Shmuel Rosner has been the journalist who’s spilled the most ink covering the new initiative to create a dovish Jewish lobbying counterpart to Aipac. While he’s provided some light on the issue, much of what’s he’s written has been drivel. Take this characterization of Brit Tzedek, one of the groups participating in the effort:
…There is another problem that the leftist lobby will face: It is located to the left of AIPAC – but also to the left of most of the American (and of course the Israeli) public. Brit Tzedek Veshalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace), for example, is an idealistic, almost revolutionary movement that is succeeding in attracting an increasing flow of young Jews to its ranks. It has the enchantment of youth and a kind of Beatnik-style promise for a rosy future. But make no mistake: its identification with the leftist streams in America, with Soros, will make things difficult for it in its contacts with Congress, certainly in cases when it is under Republican control. It will also have difficulty, undoubtedly, in contacts with the Israeli government. It is doubtful whether this bothers Soros.
Let’s examine that passage more closely. Is Brit Tzedek to the left of the American or Israeli public? Not at all. Brit Tzedek supports an end to West Bank settlements. So do American Jews. It opposes the Occupation. So does a majority of American Jews. Brit Tzedek supports an independent Palestinian state. So do the vast majority of American Jews. Brit Tzedek supports peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. So do the vast majority of American Jews. So, Mr. Know-It-All Rosner, how is Brit Tzedek to the left of the American public?
And as for his comment that BT is an “idealistic, almost revolutionary movement,” the first adjective is true in a sense. But BT is also quite a pragmatic movement. There are issues on which it will NOT take a position. It will not take a position advocating that the U.S. or Israel negotiate with Hamas (even though the majority of American Jews AND Israelis favor this policy). Though to be clear it opposes Aipac-sponsored legislation to criminalize contact with Hamas. And as for calling BT “almost revolutionary,” this is poppycock. What’s so revolutionary about it? In fact, in some of its efforts like Congressional lobbying it is mirroring Aipac itself. What’s so revolutionary about that?
Rosner’s incredulousness about Brit Tzedek is annoying in the extreme:
It has the enchantment of youth and a kind of Beatnik-style promise for a rosy future.
What the hell is this supposed to mean? I’m 54 years old and a member of BT. I know many members of the local Seattle chapter. Hardly a youth among us. What the hell is he talking about? And as for the “Beatnik-style promise of a rosy future”–doesn’t anybody edit this guy? As I wrote above, BT’s campaigns are quite pragmatic. Witness its ultimately successful lobbying effort (in league with Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now) against the Palestine Anti-Terror Bill. This was the first time that American Jewish groups stood up in Congress and said No to a cherished Aipac bill. It was a slap in the face to the group; and to Congress it was a slap heard round the world–or at least round its halls. We’re not talking rose-colored glasses here. BT is no hippie gathering of peace and loveniks. On the contrary, we’re mostly activists dedicated to this issue for decades. We’re hardened to disappointment and tragedy. But we go on nevertheless because we believe in peace and what it can do for both warring parties.
Again, Rosner’s contention that BT will have trouble getting traction in Congress because of its so-called “leftist” views is belied by its success a few months ago as I wrote above. All this Rosner nattering is mere Aipac talking points dressed up to look like journalism. Actually, Rosner has probably tidied up the prose a bit since Aipac’s views of BT must be R-rated knowing how those folks deal with their perceived enemies.
As for BT having no influence in a Republican Congress…well, it looks like we might just have a more hospitable Congress than that come November if current polling results are borne out at the ballot box.
And finally, in another piece he wrote about the new lobbying project, Rosner again shows that rather than having his finger on the pulse of American Jewry, he has it squarely up his own rectum:
I stated that the American Jews are dovish – which is true – but didn’t differentiate between their general dovishness and their views on Israel. Some readers protested, saying I should have, and they are right. Surveys show that the views of American Jews are much more mainstream on Israel than they are on internal social issues. AJC’s annual surveys have shown in the past that American Jews usually support the Israeli government’s approach by a 3-1 margin or more.
What he really means to say is that American Jewish LEADERS (like Howard Kohr, Abe Foxman, David Harris and Malcom Hoenlein) are hawkish advocates for Israeli government policy. And in reality when government policy isn’t sufficiently hawkish–as during the Gaza withdrawal–some of those leaders distanced themselves even from Israeli policy. American Jews however, are quite dovish in their views of the conflict. And it is simply false to say that they wholeheartedly support Israeli government policy. Yes, they support Israel the nation. But do they support expanding settlements? No. Do they support the U.S. and Israeli government campaign to isolate and punish Hamas? No, in fact they favor negotiating with Hamas as does the Israeli people. And while American Jews may’ve supported Israel’s efforts to attack Hezbollah and retrieve its hostages, it definitely does not support the punitive war against Lebanon which followed. All of the attitudes I’ve laid out here are borne out by numerous polls, many of which have been linked and discussed here.
Rosner is simply not a credible source when it comes to characterizing the reality of American Jewish discourse regarding Israel. Sure, he can tell you what Aipac or the other fuddy-duddy Jewish groups are thinking. But he can’t tell you what George Soros or Israel Policy Forum or Brit Tzedek is thinking because he doesn’t understand their viewpoint at all. It’s like we’re on the moon and he’s looking at us through a telescope–upside down.
Finally, Rosner ought to look at a Haaretz poll that accompanies his articles on the new group. To the question: “Is it time to form American-Jewish lobby for peace?” Fully 64% of 596 respondents say “Yes.” Before he damns the effort with the faintest of praise as he has done, Rosner ought to take a look at what his own readers are telling him.
Peter H says
Well, I certainly agree with you that Rosner is a pro-AIPAC hack (It’s amazing to think that Amos Elon once held his position). But, as I’ve said before, I just don’t see the prevalent dovish attitude among American Jews that you see. In regards to Lebanon, for example, I saw most American Jews as united in supporting Israel during that awful war, with even normally dovish groups like the Israel Policy Forum staunchly standing behind Israel. I would love to be proven wrong, but it seems to me a majority of American Jews do not support confronting Israel over the settlements, negotating with Hamas, etc,
Richard Silverstein says
I was all set to argue with you & bring to bear previous poll results I’ve read conducted by Steven Cohen. But a curious thing happened. I couldn’t find a full representation of Cohen’s survey results anywhere online. Cohen wrote to me saying he hadn’t polled on this issue since 2004. And it appears that the only other polling is done by the American Jewish Committee, an organization with such a suspect political agenda regarding Israel that I also suspect their poll results. Not that there’s anything fake about them. But as any pollster will tell you, survey response are highly susceptible to massaging based on how you word questions, etc.
And on examining the most recent survey results, which are quite out of date being from 2005, your contentions about the conservatism of American Jews is largely borne out. But with a few significant exceptions. First, 56% of American Jews support a Palestinian state “in the current situation.” One could argue that George Bush and Ehud Olmert support a Palestinian state too (at least in words). But the difference is that American Jews are willing to see one NOW & those 2 are not.
Also, 61% of American Jews believe that Israel should give up either “all” or “some” of its existing West Bank settlements. That too can be a suspect number as one can argue that Olmert too believes in dismantling “some” settlements. But I believe that American Jews would be willing to dismantle far more settlements than Olmert would.
UPDATE: I just found an Ameinu poll conducted by Cohen (this must’ve been the most recent poll he’d done which he referred to in his e mail to me) and released in April, 2005. It reassures me of my original assumption about the dovish attitudes of American Jews & also shows just how different surveys can be which cover very similar territory.
It says that 41% of American Jews favor withdrawing from “most” settlements, while only 27% oppose it.
Cohen finds that 70% favor a Palestinian state if it were to be created in the context of a full resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
75% believe the U.S. should push for a settlement of the conflict “even in the face of objections from Israelis or Palestinians.” This attitude of course flies in the face of current Israeli AND U.S. policy.
A 41% plurality believe Israel should allow a small number of Palestinians to return who left Israel in 1948 (Right of Return), in the context of a peace settlement.
A 47% plurality believe the U.S. should push Israel to be more conciliatory toward the Palestinians.
A 40% plurality believe:
I also believe that if you look at some of the distressing AJC polling numbers from that 2005 survey you’d find that some of the more right-trending attitudes would’ve moderated significantly in light of Israel’s disastrous war with Lebanon.
Regarding negotiating with Hamas, I haven’t seen any poll results on that question. But Cohen notes that American Jewish attitudes closely parallel Israeli attitudes toward the conflict. And I HAVE seen Israeli polls which show 60% support Israeli negotiations not just with a national unity government, but with Hamas itself. I believe American Jewish opinion wouldn’t be much different.
Regarding Lebanon, I’m not so sure I agree with you on what American Jews believed. While a significant number would’ve supported Israel’s position lock, stock & barrel–the fact that pro-Israel rallies organized by the mainstream community were relatively poorly attended during the war leads me to believe that there was profound ambivalence among many American Jews. But yes, I agree with you that there was entirely too much lock step support and entirely too little questioning of the assumptions behind Israeli policy toward Lebanon & Hezbollah.