We reported last week that Rabbi Jack Moline, the National Jewish Democratic Council director, berated the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for “strong-arm tactics” to get senators behind an Iran sanctions bill the Obama administration opposes.
In an interview, Moline accused the groups of “strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don’t vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.” He added: “It isn’t the business of any organization to be setting up a litmus test on a piece of legislation.”
Moline emailed me yesterday to apologize — but only to the AJC:
I regret that I made my remarks to JTA before taking the time to speak to leadership at AJC about the representations made by legislators about the pressure brought to bear on them by citizen advocates. I should have done so, particularly because of the stellar record of non-partisanship on the part of AJC. The reports I received were uncharacteristic of AJC’s long history of remaining neutral in electoral matters, and I am delighted to be reminded that AJC never did and never will suggest that those who dissent from their specific position should be considered hostile to Israel. My special regrets go to David Harris for the implication that his leadership would tolerate such an approach.
I called Moline and asked him why AIPAC was not included. He said, simply, that he had talked through the matter with David Harris, who had reached out to him. No one had done so at AIPAC.
“David Harris is an honorable man, he handled this situation honorably and I was very glad to be proven wrong, that AJC is not part of the call for using this bill as a litmus test,” he said.
So where did Moline get his information? And if his interlocutors were wrong about the AJC, might they have been wrong about AIPAC?
Moline said his information came from people who had first-hand experience with the pressure he had originally condemned. In the wake of his conversation with Harris, he revised his comments to reflect his understanding that the pressure had come not from the professional staff, but from lay people who invoked the names of AIPAC and AJC in their threats against lawmakers.
“This has been on the part not of professional staff at these organizations, but of citizen activists who have erroneously have invoked at least the AJC’s name,” he said.
Moline would not elaborate, but the “at least” seems key. He seems to want assurances from AIPAC that its name, when used in a threat, was used in vain.
I spoke to someone close to AIPAC today and asked them what the institutional response to Moline’s statement was. (AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, would not comment, hence my reaching out to others.) This person said that Moline’s response reflected an honest difference of opinion between Democrats and AIPAC, but one expressed in this case “too strongly.” Each side, this AIPAC source said, wanted what was best for the United States and for Israel. Making that clear at the outset of any conversation on Iran was the “appropriate” path, the source said, and what AIPAC lay leaders and professional staff were doing.