Abe Foxman 224.88 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Attending the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute conference in Jerusalem
several weeks ago, I was fascinated that one of the panels focused on a very old
issue: the role of Diaspora Jewry in the making of Israeli policies regarding
peace and security.
I’ve been around long enough to have heard and
participated in many such debates. I also can recall the days when a consensus
of sorts existed in the American Jewish community on the subject.
years, it was taken as a given by the majority of American Jewish organizations
– those on the left and the right, as well as those in the center – that the
community would support the decisions of the democratically elected government
of Israel, no matter the government, on matters pertaining to peace and
security. Or at the very least, if the community was not comfortable with
outright support on every issue, it would not engage in public criticism of
The fact that this issue has surfaced once
again, in a forum which sees itself as the think tank concerning the future of
the Jewish people, reflects a changing dynamic over the years which has had a
significant impact on that earlier consensus.
Both the Left and the Right
in the community participated in the unraveling of this consensus. The Left,
beginning in the late 1980s and taking a cue from some Israeli leaders on the
left, began to suggest that American Jews had a responsibility to speak out,
particularly against settlement policy. Reasons given for this shift included
saving Israel from itself and the need to reinvigorate an increasingly apathetic
American Jewish community alienated by Israeli policies.
following the Oslo process, more surprisingly, the Right joined the fray. I say
more surprisingly, because the Right historically had been most forceful in
emphasizing the need to support Israeli policies and was often most critical of
those who strayed from this path.
But the Right now began to move, even
going so far in some cases as to lobby members of Congress against the policies
of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres seeking peace with the Palestinians. Their
criticism focused on their claim that Israeli lives were being jeopardized by
concessions to the Palestinians, whom they said remained terrorists, and
therefore American Jews had a moral obligation to stand up.
When it was
pointed out how short-sighted the Right was being because right-wingers would
someday need the support of the rest of the community (even more than the Left
because US criticism of Israel more often was directed at right-wing
governments), when one of their own once again became prime minister, the Right
shrugged it off.
Of course, there remained the center organizations like
ADL, which stuck to their guns. We believed in the wisdom of the old consensus
position which had served us and Israel so well for so many years.
view, the two main arguments for this position remain as potent as ever. First
was respect for the people of Israel who every day face life and death decisions
because of the threats that are ever present. I consider myself as staunch a
Zionist as anyone, but I always understood the difference between my living
comfortably in America and the Israeli people who were on the frontlines of the
struggle. Respect for that reality and faith in the democratic process of Israel
generated a profound sense of reserve about telling Israelis what they had to
Second was the impact on the American domestic scene. The ability of
the community to have influence with Congress and the administration, not to
mention the public at large, at any given time was deemed to be related to the
perception of how strongly the community was supporting Israel. A divided
community, one where there was a free-forall with everyone telling Israel what
to do and many criticizing its policies, was seen as weakening the community’s
impact on American policymakers.
Politicians had less of a need to pay
attention if they were hearing a cacophony of voices.
AND NOW comes the
issue of Jerusalem. We are hearing even from some who have long argued that
Israel has to decide for itself that this issue is unique and requires Diaspora
involvement. There is no doubt that Jerusalem is the supreme issue of the Jewish
people, its heart and soul.
However, I don’t believe the importance of
the issue to all Jews justifies abandoning our long-standing position.
still is Israelis above all who will have to live everyday with the consequences
of whatever approach they take. And to accept this view would inevitably lead to
the further loosing of the old ideal of nonpartisan support for
It is most unfortunate, in my view, that so many on the left and
right feel free to go their own way regarding matters pertaining to Israeli
peace and security positions. At the very least, we in the center who see
ourselves as nonpartisan must be steadfast to avoid a free-for-all that in the
end would hurt Israel and undermine the impact of American Jews or US Middle
East policy making.The writer is the national director of the
Anti-Defamation League. His books include
Jews and Money: The Story of a
Stereotype (Palgrave Macmillan, November 2010) and
The Deadliest Lies: The
Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.