On Sunday, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will hold its annual conference in Washington, DC. Since its creation in 1951, the organization has accomplished much by rallying support for the Jewish state in the U.S., lobbying Congress, and working to keep a generally pro-Israel stance on the platforms of both major political parties. Yet, writes Neil Rogachevsky, its failure to prevent the Obama administration’s turn away from Israel and toward Iran, and the left’s increasingly anti-Israel stance, suggest that AIPAC’s usual tactics may be less effective than ever before. He proposes an alternative approach:
[P]erhaps the central focus of pro-Israel activity in the United States should shift toward “community reconstruction”—to the rebuilding of core institutions from which future pro-Israel leaders are likely to emerge in the first place. It is no accident that declining support for Israel among young Jews corresponds to the weakening of the Jewish day-school network around the country—a weakening both in terms of quality of instruction as well as an affordability crisis that has pushed many potentially interested Jewish families away from Jewish education.
It would be a refreshing change, and potentially highly salutary, if big-ticket AIPAC donors were to turn their attention to this crisis rather than to increasingly ineffectual efforts to influence national policy. Effective advocates for Israel are at the end of the day well-educated ones—and well-educated ones emerge out of the contexts where meaningful skill development in Hebrew language, Jewish history, theology, and Zionism can take place.
What if Jewish community leaders invested their efforts in ensuring that Hebrew-language instruction was more widely available to anyone who wanted it, knowledge of Hebrew being necessary (though certainly not sufficient) for understanding Israel? What if instead of focusing on winning an amorphous “battle of ideas,” community leaders sought to expand and improve failing Jewish high schools, both through the hiring and development of better teachers and through providing scholarships for the most talented and promising?
The “return on investment” of a back-to-basics approach such as this would be hard to be measure. . . . But the case that the money is better spent on political lobbying in Washington is getting harder and harder to make.