I have great sympathy and support for the work of Israel Policy Forum. But they still do things that sometimes make me scratch my head. They recently hired David Elcott as their director. Elcott comes to IPF from a life-time career as an executive with mainstream Jewish groups like the AJC. As a result, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are couched in cautious, don’t rock the boat terms which I don’t think the current political situation warrants.
IPF has made a calculation regarding hiring Elcott which I agree with in principle. If you want to grow large and powerful enough to challenge Aipac at the table, then you have to gain credibility among the mainstream Jewish leadership and lay people. One of the ways to do this is to hire someone as mainstream as Elcott. But what you lose is that authenticity and political sharpness that comes from a leadership schooled in Israeli peace activism. I think the jury’s still out on Elcott’s performance thus far. I wrote a post here about his recent Seattle talk, which disappointed me.
Elcott has written a column for JTA which is worth noting. First, the fact that JTA published this at all is somewhat momentous. I can only remember reading a very few stories there which have featured IPF. So perhaps Elcott’s mainstream bona fides gained him entree to JTA. Much of what Elcott writes is slightly painfully obsequious to the mainstream community. But his closing section is worth noting for the challenge it poses to our fatcat Jewish leaders:
In the search for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict…the public voice of the Jewish community and the will of the majority of Jews were not always in harmony. If one goes to the Web sites of most U.S. Jewish organizations, it’s hard to find clear statements supporting the Israeli government’s commitment to a two-state solution. One can find advocacy efforts against Hamas and Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, but little that reflects the Jewish majority’s desire to end the Israeli-Arab conflict.
This may explain why Congress and even the White House see no benefit in engaging in a concerted and unrelenting diplomatic effort to help Israel find a peaceful solution to the threats that surround it. That should now change.
Based on the clear mandate for a different direction in the Middle East and with a new balance of power in Washington, we can hope for better. With no more elections to face, the Bush administration will be focused on its legacy.
The new Congress was voted in by constituents who want it to promote policies that will avoid a war of civilizations with the Muslim world. The State Department needs support in moving the Arab-Israeli conflict back to the front burner, where it should have been during these past six years.
This election confirms once again that Jews play a crucial role in the American democratic process. Based on what’s good for America and for Israel, and what the majority of American Jews and all Americans want, Jewish leaders will be expected to deliver on the most important issue of the moment–using their political strength to end the Arab-Israeli conflict by supporting the establishment of a viable Palestinian state living next door to a secure, Jewish State of Israel.
Accomplish this and President Bush, the 110th Congress and American Jewish leaders will boast the greatest of legacies.
Of course, saying this means very little. The key question is what will get these grey eminences off their duff and doing something positive for a change? I fear there is little at this point that would cause this to happen. However, continued Aipac defeats in Congress like the one organized by Brit Tzedek and IPF during the anti-Hamas Palestinian Terror bill would make them sit up and take notice. That’s one of the ways you gain credibility. Another would be for George Soros to help find a new progressive Jewish umbrella peace lobbying group that might incorporate IPF, Brit Tzedek and others, as has been rumored.