In rare rebuke, MK pans AIPAC endorsement of Republicans who disputed 2020 election

Breaking from Israelis’ usual unequivocal support for lobbying group, centrist Alon Tal calls its choices ‘outrageous,’ says criticism is necessary for healthy Israel-Diaspora ties

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Blue and White MK Alon Tal at the Knesset on June 30, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)
Blue and White MK Alon Tal at the Knesset on June 30, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

Knesset Member Alon Tal has harshly criticized the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group for its endorsement of Republican lawmakers who refused to recognize the results of the 2020 election, calling the organization’s decision to do so “outrageous.”

Tal’s comments marked a rare case of a Zionist Israeli lawmaker criticizing AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbying groups on Israel-related issues in the United States, whose policies typically align with the Israeli government.

Speaking in an English-language virtual town hall meeting on Sunday, Tal said that an important aspect of a healthy relationship between Israel and American Jewry is open dialogue, including criticism.

Referring to AIPAC’s recent controversial endorsement of Republican politicians who refused to accept US President Joe Biden’s election, Tal said it was “outrageous that they did that.”

The American-born lawmaker added: “I feel comfortable saying that as an Israeli politician.”

Tal said that, in turn, he was comfortable facing criticism from AIPAC for some of his political positions and decisions. He also expressed his general admiration and appreciation for the group.

A spokesperson for AIPAC said the organization refused to comment on Tal’s remarks.

Sunday’s event was the lawmaker’s second attempt at holding a virtual town hall meeting on improving the increasingly strained ties between Israel and large portions of American Jewry. His first Zoom call, which was fully open to the public, was overtaken by antisemites last week. In light of that incident, Tal’s office made the latest event a private call.

As a general rule, AIPAC does not publicly criticize Israeli officials or policies, even in cases where those policies run counter to its views.

AIPAC, which touts itself as a bipartisan organization, has long enjoyed broad, nearly unequivocal support from both left- and right-wing Israeli lawmakers.

In December, for the first time in its history, AIPAC formed a political action committee, or PAC, in order to begin publicly backing candidates. It unveiled its first 120 endorsees earlier this month, including 37 Republicans who refused to affirm Joe Biden’s election on January 6, 2021, when insurrectionists embracing the same false theories led a deadly riot at the Capitol.

Also on the endorsement list are 27 Democrats who voted “yes” to approve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA, an inclusion that has raised eyebrows among longtime Republican AIPAC supporters in light of the organization’s staunch opposition to the accord. The deal, currently being renegotiated to allow for the United States’ reentry after former US president Donald trump withdrew in 2018, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear activity. Israel’s government argues that the accord is too light on Iran and doesn’t hinder its sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East.

AIPAC has faced major criticism for its endorsement of the Republican lawmakers who challenged the results of the 2020 election, from both Democrats and some Republicans, as well as from staunch supporters of Israel like former head of the Anti-Defamation League Abe Foxman and a number of former AIPAC officials.

The organization has defended its decision, saying the threats facing Israel were so dire that it could no longer be “selective” about its allies.

“We have friends who are pro-choice and pro-life, those who are liberal on immigration and those who want to tighten our borders, and yes, those who disagree strongly on issues surrounding the 2020 presidential election,” the group wrote in a statement earlier this month.

“This is no moment for the pro-Israel movement to become selective about its friends,” AIPAC wrote added. “Israel faces nuclear threats from Iran’s rulers and terror tunnels built by Hezbollah and Hamas. An international movement seeking to isolate and demonize the Jewish state continues to make inroads, especially here in the United States.”

The letter was signed by Betsy Berns Korn, AIPAC’s president, and Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO.

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