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.
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.
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)
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)