“Dovish” American Jewish groups are frenziedly urging the incoming Obama Administration to prioritize pressuring Israel to make further unilateral concessions.
Although it is idle speculation to try to predict the policy that President-elect Barack Obama is likely to adopt in relation to Israel, one would be tempted to assume that the Middle East would, in these times, be low in his order of priorities and he would primarily be concentrating his energies on the devastating domestic economic meltdown.
Although undertakings made during elections are frequently repudiated, we can take comfort in the fact that over the course of the election campaign , Obama’s stance towards Israel became increasingly supportive. My impression of Obama is that he seems to be more of a pragmatist than a hard core ideologue.
The appointment of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State reinforces this. On the other hand, the appointment of Samantha Power, even to a junior role in the Obama foreign policy team, is troubling. And the rumor that former US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer is being considered as Obama’s personal Middle East envoy is absolutely chilling. Despite being Jewish, Kurtzer would be deeply resented by whatever Israeli government is elected. His radical views are exemplified by his criticism of Dennis Ross as being too pro-Israel and blaming President Clinton “for acceding to Barak’s request to blame Arafat for the failure of Camp David”.
Yet despite the troubling presence of a few Arabists in his entourage, Obama must be aware that notwithstanding the passionate internal Jewish debate concerning his bona-fides, 78% of Jews voted for him, believing that he would stand by Israel. He also knows that Americans today are more positively inclined towards Israel than at any time since its creation.
However during the interregnum prior to Obama formally assuming his office in the White House, the ongoing flow of euphoric and upbeat “peace in our time” statements being proclaimed by our dysfunctional Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is sending all the wrong messages. That President Shimon Peres passionately promotes the flawed Saudi Arabian peace plan as a basis for a comprehensive settlement with the Palestinians is also disconcerting.
Raising false expectations of an illusionary peace settlement will not merely make it difficult for a new Israel Prime Minister to reintroduce urgently needed deterrence. It may also intensify the likelihood of a new military conflict which could involve both Hamas and Iranian-backed Hizbullah.
But an even greater problem is that prior to assuming the Presidency, Obama is being lobbied intensively by
American Jewish left wing groups such as J Street, Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom who are urging him to speedily intervene and exert pressure on what they regard as an intransigent Israel. These groups have the gall to describe themselves as Zionists and claim to be legitimate voices of the mainstream Jewish community.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, stated that the policies promoted by his group were based on their “very strong opinion about what is best for Israel and what is best for the United States when it comes to issues of peace and diplomacy”. They are adamant that despite being domicile in America, they have a better understanding of what is good for Israel than the elected government. A recent Israel Policy Forum statement went so far as to tell American Jews that whilst they may be friends of Israel, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and that is the message they should be sending to the incoming Obama Administration.
They have the effrontery to tar as extremists or hawks, all who do not accept the disastrous 2001 Taba Agreement consummated during the dying days of the Barak government after it had already lost the mandate of the nation. They assure Obama that American Jews will “not go to the barricades” in defense of what they describe as “hard line” Israeli governments. Yet they seek to exert additional US pressure on a weak Israeli government which under Prime Minister Olmert has already virtually unilaterally conceded to the Palestinians everything up the indefensible 1967 borders.
Brit Tzedek V’ Shalom persuaded 800 US Rabbis to sign a letter calling on Obama, to speedily intervene and resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. They also supported the election to Congress of candidates with track records of hostility to the Israeli government. Israel Policy Forum spokesman MJ Rosenberg even went so far as to publicly urge Obama to bring on board as an adviser, Robert Malley, an apologist for the PLO who holds Israel responsible for the Arab-Israeli conflict and favors direct negotiations with Hamas. Rosenberg also colorfully predicted that Obama’s recently appointed Jewish chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, would tell “right wing Jews who complain, to stick it up their ass”.
These “Zionists” are also frenziedly attempting to undermine AIPAC, describing it as an extremist right wing body, overlooking the fact that AIPAC is entitled to much of the credit for having created a pro Israeli environment in Congress and that the bulk of their supporters voted for Obama in the elections. Indeed, far from being right wing, AIPAC effectively promotes the policies of whatever Israeli government is in office. As an indication of the lengths they are willing to stoop, the Jewish Policy Forum even explicitly endorsed the false anti-Israeli mantra that current US policies are merely designed to appease AIPAC, the Jewish lobby and that Israel today represents the principal factor undermining America’s standing in the Muslim world.
The main reason for the increasing chutzpa of these radical groups is the failure, since the Oslo Accords, of Israeli governments to retain close ties with Diaspora Jewish leaders. Too often, instead of regarding Diaspora Jews as genuine partners entitled to a voice on matters regarding the Jewish nation which do not impact on Israel’s security and foreign affairs, politicians have merely viewed them as sources for raising funds.
Nobody seeks to deny anyone the right to express their views. In the days of the campaign for Soviet Jewry we had Jewish communists defending Soviet anti-Semitism. But everyone was aware that they were a fringe group despised by the mainstream Jewish community. However today, it is shameful that
American Jewish leaders have failed to condemn and exorcise from their ranks, organizations openly lobbying the US government to pressure Israel to adopt their political viewpoint.
Too often American Jewish leaders tell me “The best is to ignore these wretched people. We don’t want to transform them into martyrs”. But by burying their heads in the sand and refusing to confront these radicals who urge the incoming administration to pressure Israel, the Jewish establishment is providing a cloak of respectability to elements that have the potential of inflicting great damage and already represent an increasing threat to the well-being of the Jewish state. That applies especially over the next few months when the first priority of the newly elected Israeli government must be to forge new relationships with the Obama administration.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post