Ori Nir has written an astonishing piece in the Forward, Israel Reaching Out to Dovish Groups In Bid To Counteract Conservatives Seeks Support For Gaza Plan . When I read the opening sentence I almost couldn’t believe it:
As part of a recently launched campaign to neutralize Jewish and evangelical opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan, Israeli diplomats are reaching out to liberal American organizations that have historically aligned themselves with the peace camp in Israel.
A right-wing Israeli government that opposes the evangelicals? The very evangelicals which these same Likudniks cultivated and feted for their Israel-right-or-wrong fervor? The Likud is making nice to the peaceniks? We’re truly in Wonderland now, my friends.
One of those Jewish opponents of the withdrawal is the Zionist Organization of America, perennial die-hard Israel boosters:
The ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, said he rejects the Israeli argument that Jewish groups in America must support policies pushed by Jerusalem. American Jews have a right – indeed an obligation – to oppose Israeli policies they think are damaging to Israel, he said.
ZOA is one of the most rabid of national Jewish organizations. It sees Israel’s enemies everywhere (and certainly in this blog as well). In fact, back in the 1980s when I was New Jewish Agenda’s western director, the ZOA was continually accusing NJA of being Israel haters because we supported a two-state solution to the conflict (it may be hard to remember back far enough to the days when such a position was considered anathema to almost all in the Jewish community). Our reply to Mort Klein’s attacks was the same as the defense he raises here: “Israel’s welfare and security are too important to be left in the hands of one party or one prime minister. Jews never have walked in lockstep. We have always embraced a diversity of opinion and there’s not reason we should turn our backs on this tradition now.” Isn’t it interesting how when it suits Mort’s convenience those who diverge from the government line are traitors; and when it doesn’t suit him those who disagree with the government are Jewish patriots??
The Forward article gives me extremely ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, the fact that the Israeli government is reaching out to American Jewish peace groups like Americans for Peace Now and Israel Policy Forum is positive news. But it doesn’t explain why previous governments including this one treated the peace camp like pariahs (until now). I wish this would’ve happened 20 years ago.
Who’d a thunk it? Israeli ambassador joined PLO
ambassador to speak to APN forum
The Forward notes that Israel’s Ambassador in Washington spoke yesterday at an APN forum. He spoke on the same panel that included Hasan Abdel Rahman, PLO chief representative (click here for complete transcript). That’s very good news. But having IPF fete Ehud Olmert as the keynote speaker for its annual tribute dinner is outrageous. Olmert was the public Israeli government advocate of assassinating Yasir Arafat (see my previous post on the IPF invitation to Olmert). Such a man who talks of such a horrible deed is not far from one who actually commits the act. One may argue that he was talking tough in the way that right-wing Israeli politicians often do. But one thing that Israeli politics has shown us is that there is a perilously close connection between words and deeds. Once words like Olmert’s pass from his lips it is but a very small leap to the deed itself. So why in heaven’s name would IPF consider honoring such a man?
In cozying up to Olmert and other such individuals, I believe that IPF is dancing with the devil. And such a close association will not necessarily redound to the credit of IPF. I have been a strong advocate of IPF in my weblog, Tikun Olam. But this invitation reeks. I have asked Jonathan Jacoby of IPF to explain the invitation to me and so far he’s declined. My guess is it has something to do with the fact that IPF has managed to attract to its top leadership figures like Seymour Reich and Marvin Lender. In terms of lending the organization clout and leverage, it’s a great idea. But in terms of maintaining political integrity and cohesiveness of message, it can be a disaster. These individuals enjoy being close to power even if the values of those in power might be anathema to IPF’s natural constituency. So they naturally pull IPF in a direction it might not otherwise go if it only considered it’s own political values. This is the danger of falling prey to the “romance” of being mainstream. I am not saying that liberal Jewish groups should NOT attempt to influence and court the mainstream Jewish community and leadership. I am saying that this is a delicate balancing act which must be managed carefully.
Another thing to remember is that the current Israeli government’s “dalliance” with liberal American Jewish groups is a temporary tactical move designed for short term gain (winning over American Jewry to the pro-Gaza withdrawal camp). When this part of the process is completed these groups will be dropped like hot potatoes. I want to make clear that I’m not in favor of an ideologically purist posture regarding the overtures of Likud figures to the peace camp. I believe we should cooperate to the extent we can and show we can deliver significant voices to support a government position that promotes peace. But we should be very careful with our precious capital. If you tarnish your reputation by becoming a toady for the Likud, you cannot regain what’s been lost.
I hate to say this, but Sharon’s embrace of progressive American Jews signifies a certain desperation on his part due to his inability to win over the leaders and organizations that have been his historic partners: the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and AIPAC. Behind closed doors, I imagine that he and his advisors are holding their noses as they contemplate wooing the Jewish peace camp. But I’m not one to stand on ceremony in these matters. In Jewish tradition, you aren’t allowed to consider the motives behind someone performing a mitzvah. The goodness of the deed speaks for itself and cannot be devalued by ulterior motive. So I applaud the government for reaching out to those it previously considered enemies. I just hope that it’s not a shotgun marriage that lasts only as long as it takes to get the bride and groom to the altar.
Corinna Hasofferett says
Well, we have this saying: Where repentants stands, full Tzadikim won’t stand – being a repentant is a higher degree than that of a 100% Tzadik.
Personally, whoever. and isn’t desparation the logical station for Sharon and his followers of old?