As active citizens, we support causes close to our hearts and our communities. As Americans, we participate in a democratic process that we are privileged to enjoy. But, when our loyalty as Americans is called into question for supporting a strong relationship between America and Israel — a cause that is rooted in mutual values — we are alarmed. When we are gaslighted for daring to call out this reckless bullying, our community of advocates is accused of “moneyed influence.” In a recent commentary by an organization here at our University, our community of advocates was libelously accused of just that.
In the op-ed, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) accuses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group, of having “moneyed influence” on legislators’ votes that helps Israel “(defend) itself from its own occupation of Palestine.” This statement was made in defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) who recently came under fire for tweeting that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins baby,” and that AIPAC is the foundation of this ruse. The assertion from Omar and many of the assertions in the SJP op-ed are misguided and wrong and they reflect a profound misunderstanding of why many Americans support Israel.
As a bipartisan organization, supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, AIPAC works on strengthening the U.S.-Israel bond through government partnerships, joint anti-terrorism programs, foreign aid and regional diplomacy. AIPAC is also a strong supporter of a two-state solution and supports efforts toward reaching a future in which there can be peace between Israelis and Palestinians. On its own website, AIPAC states support of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace “through direct negotiation between the two parties,” and actively trying to allow Palestinian voices to be heard and not silenced.
Reaching peace in this region is a goal shared by both Israel and America. Israel does not use U.S. foreign aid to “defend itself from its own occupation of Palestine,” as the op-ed claimed. The money goes toward developing missile defense projects to protect citizens from hostile surrounding countries, migration and refugee assistance, energy and water technologies, and many other projects that support America's interests and protect Israel’s existence.
The commentary also baselessly claimed that "the majority of the world believes that Israel is committing war crimes against the Palestinians.” With no evidence for this supposed, nearly unanimous belief, this claim is blatantly false. Israel constantly provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, in the form of funding, hospital treatment and equipment, electric supply and economic assistance.
Israel is a supporter of peace, a stable democracy and America's only true ally in the Middle East. Maintaining a military edge is of vital importance to maintain this reality, for if Israel were to put down its weapons today, to bring down its protective barriers and walls, it would surely be destroyed.
When a strong relationship between the United States and Israel is supported, America is ensured of a close friend in a region of the world where alliance and unity are key. The majority of American citizens and leaders understand this, as shown in every study and poll. As Meghan McCain said in her address at the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference just a few days ago, “Americans don’t support Israel because AIPAC is influential. AIPAC is influential because Americans support Israel.”
Contrary to what the op-ed implied, AIPAC does not work through the lens of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his role as prime minister, he does address AIPAC participants yearly at its policy conference, but he is one speaker among a multitude of politicians from many parties, both Israeli and American alike.
This week, Benny Gantz, chair of the newly formed Blue and White Party and the strongest Israeli opposition candidate, spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference as well. To base debate around Israel through the lens of Netanyahu’s policies is as ignorant as claiming that Trump stands for all Americans.
Indeed, Omar is not the only member of Congress or the executive branch to make anti-Semitic remarks. Trump and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are guilty of anti-Semitic comments that deserve to be addressed and have been roundly criticized. Any form of bigotry perpetrated by anyone, anywhere, should be called into question. Criticism of Israel’s policies are just and welcomed, but claiming that America's support of Israel is based on some sort of nefarious, unjust influence, while ignoring the shared values, strategic interests and common democratic objectives of the two countries is ignoring the obvious truth.
Scarlet Knights for Israel is a recognized student organization at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.
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