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Friday, June 03, 2011

Don't worry about AIPAC's future

For those who are worried that young people are losing interest in Israel, Alex Joffe has one word for you: Don't.
The robust intergenerational experience at AIPAC emphatically rebuts an idea recently advanced in some quarters with deep anxiety, in others with unseemly eagerness: that young American Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel. Nor could the enthusiastic cross-generational sense of identification with the Jewish state that was on display at AIPAC have been something worked up for this one occasion. It is, rather, a tribute to the long-term efficacy of the group's clear message, its strong organization, and its persistence in pursuit of its goals: creating connections among the next generations of American Jewish leaders, American public figures, and the state of Israel.

The nature of the message is important. AIPAC's is simple: the organization is the "voice of pro-Israel America"; Americans are in general invited to make their voices heard in political life (a "pastime as American as sports"); the maintenance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is vital to both countries.


In the eyes of its critics and enemies, the AIPAC conference is at best an exercise in cynicism, a momentary drawing-back of the curtain to allow the "Israel lobby" to flex its muscles publicly before returning to its nefarious work as a shadowy cabal. But to perceive AIPAC and its conference in this way is to misunderstand them entirely, if not deliberately. American Jews have a business-like passion for American politics, but like anything else, that passion has to be cultivated and sustained. If Israel were remotely as bellicose, imperialist, theocratic, and plain evil as its critics propose, neither American Jews nor Americans as a whole would support it.

But the opposite is the case. As poll after poll consistently shows, there is a widespread and growing appreciation that U.S. and Israeli interests are and should remain politically aligned. And this is hardly a matter of shared interests alone: as the same polls and many studies show, close ties between the U.S. and Israel are based not solely in perceptions of mutual security, let alone in abstract ideas, but in tangible political, social, and religious values shared by the citizenries of both countries.

These bedrock circumstances provide the best explanation for the success of both AIPAC and the U.S.-Israel relationship itself. It is, in anthropological terms, a matter of shared knowledge, beliefs, and values—of, in short, culture.
Read the whole thing.



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