Last week I attended my first AIPAC policy conference with thirteen other members from the Young Israel of Oceanside. I had been to two other AIPAC events in Washington for Rabbis but this was my first AIPAC policy conference. I found the experience to be extremely powerful, and I am proud to say that I have already signed up for the 2017 conference.
During my days at the conference, as I took in the breadth and the scope of AIPAC’s mission and influence, I was struck by the present day relevance of the ancient Purim story. One theme that weaves its way throughout the Purim story is that of politics. In order to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, Mordechai and Esther must play politics with Achashverosh. Esther constantly flatters him, and some commentaries suggest that she specifically invites him to two feasts to make him jealous of the fact that she also invites Haman to both of these feasts so that the king will side with her when she discloses her religion to him. According to Rabbi Joseph ben Shlomo Colon (the Maharik), Esther even engaged in an “averah lishmah,” a sin for the sake of Heaven, when she agreed to sleep with the non-Jewish king in order to seduce him to side with her against Haman and his evil plot.
Bearing all this politicking in mind, the Megillah raises the question: How much may we flatter, how much should we compromise, what such sacrifices should we make in order to achieve a potential greater good? The text of the Megillah notably concedes that Mordechai is only ratzui l’rov echav - he is favored by a majority but not by all of his brethren, presumably because he engaged in politics. Perhaps this is an integral part of the message of the Purim story, and one with practical implications for us today. A common critique of politicians is that they often seem to compromise on their principles for political gain. But viewed through the lens of the Megillah, are there circumstances in which such compromise is not only necessary, but noble?
The value of AIPAC is simple: Bi-partisan, pro-Israel, advocacy. In service of a mission as important as the survival of the Jewish people, or I submit, the Jewish state, there is a value of knos et kol hayehudim, of gathering all the Jews. Esther knew this, which is why she asked the Jewish people to express their unity by fasting together with her before she approached the king. Today, AIPAC presents us with a unique opportunity to do just that. Creating the largest tent of pro-Israel supporters, AIPAC is a vehicle through which the nation of Israel and her supporters may unify in our pursuit of an urgent cause.
Surely, it is easy to criticize AIPAC for any number of decisions that do not reflect our individual choices. We may say that AIPAC is not right-wing enough, or left-wing enough. Some of us wish that Donald Trump had not been invited to speak, while others regret that AIPAC’s president scolded Mr. Trump for an ad hominem attack on President Obama. Others yet were disappointed by those in the audience who cheered and clapped at some of Mr. Trump’s most disparaging remarks.
But despite these real and valid differences, the mission of AIPAC, and of Purim, is realized when we as a people unify in a way that transcends particular candidates or party lines. If the goal of the AIPAC is bi-partisan unity, then I believe AIPAC’s actions in this regard are to be applauded. It may be praiseworthy to speak out again those who incite violence and bigotry, but I believe that AIPAC is not the place for such protest. When we face the Iranian nuclear threat, the BDS movement, and a threatened imposition of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement on Israel, it may be necessary to compromise a bit on our principles for the sake of a unified, pro-Israel front. It may be a bitter pill to swallow. After all, politicking isn’t pretty. But when the cause is great enough, our history tells us it can be noble.
The goal of AIPAC is to build relationships with political leaders and we need to play the political game to be successful. When 18,000 people make the trip from all across the country to Washington to be part of this conference and make their voices heard, it sends a message to our politicians that this is an issue of singular importance to our community. If 25,000 people make the trip next year, how much greater will that message be? Short of making aliya, AIPAC is probably the best address for our pro-Israel work. I hope to see you all with me next year at AIPAC Policy Conference 2017!
Last edit: 2 years 3 months ago by Jonathan Muskat.