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AIPAC Presentation at Shabbat Morning Service on November 13

11/24/2021 12:16:43 PM

Nov24

Shelly Gerson

In the early 1950s, there was much tension between the US State Department under Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Israel.  Losing access to Arab oil and diminishing American influence in the Middle East were the main factors working against Israel in the US State Department and most of Capitol Hill.  There was also a belief that Israel would not survive as a Jewish and democratic state considering its location amongst a sea of Arab state dictatorships.

Abba Eban, as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and Israel’s representative in the UN, was struggling to counterbalance this burdensome bias. So there was a need for America’s Jewish constituency to lobby on behalf of the new Jewish state as had been the case with Eddie Jacobs, the partner, and friend of President Truman, in 1948 when the UN voted on Israel’s petition to establish the Jewish State of Israel in the British Mandate of Palestine.   It was with this situation clearly in mind that Isaiah, or Si, Kenen, a journalist, political activist, and champion of Jewish causes, established the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs or AZCPA in 1954.   

The basic premise of the organization was that for Israel to survive, it would have cultivated a strong US Israel relationship.   Kenen viewed the US Congress as the backbone of the relationship because of its national presence and its central role in financing the US Federal budget and allocating foreign aid.   

Kenen’s premise was to lobby both Republican and Democratic members of Congress equally, “never permitting Israel to become a partisan divide.”

The main thrust of Kenen’s March 30, 1954 announcement of the formation of the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs, was "maintaining and improving friendship and goodwill between The United States and Israel…[while simultaneously] opposing the harmful propaganda of the Arab lobby [that] seeks to impair American-Israel relations. " 

The AZCPA memo of 1955 articulated several key points Kenen believed could achieve peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors with the backing of the U.S.  They included the following 5 initiatives...

  1. Economic and technical assistance to both Israel and the Arab States with the goal of raising living standards.
  2. Efforts by the US to encourage direct negotiations between Israel and Arab states to promote peaceful settlement.
  3. Regional development projects such as sharing water resources.
  4. Promoting the establishment of democratic governments throughout the region.
  5. Establishing a mutually acceptable defense agreement between Israel and the US as an expression of friendship and the most effective means of achieving stability and peace in the Middle East.

 

In 1959, the term Zionist was dropped to broaden support among America’s Jewish community, thus becoming America Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC.

The focus of AIPAC has not deviated from the above-stated goals.  Nonpartisanship in US Congress, strong US-Israel partnership in all facets of human endeavors, including economic, military, and government, and peace agreements between surrounding Arab states and Israel continue to be the focus of AIPAC.


The nonpartisanship support for Israel was highlighted on September 23 of this year when the House of Representatives voted 420-9 to renew funding of Israel’s Iron Dome Defensive System, which was developed in partnership with the US after certain progressive lawmakers pulled funding for Iron Dome from a spending bill two days earlier.  Two weeks ago, David Fox, the Midwest Director of AIPAC Chicago, emailed a synopsis of Israel/US partnerships including the following:

  • An aircraft carrier with hundreds of US service members arrived in Israel for a two-week joint multi-force training.
  • US Dept. of Defense also established the US-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group to strengthen defense, science & technological
  • Cooperation between Department of Defense & Israel’s Ministry of Defense

 

AIPAC lobbyists educated lawmakers about these important Pro-Israel initiatives.

I was first introduced to AIPAC in the summer of 2003 when my neighbor, Jane Eisen, asked me to join her for a special program sponsored by Bobby and Arna Fisher.  After listening to Howard Kohr, CEO of AIPAC, talk about AIPAC and its mission, I knew this was an organization I could and should support wholeheartedly.

So in May 2004, I attended my first AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC with my daughter, Rachel.

That year, President W. Bush was the featured speaker.  Just getting through security was a 90-minute ordeal.

From the very beginning, I was impressed by the dedication and focus of the professional AIPAC staff, who were young and very smart.  The number of young Jewish participants was encouraging and it turned out Rachel knew some and as the years went by became close friends with peers she met through her AIPAC involvement.  Participating in AIPAC PC increased her understanding and appreciation of our Jewish heritage as well as increased her focus on the uniqueness of Israel to our existence as Jews.

It was inspiring to be surrounded by Jews from all over the US as well as the world who believed in Israel and its importance to our survival as Jews and that one important way to ensure Israel’s survival was a strong US Israel relationship.   

Finally, all the enthusiasm and amazing programming at this first and subsequent AIPAC PC s pushed me to become more involved and up my pledge to guarantee that my seating was closer to the stage and all the action

It was soon after this AIPAC PC that the concept of engaging other ethnic, religious, and political communities in the US began in earnest.

AIPAC began reaching out to the Latino community, Black Americans, college students, and religious organizations as a means of broadening support for the American Israel relationship.   

America was too large and the federal government too complex to rely only on fellow Jews as lobbyists.  There were just not enough of us nor were Jews spread out throughout all of the US. It was necessary to target different constituencies across America and not only in the large cities but in rural America where Jews were sparsely represented if at all.

This approach also worked hand-in-hand with the AIPAC principle of bi-partisanship.

So by the 2020 AIPAC PC there were almost 20,000 participants, a four times increase since I started in 2003!  We were not only filling Washington Convention Center but other venues in the vicinity.

It was quite exciting to see not only Jews engaged in support for Israel, but Americans of every stripe and style.  And all the high school and college students!

This strategy continues to have a real impact on election results even in Democratic and Republican party nominations of candidates.

Congresswoman Shantel Brown was able to win the nomination of the Democratic Party in Cleveland instead of Nina Turner, a progressive with a very anti-Israel bias, in part thanks to AIPAC relationship with the Black coalition.  And AIPAC was able to organize college students from around the country to go door to door in support of Brown.  Brown’s clinching the Democratic nomination was a very significant victory for AIPAC and the American/Israel relationship.

I have attended every AIPAC PC since 2003, with one or both of my daughters, my sister, my mother, once even with my daughter, her husband, my one-year-old grandson, and my daughter’s mother-in-law!

Alana & her Israeli husband Ari Levi, who served in the Israel Defense Force for three years, joined me for AIPAC PC 2019 & 2020.

What experiences we have had, particularly in the AIPAC Village, located in the basement of the Washington Convention Center.  I’ve had my picture taken standing next to David’s Sling, drunk water made from air, met government employees, military professionals, world leaders, authors, political leaders and aspiring politicians from around the world, all focused on Israel and the American Israel relationship.

Steve Miller of Adath Israel is our political outreach leader. His focus is on building relationships with our elected members of congress.

AIPAC lay leaders across the country focus on local leaders who support the US Israel relationship.

Again, AIPAC doesn’t support Dems or Republicans but instead supports candidates who support Israel on a Bi Partisan basis.  We host political meetings with small groups of Pro Israel AIPAC members and potential members in communities across America as a way of informing our political representatives why they should be supportive of the US Israel relationship and how it benefits the US.

We also raise money for political campaigns.  This is important in creating access.  This strategy has been used all over the country and has been very successful in building strong and deep relationships with our elected officials.  This provides access to them when we need their help.  Steve has been doing this for over ten years and he says it’s very rewarding when he is able to create a relationship with elected officials who then become strong advocates for the US-Israel Relationship.

If this is something you are interested in learning more about please let me or Steve know.  We are always looking for more active boots on the ground!

In 2017, I initiated a program to enlist Cincinnati Jewish high school students to join me at the AIPAC PC.  This program expanded from five students in 2018 to over 25 in March of 2020.

Ruthie Myers, the  Cincinnati Jewish Teen Collective professional at the JCC was point-person for the AIPAC high school program from its very beginning.  She will talk about her experiences as a professional leader of the Cincinnati teen participants.    

Grace Lefton,  a Junior studying criminal justice at UC will talk about her experiences as an AIPAC high school participant and her life thereafter.

Wed, May 18 2022 17 Iyyar 5782