tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?

tablet on drumpf at aipac: something’s rotten?

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  • March 21, 2016

Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial board says AIPAC fails to rep­re­sent both the left and the right when it comes to advo­cat­ing for Israel on American Jews’ behalf.

The invi­ta­tion to Trump is a sym­bol of what AIPAC has become — an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense. Let’s be frank: Some of us would be com­fort­able with a bunch of back-alley polit­i­cal knife-fighters whose only cause is the active defense of the Jewish peo­ple, while oth­ers want lead­ers devoted to mak­ing sure that our com­mu­nal goals embody uni­ver­sal morals and social-justice values—regardless of how this might play on the geopo­lit­i­cal chess­board. Whichever camp you find your­self in, one thing is clear: What we have now in AIPAC is an orga­ni­za­tion with the fail­ings of both, and the virtues of neither.
Headless Community in Bottomless Spiral

This is a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of polit­i­cal rhetoric. The Tablet edi­tors are say­ing that both sides can agree AIPAC is a poor rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the American Jewish com­mu­nity, and then make their case from each side.

If they are able to step away from the par­ti­san­ship and actu­ally offer cogent ana­lyt­i­cal insight into AIPAC’s fail­ings on both the left and the right, then that’s admirable and use­ful. But the prob­lem is that vir­tu­ally no one (at least no one who is actively engaged in/with the Jewish com­mu­nity) is able to actu­ally back away from the fra­cas and say any­thing that isn’t seen by one side or both as an unfair attack. In other words, I’m won­der­ing if Tablet’s edi­to­r­ial team falls into the very trap into which they accuse AIPAC of falling: try­ing to be a voice for all sides and end­ing up being a voice for none.

Nonetheless, as an attempt to be ana­lyt­i­cal of AIPAC with­out stak­ing ground (or, being trans­par­ent about your ide­ol­ogy but attempt to tran­scend it for the pur­pose of analy­sis), I think it’s a good try, and a thought­ful, intel­lec­tu­ally deft, and inter­est­ing one at that.

But…

At the same time, despite some strong lan­guage attack­ing AIPAC lead­er­ship (which we’ll get to in a sec­ond), the authors seem to be danc­ing around the point they really want to make: this is entirely about the organization’s lead­er­ship, or lack thereof. I think that’s a fair point to make, espe­cially if you can sup­port it with a well-reasoned argu­ment. But a prob­lem with the Tablet edi­to­r­ial is that its authors hint at hav­ing a well-reasoned argu­ment to back up their claims, but it’s hard to believe them when (a) they don’t present much evi­dence of orga­ni­za­tional chaos to sup­port their claims1, and when (b) they take numer­ous cheap shots and engage in petty ad hominem attacks2 on AIPAC leaders.

It should be fair game to claim that spe­cific peo­ple lack polit­i­cal savvy or that they have exhib­ited behav­ior that calls their moral sense into ques­tion, espe­cially if you sup­port those claims in a man­ner that’s con­vinc­ing or at least intel­lec­tu­ally hon­est. But call­ing unnamed AIPAC employ­ees “mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace” the com­mu­nity that they’ve ded­i­cated them­selves (with pre­sum­ably best inten­tions) to serv­ing? That state­ment Trump-esque diss, a petty and rhetor­i­cally lazy turn of phrase that must have felt cathar­tic and won­der­fully naughty to type into the essay’s first draft, says more about its author than its sub­ject. It under­mines the edi­to­r­ial board’s entire point (as do the other cheap shots sprin­kled through­out), and it should have been excised before an edi­tor clicked “Publish.”

And also, it’s mean. I believe in the impor­tant prac­tice of a publication’s edi­to­r­ial board writ­ing with one voice, espe­cially on impor­tant issues like this. But it comes off look­ing like cow­ardly bul­ly­ing when an unnamed writer (writ­ing on behalf of a seem­ingly face­less edi­to­r­ial team) attacks a group of indi­vid­u­als with­out nam­ing names but with a nod and a wink that says, “We’re way too classy to name names but you know who we’re talk­ing about, right?”

With all due def­er­ence to the folks behind the pub­li­ca­tion (for whom I hold an immense amount of respect and awe-filled admi­ra­tion), Tablet’s typ­i­cally eru­dite edi­tors should be above that kind of shoddy writ­ing, and as a pub­li­ca­tion that endeav­ors to ele­vate pub­lic dis­course (instead of con­tribut­ing to the absence of dis­course down in the gut­ter on social media), it should be Tablet’s pol­icy to steer clear of lashon hara.

Moreover, if the point is that the root of the prob­lem AIPAC’s staff, then the nat­ural solu­tion is that the mem­ber­ship (who the edi­to­r­ial claims to stand with/for/behind) should act to replace said “incom­pe­tent” staff, since it’s incum­bent on a non-profit’s employ­ees to advance the mis­sion artic­u­lated by the organization’s mem­ber­ship. Of course, the editorial’s stance seems to be that the prob­lem is with AIPAC on the whole, so the sug­ges­tion that the orga­ni­za­tion is fun­da­men­tally bro­ken makes sense. But in that case the shots at staff are both irrel­e­vant and mis­placed, since it’s the mem­ber­ship who made/let it hap­pen (and if AIPAC is bro­ken on a fun­da­men­tal level, the prob­lems surely run deeper than some “mid-level incompetents”).

If, how­ever, the organization’s mem­bers and mis­sion are still wor­thy of sup­port, then the solu­tion is an easy one: Get rid of the staff who don’t get it and hire peo­ple who do. Otherwise, Tablet ought to be blam­ing the thou­sands of peo­ple who donate to AIPAC, show up at AIPAC events, and part­ner with AIPAC in their own communities.

main photo credit: Photo Cindy (Flickr)


  1. By “evi­dence,” I mean thoughtfully-presented fac­tual infor­ma­tion that sup­ports their claims, not, “AIPAC failed to stop the Iran deal… Can’t those screwups do any­thing right?” (back to foot­note in text)

  2. Exhibit A: “…an orga­ni­za­tion staffed by mid-level incom­pe­tents who dis­grace our com­mu­nity with their evi­dent lack of both polit­i­cal savvy and moral sense.” (back to foot­note in text)