When Seymour met Condi

Did an American Jewish leader cross a red line when he lobbied the State Department on the Rafah crossing negotiations?

Until recently, Diaspora leaders all agreed that on matters relating to security, Israel and the Diaspora are not equal partners. It is Israeli citizens who will face the consequences of decisions made by their elected government, whereas Diaspora Jews wi ll not be called to make sacrifices on these issues. Simple morality should therefore presuppose humility and restraint, especially at a time when Israelis face a resurgence of terrorism and when most of the world is critical of Israel for seeking to pro t ect itself from neighbors who shamelessly orchestrate suicide bombings and rocket attacks. I was therefore astonished to learn that when Seymour Reich, president of the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum, and his associates met with Secretary of State Co ndoleezza Rice, they actually urged her to pressure Israel to make concessions over the Gaza border crossing and other issues. They reportedly told her that by adopting a tough policy against Israel, "she would gain the support of Jewish Americans on both sides of the aisle." Reich shamelessly told the media that "I have no doubt that we bolstered the secretary of state's instincts and strengthened her opinion that aggressive American involvement was needed to achieve practical results." Of course Reich's group also added the mantra that the Palestinian Authority should be pressured to meet its commitment to fight terror. Reich must surely be aware that Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly reiterated his determination not to disarm Hamas, stating instea d that at a later stage, he might even co-opt Hamas to the Palestinian security apparatus so that the terrorists would then also receive salaries from the international funds set aside to promote the Palestinian economy. We know that Condoleezza Rice and James Wolfensohn subsequently bludgeoned a pliable Dov Weisglass into conceding ground on security issues, despite appeals from Israel's top military echelons not to submit to such hazardous demands. The defense experts had warned that under the new arra n gements Palestinians would be able to smuggle heavy weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles, into Gaza and the entire area could also be infiltrated by terrorists from abroad. The Sharon government's submission to these pressures is unprecedented and c ould exact a heavy price in Israeli blood in the future. YET A former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who considers himself a Zionist, has the unmitigated gall to boast that he and his group helped to convi nc e the secretary of state to take aggressive action to bring Israel into line; that he assured Condoleezza Rice that exerting such pressure would result in strong support from American Jews. This is truly a sad day for Israeli-Diaspora relations, especial ly when in the absence of any meaningful concessions by the Palestinians, the government of Israel should have been able to rely on the support of American Jewry in their efforts to ensure the security and welfare of its citizens. TWO AND half years ago, I publicly reprimanded Edgar Bronfman, the president of the World Jewish Congress, when on the eve of a meeting between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he co-signed a letter with former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburge r c alling on the president to reject Israel's intention to build a "separation wall." Without consulting any of his WJC colleagues, Bronfman also took it upon himself to urge the president to exert pressure on Israel and apply "the same straightforwardne ss i n his meeting with Prime Minister Sharon" as he had with the Palestinian leadership. A few days later, Bronfman went further and commented that had the Palestinians concentrated exclusively on killing Jews over the Green Line, avoiding attacking Jew s in side Israel proper, they would have achieved a Palestinian state and enjoy the support of the entire world. Jewish outrage forced him to apologize. This behavior is reminiscent of the exploitation of politically na ve liberals by communists during t he Co ld War. Like their present-day counterparts, they were flattered, manipulated, and duped into adopting public profiles designed to influence public opinion in the interests of the Evil Empire. THERE IS obviously something sick in the state of World Jewry when purportedly mainstream leaders feel that they can lobby freely against the security policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. If this sort of behavior is to be tolerated we may as well write off our one remaining ally - Dias pora J ewry. I can only hope that American Jews will vent their anger at the hutzpa of those purporting to represent the Jewish community who lobby their administration to pressure Israel on security issues. But the ultimate responsibility for this sorry stat e of affairs rests with successive Israeli governments and the Foreign Ministry which, for over a decade, abdicated its traditional role of liaising and guiding Jewish communities in relation to Israeli affairs. Today that no longer prevails and, settin g aside the fact that ambassadors are now usually selected on the basis of cronyism or seniority rather than merit, most Jewish community leaders no longer retain the close liaison with ambassadors that was formerly taken for granted. The rot had its gene sis with the Oslo Accords when Israeli leaders told Diaspora Jewish activists that in view of the "irreversible peace process" their unified pro-Israel activities had become virtually superfluous. This void paved the way for partisans on both the right an d left to indulge lobby for their narrow causes. Now, in the midst of a new election season - both here and in the US - this partisanship seems to have reached a new zenith as the Israel Policy Forum unashamedly lobbies the State Department to exert pressure to bring Israel to heel even if that entails riding roughshod over our security requirements. This can still easily be reversed. The reality is that despite the enormous erosion and chaos which has occurred in Israel-Diaspora relations over the past decade, a mainstream Jewish leader is still required by his constituents to be a supporter of Israel - at least on matters relating to its security - and to behave accordingly. If the government and Foreign Ministry were to vigorously take actio n to rest ore the relationship with Diaspora Jewish leaders, it would still find highly enthusiastic partners. And leaders like Reich who cross red lines would rapidly discover that most Jews, irrespective of political affiliation, would not tolerate such irrespons ible behavior. There is absolutely no room in the Jewish mainstream for actively canvassing against the security related policies determined by the democratically elected government of Israel. The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relation s committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran Jewish international leader. ileibler@netvision.net.il ˇ$X