Why can't they be friends?

When it comes to the pro-Israel mainstream, there's no such thing as "too right-wing" on Israel.

pro israel rally 88 (photo credit: )
pro israel rally 88
(photo credit: )
Grab a pencil: Consider the following statements, each by a prominent newsmaker. Next to each rate their friendliness to Israel on a scale from one (least friendly) to five (most friendly). 1. "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights [among Palestinians of the occupied territories], then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." 2. "If America puts pressure on Israel to divide Jerusalem we are following the blueprint of the Prince of Darkness. Amos 3:2 states that any nation that divides the Land of Israel will come under the severe judgment of God." My hunch is that the first statement will resonate among the American Jews and other Israel supporters who back a two-state solution not out of any great love of the Palestinians but because they don't see a viable alternative. They might define "friendliness" as anything the West can do to help Israel make the tough choices to achieve peace with security - and prevent the Palestinians from making the suicidal, and homicidal, choices that would sabotage it. The second statement is likely to speak to pro-Israel hard-liners, who may not share the speaker's theology but certainly see dire consequences were Israel to abet the creation of a Palestinian state with a "shared" capital in Jerusalem. Friendliness to Israel, they might argue, is preventing Israel from being pressured to return territories that will later serve as the next staging ground for terrorism. Now ask yourself this: How might an American politician be judged by the "pro-Israel community" were he or she to utter either statement? Controlling for hot-button expressions like "apartheid" and "Prince of Darkness," which is the riskier statement for a mainstream politician to make? Which statement would likely get a politician an invitation to the next Zionist Organization of America convention? WHEN IT comes to the pro-Israel mainstream, there's no such thing as "too right-wing" on Israel. The Rev. John Hagee, who uttered the second statement above, has proven that in recent weeks. When Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, suggested that his followers keep their distance from the evangelical minister and his "theology of despair," he was subjected to ridicule. Yoffie was surely in the minds of the seven Jewish leaders, each a former chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who signed a letter to The New York Times reasserting their support for Hagee. "Pastor Hagee has been a true friend of Israel for many years," they wrote. I don't share Hagee's theology or his Mideast politics, but I'll say this: Hagee has been a true friend to Israel. I was disappointed with Yoffie's statement - even as I agree with him when he says that Hagee's vision of Israel "would lead to diplomatic isolation, increased violence, and the loss of Israel's Jewish majority." I was disappointed because Yoffie's speech was a mirror image of one I've heard at too many right-wing events, from speakers who don't just disagree with the "peace camp" but suggest, as Yoffie does of Hagee, that their views are not "acceptable or right." It's the "acceptable" that worries me. It suggests that certain views take you outside the pro-Israel camp. Yoffie surely must remember the time when speaking of a two-state solution was an "unacceptable" position in the Jewish community. Those who advocated it were scorned and blacklisted. It took Yitzhak Rabin's election to make it safe to be an American-Jewish dove. Yoffie is right to remind us that the two-state solution is the policy of the last five Israeli governments, including the current one, and that it is also the position of the US government, all the current presidential candidates - and the overwhelming majority of the American-Jewish community. But it is a failure of the activist imagination to reject the support of an influential pastor and his generous flock because he rebuts this consensus. BUT IF it's wrong for Yoffie to label Hagee's views "unacceptable," it's wrong for other pro-Israel advocates to question the pro-Israel creds of any politician or pundit who refuses to pander to the Right. Watch all three candidates contort themselves when asked what the United States' role should be in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Politicians on both sides of the aisle know that no agreement can be forged without the muscle of the world's remaining superpower. But hinting that America might have to twist arms is a political third rail. Despite the consensus that Yoffie identifies, legitimate anxieties about Israel's future and the failure of Palestinians to develop a strong "peace camp" of their own have made it harder to be a strong advocate for the two-state solution. Hoping to counter this, a group of doves this week launched a pro-Israel lobbying outfit and political action committee called J Street. "The definition of what it means to be pro-Israel has come to diverge from pursuing a peace settlement," Alan Solomont, one of its backers, told The Washington Post. Broadening that definition is not going to be easy. But if the organizers lose sight of the goal or are accused of "undermining" Israel, they might remember the warning recently voiced by Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert. You can read what he said above - it's the first statement. The writer is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.