For anyone familiar with the American Jewish community, that post title above looks odd, very odd. A Jewish group lobbies an American secretary of state to pressure Israel to compromise with the Palestinians? What’s wrong with this picture you might ask.
But it appears that the Israel Policy Forum did just that in advising Condi Rice to get tough on both Israelis and Palestinians to get their own houses in order:
New York Jewish leaders encouraged U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to intervene aggressively in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over the Gaza border crossings, telling her this would gain the support of American Jews, according to sources affiliated with the community’s liberal wing.
In particular, the sources said, they urged her to take a tough line against Israel, especially on issues such as a settlement freeze and dismantling illegal settlement outposts. The sources said several leading New York Jews held talks with Rice recently at which these issues, as well as the impasse over the border crossings, were discussed.
However, they also urged her to press the Palestinian Authority to meet its commitment to fight terror.
—Haaretz, November 18th
I’ve never before seen such a Jewish group boast publicly of exerting pressure on Israel, because some American Jews view any Israeli concessions as a security threat. Therefore, they view any Jewish group lobbying for such concessions as either anti-Israel or against a strong Israel.
To me, this is an indication that the logjam of monolithic, knee-jerk support for Israel is over or at least ending. IPF’s actions show us that you can put forth a principled position that both criticizes Israel and indicates that you support her too.
I’ve both praised and criticized IPF in this blog. But today I only come to praise the group and their chairman, Seymour Reich. I think this was a bold stroke. Not only the advice offered to Rice, but the willingness to trumpet it publicly (of course it might also be a bit of tooting your own horn). But Reich has to be careful because the Hoenleins and Foxmans of the Jewish world will have the knives drawn waiting for a chance to attack IPF’s pro-Israel credentials or besmirch its reputation.
I know a thing or two about this because in the 1980s I was a staff member of New Jewish Agenda and witnessed the most odious smear tactics used by the mainstream community against us. NJA advocated gay and lesbian rights and a two state solution. In those days, these issues were about as welcome in the Jewish community as an epidemic of Asian flu. Jewish leaders didn’t like us and they said so. And they said so in ways that were repugnant by distorting the group’s agenda. Of course, Seymour Reich is a much more mainstream leader and IPF a more mainstream organization than NJA ever was and such a smear campaign probably won’t go very far nowadays. But I would suggest that IPF be ready to answer the fetid charges that may be made.
It’s always interesting how issues like this can be covered so differently from one publication to the next. Haaretz’s approach to the subject was pretty journalistically neutral. It reported what happened and attempted not to adopt an editorial position against IPF’s action. But looking at the Forward’s story, you get a different picture starting with its title: Rice Trip Raises Concern Over U.S. Pressure on Israel. Also, Nir makes no mention whatsoever of Rice’s intervention being motivated by lobbying from a Jewish group. It focuses pretty heavily on questioning her motives in getting so deeply involved in such a supposedly “minor technical issue.” The story quotes all the usual suspects poo-pooing Rice:
“I worry because there is a basic asymmetry, an imbalance, between the two parties,” Foxman said. “For the Palestinians, it is about status and sovereignty, which could always be adjusted, while for Israel it is about security and trust. And security is something you can’t adjust. If you make a mistake on the scrutiny issue, there is no going back.”
So let me get this straight: Israel’s concerns are life and death while Palestinians concerns are “adjustable” (whatever that means)? It’s thinking like this that got Israel into the fine mess it’s in. Since when are Israeli concerns more critical than Palestinian?
If either party is not comfortable taking risks or making compromises, Foxman said, the United States should not put itself in a position of “forcing the parties to compromise.”
Foxman also questioned the advisability of having Rice assert herself on a relatively technical issue. “Should we expect that at every stage of the game it’s going to be the secretary of state or the president” intervening to facilitate progress between the parties, Foxman said, before suggesting that other matters probably deserved more attention from Rice. “Is this more of a powderkeg than North-Korea?”
Well, Abe, I don’t know whether North Korea is more or less important than Israel-Palestine, but to say that it is LESS important than North Korea is the height of folly. Almost every Middle East analyst I’ve ever heard talk about this region says that this conflict is perhaps the most likely one to set off a nuclear war. So quit second-guessing your secretary of state and give her a little headroom and support for her success.
Then there was the Zionist Organization of America’s inimitable Mort Klein (one of those knife-wielders against NJA I mentioned above) who’s usually always good for a blood-curdling quote on the subject of Jews and Jewish groups which question Israeli policy. Mort must be getting a little soft in his old age because this time he wimped out by resorting to a dinner-time analogy:
Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, disagreed. Focusing on a border agreement, which grants the Palestinians a degree of sovereignty, was akin to “giving your children dessert before they eat their vegetables,” Klein said.
I’m really disappointed in the Forward’s coverage because they usually are more balanced and nuanced when it comes to covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I had one minor quibble with Haaretz’s coverage of the story–this passage:
Rice met in Washington earlier this month with the heads of the left-wing Israel Policy Forum, who expressed their views on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To call IPF “left-wing” is ridiculous. IPF is right in the mainstream heart of American Jewish attitudes when it comes to the IP conflict. It is AIPAC, Foxman, Klein, Hoenlein and their ilk who are the ones far to the right of the community. This is an example of a reporter accepting a line advanced by the leadership, but which doesn’t reflect political reality. The reporter should do his homework better and examine IPF’s policies and compare them to what the majority of the community believes before he brands it with the kiss of death moniker “left-wing.”