If you believe in a strong state of Israel and think America should support it, then getting involved with pro-Israel political activism is for you.
THE CURRENT US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell arrives to speak at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, in 2020. / (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
In his work Power, Faith and Fantasy – America in the Middle East from 1776 to the Present, historian, scholar and statesman Dr. Michael Oren wrote of the long history of Zionism in America. His thesis is that the American desire to restore the Jewish people to their homeland predates Herzl’s modern Zionist political movement by a century. Today’s strong American Zionist community is a manifestation of the long American tradition of Zionism.
Folklore tells of two questions politically minded American Jews asked each other to measure their motivation to help Israel: First, do you believe in a strong state of Israel and second, should America support it? As the tale goes, if your answer to these questions is yes, then getting involved with pro-Israel political activism is for you. While many people get distracted by the petty partisanship of today’s politics in both Israel and America, it behooves the pro-Israel community to remember that we can’t lose sight of the fact that there’s only one Israel.
The American pro-Israel community is learning that supporting Israel in 2023 looks different than it ever has before, in their lifetimes. America is Israel’s most important ally and solid supporter. America just experienced a major transition of power: a new speaker and Democratic leader. This change in leadership can present challenges to the traditional support Israel has enjoyed from America. Thanks to the American pro-Israel community, our community has relationships with both parties and can ensure support for Israel remains strong and bipartisan.
There is a six-decade-long tradition of strong bipartisan Zionist activism in America, especially its elected leaders. That relationship is robust but it is beginning to be put at risk. For the first time, Israel and America are watching as voices without strong support for Zionism get louder, gain support through social media and run for Congress at an increasing rate. The American pro-Israel community cannot sit by and watch this group gain a foothold in Congress and adversely affect America’s long history of Zionism.
We recently saw how a small group of representatives can upend the entire Congress. This isn’t the first time a small group has been able to stop the majority of representatives from passing bills. In recent years America and Israel watched as a small group held up Iron Dome funding and then as a Senator did the same.
Whether in support or increasingly through criticism, Israel is what connects most American Jews to their Judaism. (credit: REUTERS)
It’s not hard to imagine a small group of representatives who oppose Zionism stopping the significant majority of those who vote for American security aid for Israel. It’s not tenable for Israel or the benefits America receives from the relationship. In an America that is more concerned with internal affairs and a Congress where 75% of its members weren’t in office just 12 years ago, ensuring Congress’s longstanding support of Israel and Zionism is harder than it has ever been.
The greatest concern facing Zionists and the pro-Israel community today is Iran’s race to develop a nuclear weapon and its terror proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. These nefarious enemies of Israel don’t care about whether Israel’s prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu or Yair Lapid and neither should those who support Israel.
Zionism and Israel must survive past the politics of the day and constantly remind us that Israel is our home and that we must commit to protecting it. With an Iran that is aligning itself with Russia, peace has to come through strength. The American and Israeli partnership ensures the strength necessary to stop Iran’s plans.
Pro-Israel community cannot take anything for granted
THE PRO-ISRAEL community can’t take anything for granted. The American Zionist community has to be positioned to fight for what they believe and that means embracing those we may not agree with on all issues, as long as they will support Israel. It all returns to keeping your eye on the prize and driving American policy to be supportive of a strong US-Israel relationship.
In a changing world, Zionists can’t insist on sticking to the same model and assume it will continue to work just because it was effective in the past. There are new strategies being employed by the American pro-Israel community. These new strategies were once eschewed by the pro-Israel establishment but are now being embraced in light of the new atmosphere.
At the same time, the relationship-building and activism of the past are still important. Relationship building as a vehicle for explaining Zionism’s values has always been key to the movement’s success.
Twenty years ago, I was drawn to AIPAC by its message that any American Zionist can turn their passion into concrete support of Israel. Jew, Gentile, wealthy or poor, it made no difference as long as they were willing to put the time and effort into forming relationships with their elected officials and explaining Zionism to them. I am not a man of means but this opportunity to help Israel in a concrete way spoke to me.
I could call a member of Congress’s office, make an appointment with a staffer, speak to them about Zionism and Israel, and by following up (lobbying once is an oxymoron), I could have an influence on that member of Congress’s position on Israel.
The more information I shared, the more grateful the staffer was for keeping them informed. At first, I made an appointment with members of the congressional staff and eventually, I had meetings with members of Congress, the Senate and even White House staff.
Of course, I donated to pro-Israel organizations, like AIPAC, and to political campaigns. I didn’t have the means to give as other people gave but I gave what I could afford and to the elected officials I felt it was important to support because I appreciated their pro-Israel positions. As things change in the world and the pro-Israel community faces challenges they’ve never faced before, I commit to continue to give of myself, my resources and most of all, my energy.
It’s an entirely new world out there in the pro-Israel sphere. Helping Israel out concretely requires giving of ourselves and our resources more than ever. I consider it my responsibility and I hope you do, too. But never forget, at the foundation of all support of Israel is the decision to get involved and form the relationships that matter.
Zionism’s opponents love beating up Zionists by accusing them of all sorts of evil activities and motives. Zionists believe that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their historic homeland, Israel. There is nothing nefarious about their objectives.
Seventy-five years after the establishment of Israel, Zionists and the pro-Israel community have taken on the responsibility to make sure Israel is strong and secure. Zionists and the pro-Israel community have always been honest about what they are, the world just has to listen.
The writer is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israeli studies around the world.