Why Is New York Times Still Surprised When AIPAC Breaks With Netanyahu?
How many times does the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) need to break publicly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before The New York Times stops acting like it’s surprised?
The latest episode to get the Times excited was Netanyahu’s decision to bar two congressional advocates of boycotting Israel, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. “Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bulwark Israel lobbying organization, took the unusual step of breaking with the Netanyahu government,” the Times reported in one news article.
“Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful and assiduously bipartisan pro-Israel lobbying group known as AIPAC, has split with the Netanyahu government on its decision,” the Times reported in another news article.
“Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is typically in lock step with Mr. Netanyahu, broke with him,” the Times reported in yet a third news article.
Yet AIPAC had already publicly broken with Netanyahu at least once earlier this year. A Times editorial reported in February about the US pro-Israel organization weighing in an Netanyahu’s political maneuvering involving a fringe far-right faction known as Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power. The Times reported, “the pact between Mr. Netanyahu and the Kahanists was criticized in the United States not only but also by liberal Jewish organizations, but by some whose strong support of Israel rarely includes any public intervention in its boisterous politics. The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee — Aipac — which almost never publicly criticizes Israel, endorsed a statement by the American Jewish Committee that called Otzma Yehudit’s views ‘reprehensible,’ and added that ‘they do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the state of Israel.’”
And in 2017, it wasn’t exactly a secret that AIPAC was unhappy with Netanyahu’s decision to suspend a plan to expand a space for men and women to worship together at the Western Wall. A Times news article headlined, “Israel Faces Uproar Abroad as Netanyahu Yields to Ultra-Orthodox Jews,” began, “”JERUSALEM — The president of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group flew to Israel for an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while other Jewish leaders canceled a dinner with him.” The article went on, “While Aipac has been criticized for lock-step backing of Israel, more than 80 percent of its supporters belong to non-Orthodox Reform or Conservative branches of Judaism, experts say, making the group sensitive to questions about Orthodox control of religious issues.” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that in the meeting, “Three AIPAC leaders reportedly warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a ‘crisis of faith’ among American Jews.” An AIPAC board member, Isaac Fisher, reportedly wrote a public letter to a member of the Israeli parliament telling him, “Enough is enough.”
It’s almost at the point where instead of describing these situations as “unusual,” the Times would be more accurate to describe them as “routine” or “increasingly frequent.”
There’s a climate of increased scrutiny in Washington around the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) owing to the so-called “Mueller Effect,” and a cynic might view these moves by AIPAC as legally calculated to dispel decisively the false impression that the lobby’s actions are directed by the Israeli government rather than by the group’s American members. But a source familiar with AIPAC told The Algemeiner that FARA was not a consideration for the organization’s statements.
During the period when The New Republic was reliably contrarian, people used to joke that the publication should be renamed “Even The New Republic” on its front cover because of the frequent tendency of conservatives to cite the fact that the ostensibly-liberal political magazine endorsed some policy idea. Maybe the Times could save ink by writing EAIPAC — for “Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee” — instead of spelling the whole thing out each time. Or better yet, the Times could skip the pose of surprise as the lobby maneuvers to make sure that support for the US-Israel relationship and for AIPAC itself remain strong and bipartisan long past the administrations of either US President Donald Trump or Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.