Backhanded Jewish support for Middle East peace

Despite public protestations to the contrary, privately few Israelis or American Jewish leaders believe Kerry has the full faith and credit of the “pro-Israel” brand.

US Secretary of State John Kerry. (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Secretary of State John Kerry.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Most Israeli politicians and American Jewish leaders now seem to agree: US Secretary of State John Kerry’s pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace does not render him an anti-Semite.
No one should mistake such dubious compliments for a ringing endorsement. Despite public protestations to the contrary, privately few Israelis or American Jewish leaders believe Kerry has the full faith and credit of the “pro-Israel” brand.
Whenever Palestinian and Arab leaders advocate dialogue and reconciliation before Western audiences, the pro-Israel community reflexively responds with a challenge: We’ll believe it when you say it to your own people. One can’t claim to support bold moves for peace while mostly warning the hometown crowd about the inherent risks.
This is what major American Jewish organizations are now doing to the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and even his right-wing foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, have praised Kerry’s current initiative.
Organizational leaders have issued statements of support. Yet, in conference calls with administration officials and in events around the country, these same leaders and their staffs consistently raise caveats, doubts and concerns. When it comes to Mideast peace, it’s no accident that US officials view contact with most Jewish organizations as “damage control” rather than proactive cooperation.
Jewish leaders ask their constituents to call Congress for more sanctions against Iran, even while an interim nuclear deal is going into effect. They warn of dire consequences if various groups effect a cultural or academic boycott of Israel or the West Bank, and they remind us indefatigably that Israel remains vulnerable on all fronts. But they have neglected to send out any “Action Alert” to generate tangible support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process they and Netanyahu publicly agree is a worthy undertaking.
Members of Congress know enough to distinguish between statements “for the record” and actual priorities of key donors and activists.
Having 150 individual notables sign a letter under the banner of a pro-peace group like the Israel Policy Forum is helpful, but that’s not the same as getting other organizations to take a stand and mobilize resources on the ground.
The explicitly pro-peace J Street, still vilified or at best suspect among the Presidents’ Conference and AIPAC faithful, has launched an almost renegade national grassroots campaign in support of an improbably extreme cause: the very two-state solution that nearly every Jewish organization officially says it supports, but which nearly none has mobilized to help make happen.
The most established and influential Jewish organizations, which consistently profess their (and Israel’s) support for just this type of diplomacy, haven’t put themselves on the line. Worse, by paying lip service to “Middle East peace” and to Kerry’s “bold plan,” with little positive follow-up, a laundry list of concerns and an open microphone to all Israeli critics of Kerry, they are implicitly messaging that Kerry – and his boss, President Barack Obama – are endangering the Jewish state.
Every few weeks, when one of Netanyahu’s coalition partners goes too far by insulting Kerry or rejecting the premise of a two-state solution, a few mainstream Jewish groups issue pro forma condemnations. But by failing to expend any political capital – on Capitol Hill or among Jewish audiences around the country – these organizations are encouraging more insults and mistrust from Israelis, American politicians and concerned Jews.
And such responses serve mostly to preserve the organizations’ own credibility, reinforcing their disclaimer that support for Netanyahu doesn’t contradict the enshrined principle of land for peace.
We’re very good at raising awareness of dangers from Syria and Iran, delegitimizing of Israel, the UN’s war against Jews, European anti-Semitism, and certainly the duplicity of Palestinian leaders – all worthy causes. But where are the mass-distributed “talking points” for Jewish activists to use in convincing their friends to give Kerry a chance? Where are the letter-writing campaigns, Twitter hashtag challenges, speaking tours for champions of helping Israel realize its stated goal of a negotiated peace? Is any non-“peacenik” organization willing to risk the ire of the vocal pro-Likud minority of American Jews, by actively campaigning for what the State of Israel officially says it wants? If these questions come across as rhetorical, so should most of the pro-peace statements by the more established Jewish groups. If we are unable or unwilling as a community to actively and substantively promote this best and possibly final chance for a deal, despite the Israeli prime minister’s own stamp of approval, then we should stop claiming at every turn that we support a negotiated twostate solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
The author formerly served in executive capacities with national and international Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, American Council for World Jewry, and NCSJ.