Five years ago, after over 40 years of pro-Israel advocacy experience, both as a professional and then longtime volunteer, AIPAC first lost my confidence. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had addressed a 2015 joint session of Congress, a unilateral invitation orchestrated by Republicans – a blatantly politically hostile act against President Barack Obama, and a dramatic escalation of Israel’s previously stated opposition to his Iran Deal.
I had never before seen AIPAC abandon its fundamental bipartisan stance, supporting Netanyahu's attempt to turn partisan Israel’s relationships in the U.S. Congress, by encouraging Democratic members of Congress to attend the speech.
Now, in the lead up to the 2020 presidential elections, AIPAC has wandered way off track, choosing to use Facebook to run harshly partisan ads attacking "radicals" in the Democratic Party for "pushing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people." Whoa, how did AIPAC get so far off the bipartisan rails? Supporters like me are wondering: Has AIPAC conceded its core bipartisan mission?
To understand just how far AIPAC has fallen, it's worth revisiting an earlier era when the pro-Israel lobby saw its mission – and acted on it – quite differently.
Back in 1978 my dad hosted AIPAC’s first ever Denver fundraiser at our house. It featured AIPAC’s executive director, the charismatic, well-informed and effective Israel advocate, Morrie Amitay. Amitay, a former Democratic Hill staffer with excellent contacts, had succeeded AIPAC founder Si Kenen, heading what was then a small, low-profile organization. I attended that Denver event as a college senior, recently returned from a year studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In happier days: Three generations of the Toltz family at the 1983 AIPAC conference dinner. From left: Shelly Toltz, Israel Toltz (grandfather) and Warren Toltz (father)Ken Toltz
As I listened to Amitay, suddenly it became clear: With my political interests, experience and background, as someone who loved and supported Israel, I should move to Washington D.C. after graduation and go to work for AIPAC. Which is what I did.
In that now bygone era, AIPAC had a very small, modestly paid professional staff; my starting salary as an entry-level legislative assistant was $10,000/year. The professional staff was assisted by a national network of grassroots supporters of Israel numbering about 10,000. None of the legislative staff were identifiable Republicans; Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and the Democratic Party had majority control over both the House and Senate.