October 16, 2006
Backers of Dovish American Jewish Initiative Deny Opposing AIPAC
When JTA ran a story last week about an initiative backed by George Soros (or not yet backed if you believe Rosner's reports below) and other powerful dovish American Jewish leaders, it noted that one of the purposes of the initiative would be to present a progressive counter to AIPAC. All of this seems perfectly reasonable to any reasonable American Jew. But the 900lb gorilla Goliath has taken notice of little David standing beneath him and he's roared his annoyance. As a result, it's humorous to see the erstwhile progressives scurrying like ants to backtrack:
Jewish organizational officials who have participated in the meetings said JTA's characterization of their aim in a story earlier this week, as an alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was wrong...
Those currently leading the effort say they're happy to work with AIPAC.
"My involvement is that Mort Halperin's an old friend," said Mel Levine, a former U.S. Democratic congressman who is now a high-powered West Coast lawyer. "Mort asked me to go to an initial exploratory meeting about a pro-Israel advocacy organization that would focus on a two-state solution, that would focus on Israel and was not in competition with anyone else."
That did not usurp AIPAC'S role of advocating for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, Levine said.
Shmuel Rosner, who should be writing for the Jerusalem Post instead of Haaretz, later published a story in which the group's organizers adopt a strikingly more abject attitude to AIPAC. Since Rosner is a journalistic advocate of an AIPAC-like approach to Israel, one has to take what he writes with a grain of salt. In addition, a few items he mentions seem to contradict JTA, which had the original story. But it's an interesting take nonetheless, which shows how much deference even those Jews who take issue with AIPAC feel the have to exhibit towards it:
Yesterday, David Elcott of the IFP called Howard Khor [sic], executive director of AIPAC, and promised that he would not support any initiative whose purpose is to challenge AIPAC.
Khor is certain that the damage has already been done: Presenting AIPAC as an organization that does not represent the overall Jewish community necessarily unermines [sic] its power.
Either way, nine of those involved in the initiative were interviewed by Haaretz yesterday, most anonymously, and all adopted the same stance: We do not oppose AIPAC, but want to act alongside it and further a cause we consider important - namely, encouraging a growing U.S. involvement in finding a solution to the conflict.
The organizers are careful to distinguish their goals from attacking AIPAC. They say they aim to influence U.S. policy toward greater engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They claim there's more than enough room for two groups with slightly overlapping, but not inimical missions. While some of this is no doubt true, to me it seems like a sop to the rightist group's supporters. Those involved with the new group may rightly be saying: "if we have to face off against AIPAC, let's not do it now. Let's wait and do it on our terms and when the stakes are high enough to warrant it." If they are thinking that then I grant some validity to such a perspective.
But Elcott's protestations to the contrary, this new initiative, if it gets off the ground, must challenge AIPAC's hegemony over U.S. Israel policy. There is simply no way around that. By its very nature, AIPAC sucks up all the air in the room and demands that you acknowledge it as American Jewry's sole and singular voice on this matter. Any other well-funded, well-organized alternative will be seen as inimical to AIPAC's interests. And it will be. It must be if it is to really represent an alternative. And if its founders do not want it to represent an alternative there is simply no reason for it to exist. We already have namby pamby national Jewish organizations whose positions on Israel are milder than AIPAC's, but no threat to it like American Jewish Committee. Why would there be a need for another milquetoast Jewish group like it when it comes to Israel policy? There isn't.
And did you ever hear such whining in the passage above by Kohr ("Presenting AIPAC as an organization that does not represent the overall Jewish community necessarily unermines [sic] its power.") The idea that AIPAC represents "the overall Jewish community" is a delusion in the minds of AIPAC's true believers. And such hegemonic statements only prove many of Mearsheimer-Walt's criticisms regarding the group to have been right on the money.
And at least one of the organizers of the group who spoke anonymously seems to "get," even if obliquely, the need to take on AIPAC:
We put out a model of a product and go into the marketplace of ideas and compete. We are a group of people who are looking for the best way to ensure Israel’s survival and future,” said one organizer, who asked not to be identified. “We’re going into existence because this product is not being offered right now. We want to make sure that this point of view has a clear and loud voice.”
I never write about Rosner's hidebound, parochial views of the Israeli-Arab conflict since they shed almost no light that is useful in my opinion. And his characterization of AIPAC here illustrates my point perfectly:
The real fuss surrounding the new group stems from the perceived challenge it poses to AIPAC…the prominent pro-Israel lobby group whose character is perceived by some of its more dovish members as being overly on the right....
It is fair to say that American Jewry leans toward the dovish end of the political spectrum. It can also be said, and to a great extent proved, that AIPAC does not always rush to represent this dominant dovish sentiment. Many are angered by this omission, but others agree that this is not enough to undermine an institution whose existence and success they consider important.
Notice, Rosner cannot bear to come right out and say that AIPAC is a rightist organization so he raises the issue in as non-threatening way as he can: "[a] group whose character is perceived by some…as being overly on the right." And the statement "AIPAC does to always rush to represent this dominant dovish sentiment" wreaks of understatement. AIPAC never represents this dovish sentiment. The group doesn't have a dovish bone in its body. There may be dovish American Jews who are members or even leaders of AIPAC but they will never represent the prevailing political views of the group. The group is hawkish to the bone. It fetes wingnuts like Michael Ledeen and John Bolton at its annual conferences. It advocates war with Iran.
If this new group doesn't take on these noxious positions that are diametrically opposed to those of the majority of American Jews, then it should not exist. I have confidence that if such a group does come into existence it will take on these issues and AIPAC. But the fact that Elcott and the other organizers have had to do this delicate minuet to prove their fealty to AIPAC proves yet again that Mearsheimer and Walt were not far wrong in their characterization of the stranglehold which AIPAC has on the American Jewish community when it comes to Israel.
Finally, Rosner's take on Soros' involvement contradicts both of JTA's stories which claim that Soros and his chief political strategist, Morton Halperin, are key leaders of the initiative. Also, Rosner's "take" on Soros' views about Israel are laughably hysterical:
The most intriguing donor whose assistance the group will try to solicit is financier George Soros, who will meet them later this month. A Soros aide, Morton Halperin, took part in the group's meeting.
So far, Soros has only promised to meet, and it is not clear whether his views on Israel will not prove to be an obstacle. Some consider Soros anti-Zionist, and in the past, he has accused Israel's policies of fomenting anti-Semitism in Europe.
Rosner appears to believe in the "litmus test" approach to Israel activism. You may be able to get away with critcizing Israel. But you must do it in a delicate, and never combative way. So the idea that Israel's recalcitrance in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raised the temperature to a boiling point in Muslim communities around the globe and perhaps ignited extremist terror in places like Europe–this type of statement makes you anti-Zionist in Rosner's world. You notice Rosner didn't say he considered Soros anti-Zionist. He used that journalist's tired crutch: "some consider Soros anti-Zionist." Who is "some?" No doubt, the very AIPAC staffers and leadership that are charting the progress of this potentially threatening new organization with suspicion. I've got news for Rosner. Soros' views on Israel will not prove to be a problem (except to AIPAC). I just heard Soros last week on Charlie Rose and his comments on the Israeli-Arab conflict are completely consonant with my own and probably 60%+ of American Jewry.
But certainly Soros' views make Rosner and his friends in AIPAC very nervous. And as this project gets going AIPAC will not let a moment go by without reminding the world of Soros' alleged perfidy toward Israel. They did the same thing to Cynthia McKinney and many others. It will be harder, however, to impeach George Soros' character and Jewishness, but they will try using information like this. But I think he has some pretty good credentials to combat such attacks.
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Hmmm. Hadn't thought of this but:
AIPAC:American Jewry::Muslim Council of Britain:British Muslims?
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at October 17, 2006 10:03 AM
I was thinking along the same lines, except AIPAC are by far less comic and more relevant.
Posted by: Ali K at October 17, 2006 12:59 PM
The political/social environment in the US (incl. within the Jewish community) does not seem terribly conducive to meaningful debate on Israeli-Arab issues. Rather more conducive to immediate polarization, i.e. with us or against us.
Though I keep hearing from different places that there is a new plan for Mideast peace in the works.
Posted by: eerie at October 17, 2006 05:37 PM