It is ironic that many of the disconcerting themes relating to Israel in US President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech replicated those widely promoted for months by a noisy minority of radical American Jews. These “Israel bashers” now proudly proclaim that the new language being employed by Obama “echoes the vocabulary we use.”
On the eve of Binyamin Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington, a full page advertisement inserted by the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) appeared in The New York Times. Instead of the customary welcome message to a visiting prime minister or expressions of solidarity, it urged Obama to press Israel to make further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, assuring him that in the event of a confrontation, he would enjoy the backing of most American Jews because “they are not Israelis living in exile.” IPF’s Washington director, M.J Rosenberg, issued a call to neutralize “the minority of Jews falsely” purporting to present the Jewish community as “blind supporters” of the Israeli government.
ISRAEL POLICY FORUM is only one of a cluster of radical left-wing organizations that have the chutzpa to describe themselves as lovers of Israel and even “Zionists,” while actively lobbying the Obama administration to pressure Israel. They deviously sugarcoat their anti-Israeli campaigns by comparing themselves to parents whose children are drug addicts requiring “tough love” to force them to change their dangerous habits.These sentiments were effectively replicated in Obama’s Cairo speech.
They were joined in April last year by J Street, a new group initially funded by the Jewish tycoon George Soros who had achieved notoriety for demonizing successive Israeli governments irrespective of their political leanings.
J Street and another radical group, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, proudly announced that they had succeeded in persuading 11,000 of their members to bombard the White House with e-mails urging Obama to stand firm against Netanyahu.
During the Gaza offensive, J Street condemned the action against Hamas as “disproportionate.” Refusing to “pick a side” and identify “who was right and who was wrong,” it applied moral equivalency to both parties proclaiming that “we recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right and wrong… While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists amongst them.”
J Street also opposes Israel’s efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Despite the fact that Israelis of all political opinions are united on this issue, J Street members were e-mailed and urged to actively lobby against a bipartisan congressional resolution calling for tougher sanctions to be applied against Iran.
The radical groups also resurrected the bogus anti-Semitic charge of “dual loyalties,” warning Jews that by continued “blind” support of Israel, they risked alienating the American public and would be condemned for displaying greater loyalty toward Israel than the US. They were almost hysterical in their condemnation of Jews who exercised their rights to protest against the proposed appointment of the fiercely anti-Israel Charles Freeman to head the National Security Agency. IPF spokesmen went so far as to explicitly state that being an anti-Israeli fanatic was insufficient grounds for barring a person from assuming a senior administration role.
If there was any doubt about J Street, its endorsement of the British anti-Semitic play Seven Jewish Children, effectively a contemporary blood libel, placed it squarely in the camp of those seeking to demonize the Jewish state. It justified its support on the grounds that the play would promote “rigorous intellectual engagement and civil debate on which our community prides itself.”
J Street and IPF also seek to slander and undermine AIPAC, the highly effective pro-Israel lobby group, depicting it as an extreme right-wing and hawkish body although it has consistently promoted the policies of all Israeli governments, including the dovish administrations preceding Netanyahu.
IN AN ENVIRONMENT in which global anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel are beginning to make inroads into the United States, the potential of such radical groups to destabilize the standing of Israel should not be underestimated.
Never before has the Jewish community faced a situation in which organizations presenting themselves as Zionists shamelessly lobby their president to pressure the democratically elected government of the Jewish state to make concessions which could have life and death implications for its citizens.
Not that anti-Jewish Jews are a new phenomenon. Jewish communists were bitterly opposed to the campaign to liberate Soviet Jewry and defended state-sponsored anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. But they were marginalized and regarded as pariahs by the Jewish community.
The problem in the US is that the established Jewish leaders decided to ignore these organizations, mistakenly believing that confrontations would be construed as attempts to restrict freedom of expression and would transform the radicals into martyrs.
But the issue of freedom of expression is a red herring. Any Jew is entitled to express his beliefs, no matter how nauseating or deviant such views may appear to the majority. That certainly applies to those arguing in favor or in opposition to settlements. Surely the red lines are being crossed when, as distinct from expressing views, American based organizations claiming to “love” Israel aggressively lobby the US government to pressure it to make concessions that could place lives at risk. To tolerate such groups within the framework of the Jewish community provides them with an aura of respectability to which they are not entitled. Alas, today some of these groups already attend administration briefings on a par with the recognized mainstream organizations.
Furthermore, failure to confront these Israel bashers has already provided the general media with grounds to suggest that American Jewish support of Israel is collapsing. That has certainly encouraged the Obama administration to intensify its pressure on the Netanyahu government. It may also cause some weak-kneed Jews to distance themselves from Israel to avoid confronting a popular American president.
There are even ominous mutterings predicting a possible replay of what transpired during World War II, when fearing a confrontation and bedazzled by president Franklin Roosevelt, Jewish leaders lacked the courage to protest against the indifference of the US government to the Nazi extermination of the Jews.
Now, as never before, when the beleaguered State of Israel confronts Iran, potentially one of the greatest existential threats since its creation, the support of American Jews is crucial.
A united Jewish community should marginalize the anti-Israeli radicals and urge Obama (who received 80 percent of its votes) to stand by commitments made to Israel by previous US administrations in the same manner as the Netanyahu government is obliged to adhere to undertakings made by previous Israeli governments. A strong Jewish stand in this direction could effectively tip the balance in averting a catastrophic major rift between the US and Israel.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post