Liberal Jewish Lobby vs Conservative Jewish Lobby
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Zionism & Israel Center http://zionism-israel.comThe prospect of a "Liberal" Jewish lobby, discussed by Gerhsom Gorenberg, has raised alarm bells in some circles. It should. "Liberal," it seems, can include anyone from Zionist Yossi Sarid to ant-Zionists Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein, and even the reactionary Neturei Karteh, included in a New York Times article about "Liberal" Jews.
The "Liberal" Israel lobby or Jewish lobby that is forming is an understandable, if unwise reaction to the AIPAC lobby, which has veered to the right. It is unwisely taking 200% "pro-Israel" stands that are not even consistent with the policies of the Israel government. It is including persons and causes that are not really compatible with mainstream Jewish concerns in the United States. Both sides tell us that they want the best for Israel. Viewed from afar, however, it doesn't seem so. Nothing can be gained by divisiveness. It would seem that each side is leading narrow, shortsighted and egotistical policies. Their strategies are designed to curry favor with specific constituencies within American Jewry. Their positions are taken for the purpose of building their organizations or furthering their partisan political opinions, rather than helping Israel or representing the legitimate interests of Jews in North America. Consider John Hagee at the AIPAC rally. We honor Reverend Hagee's support for Israel, but the policies he supports regarding the occupation are not consistent with those of the Israel government. His stand on separation of church and state is not going to please a great many Jews. The leaders of AIPAC certainly know this.
On the other hand, blind and unlimited advocacy of an "end to the occupation" doesn't represent the views of the Israeli government or the views of most American Jews either. In his article, Gershom Gorenberg gives an example, taken from Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua, of how such "friends of Israel" should act. The pro-peace "Israel Lobby," according to Yehoshua, should pressure the United States to withdraw its ambassador in protest over the occupation! Is that an Israel lobby or an Iranian lobby? Can we imagine a Saudi Arabian interest lobby that pressures the US to withdraw its ambassador from Riyadh over Saudi treatment of women? Can we even imagine a Palestinian Arab lobby that pressures the US to withhold funds from the Palestinian government until they control terrorism and banish corruption?
A lobby or interest group can be effective if it represents a large block of people who speak with one voice on core issues of common concern. Supporters of Israel have many such issues in common, and they should be the proper province of such a lobby. American Jews likewise support many issues in common, which can be represented by Jewish interest groups. But imagine what would happen if each group were to lobby the US government, in the name of "the Jews" for a myriad of contradictory policies. One group would be pounding on the table and demanding separation of church and state. Another group would insist that all Jews want Christmas trees in public places. One group would insist that the government has to pressure Israel to withdraw from East Jerusalem in its entirety, whereas the other group would be pressuring the government to support Israeli annexation of the entire West Bank as well as Jerusalem. Every legislator and cabinet member would be bombarded by M.J. Rosenbergs and Gorenbergs and Hoenleins and Mort Kleins, each claiming that only their point of view represents the legitimate interests of Israel and the Jewish people.
The wise course would be to maintain one and only one organization that speaks for the vast majority, and make certain that that organization is representative and focuses on "core" issues. Those who want to lobby for settlements, or ending the occupation, or Christmas trees in public schools are free to do so, but they should not insist that they represent "Zionism" or "Israel" or "the Jews." US lobby and interests groups should be used for influencing US policy, not Israeli or Zionist policy. There are a large number of issues vital to Israel that are within the broad consensus of American Jews and the Zionist movement. "Liberals" and "Conservatives" alike should be speaking out to ensure that the planned UN conference on racism doesn't become another UN sponsored anti-Israel farce. All Zionists, and in fact all decent people, should all be working to correct the shameful anti-Israel bias of the UN. All Zionists want to see a stronger Israel, which has the diplomatic support of all countries, and we all should be working to ensure strong policies against terror, against the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the Hezbollah. These are but a few examples of issues that should unite us; these issues directly affect Israel's well being. Nobody is going to convince me that the Hamas are "good for Israel."
Those who want to influence Israeli policy and the future of Zionism can do it best by participating in Israeli democracy and the upbuilding of Israel. The myriad US Zionist lobbyists for "undivided" Jerusalem would be far more effective if they came to live in Jerusalem. The US Zionist progressive anti-occupation lobbyists would be far more effective if they came and settled in the Negev or the Galilee. They could vote in Israeli elections, and they could demonstrate that there is still room, and always will be room, for pioneering Zionism within green line Israel. Zionism is not a spectator sport. Those who do the most, should have the most influence, and when all is said and done, they usually do.
Of course, some will always remain outside the group. There are Jews who are anti-Zionist or anti-Israel. They have a right to their opinions as well. However, they can't be part of an "Israel lobby" and nobody should be fooled into thinking that the policies they advocate are "for the good of Israel" regardless of how they label themselves, or what their intentions might be. A "Zionist" group that distributes Asmi Bishara films is not much of a Zionist group and isn't working for the "good of Israel."
In 1947, the Jewish people were fairly united in their support for creation of the state of Israel. Their insistent lobbying of President Harry S. Truman reportedly led that outspoken statesman to observe of the Jews, "If Jesus couldn't please them when he was on earth, how can you or anyone else expect me to have any luck?"* (source). At least, then there was only one "Jewish opinion on Israel" represented. How indeed, can we expect any politician to please "the Jews" if there are two or three opposing opinions on every question?
* There are several extant variations on this quote.
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