The confusion and uncertainty arising from the presidential election campaign, together with the hostility generated over the new Israeli coalition, has emboldened a number of prominent Jewish progressives to initiate a new crusade implicitly criticizing the security policies of the democratically elected Israeli government. Their actions threaten bipartisan support for the Jewish state which has hitherto prevailed and are likely to encourage the Obama administration to endorse the pending United Nations and European diplomatic onslaught against Israel, imposing acceptance of a peace plan that would undermine its security.
The suggestion that the inclusion of Avigdor Lieberman in the government negates a two-state policy is cynical. Despite his fiery rhetoric and tough approach on security issues, Lieberman, more so than former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, has consistently supported a two-state solution together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the vast majority of Israelis.
The obstacle is not Israeli intransigence but security concerns and the absence of a genuine peace partner. The offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to Palestinian Authority Presidents Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, respectively, to return up to 97% of the territories previously occupied by Jordan, were rejected outright. Abbas refuses to negotiate because his ultimate goal has always been to bring an end to Jewish sovereignty rather than achieve statehood. Even if Abbas were to now favor an accommodation, he would find that the rabid incitement he nurtured has created such intense hatred that Palestinians would become enraged if he came to terms with Israel.
The strategy of Abbas has been to dismantle Israel in stages by diplomatic pressure. In this, he has been highly successful.
Israel will find itself in a very difficult situation if the Obama administration endorses the current French initiative. Public pronouncements by American Jewish leaders could have a significant impact on the policy platform to be adopted by the Democratic Party, which will influence the outgoing Obama administration.
Since the 2012 Democratic Party convention, when a fracas erupted over the issue of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it became clear that the more “liberal” elements were becoming increasingly hostile toward Israel. According to a recent Pew poll, Democratic voters remain supportive of Israel by a margin of 43% to 29%, but the growing hostility among the younger and more radical elements has surged in line with President Barack Obama’s policy of seeking to create more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel. This contrasts sharply with the Republicans, who are today overwhelmingly pro-Israel – by a margin of 75% to 7%.
The situation has been further aggravated by Jewish presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who, despite claiming to be pro-Israel, hired a fanatical anti-Israeli activist as his national Jewish outreach coordinator, even though he was obliged to drop her following exposure of her rabid anti-Israeli outbursts. Yet subsequently, he named five members of the Democratic Party platform, three of whom are considered hostile to Israel, including Cornel West, a rabid supporter of boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and James Zogby, president of the Arab American institute. Sanders expressly called on the drafting committee to distance itself from Israel and promote “Palestinian rights.”
Hillary Clinton, who, unless legally disqualified, will be the Democratic presidential candidate, conveyed all the right messages about Israel in her address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But these are pre-election promises and there is genuine concern that if elected, she will placate the powerful growing anti-Israeli minority in her party and continue, and perhaps even intensify, Obama’s current hostility against Netanyahu.
In the context of this maelstrom, liberal Jewish activists from the establishment saw fit to distance themselves from the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel and demonstrate to their progressive peers that they know better than Israelis what is good for them.
An example is Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who addressed a J Street student group, praising them for their sincerity and predicting that they would become the leaders of the future.
The liberal Israel Policy Forum, which had been outflanked by the more radical J Street, has emerged from hibernation and recruited new members, including Alan Solow, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a leading Jewish acolyte of Obama. In conjunction with a group of disgruntled retired leftist military officials in Israel, the IPF launched a campaign challenging the security policies of the current government and stipulating unilateral steps it believes Israel should take in order to achieve a two-state solution.
The implicit underlying message is that the current Israeli government is not promoting peace and opposes a two-state policy – which is utterly false. There is a consensus today shared by all the Zionist parties, which supports separation from the Palestinians, but in the light of experience is adamantly opposed to unilateral territorial concessions in the absence of secure borders and a peace partner. Nevertheless, this Diaspora-based group has the chutzpah to publicly pressure the government and the IDF to adopt security proposals on life-and-death issues which it considers it understands better than Israelis.
The IPF campaign also diverts attention from the PA’s refusal to recognize any form of Jewish sovereignty and its continual promotion of blood libels against Israel.
Unless this is repudiated by the committed Jewish leadership, the message conveyed will be that many, if not most, American Jews want to distance themselves from Israel. This could inflict major damage on Israel and encourage Obama to proceed with the Europeans to isolate and even sanction Israel.
It will also further alienate Democratic Party activists from Israel and falsely convey that Sanders represents a major Jewish constituency, impacting congressional bipartisan support and diminishing AIPAC’s influence.
Above all, it will send a message to both presidential candidates that, by and large, abandoning Israel would no longer necessarily affect their political standing in the pro-Israel Jewish community.
Although Israel is strong and will overcome its adversaries, over the next six months it may well face the toughest external diplomatic pressures it has ever encountered. With the Europeans at best standing on the sidelines, ongoing U.S. support remains vital to protect Israel from a wave of virulent anti-Israel resolutions and sanctions in global forums.
Today, the American people overwhelmingly support Israel. Committed American Jews represent a robust and influential community and most of their leadership are devoted Zionists and friends of Israel. They must not allow themselves to be intimidated and merely whisper or mutter about their anguish over the mistreatment of Israel. It is scandalous that today, the Zionist Organization of America is the only representative Jewish organization consistently speaking out against the Obama administration when Israel is being mistreated.
Committed American Jews should be spearheading a massive campaign urging the U.S. government and Congress to stand by Israel diplomatically in this time of need. The mainstream leadership should publicly dissociate itself and condemn Jewish “liberals” who are subliminally blaming Israel or extending moral equivalence between Israel and those seeking its destruction.
They should realize that if they fail to act against the possible abandonment of Israel by any administration and hesitate condemning Jews distancing themselves from Israel, history will record them as cowards who failed to stand up and be counted at what could be a crucial turning point in Jewish history.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom