sharon, AIPAC 298.88.
(photo credit: GPO [file])
We're now witnessing an intensifying campaign by unrepresentative left-wing American Jewish groups to pressure the Bush administration into softening its policy toward the Palestinian Authority.
In order not to distress the pro-Israel Jewish community, these doves employ Orwellian language. They do not demand the administration reverse its support for Israel. Instead they call for Washington to be "more involved" and "even-handed" to bring an end to the "ongoing violence and retribution" - all code language for downplaying the terrorism and incitement carried out as much by the Mahmoud Abbas factions as their Hamas counterparts. They want Israel to negotiate under fire, an end to sanctions against the Hamas-led PA; they favor negotiations with Hamas, and a range of concessions which will invariably lead to a greater toll in Israeli lives.
UNTIL RECENTLY, public support for Israel in the United States had reached an all time high. President George W. Bush is unquestionably the most pro-Israel president ever to have occupied the White House. Both Congress and the Senate have been fully supportive of Israel and opposition has been relegated to the fringes. Evangelical Christians have elevated support of Israel to one of their top priorities.
Yet storm clouds are brewing.
Charges of espionage against AIPAC officers represent an unprecedented affront to an ally. The situation on campus, where anti-Israeli activity has become the central focus of radical political activism, is disconcerting.
Segments of the US media were highly biased in their coverage of the Lebanon war. The brouhaha over the Israel lobby initiated by Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in a Harvard University paper has led to widespread campaigns demonizing AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies. Tony Judt, the Jewish historian promoting the view that Israel was a mistake and supporting a bi-national Israel-Palestinian entity, has provided an aura of respectability to the dismantling of the Jewish state.
These anti-Israeli sentiments are now infiltrating into the Democratic Party - for which the majority of American Jews vote. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, lost his Connecticut primary election to a relatively unknown leftist who challenged his support for the war in Iraq and thereby obtained support of a large percentage of Jewish voters.
THE SO-CALLED even-handedness campaign reflects a serious threat to Israel. But the most troublesome aspect is not the exaggerated public profile of bodies such as the Israel Policy Forum and Brit Zedek v'Shalom-the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. What's really worrying is the muted reaction to these activities by the organized Jewish community - with the exception of the American Jewish Congress and the hard-line Zionist Organization of America.
AIPAC is possibly the greatest success story of any American lobbying group. It has one overriding role: to strengthen the America-Israel relationship. At the same time, were AIPAC to initiate policies conflicting with the objectives of the Israeli government it would lose its grassroots support overnight.
Hence repeated allegations that AIPAC is hawkish are designed to undermine both AIPAC and support for Israel.
These left-wing bodies have already succeeded in diluting congressional legislation designed to cut aid for the Palestinian Authority unless it renounces terrorism. They supported State Department efforts to force Israel to make security concessions on border crossings which have resulted in a massive flow of arms into Gaza.
EVEN MORE alarming was the announcement by George Soros, one of the world's 10 wealthiest individuals, that he would employ his financial clout, with other Jewish billionaires, to create a new body to balance AIPAC's supposed hawkish policies. Soros has no interest in visiting Israel and no qualms about presenting himself as an anti-Zionist. Despite being a Holocaust survivor, he has insinuated that the Bush administration is hardly better than were the Nazis; he suggests Israel is largely to blame for the resurgence of anti-Semitism; and he generally takes pride in being openly critical of Israel, which his charity foundation ignores except for support of "the rights of Arabs in Israel."
Soros also promotes the bizarre belief that a weak rather than a strong Israel could best achieve a peace settlement with its neighbors.
The potential combination of Jewish leftists and liberal Jewish salon billionaires is worrisome. Their success would embolden the radical Jewish doves to more aggressively undermine the Bush administration's support of Israel. It is no coincidence that Meretz leader Yossi Beilin strongly supports the creation of the new body, which he says "would not compete with AIPAC but would portray another facet of American Jewry."
Regrettably, Ehud Olmert's government, which has the capacity to neutralize a Jewish organization that wants to undermine the prime lobbying vehicle of the pro-Israel community, will probably lack the courage to do so.
It will thus be left to the American Jewish establishment to confront the Soros-led anti-AIPAC initiative. Regrettably its track record in standing up to the demands of Jewish billionaires is hardly encouraging.
It will be a sad day for the Jewish people if the Israeli government buries its head in the sand, and American Jewish organizations remain silent, while a campaign to softly undermine and delegitimize AIPAC as "hawkish" proceeds.
Washington's backing for Israel is more crucial than ever. If American Jews are wrongly perceived as being divided over Israel - and what being pro-Israel is really about - the long term repercussions could be disastrous.
The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader.