Although AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has so far kept a low profile in the Kosel controversy, two of its senior officials were set to arrive in Israel on Wednesday to consult with Israeli leaders about it.
While the rules governing prayer at the Kosel are of concern to Jews everywhere, AIPAC’s mandate has been to promote the bilateral U.S.-Israel security and diplomatic relationship, and does not normally involve itself in religious or cultural issues.
In explanation for the need of a special trip being made by AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus and CEO Howard Kohr, an official told The Jerusalem Post why this religious issue is perceived as different:
“Part of the support for Israel on Capitol Hill is based on the idea that Israel is a democracy and safeguards peoples’ freedom and rights,” the official said. “The cabinet decision sends a different message.”
AIPAC has taken no position on the Israeli Cabinet decision to suspend the plan for an egalitarian prayer section at the Kosel.
A spokesman was quoted by Haaretz as saying that its only response to the crisis was the following sentence: “The debate is ongoing and the democratic process in Israel which provides for input from many voices is the best hope for a productive outcome.”
AIPAC, the paper said, did not reply to a follow-up question, whether a different message had been conveyed by its officials in private to the Israeli government.
“There are some people within the AIPAC community who are very disappointed with the Israeli government, but I don’t think expecting AIPAC to publicly weigh in is realistic,” said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “Their mission is to focus on the Israeli-American relationship, not on religious issues.”