Chicago Liberal Needs Safe Space at AIPAC

One of the most diehard Obama loyalists in Chicago, Steve Sheffey, is unhappy that AIPAC chose to oppose the president’s Iran deal. Sheffey argues that since Democrats were on one side of this issue and Republicans on the other, AIPAC should have been neutral, and not come down for one side, especially of course the Republican side.  We don’t know what Sheffey thought about AIPAC opposing President Reagan’s sale of AWACs to Saudi Arabia in the early 80s. Maybe he was too young to be writing partisan screeds back then. My guess is that for Sheffey, bipartisanship is good if it helps neuter opposition to anything Obama wants. When a Republican is in the White House, all bets are off.

Most telling in the article is Sheffey’s apparent need for a safe space at AIPAC conferences and probably a few trigger warnings from AIPAC leadership as well:

“In the past few years, the atmosphere at AIPAC meetings has become increasingly partisan. Democratic speakers get polite applause, if any, while Republican speakers get thunderous applause. Speakers whose views diverge from mine on other issues, such as Pastor John Hagee, and whose rationale for supporting Israel is troubling, seem too popular among too many AIPAC members. But I can live with that as long as their support for Israel does not require me to support the rest of their agenda.”

The truth of the matter is that the American Jewish community remains mostly liberal and supportive of Democrats. But the portion of the Jewish community which considers the survival of Israel a pre-eminent concern (a minority of that community), is largely and increasingly Republican. It should be no surprise that AIPAC conferences, which attract pro-Israel activists, should reflect this mix. Does Sheffey think AIPAC is going door to door looking for conservative Republicans to attend their conferences, and is deliberately skipping liberals’ addresses? The attendance at AIPAC events is a self-selected one. If mostly conservative and Republican Jews think it important enough to attend, maybe that reveals that the Democratic Party’s links to Israel are fading -- the days of a party with the leadership of people like Harry Truman,  Scoop Jackson, and Joe Lieberman  is no more. The hot item on the current Democratic menu is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. When did he last talk about Israel? I am sure a Jewish organization conference to fight global warming, or protect Planned Parenthood or deal with income inequality would attract more of the people Sheffey feels safe among.

If Sheffey is now too uncomfortable among his fellow Jews at AIPAC he can ask for a refund from the organization (he says he has thought about asking for this!) and instead pay his dues to J Street. That group claims to be pro-Israel, as Sheffey does, and also like Sheffey, claims it supports a two-state solution -- though you'd never guess this from from anything J Street has ever said or done. Like Sheffey, it has mainly been a blocking back for Barack Obama since he became president, and served to pull people like Sheffey away from AIPAC to a more comfortable liberal home. After all, the membership of J Street subscribes to all the views Sheffey holds dear on subjects not related to Israel. No longer will he have to attend a national conference and have to listen to Pastor Hagee, and worse, have those around him enthusiastically applaud Hagee. Pastor Hagee has generated enormous support for Israel among an evangelical population far larger than the American Jewish community. Given the ferocious assault on Israel in academia, the media, among the hard left, in Europe, in the Middle East, and among its neighbors, is it too much to ask to show appreciation for those who have stuck with Israel and won support in communities where there are few Jewish Americans to make the case for Israel? For Sheffey, Hagee’s support is tainted because he thinks he understands the motivation for that support, and it is “troubling”. Can Sheffey get to sleep at night despite being so troubled with who is backing Israel?

Even worse for Sheffey is that Hagee lines up on the other side of all the non-Israel related issues, which of course is Sheffey's true test as to when someone is deserving of applause at AIPAC. Sheffey would prefer that AIPAC attendees raise the roof for a true champion of Israel, like say Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who attended planning sessions run by her felon husband, attended by groups heavily populated by pro-Iran and anti-Israel members, on how to build support for the Iran deal weeks before it was even signed. These same groups viciously attacked Senator Chuck Schumer for coming out against the deal, in language that would have made Ann Coulter proud. Sheffey is upset that deal opponents were harshly critical of Congressman Jerry Nadler for supporting the agreement, but seems completely untroubled by the venom directed at Schumer.

Sheffey condemns AIPAC for coming out against the deal soon after it was signed. The reality is that AIPAC, like the Israel Project, were tracking every concession and negotiating collapse by our great team of John Kerry, Wendy Sherman, and Ernest Moniz for many weeks and months. They knew what was in the deal. Did Nancy Pelosi, the lead whip for the president in the House, give her undivided attention to the details, much as she did with Obamacare (we need to pass it to find out what is in it)?

As to the charge that AIPAC, since it is built on bipartisanship, should never take a stand when the parties are largely divided, that in essence would relegate the organization to passing foreign aid and going home. On the Iran deal, the opposition was bipartisan -- Democrats and Republicans, the support was strictly partisan -- only Democrats

And most critically, AIPAC was hardly alone in the Jewish community in its opposition to the Iran deal. While not a single Jewish federation endorsed the deal, many, including some from the largest cities, opposed it. Mainstream groups which have historically leaned left, such as the AJC and the ADL, both came out against the deal, the ADL under the leadership of its new director, a former Obama administration employee!  In other words, groups which are not strictly Israel focused, like AIPAC, and are more generally representative of the broader Jewish community, were willing to take a stand. But Sheffey thinks AIPAC should have remained on the sidelines.

Assuming Sheffey decides to stick with AIPAC, I think that at future conferences he should be given an aisle seat, so after the warning that a Republican or evangelical will speak, he can seek safety outside the hall in the Ploughshares booth.