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Finally, Israel Lobby Gets Challenged


Guest Lawrence Davidson
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Guest Lawrence Davidson

Editor’s Note: The refusal of Israel’s Likud government to extend a West Bank construction freeze – even at the risk of destroying the latest U.S.-backed peace initiative – reflects the longstanding power of Washington’s pro-Israel lobby, which assumes it can fend off any significant criticism of Israel.

 

For decades now, this dynamic has distorted the American political system and thus contributed to U.S. miscalculations in the Middle East, a dilemma that is only now being addressed by Americans seeking a more evenhanded approach, as professor Lawrence Davidson notes in this guest essay:

 

Two news articles have recently appeared, each discussing a different approach to overcoming the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby that presently has enough clout to substitute its own parochial interests for the U.S. national interest.

 

As John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, demonstrated there is a direct connection between AIPAC's level of influence in Congress and the White House and the recent disasters that have befallen the U.S. in the Middle East.

 

Indeed, the connection is one of sufficient intensity to have led to the creation in 2008 of a new “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby called J Street. J Street calls for Israel to accept, “borders based on the 1967 line with reciprocally agreed land swaps,” thus allowing for a two state formula settlement.

 

The optimistic view here is that in the relatively near future J Street will become strong enough to displace AIPAC and its hard-line stance on the Occupied Territories, which can be summed up, “we must keep it all.”

 

While this prognosis might be a tad premature, the situation has progressed enough that folks involved in this effort are now discussing tactics and approaches that might speed up AIPAC's demise. Which leads to the two stories.

 

The first story appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Sept. 26 and is entitled “Billionaire George Soros Revealed as Mystery J Street Donor.” It is now public information that Mr. Soros sees AIPAC as “too hawkish” and so he and his family have thrown their weight behind the more compromising, “dovish” J Street.

 

They have done so to the tune of $245,000 a year. Soros has, in fact, been making these contributions since J Street’s founding in 2008. This is certainly not all the money the Washington-based lobby obtains per year. J Street has about 10,000 donors and they provide about $11 million annually.

 

What is important is that a man like George Soros, who is dedicated to using some of his fortune to move the world in what he feels is a progressive direction, has put his money behind the traditional approach to influencing American policy formulation.

 

He appears to accept as a working assumption that interest group politics plays a central role in both domestic and foreign policy making. Thus, if you want to change policy you have to out-lobby the fellow who is helping to shape the one now in place.

 

In the case of J Street this means the organization must not only be able to win the politicians' allegiance through reasoned argument, but be capable of providing them with enough money to counter any AIPAC effort to unseat them in an election. Soros knows this and his aim is to help J Street achieve this status.

 

The second story comes in the form of a short essay by the Irish writer Maidhc O'Cathail that appeared in the Salem-News.com. It is entitled “The Truth Will Set U.S. Free: Breaking Israel’s Stranglehold over American Foreign Policy.”

 

O'Cathail quotes Philip Giraldi, who is executive director of the Council for the National Interest (an organization critical of the American-Israel alliance), a former CIA officer and also a contributer to The American Conservative.

 

Giraldi's position is that overcoming AIPAC “must be done from the bottom up as Israel cannot be challenged in the mainstream media, Congress, and in the White House.”

 

The tactic here is to convince enough American voters that “Israel is and always has been a strategic liability that has done immense damage to the United States and its worldwide interests” so they will be led to demand that the Congress and political parties abandon AIPAC.

 

This has proven anything but easy. According to Jeff Gates, a former counsel for the Senate Committee on Finance, the present lack of transparency on the various sources of lobby money means that “the American public is ignorant of Israel's all-pervasive influence.”

 

However, this opaqueness might also be slowly dissipating. A multiplicity of advocacy groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have grown up in the last ten years to publicize the brutal policies of the Israelis -- and U.S. complicity in them.

 

Despite Giraldi's opinion that challenge in the mainstream media is impossible, there has been movement even in this unlikely arena. For instance, consider the relatively wide coverage of Israel's recent decision not to extend its settlement freeze and thereby threaten an end to the Obama administration's efforts at peace talks.

 

So, unlike ten years ago, one now can find articles and op-ed pieces critical of Israel and, by extension, AIPAC as well. And, while they do not yet appear frequently enough to create a tipping point in public awareness they are beginning to contribute to a slow but perceptible shift in public opinion.

 

Even a recent poll conducted by the American Jewish organization, The Israel Project, suggests a steady decline in the number of American citizens who feel that the U.S. must continue to support Israel.

 

The truth is that the two approaches, one centered on the national capital and the other centered on main street, have to be pursued simultaneously. And, there is now movement at both levels.

 

Yet the pace of change is agonizingly slow. And that fact raises the question of just how much of Palestine will be left when AIPAC's influence is finally overcome? If the Israelis have their way what will be left is an emaciated Gaza and a rump area of the West Bank.

 

Even though the Obama administration has promoted talks and called, unsuccessfully, for a continued settlement freeze, one suspects that it, and other foreseeable U.S. administrations, would be accepting of such a final outcome.

 

It should be pretty clear to anyone who cares to see, that ruination is the preferred fate for any Middle East country that challenges either the U.S. or Israel. It is the adage “bomb them back to the stone age” made real.

 

If you do not believe that, just ask Iraqi refugees about what is left of their homeland now that the Americans have redone the landscape. Ask someone familiar with the present state of affairs in Gaza as well as the West Bank.

 

Perpetual weakness and poverty is the fait accompli that Israel has in mind for Palestine on the day when AIPAC goes by the board. On that day they plan to have taken all that they desire and so even if Washington is persuaded to change its policies, it will no longer matter in Jerusalem.

 

What does all this mean for those involved in the fight against AIPAC's influence in American foreign affairs? It means that the goal of displacing the Israel lobby is really not sufficient.

 

The J Street people and those who are presently campaigning at the grass roots have to argue the fate of U.S. national interests in broader terms. For instance:

 

1. It must be made clear that a rejuvenation of American interests in the Middle East and Muslim world is linked much more directly to the fate of Palestine than to Israel. If any final settlement fails to insure the creation of a viable Palestinian state, the U.S. will be blamed and U.S. interests will continue to suffer whether America is still allied to Israel or not.

 

It must be made clear that, as an advocate for the destruction of Palestine, AIPAC advocates the destruction of U.S. interests as well.

 

2. Why is this so? This is the way it is because the issue of justice is first and foremost in the minds of a billion Muslims and that at the core of this issue stands Palestine (and not head scarfs). If U.S. interests are to be forwarded in the lands with Muslim majorities, then the question of Palestine must be faced honestly and objectively. This simply cannot happen as long as a Zionist lobby has the power to monopolize policy formulation.

 

The problem is not Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran. The problem is Israel and its American agents. They are the ones complicit in past disastrous policy decisions and they are the ones pushing for equally disastrous future ones.

 

3. In the face of these truths, J Street presently operates as if it is afraid of its own shadow. If J Street feels it cannot directly advocate for justice for Palestinians, then it should do so indirectly. That is, the organization should get specific about the fact that the Israel that AIPAC so strongly defends is in the hands of leaders who represent a harshly anti-American ethic.

 

Men like Avigdor Lieberman and the leaders of the Shas party are racists who want to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from as much territory as they can. For these Israeli leaders this is not a matter of security, it is a matter of religious purity.

 

This is an utterly un-American goal. This has to be said loudly to both the American public and the Congress.

 

Those who wish to change this dynamic must meld the liberation of the United States from AIPAC's wholly negative influence with the revival of U.S. national interests in the broader Middle East and Muslim world, and that in turn with the viable future of Palestine.

 

All three must be promoted as an interlinked package. If they are not, Washington will certainly someday be free of AIPAC, but Palestine will be left under the pernicious shadow of Israel. For this, the United States will always be blamed and American interests will always suffer.

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Guest Adnan Darwash

Despite Israel defiance of US calls to stopping the settlements,the J Street and George Soros money, Netanyahu went to winning the us mid-term election. AS a reward for Bibi Netanyahu, President Obama poured massive aids and offered security guarantees to Israel which are worse than building illegal settlements in the occupied territories. I bet that Obama will use US veto in the UN Security Council (SC) to block Palestinans attempt to force Israel on implementing any of the 39 SC resolutions Israel is in breach of, or the delaration of an independent state in the West bank.The US unlimited support for Israel makes it a party to all Israeli violations, atrocities and crimes.

 

Adnan Darwash, Iraq Occupation Times

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Guest Barbara

Wow. You are so right.

 

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/24/soros-funder-liberal-jewish-american-lobby/

 

The Jewish-American advocacy group J Street, which bills itself as the dovish alternative to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby, has secretly received funding from billionaire George Soros despite previous denials that it accepted funds from the Hungarian-born financier and liberal political activist.

 

Tax forms obtained by The Washington Times reveal that Mr. Soros and his two children, Jonathan and Andrea Soros, contributed a total $245,000 to J Street from one Manhattan address in New York during the fiscal year from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009.

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Guest David

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and Board Chair Davidi Gilo addressed an unprecedented Knesset committee meeting convened to look into the question of whether the American organization is sufficiently “committed” to Israel. They presented over 15,000 petitions and hundreds of personal letters from J Street supporters calling on the Israeli Government to accept the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement as allies or risk alienating a significant part of American Jewry.

 

J Street represents over 170,000 supporters and a large and growing number of American Jews who believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential necessity if Israel hopes to remain both Jewish and democratic. In particular, many younger American Jews have found a home at J Street where they can positively engage with Israel in a way that is consonant with their values.

 

“If the face of genuine efforts to undermine and delegitimize Israel, it must distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and attacks on its fundamental right to exist,” said Ben-Ami. “We call on the Israeli Government to make clear whether it will continue to shut out mainstream groups and American Jews who are deeply committed to Israel but critical of some of its policies.”

 

Remarks by J Street Board Chair Davidi Gilo

Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs

March 23, 2011

 

Shalom, Chairman of the Committee and Knesset member Mr. Danny Danon, members of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, representatives of various organizations and other guests, good morning to everyone.

 

First of all, I would like to thank Knesset member Mr. Schneller, and the Chairman of the Committee, Knesset member Danon for enabling this discussion regarding the relationship between Israel and the Jews in the United States.

 

To me, the Knesset represents the renewing sovereignty of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel and this committee that deals with Diaspora affairs is indeed the appropriate place to conduct the dialogue concerning the relationship between Israel and the American Jews.

 

I am proud to be present here today and to represent a notable part of the Jewish Community in the United States.

 

Let’s start at the end. We firmly support the Jewish people, the Jewish state and Eretz Israel. This support does not contradict the fact that we disagree with the policy of this government, or any other. Today, more than ever, we are deeply concerned about the direction in which the present government is headed in.

 

We are aware of the fact that some of you are concerned about different standpoints expressed by [J Street] in matters related to Israel and hence, you have, in front of you, a booklet containing significant and comprehensive information regarding our positions, our sources of finance and our organization’s leadership. It is very important that you read this document. Nevertheless, we have not come here today in order to argue about our differences, but to share with you the importance of allowing these differences [to exist], and including [those who hold them] as supporters of Israel.

 

It is advisable to dedicate a moment to the past. Historical events brought at the same time some of us to Israel and some of us to North America. 63 years after the establishment of Israel, and approximately 100 years after the last wave of immigration of Jews to America, our communities here and there are almost similar in size, share common Jewish practices, but have different history, experiences and national identity.

 

As a people, we have much to be proud of. In Israel we have established a glorious state, an oasis with a stable and developed economy, Israeli culture and a strong defense. In the United States, from a poor minority we have turned into an inseparable part of the elite of American society. Our successful integration in the American politics, society and economy are unprecedented in the history of modern world.

 

The generation of my father and grandfather had seen and even experienced the Holocaust on one hand and the establishment of the state of Israel on the other. From Holocaust to rebirth, this generation was embedded with a deep and uncompromising emotional commitment to the state of Israel and to the preeminent need for its existence as an open and strong state of the Jewish people. I share this idea.

 

We teach our children that being a Jew means being a good person. Our leading principles are freedom, peace and justice, as rooted in the values of the Jewish prophets. American Jews have always been involved in struggles for social justice and for tikkun olam. From Rabbi Heschel who walked arm in arm with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama and up to the Jewish students who go to fight for the rights of the refugees in Darfur.

 

Prior to the revolution of knowledge, globalization and social networks, our young people learned about Israel only in sunday schools. There they were told that Israel is a miracle of the Jewish people, the expression of its independence and strength. They were told that Israel is the land of milk and honey and that despite the wars, Israelis like us, dream about peace. We wanted to be proud of Israel and even when things happened here [in Israel] which were no cause for pride, we tried our best to hide, to minimize and to simplify them.

 

It is clear to all of us that in this era in which people, and particularly young people, consume huge amounts of information directly, there is no way to hide the complexity of Israel’s situation, the difference of opinions about Israel, and the internal debate amongst the Jewish people about the different options Israel faces in its struggle for its future and identity.

 

The contract between the Jews in Israel and their brothers in America, which was founded on basic assumptions and a reality that has changed over time, is about to expire. The perception of Israel amongst American Jews has changed. Dedicate some thought to your own lives – is there even one relationship, either personal or professional, in which one party consistently demands and receives total support, while the other party has no right to express its position and opinions?

 

We are presently engaged in drafting and creating a new Jewish contract, adapted to the new reality in which we are living today. A contract which represents above all our commitment to the safety and future of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, but also a clear and piercing statement derived from our Jewish values, that Israel must be a democratic state. The new contract cannot be based on unilateral dictation of what is right, who is right and who is wrong. Only agreement on common values and a genuine attempt to understand where each party comes from can reinstate an Israeli-American-Jewish partnership. Such new partnership will alter the trend of distancing from Israel and will widen the circles of those who take interest in it and are concerned with its future. Such new partnership will help us strengthen and consolidate our Jewish-American identity.

 

As you can probably tell, I was born and grew up here in Israel, I served as a commanding officer in Golani and afterward I studied abroad. Israel is precious to me, I have founded here successful companies that have contributed to the Israeli economy, I have been, and still am, involved in philanthropic activities in Israel and in America, I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Agency, I was active within the Jewish Federations, and I have even contributed to AIPAC.

 

A good businessman must pinpoint the next market and the next customer. The reason I founded J Street together with other Israel-loving people, was the recognition that the existing institutions in the United States do not appropriately represent the Jewish community. We must ask why, after years and years of investment and large amounts of money, only a handful of Jews take interest in Israel and the rate of Jewish assimilation continues to grow. Shouldn’t a new, more open and more liberal approach be adopted?

 

It is well known that the old Jewish establishment did not welcome the founding of J Street. This is how the world work: when a lifetime venture and sometimes also the source of revenue of a certain group of people depends on it, there is an opposition to change.

 

The reason for the huge growth of J Street and its development from a startup into a true organization which is active all across the United States, is that it represents a real movement, a group which we believe is the majority of American Jewry. Two weeks ago we held our yearly conference in Washington. There were more than 2000 people from all over the United States, including 500 students. 500 Jewish students who came to talk about Israel. It’s not something that can be taken today for granted.

 

In simple words, during the last three years we have expanded the market. We have not deprived anybody of their power. Thanks to J Street, there are today more Jews and more young people who consider Israel as part of their Jewish identity. You, our brothers in Israel, are responsible for conducting with us a sincere dialogue, to explain, to listen, to understand and to debate as well. Just as we have come to this committee in the Knesset to conduct a dialogue, we are inviting you to continue this discourse with us. We will be happy to host any Committee Member personally in the United States, in order for him to be acquainted with us and [our] activists’ deep support for Israel.

 

I repeat myself – do not reject these American Jews who support the state of Israel just because they do not agree with the policy of this or any other government. Those who impose upon us tests and hurdles – who is sufficiently Jewish for them, who is sufficiently loyal, and who is sufficiently pro-Israeli in their view – are endangering the unity of the Jewish people. While we are trying to broaden the support for Israel to additional groups, the present Israeli government pushes away and alienates the great majority of American Jewry.

 

We have come here because we wanted to present J Street again to Israeli decision-makers and to Israelis in general. We are not foolproof. We should have been more sensitive and attentive to the feelings of the Israeli public and we should have been more conscious of your sensitivities in the matters in which we have expressed our position. We are ready to accept this criticism, as long as it is part of a constructive discussion and not intended to defame us or as incitement against us.

 

The headline of this discussion today is: “Breaking the conventions of the relationship between communities of the Jewish world and the Israeli governments”. I have also read the speech of Knesset member Schneller in the Knesset, and it seems that in his view, in order to be considered pro-Israeli, an organization has to unconditionally support the Israeli government. As I have already said, we are against this approach, but I have a surprise for you: we are not the first and are certainly not the only ones who have disagreed with the Israeli governments. For example, the Zionist Organization of America has spoken harshly against the Israeli governments during the Oslo Agreements, the Disengagement Plan and lately has even criticized Netanyahu’s government with regard to the temporary freezing of settlements.

 

You condemn J Street for criticizing the lack of a political process, but you are indifferent when an American Jewish billionaire such as Sheldon Adelson finances a daily newspaper and blatantly tries to change the political map in Israel. You are indifferent when another Jewish millionaire such as Irwin Moskovich tries just as boldly to instigate dispute in Eastern Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs.

 

These “conventions” that we supposedly break never existed. We believe that Jews all over the world have the right to express their opinion in respect to Israel’s policy, from both the Right and the Left. There is no place for hypocrisy or preference of one opinion over another.

 

I shall finish with a quotation from the words of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, at a conference of “Taglit” Jewish young adults in 2003: “I want you to know that Israel is not just an Israeli project. Israel is a Jewish universal project. It is yours no less than it is ours and you share the responsibility for what will happen here. No, you don’t have to carry the whole burden upon your shoulders, but it is your responsibility, because whatever will happen in the future in the state of Israel, will influence the lives of Jews the world over.”

 

May the One who causes peace to reign in the highest heavens let peace descend upon us, upon all inhabitants of the world, and let us say: Amen.

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