisemitism watchdogs are slow to catch on.*

* I am very proud that the Nexus document on the connection between Israel and antisemitism, which I helped draft, does gesture at this practice in stating that "[d]enigrating or denying the Jewish identity of certain Jews because they are perceived as holding the “wrong” position (whether too critical or too favorable) on Israel" is a form of antisemitism. But that is very much an exception.