The powerful right-wing lobby doesn’t represent most American Jews, and it’s no longer the only game in town.
Last summer, this magazine enthusiastically endorsed Bill de Blasio in his campaign for mayor of New York City, praising “his commitment to reimagining the city in boldly progressive, egalitarian terms.” Later we celebrated his landslide victory, and we still stand firmly behind him on the issues most critical to the future of New York.
So it was especially dismaying to learn that, less than a month after he assumed office, the mayor who had promised a more inclusive and transparent administration than that of his predecessor delivered a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a gala not listed on his public schedule and not open to reporters. De Blasio pandered to the powerful right-wing lobby, assuring attendees that “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC…when you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job.”
Deplorable? Yes. Surprising? Hardly. Perhaps the most depressing feature of this ritual of abjection is its predictability—the fact that for decades, this has been standard operating procedure for many American politicians, even ones who are steadfast on core progressive issues like de Blasio. Office-seekers learn to assume early in their career that if they don’t pledge fealty to AIPAC, retribution will be swift and their political life could be a short one. So rather than test the limits of the lobby’s power, most of them go along.
AIPAC’s dominion—reinforced by Christian Zionists and the usual cast of neocon hawks—is destructive on many fronts. Not only has it prevented a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict by enforcing lockstep US support for the most retrograde elements in Israel; in recent years it has, in league with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, been doing everything it can to provoke US conflict with Iran. Now, when a conciliatory new government in Tehran is seeking rapprochement with Washington—the best hope for US and regional security in more than three decades—AIPAC and its allies have been pressing Congress for renewed sanctions precisely in order to kill that hope, which could set Washington on the path to war.
However, it’s important to recognize that many of the assumptions that underpin AIPAC’s influence don’t carry the force they used to. Praising what he called the “deep connection” between New York and Israel, de Blasio pointed out that New York is “home to the largest Jewish community outside the state of Israel,” as if Jewishness and Zionism (and, by implication, Zionism of the AIPAC sort) were indivisible. But polls consistently show that among Jews, Israel actually ranks very low on the list of political priorities, as do the long-running tensions with Iran. Of far greater concern are the economy, the growing gap between rich and poor, the struggle for social justice—the same issues that animated de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and propelled him to victory. Apart from the question of what Jewish New Yorkers want is that de Blasio is the mayor of, and should speak for, all New Yorkers, including the hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Arabs, not to mention Christians, Buddhists, atheists and others, who live, work, pay taxes and vote in the city.
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