A feeling of disquiet and angst prevails among American Jews. Many share a gnawing concern that ambiguous signals from the Obama administration herald an erosion of the US-Israeli partnership.
The withdrawal of Charles Freeman as candidate for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council had a traumatic impact on many American Jews, already nervous about the potential fallout from a demonized new right-wing Israeli government as well as new allegations of war crimes related to the Gaza conflict. Although the icon of pro-Israel Jewish activists, Alan Dershowitz, proclaimed that it was the patriotic duty of American Jews to object to Freeman’s appointment, other than the ZOA, most Jewish organizations – including AIPAC – remained silent.
When Freeman, whose organization was actually sponsored by the Saudi government, began shrieking that he was forced to step down because of conspiratorial machinations by the all-powerful Jewish lobby, his tirade was widely publicized. American Jews, who over the past half century took pride in their democratic right to lobby and promote their interests, were stunned by the ferocity of the attacks, especially as Freeman’s eligibility was flawed on far broader grounds than his anti-Israeli venom. The attacks clearly emanated from powerful forces exploiting the opportunity to create a climate of hysteria about sinister Jewish power and control.
Equally disturbing were pronouncements by “dovish” Jewish fringe groups which also attracted considerable media coverage. The most scandalous outburst emanated from the Israel Policy Forum, representing itself as a Zionist body. Its press releases actively supported Freeman’s candidacy, alleging that AIPAC and other Jewish bodies were determined to control US foreign policy. Its pronouncements were so outlandish that its chairman, Seymour Reich, finally saw the light and resigned.
In this strained atmosphere, intensified by the Obama administration’s disconcerting policy of “engaging” jihadist groups, there are legitimate fears that pressures may be exerted on Israel to assume the role of the sacrificial lamb to assuage Muslim sensitivities.
Seventy-eight percent of Jews voted for Barack Obama. Under normal circumstances that should provide sufficient comfort for them to uninhibitedly express concern about policies they feel could endanger Israel’s security. But some Jews now appear hesitant to be perceived as publicly criticizing a newly elected Democrat administration headed by a popular president. Understandably, there is also a growing fear of the impact from the ever-increasing anti-Semitic agitation which is reinforced by the financial meltdown. The frightening nightmare, which few American Jews are even willing to contemplate, is that the US could follow the anti-Semitic pattern now encompassing Europe. In fact, this has already become a reality on US campuses.
IN THIS CONTEXT, DURBAN represents a litmus test of the ability and willingness of American Jewish leaders to stand firm. Opinion is divided as to the strategy to be employed. The powerful American Jewish Committee is inclined to avoid public confrontations, maintaining that silent diplomacy and discrete persuasion are more effective. That explains why the AJC initially opposed boycotting Durban II.
When the Obama administration decided to partake in the preparatory committee of Durban II, the AJC accepted an invitation to join the US delegation. That decision was bitterly condemned by many of those trying to persuade the US to boycott the conference. They claimed, with considerable justification, that it was a tactical blunder to encourage a perception that a body totally controlled by the Organization of Islamic Conference and rogue states, chaired by Libya with Iran and Cuba serving as deputy chairs, could possibly be anything other than an instrument for promoting evil. To make matters worse, the US delegation sat on its hands during the proceedings of the committee while vicious demonization of Israel took place, and even remained silent when Iran objected to a resolution condemning Holocaust denial.
Ultimately however, the US government withdrew from Durban II. While the AJC insisted that its persuasion played a major role in achieving this decision, the more likely reason was the devastating media exposure and condemnation of the behavior of those controlling the proceedings. The other factor was the stubborn refusal of the preparatory committee to even pay lip service to decency by amending its disgusting draft document which demonized Israel and shamelessly promoted narrow Islamic objectives.
HOWEVER, IT MAY be premature to celebrate the US withdrawal. The decision not to participate was made with a caveat that the US would reconsider its decision if the preparatory committee amended its draft and deleted some of the most offensive sections. In fact since then, the Durban organizers have come to the realization that by accepting an abbreviated draft excluding the most offensive sections, the US could conceivably still attend and that would encourage most of the wavering European and other countries to do likewise.
The amended draft nevertheless reaffirms the flawed Durban I declaration, and will not have any impact on the nature of the conference, which remains under the control of the same villains. Clearly they are determined to create another hate fest in which, under the guise of promoting human rights and combating racism, anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel will again dominate the proceedings.
The ambiguity of the US stance in this matter is highlighted by the fact that simultaneously with the announcement suspending its participation in Durban II, America proclaimed that it had revoked the Bush administration’s boycott and would henceforth partake in proceedings of the UN Human Rights Council and even seek election to the council. US legitimization of this bizarre body is unquestionably a retrograde step. Contrary to its Orwellian title, the council is the antithesis of human rights, and spends most of its time demonizing Israel and promoting the interests of the Islamic Council. It is totally dominated by Islamic and rogue states and will undoubtedly continue providing a platform for promoting anti-Semitism and other evil practices.
Will the American Jewish leadership publicly remonstrate against the government should it decide to partake in Durban II? If that is its intention, is should now initiate a campaign demonstrating that a conference purportedly promoting human rights which is dominated by tyrants and anti-Semites is bogus. It should also urge the government not to participate in the UN Human Rights Council, which should be marginalized until it reforms itself and genuinely promotes human rights. The response of the Obama administration could be a preview of what Israel and the Jewish people can expect in the years to come.
We will also learn whether American Jewish leaders will be retaining their proud tradition of public action combined with diplomacy, or whether they will retreat into the more comfortable approach of relying on discrete behind-the-scenes advocacy which in isolation has invariably proved to be ineffective. Fortunately it is highly unlikely that American Jewish leaders would ever revert to the policies of their predecessors during World War II, who failed to raise their voices out of fear of anti-Semitism.