AIPAC Is All In on Support for ‘Stop the Steal’ Candidates

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby for pro-Israel candidates in the U.S., has endorsed dozens of Republicans who have endorsed the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Some of them even voted against certifying the 2020 election as members of Congress.

Among the AIPAC chosen are Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan (who trashed the Jan. 6 committee), Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson (the former White House physician who says Trump won the 2020 election), and Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry (who compared Democrats to Nazis). New York Rep. Elise Stefanick got the nod from AIPAC even though she pushed the racist, antisemitic “replacement theory” in her Facebook ads with an image of immigrants coming across the border, reflected in President Joe Biden’s aviator sunglasses.

Notably, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (who rejected Trump’s “Big Lie”) did not receive AIPAC’s endorsement. Once considered Republican royalty, Cheney is on the Jan. 6 committee that is compiling a report about the attempted insurrection that the rest of her party would prefer never to be discussed again. The Republican National Committee (RNC) censured Cheney, and passed a resolution calling the events of that day “legitimate political discourse.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), vice-chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, did not get AIPAC’s endorsement.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Anna Moneymaker/Getty</div>

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), vice-chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, did not get AIPAC’s endorsement.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty

By wading into this racist, anti-democratic, conspiratorial stew, AIPAC has alienated its traditional allies. Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), called it a “sad mistake” to endorse candidates who undermine democracy. Richard Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, called AIPAC “morally bankrupt” to endorse candidates willing to undermine democracy as long as they are pro-Israel.

Polling among the Jewish community does not support these extremist views, yet AIPAC—a single-issue advocacy organization—is betting that right-wing Trump Republicans will be victorious. And if they are, AIPAC will have demonstrated that there is no bar too low for them to back a Republican politician, as long as they support Israel.

Tension within the pro-Israel advocacy community burst into public view with AIPAC’s decision for the first time to create its own political action committee (PAC) and Super PAC (essentially, a PAC that can raise unlimited funds as long as it doesn’t directly coordinate with candidates). Until this election cycle, the organization relied on PACs aligned with its board members and contributors.

Anticipating the conflicts ahead, the progressive lobbying group, J Street, issued a “Pro-Democracy Pledge” for all pro-Israel PACs to not to endorse candidates who sided with the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Some took the pledge, but the most influential among them, AIPAC, did not.

AIPAC’s first wave of 70 endorsements includes both Democrats and Republicans, but among the latter are 37 Republicans who stood with Trump in denying the election results on that fateful day—a deliberate choice that in the eyes of AIPAC’s critics shows the lobbying group prioritizes its commitment to Israel’s interests over its commitment to democracy.

“It’s incredibly dangerous for a high-profile organization that claims to represent pro-Israel Americans to give a stamp of approval and to provide funding to the extremists who threatened the survival of our democracy,” says Logan Bayroff, the communications director for J Street, which was founded 14 years ago to counter AIPAC’s rightward lurch. “No matter what an elected official’s position on Israel, it should be common sense that extremists who don’t respect our election should be beyond the pale.”

Far-right Republicans often argue that any criticism of Israel is fueled by antisemitism. At the same time, they tout their own support of Israel as a shield to fend off any criticism of their dabbling in antisemitic tropes (such as the lie that immigrants are invading the country and George Soros is responsible.)

GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, tweeted about three Jewish billionaires—Soros, Tom Steyer, and Mike Bloomberg—trying to "Buy the election" in 2018. He deleted the tweet just days before the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, and when asked about it after the election, he cited AIPAC-affiliated Israel trips he leads as evidence that he couldn’t possibly be antisemitic.

Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) called it, “A staggering kind of tunnel vision, including support for many who may be ardent Christian supporters of Israel, but will not hesitate to be fine with vicious antisemitism to go with racism.”

AIPAC has been bipartisan since its founding in 1951, and until Trump arrived on the scene, it was top-heavy with Democrats and moderate Republicans. When Trump spoke as a candidate at its annual policy conference in March 2016, thousands of delegates cheered his hardline position on Iran and his attack on President Obama as “the worst thing ever to happen to Israel.” Embarrassed AIPAC leaders apologized to Obama, and to the portion of the audience that sat on its hands while others leapt to their feet.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Donald Trump waves after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty</div>

Donald Trump waves after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

AIPAC’s former executive director, Tom Dine, told The Daily Beast that the endorsements “had to be bipartisan, but it never occurred to me that they would support violators of the Constitution.” Dine, who led AIPAC from 1980 through 1993 says, “This is a failed policy right off the bat. The backlash was totally predictable, and it alienated part of the community that was growing more and more doubtful about Israel’s government and territorial gains, and AIPAC for its tilt toward right-wing Republicans. They think that the Christian Zionists, basically the evangelicals, will make up for any loss.”

With Republicans likely to win control of the House (and potentially, the Senate) in the midterm elections, AIPAC has a difficult course to chart. The organization must choose between alienating a reprehensible wing of the Republican Party, or offending traditional supporters like Foxman, who warns, “Those who undermine America‘s democracy undermine America, and a weak America will not be able to stand and support its ally Israel.”

A J Street poll conducted in October 2021 shows that 43 percent of American Jews view “extremism and insurrection” to be the most dangerous threat facing the country, far more than any other issue. Only 6 percent cited Iran as posing the greatest danger.

Here’s the full response to a Daily Beast request for comment from Marshall Wittmann:

“Unlike other groups which have ideological and partisan agendas, we are a single issue organization that is focused on our mission of building bipartisan support in Congress among Republicans and Democrats to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. At a time when Israel faces growing threats from Iranian regional aggression, it is imperative to build the broadest possible coalition in Congress to help ensure that the Jewish state has the critical resources to defend itself.”

Dine’s response to that isn’t complicated: “You can be pro-Israel, but you have to be pro-democracy.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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