It is abundantly clear that democracy is under attack. We see it at home, where more than a hundred members of Congress voted to overturn free and fair election results in the wake of an insurrectionist attack on our Capitol. We see it in the danger of ethno-nationalist, illiberal political movements gaining power in democratic states around the world. We see it in Russia’s authoritarian assault on Ukraine and its attempt to crush the people and government of a democratic country.
Amid these challenges, people must do everything within their power to stand up for our democratic values and to challenge those who imperil them. That’s why, as proud members of Boston’s Jewish community, committed to the survival and flourishing of democracy in both the United States and Israel, we feel the need to raise the alarm about the recent actions of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most prominent pro-Israel organizations in the United States.
While AIPAC has previously stayed out of direct involvement in federal elections in the six decades since its founding, it recently formed a political action committee and announced a slate of congressional candidates that it endorses and will fund-raise for in the 2022 midterms. Shockingly, its list of endorsees includes over three dozen members of Congress who voted on Jan. 6, 2021, against certification of the 2020 election results.
AIPAC’s new endorsees include such allies of Donald Trump as Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who refuses to cooperate with the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol; Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, who met with “Stop the Steal” leaders just days before the insurrection; and Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who has echoed white nationalist conspiracies about “replacement theory” and compared Democratic leaders to the Nazis.
It is hard to imagine what justification there is for these endorsements. Weeks before the endorsements were announced, J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization on whose national board we both sit, called on all Israel advocacy organizations to take a “democracy pledge” not to support any candidate who tried to delegitimize and overturn the results of the 2020 election. After all, how can one work to support a democratic Israel while undermining our own democracy at home? While several other pro-Israel groups took this pledge, AIPAC did not.
AIPAC is an organization that used to care about Israel’s future as a democratic state. Indeed, following the signing of the Oslo Accords during the Clinton administration, we joined with AIPAC lay leaders and officials to support the peace process and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We shared a common commitment to democracy and to the sincere pursuit of peace.
Many AIPAC supporters probably still share those core commitments and values, but the organization’s national leadership seems to have chosen a different path. They present members of our community with a narrative that allows no scrutiny of Israeli government actions. They ignore the many Israeli activists and security experts who plead for bolder, more even-handed American leadership to help restrain settlement expansion in the West Bank areas and peacefully resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. While the ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory presents an existential threat to Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, AIPAC’s national leaders act as if this occupation does not exist.
It’s alarming now to witness a similar indifference to America’s democracy, especially since the AIPAC supporters we know understand that the US-Israel relationship is built on the shared values of justice, equality, and democracy.
The willingness of an organization of AIPAC’s stature to cast its lot with supporters of the Jan. 6 insurrection should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. The vast majority of American Jews, including many current and former AIPAC supporters, cherish liberal democracy and are committed to its survival in the United States and in Israel. While some leaders may fail to see the contradiction in turning their backs on these beliefs, we want to make clear that they do not speak for the Jewish community, in Boston or elsewhere. We call on others to make it absolutely clear that we stand proudly together on the side of democracy.
Alan Solomont is chair of the National Board of J Street and dean emeritus of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. He served as the US ambassador to Spain and Andorra under President Barack Obama. Nancy Buck is chair of J Street Massachusetts and a member of J Street’s National Board.