Thursday, September 13, 2007

It's Lobbying, but is it really "Pro-Israel"?

Washington DC, September 7, 2007
Issue # 337 By M. J. Rosenberg
(Courtesy of the PLO Mission in the US)

It's Lobbying, But Is It Really Pro-Israel?

Critics of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Steven M. Walt cannot be surprised that the attacks on the book prior to publication have already helped propel it to #10 on Amazon's best-seller list.

Not only that, the names "Walt-Mearsheimer" have become almost People magazine famous, odd for two mild-mannered political scientists from the University of Chicago and Harvard. It just shows you what a little "buzz" will do and a lot of buzz surrounds this book.

And why not? It's an important, heavily sourced and documented book (108 pages of footnotes) by two distinguished professors at two of our best universities. It deals with Middle East policymaking at a time when America's problems in that region surpass our problems anywhere else. And it is a serious book about a subject that is decidedly provocative, a much improved and expanded version of the original London Review of Books article. The book asks the question: how much power does the pro-Israel lobby have? The authors answer: too much, and that both America and Israel suffer as a result.

It's an arguable question and people are definitely arguing about it. It is also the kind of book you do not have to agree with on every count (I certainly don't) to benefit from reading.
The authors do not say that there is anything intrinsically wrong about the existence of a pro-Israel lobby. As political scientists, they understand that lobbies are as American as corn in Kansas. They know that lobbies play a major role in virtually all areas of American policy-making, domestic and foreign. Nor do they suggest that the pro-Israel community is out of bounds when it uses its influence on Israel's behalf.

Their question is whether or not that influence is used to promote policies that are in America's interest, or Israel's.

The authors answer is "no."

They believe that the interests of both countries would be better served by aggressive US involvement to produce an Israeli-Palestinian agreement along the lines of the so-called Clinton parameters. Israel would withdraw more or less to the '67 lines, a Palestinian state would be established, Israel's security would be guarded by ironclad guarantees, and the Palestinians would abandon any future claims on Israeli territory. They believe that it is the influence of the lobby that has prevented the US from vigorously pursuing this goal, despite the fact that both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush have endorsed it.

I spent almost 20 years as a Congressional aide and can testify from repeated personal experience that Senators and House Members are under constant pressure to support status quo policies on Israel. It is no accident that Members of Congress compete over who can place more conditions on aid to the Palestinians, who will be first to denounce the Saudi peace plan, and who will win the right to be the primary sponsor of the next pointless Palestinian-bashing resolution. Nor is it an accident that there is never a serious Congressional debate about policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, every President knows that any serious effort to push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on compromise by both sides will produce loud (sometimes hysterical) opposition from the Hill.

Walt and Mearsheimer mostly limit themselves to exploring whether all this is good for the United States (and to a lesser extent, Israel). The question I ask today, and not for the first time, is whether this type of behavior is good for Israel. Forty years after the Six Day War, the occupation continues, the resistance to it intensifies, and Israelis in increasing numbers question whether they have a future in the Jewish state. Has "pro-Israel" advocacy consistently produced "pro-Israel" ends? At several critical moments, it most certainly has not.

Was it pro-Israel to lobby the Nixon administration in 1971 to support Israel's rejection of Anwar Sadat's offer of peace in exchange for a three mile pullback from the banks of the Suez Canal? Nixon capitulated to the pressure and backed off, leaving Israel free to reject Sadat's offer. Two years later, Sadat attacked and Israel lost 3000 soldiers in a war that would have been prevented had Israel accepted the Sadat initiative. Israel gained nothing in that war, and ended up giving Sadat all the territory he sought in 1971, and much more.

Was it pro-Israel to urge the Reagan administration to back Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982? That war, and its bloody aftermath, lasted for 18 years with the last Israeli soldier not leaving Lebanon until 2000 - after a thousand soldiers were killed. Just days after Israel's invasion, Lebanese Christian forces massacred almost a thousand Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp. And 241 United States Marines, serving as post-war peace keepers, were killed (the most on any single day since Iwo Jima) when Hezbollah blew up their barracks. In the end, the war accomplished nothing and Israel withdrew unconditionally.

Was it pro-Israel to press Congress to attach so many onerous conditions to aid to President Abbas's Palestinian Authority that Abbas was unable to demonstrate to his people that a moderate President, who fully accepted Israel, would produce benefits that they would not achieve by choosing Hamas. The US (and Israeli) policies of all sticks and no carrots led predictably to Abbas's defeat by Hamas and a Hamas-controlled Gaza which has resumed its attacks on Israeli towns.

Was it pro-Israel to prevent the Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administration's from insisting on a permanent freeze on settlements or, at the very least, the immediate removal of the illegal settlements? Wouldn't Israel be infinitely better off if the United States had used friendly persuasion to end the settlement enterprise right from the get-go? After all, the vast majority of Israelis consider the settlements to be impediments to peace and so has every President since the first settlement was erected. Similar question could be asked about the arguments favoring the Iraq war as good for both the United States and Israel (when critics correctly predicted that it would be disastrous for both) and should be asked about some future attack on Iran.

These questions are especially urgent with a Presidential election coming up.

Once again, Presidential candidates are being told that in order to earn the "pro-Israel" label, they must heartily endorse the status quo. That means that when asked what they would do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they must state unequivocal support for Israeli policies. They must put the onus for the failed diplomacy of recent years on the Palestinians. They must indicate that although they support peace, they will not adopt the kind of pro-active peacemaking engaged in by President Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. They must never use the words "even-handed or "honest broker." There is a script and the candidates must not deviate from it.

For the vast majority of us who care deeply about Israel, the politically correct (and safe) approach to Israel is insulting. Sure, it keeps candidates out of trouble with that small minority of the pro-Israel community which believes that Israel can survive as a Jewish state while holding on to the territories. But that isn't most American Jews, not by a long shot.

Candidates who avoid saying what they believe out of fear of offending lobbyists and activists who have been proven wrong over and over again are not doing Israel any favors. And they should not be rewarded for it by being granted the label of "pro-Israel."

There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons' 18th birthdays for another generation. For that we are supposed to be grateful?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Jewish People's New Task, by Avraham Burg

The Jewish people's new task
Muslims as Jews of the 21st Century
By Avraham Burg
Ha'aretz -- Monday - September 10, 2007

Rosh Hashanah is very different from other Jewish holidays. A thread of universalism runs through it, and its prayers differ from those of the rest of the year. Nationalism and the nation's collective memories are marginal at this time; its main essence is directed outward: "a prayer ... for all the nations."

This is the only day when we pray for the world's well-being. We sing "today the world was conceived," and we know that "everyone in the world will pass before Him," without distinction and without discrimination, because everyone is equal before the world's creator. Like Adam and Eve, who were born free of religion and zealotry.

Over the years, due to the Jewish people's historical troubles, the holiday's universal identity became blurred. It was difficult for us, the persecuted, to rise to the occasion and act on behalf of the world that rejected us so violently. Behaving as "a nation that dwells alone" came naturally to us, and we abandoned the universal responsibility of the Jewish people, which was once "a nation of the world" and has now become too much of "a nation of the land."

The results of this closing of the national soul are very sad. For the first time in millennia, we are not at the forefront of influence on the world. In the past, there was hardly an era in which we did not have an influence. Take Jesus, for example. His teachings and values sprang from the Jewish core of the Second Temple period.

Those who sowed the European renaissance included descendants of Jewish Marranos, who brought the wisdom and achievements of ancient Greece, which had been preserved by the moderate and tolerant Muslim philosophers, back home.

It is impossible to decipher the codes of modern times without Spinoza or Moses Mendelsohn. And what would the previous century have been like without Marx and his communism, on one hand, or Freud and the individual soul, on the other? That period also produced Trotsky, Zamenhof and others, and their dreams. All that is finished. Sixty years ago, Europe failed the test of "the other." When it was given the chance, it spat out and destroyed its Jews, who became the ultimate lepers.

Today, Europe faces the test of a new "other" - the Muslims. Tens of millions of Muslims live in Europe and the West today, and when Turkey joins the European Union, it will have some 100 million Muslims. The question, "what do we do with them?" can be heard in the corridors of power in Paris; it influenced the elections in Britain; it changed the laws on religion and state in Sweden; it is reflected in the stereotypes of Hollywood heroes in Washington. The West's racists also ask, "what do we do with them?" And as the crowds cheer, they reply: What we always did - war, exile, restricting their rights.

But Israelis and Jews do not even ask this question. While the West is fighting one of its most important battles, over its health and sanity, we are absent, because of an understandable complex. They are struggling without us over the ecology of heaven and earth - against fundamentalism and extremism, for human rights, against international terror, for women's status, against the veil. A time when our international acceptance is greater than ever before, at a time when the world needs our unique input, we are absent as never before.

This is the Jewish paradox of our times. Our contact, friction, traumas, recovery and interface with the modern West opened some doors of contemporary Judaism to new winds and exciting ideas: religious pluralism, the equality of the Jewish woman. Yet on the other hand, we hide ourselves and cut ourselves off, with understandable fear, behind our closed national shutters.

The future of the world to a large extent depends on the West's ability to be fertilized and impregnated with the new Islam; to include Muslims, instead of rejecting them as they did us; and then together to give birth to a new world discourse. Not the "macho" discourse of George Bush and other fundamentalist Christians, not that of Israeli settlers and local conservatives, and not that of the Islamic zealots, who forbid all contact with the West as if it were an impure woman.

What is needed is a moderate and painstaking dialogue, semi-feminine, inclusive and accepting. A dialogue of pregnancy, "world-conceiving," such as that which enabled contemporary Western Jewry to break the pathological historic cycle of Jews and Gentiles and present a new model of life in opposition to Hitler, his successors and the thousand years of bloodshed that preceded them.

As the world opens up to us as never before, and as we change to meet it, we can relax from our fears, renew the holiday's originality and return to responsibility for the world and its well-being. What can we do to promote a world of this kind - a better, more perfect world that would be much less dangerous for its residents and for us? To my mind, we must contribute from our experience as victims, as "others," and then as those who were accepted, so as to prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of our generation's "new others."

Modern Jewry, with its victims and its lessons, must propose itself as a bridge on which Western Muslims and Christians can step as they go to meet each other, create a Christian-Muslim dialogue and institutionalize Western Islam. The West can and should embrace its Muslim citizens and cause them to see themselves, their religion and their traditions in a new light - a light of openness, tolerance and religious pluralism.

Many Muslims in the West oppose extremist terrorism. Not everyone there is Osama bin Laden, just as not everyone here is Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein or George Bush. Muslim moderates are in line to be the "Jews," the foreigners of the 21st century, without having done anything wrong.

The partners to the 20th century's failure, the victims as well as those who sacrificed them, must get together on their behalf, so that they can pass the test this time. Because if the Europe and the United States fail the test of "citizens of the Muslim faith," the wave of failure will unavoidably drown the West. In contrast, success could give the struggling West a new birth on the path to world peace, whose partners would include most believers in "the one God" to whom we all pray.