Storm clouds ahead

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On the surface, the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been better.

The Bush Administration is today more understanding of Israel’s position than any of its predecessors; the extent of evangelical Christian is unprecedented; and backing for Israel in opinion polls remains solid. Yet having met with a cross section of American Jewish leaders during a recent visit to New York, I fear that there are grounds for serious concern.

The deterioration on the campus continues and the demonization of Israel, frequently accompanied by anti-Semitism, now transcends all other campus political issues. Hostile campaigns are frequently spearheaded by anti-Israeli activists of Jewish origin, and the majority of Jewish students avoid involvement either because they are indifferent, or in many cases simply because they are frightened. Moreover, when these youngsters become older, a substantial proportion of them are unlikely to maintain the same level of support for Israel as their parents.

It should also be noted that anti-Jewish rhetoric is now rapidly penetrating the political mainstream. The recurring tirades against “Jewish neoconservatives” allegedly controlling the White House; Lewis Libby is already being portrayed in anti-Semitic web sites as “one more Jewish Neocon Traitor”; the outrageous behavior of the liberal Protestant denominations engaging in anti-Israel boycotts via divestment; the growing hostility against Israel being displayed in many of the antiwar demonstrations; and the increasing number of liberals, formerly our best friends, who now distance themselves from Israel – all represent grounds for serious concern.

The unprecedented indictments against senior professional AIPAC leaders, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, must be viewed as manifestations of ominous winds of change. It is highly disconcerting when leaders of the most powerful Jewish lobbying organization are publicly accused of having “conspired” to obtain improper access to classified information with the obvious intention of exploiting Jewish concerns about association with espionage. This is particularly bizarre in view of the fact that the indicted AIPAC officers merely did was what every journalist does every day.

And what was the nature of the “secret” information? Not classified American secrets but a sting operation based on a fabricated story about Israelis being endangered by terrorists.

Under normal circumstances, if there was a genuine concern that the lobby of an allied power was technically breaching security procedures, a firm reprimand to those involved or their superiors would have been more appropriate than an elaborately engineered trap including wiretaps. It is also disconcerting that the federal prosecutor in this case is a very senior officer and has just been nominated for the post of deputy attorney-general.

The manner in which the AIPAC Board abandoned and distanced themselves from these long standing senior employees is also problematic. Those concerns are further reinforced by the fact that at their last major AIPAC gathering even the customary singing of Hatikva at the close of proceedings was aborted.

THE OTHER burning issue is the Jonathan Pollard case which understandably remains a highly sensitive matter for most American Jews who regard the episode as a blot on their standing. They usually prefer to avoid discussing the issue despite the fact that the responsibility for the entire mess is exclusively due to Israel’s bungling.

Pollard is unquestionably guilty of espionage. But even if the accusations about Pollard being his own worst enemy are valid, and even if today he still sounds shrill and hysterical – the fact remains that he has been incarcerated for 20 years for handing over secrets to an ally of the United States. It is now being bandied about that he must serve at least another 10 years before he becomes eligible for parole. Soviet spies, including traitors responsible for the death of allied agents have been treated more humanely.

There are many unanswered questions. Why is Pollard still in prison? Why has his sentence not been commuted on humanitarian grounds? Are the authorities making an example of him? If so, why? To intimidate American Jews? Because of anti-Semitism? What other explanation is there?

Despite the recent announcements that the crisis has ended, the ongoing confrontations with the US Defense Department over the arms deals with India and China are problematic. Whilst there may well have been legitimate grounds for American irritation with mistakes or heavy handed Israeli practices in the sale of sensitive defense equipment, the needlessly public stance adopted by the Defense Department in this matter was offensive and not what one would expect from an ally.

In conjunction with these negative vibes, there has of late also been a marked erosion in the relationship between Israel and the current administration. Yasser Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas is being portrayed by President George W. Bush as a noble partner for peace, despite the fact that to date everything he has said and done points to the contrary.

In fact, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have even begun employing Clintonian language of moral equivalency which fails to distinguish between killers and victims. There is renewed talk of “cycles of violence,” of the “need for restraint,” and continuous references to the road map without emphasis on the fact that it obligates the Palestinians to first dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

More importantly, Israel is being urged to make further unilateral concessions including the release of more prisoners and providing greater freedom of movement to Palestinians all of which only seem to contribute toward more funerals for Israeli civilians.

Sharon’s desire to satisfy Bush is understandable. But even under Labor governments, Israel did find it occasionally necessary to adopt independent positions which displeased the US administration. Today, we appear to be in the process of becoming transformed into a US satellite. That was exemplified with Ma’aleh Adumim. Prime Minister Sharon had originally promoted disengagement to Israelis largely on the basis that as a quid pro quo Bush would support Israel’s retention of the major settlement blocs.

But now he has apparently capitulated to all American demands and aborted all building activity, including the construction of the road link from Ma’aleh Adumim to the capital. This suggests that Sharon is becoming totally subservient to the administration.

There is of course no disputing that the US as a friendly superpower remains crucial to Israel’s security. But it becomes an untenable relationship if Israel is now going to blindly acquiesce to every American request, including matters directly affecting the security of our civilians.

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