George Soros to Fund Progressive Jewish Lobby to Counter Aipac
I am truly delighted to report that George Soros has become so disgusted with Aipac that he’s ready to put some of his money where his mouth is. Morton Halperin (those of you going back to the Nixon-Kissinger years will remember him as the National Security Council official so distrusted by Henry Kissinger that he had him bugged), director of U.S. advocacy for the Open Society Initiative, has announced a new initiative to bring together American Jewish leaders and organizations which promote Israeli-Arab peace. Halperin’s proposal is aimed at countering Aipac’s enormous clout in American politics and its domination of U.S. Mideast policy:
The [initial] meeting focused on how best to press Congress and the Bush administration to back greater US engagement toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how to better represent American Jews who don’t buy into AIPAC’s often hawkish policies…
…A follow-up meeting focused on funding will take place in New York on Oct. 26.
Soros is to attend, and other major Jewish liberals are invited, including Peter Lewis, who like Soros is a major contributor to MoveOn.org, the Web-based, liberal fund-raising group; Edgar and Charles Bronfman, major philanthropists to Israel and Jewish causes; and Mel Levine, a former Democratic congressman and high-powered West Coast lawyer.
If it comes to fruition, it would be Soros’ first major venture into Israel advocacy…
In addition to Halperin and Elcott, others in attendance were Debra DeLee, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now; Mara Rudman, a Clinton-era member of the National Security Council and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank; Daniel Levy, a former adviser to dovish Israeli politician Yossi Beilin who now works at the New America Foundation, another Washington think tank; M.J. Rosenberg, director of IPF’s Washington office; Jeremy Rabinovitz, chief of staff to Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a congresswoman who often backs positions taken by the dovish pro-Israel groups; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, and his deputy, Mark Pelavin; and representatives of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, another dovish, pro-Israel advocacy group.
For someone like me who’s been fighting in the trenches for 40 years to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace this could be a revolutionary development. Many groups promoting such an agenda have come and gone since I first started working on this issue. Almost all were grass-roots focused and insurgent in nature. They had barely enough funding to make a ripple in the pond of American politics. Israeli government officials treated such groups as mere gnats which they swatted away impatiently.
But with George Soros backing such an initiative, this effort promises to have almost everything lacking in previous organizational attempts to address this problem. Just look at Aipac and how it does things. It is munificently funded by four key leaders among others. It has a massive staff which has the time to insinuate itself deeply into the federal bureaucracy and Congressional politicking. It has the volunteer support and marketing skills to bring out masses of people for its lobbying efforts.
Progressive Jews haven’t been able to muster any of this until now. With the Soros effort, all this could change in an instant. And it is sorely needed. Many Mideast observers believe that we are at a crossroads in terms of finding a solution for the conflict. Either we find one now or else proceed down a stark road filled with threats of cataclysmic violence and generations-long ethnic and religious hatreds.
A review of those attending the first meeting shows that the group could have real clout. These are not your usual American Jewish dovish “suspects.” These folks wield some power and influence in the community (though with the possible exception of Saperstein they are not currently leaders of mainstream American Jewish groups). That being said, it is interesting to see who is not on the list (and I should add that the JTA list may be incomplete): Henry Siegman, Aaron Miller, Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk among others. The latter two are affiliated with Aipac think tanks and might find their loyalties tested by involvement with this new effort.
This passage from the JTA story also provides interesting background on what persuaded Halperin and Soros that the project was an idea worth pursuing:
Three of the groups [involved in the initiative] — IPF, APN and Brit Tzedek — coordinated efforts earlier this year to counter the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, legislation that essentially would cut off the Palestinian Authority from U.S. assistance until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel. The act is effectively dead, and insiders credit the dovish counterattack.
AIPAC strongly backed the bill, and it passed overwhelmingly in both houses. However, the three dovish groups surprised many members of Congress with the vehemence of their response; Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives said that calls opposing the legislation outpaced those in support by a 3-1 margin.
Additionally, working behind the scenes, the dovish lobbyists helped moderate the Senate version of the act considerably,…allowing President Bush greater power to waive the sanctions and removing language that would have severely restricted aid to nongovernmental organizations working with the Palestinians.
The differences between the Senate and House versions ultimately were irreconcilable, and the bill never landed on Bush’s desk for signing.
That success was an impetus to the current initiative, participants in the late September meeting said: It fed their perception that AIPAC is not adequately representing American Jews, who polls show have overwhelmingly backed past peace plans.
As I wrote in this blog at the time, I thought the efforts to counter Aipac’s propaganda were astonishingly successful considering what a lock everyone in Washington believed that the group held on Mideast discourse. I knew that this effort could mark a turning point in rallying progressive energy for a new approach among American Jews. Apparently, Soros was listening and thinking similar thoughts.
I wish this bold effort well and may it have much success. May they slay dragons, one in particular which has been poisoning the well of political debate within the American Jewish community for many decades.
I should point out that I am a member of Brit Tzedek and a donor to Americans for Peace Now. I’ve also attended Israel Policy Forum events here in Seattle. So I’m a card-carrying member of the support group for this effort. Also, I’m an online colleague/friend of M.J. Rosenberg’s, who’s listed as attending the effort’s first meeting. When I lived in West Los Angeles during the 1980s-1990s, my Congressional representative was Mel Levine. I was proud to have him represent me in Congress though I did not realize at the time that he might have dovish views of the I-P conflict.
P’ru u’Revu–“Be fruitful and multiply” your efforts for peace.
8 thoughts on “George Soros to Fund Progressive Jewish Lobby to Counter Aipac – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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As another long time Brit Tzedek member, I’m really thrilled to hear a deep pockets organization “supporting the cause”. I think the success of the Right for the past 30 years in this country shows that political sucess works when it comes from both directions – grassroots AND “Top-down”…
This does sound like a wonderful step. Thanks for the hedzup.
There’s another article in JTA that says the group has explictly decided not to act as an counter to AIPAC. Which is too bad, because we could really benefit from Soros picking a fight with AIPAC,
By the way, Martin Peretz suggests that Soros is a self-hating Jew.
Peter H: Yes, I’ve read that too along with Shmuel Rosner’s rather provocative report in Haaretz. Here’s my post on that. But I don’t really believe that any of those who are currently backtracking by saying the new group won’t counter Aipac really believe what they’re saying. At least I hope they don’t otherwise this group will have hardly any reason for existing. I view this group as a larger, better funded version of Israeli Policy Forum. IPF has mounted attacks on Aipac’s political positions & I’d expect this new group to do the same.
I love to read what wingnut Marty has to say about Israel. Always good to fuel my righteous indignation & bullshit meter. UPDATE: Just read the Peretz piece & must say it is positively tepid Peretz. Not a denunciation or scurrilous, bad-tempered charge in there. Of course, there is stupid, irrelevant gossip about Mort Halperin apropos of nothing. But I half expected a full frontal attack on Soros. Personally, I think Marty’s keeping his powder dry for a real double barrel blast of his blunderbuss if Soros really carries through with this idea & makes it happen. BTW, the idea that Soros or Halperin “don’t give a shit” about Israel is preposterous. All you have to do is listen to Soros talk on the subject to know that it means a lot to him & that he can bring many positive resources to bear in helping promote peace between Israelis & Palestinians.
Always interesting when Soros gets involved in something. Although I have to admit I would have rather seen him put his influence, leadership and money into a Clinton or Gates type foundation focusing directly on peace initiatives and perhaps joint Palestinian – Israeli economic development and social programs. I think that would accomplish a lot more than one more political interest group in a political system which is becoming ever more dysfunctional. But given my own personal negative attitudes towards AIPAC along with most of the other large established Jewish organizations allegedly speaking and acting for me, I guess I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Although before we heap too much praise on the initiative, we should wait and see how it really develops. Shabbat shalom and Ramadan mubarak.
You wrote this to defend George Soros’ vis a vis Israel
“All you have to do is listen to Soros talk on the subject to know that it means a lot to him & that he can bring many positive resources to bear in helping promote peace between Israelis & Palestinians.”
Can you point to any sources? That’s not meant to be a pointed question, just interested and willing to see a different perspective than what the right-of-center portrays but I’m having trouble finding it.
George Soros’ views of the Israeli Arab conflict are just about the same as mine though he presents himself less sharply than I do when he discusses the issue. He is neither anti-Zionist nor anti-Semitic. And contrary to what idiots like Marty Peretz say he is not silent, uncaring or apathetic when it comes to Israel. That’s just hogwash that the other side tries to pass off as ‘analysis’ of Soros’ so-called true feelings about Israel.
This isn’t an optimal way to answer yr question but if you’re interested in learning more about his views on the subject go to the Charlie Rose website, find the Soros interview & order the transcript. It costs some money, but at least you’ll get a verbatim report of what he said & can judge for yourself.
I haven’t done any Google searches to see what he’s written online on the subject. But if you haven’t done this you should try that too.
UPDATE: I did find a Boston Globe column Soros wrote on the Lebanon war in which he says in part:
This view of the conflict has been espoused by any number of dovish Israeli journalists during the war in publications like Haaretz or Ynetnews. To say that this is somehow anti-Israel is a calumny. But a calumny worthy of jerks like Bill O’Reilly or Tony Blankley (who’ve voiced such comments about Soros themselves).
Anyone who’d like to read more about the neocon campaign to vilify Soros should take a look at this piece by Eric Alterman.
Good for Soros! I had just about given up hope after the recent dreadful AIPAC/EVANGELICAL/POLITICAL gathering in Washington. What a collection of boastful fat-cat cowards — anyone who has seen a real war will not want one. I happen to be a Christian, and the words come to mind: “Blessed are the Peace-makers”… Good for Soros!