Talmud and AIPAC

During the week before leaving for the AIPAC Policy Conference, I received several e-mails from progressive rabbinical organizations, asking me to protest AIPAC in one way or another. During the first day of the conference, my worried son texted me: “Have you seen a large group of INN activists protesting outside? There’s stuff all over Facebook about it.” (If Not Now is a social- media-fueled group of Jewish millennials who stage protests against the occupation of the West Bank.) I did not sign any petitions against AIPAC. I did not see the protesters outside. I was busy inside, participating in a conference that welcomed disagreement and civil discourse in true Jewish fashion.


AIPAC this year reminded me of Talmud. The rabbis on the pages disagreed with each other across generations and locations, but they argued together, on the pages of our common text, the Talmud.


The Israel advocates who gathered at the Washington Convention Center and the Verizon Center represented the plethora of opinion that is Judaism and American politics today. Among the 18,000 participants who support a strong alliance between America and Israel, there were Jews and non-Jews. Progressive, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and secular Jews gathered. 3,000 college students participated. Five hundred rabbis representing the spectrum from Ultra-Orthodoxy to Reform ate lunch together. Jews who support the current government in Israel and Jews who do not were present. Jews who support the current administration in America and Jews who do not were also present.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of Anti Defamation League invited the leaders of If Not Now to a conversation when they protested in the lobby of the ADL building last year. The protesters rejected his offer, and Greenblatt responded: “It’s nice to get attention but it’s better to get things done. Protests are nice but proposals are better. Slogans are easy but strategies are hard. If you really want to move the needle you’ve got to make things happen.”

I agree. I spoke this past Shabbat about today’s world fueled by high levels of knowledge but low levels of understanding. Information is easily accessed with the touch of a smart phone, but grabbing the buzz words off headlines does not mean that people with very strong opinions actually understand what they are protesting. As Dr. Zohar Raviv of Birthright Israel says, “We have become surfers without diving licenses.” Young Jews standing outside the AIPAC Conference to protest the settlements in the West Bank meant well, but they could have had a bigger impact if they had participated in the conference itself. They would have learned new ideas and ways of understanding the crazy Zionist idea of the nineteenth century that became the modern State of Israel. They would have gleaned ways to conceptualize the cauldron that is the Middle East from voices of the left and of the right. And they would have been heard. We follow rules of courtesy and civility at AIPAC, but every voice is heard.

I yearn for the day to come soon when we will find a two-State solution. I disagree with a policy that includes building more settlements. I would certainly love for my son in the IDF to serve Israel in a time of quiet. I did not go to AIPAC to support either the Prime Minister’s government in Israel or the current administration in the U.S. I went to AIPAC to ensure that the strong alliance between Israel and America, necessary to both countries I love, will be preserved via strong non-partisan support on Capitol Hill.

This past week, the courageous ones came under the roof. If Not Now protested outside. I wonder how many of those idealistic young Jews know the complete quotation from Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers from which they coined their name: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Deep diving would require the protesters to consider the entire thought, not just the convenient last phrase. Next year, perhaps we’ll all be able to talk together, unafraid and willing to learn.

With blessings and prayers for peace, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

4 responses to “Talmud and AIPAC”

  1. Adele Garber says :

    This is wonderful—thank you Ade

  2. Carol Blau says :

    Thank you Rabbi Drill for your well-written, valuable message. We must always strive to educate ourselves through ‘deep diving’ & we can only truly effect change as an activist when we sit at the table & respectfully listen & discuss issues w/those whose policies we oppose.

  3. JaneKeller says :

    Yes Yes Yes.
    In this conundrum of a world the only way out is by speaking to each other.
    You are so right about all of Hillel’s words Paula.
    Thank you for going; thank you for your wisdom.

  4. Mitchell Kayden says :

    What goes on inside the walls of a policy conference from what I am told, is as you explain, a forum for diverse opinions about Israel, but that is not how the organization is perceived by many once it leaves the auditoriums and breakout groups. As I understand it, the reason for the perception that the organization has actually stems from how it defines itself publically as an advocacy organization only in regard to advocating for a strong US/Israel relationship, while it somehow claims to be neutral on internal Israeli politics. Its possible that the essential nature of its mission has led to the impression by many Jews that AIPAC lacks a moral voice in the public dialogue.

    But there is also a case to be made that it along with other prominent Jewish organizations have dominated and controlled the discourse and has contributed to the partisanship of the cause, as well as to the divisiveness within our own Jewish communities. It has also taken a public stand on certain US policies in the Middle East that run contrary to most informed progressive opinions and has remained silent on events when its voice would have been helpful.

    I find it interesting that with all the bipartisan work AIPAC does that the well-crafted and sensible letter Nancy Pelosi read advocating for a peace process hopefully leading to a two state solution was signed by 189 Democrats and only 2 Republicans. I’m not sure why that would be.

    I can’t speak for all that was going on outside and I can’t vouch for all protester’s knowledge and intentions, but I am not sure I would make a judgment that they essentially don’t know what they are talking about because they are surfers and not divers. And the way I remember it, young people are not prone to join the establishment; that is not typically their role. I love that you express the willingness to have the conversation, as I know Rabbi Scheff would as well, but I am not sure that what they would have to say, and the way they need to say it would go over well in the forum you would like them to join.
    These mostly young Jews, singing Hebrew songs of peace are passionate, energized, and idealistic as young people generally are and I certainly would like to see them in our shuls one day.

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