George Soros has published what may be read as his inaugural manifesto for a counter-lobby to challenge AIPAC, On Israel, America and AIPAC, in the current issue of the NY Review of Books. It is a masterful overview of recent events both in the Israeli-Arab conflict, U.S. Mideast policy and American Jewish communal debate about Israel.
Soros criticizes George Bush and Ehud Olmert for their failed policy of strangling Gaza through international boycott and their refusal to recognize a government including Hamas. He correctly notes that Hamas recognition of Israel should be a condition for a settlement, but not for a negotiation.
Soros has much to say about the pernicious influence of AIPAC and its hypnotic effect on the Democratic Party. He has given up hope that the Party itself can shake off the chains it has willingly donned. Instead, he says it is up to the American Jewish community to change AIPAC itself:
Whether the Democratic Party can liberate itself from AIPAC’s influence is highly doubtful. Any politician who dares to expose AIPAC’s influence would incur its wrath; so very few can be expected to do so. It is up to the American Jewish community itself to rein in the organization that claims to represent it. But this is not possible without first disposing of the most insidious argument put forward by the defenders of the current policies: that the critics of Israel’s policies of occupation, control, and repression on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem and Gaza engender anti-Semitism.
Rather, I think this has to be a two track battle. AIPAC must be engaged within the Jewish community. Its pernicious influence must be combated on a daily basis. But liberal Jews must also engage with Democratic candidates and tell them we expect more from them than a rubber stamp of AIPAC’s talking points.
I was surprised that Soros didn’t lay out a clearer plan of action since it is widely known he has engaged in discussions to create an AIPAC counter-lobby. In fact, I thought one of Soros’ comments might mean he was shying away from such a project:
I am not sufficiently engaged in Jewish affairs to be involved in the reform of AIPAC…
Though this seems ambiguous, I feel heartened by the vigor of the passage that follows. I don’t think anyone who sees the current predicament as acutely as Soros will shrink from the battle:
…But I must speak out in favor of the critical process that is at the heart of our open society. I believe that a much-needed self-examination of American policy in the Middle East has started in this country; but it can’t make much headway as long as AIPAC retains powerful influence in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Some leaders of the Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC. Palestine is a place of critical importance where positive change is still possible. Iraq is largely beyond our control; but if we succeeded in settling the Palestinian problem we would be in a much better position to engage in negotiations with Iran and extricate ourselves from Iraq. The need for a peace settlement in Palestine is greater than ever. Both for the sake of Israel and the United States, it is highly desirable that the Saudi peace initiative should succeed; but AIPAC stands in the way. It continues to oppose dealing with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
Soros’ prescriptions are not new, neither are they revolutionary. What is important is the person saying them and his ability to influence the Israel debate with his intellectual analysis and even more importantly, his pocketbook. AIPAC has a $60-million annual budget and thousands of major donors which it has amassed over a half century. The progressive Jewish lobby has nowhere near the resources. But it has George Soros. And in this Passover season, one could say that this in itself might be Dayenu.
I am sorry to say that a Washington insider confirms my worst fears that Soros will probably not participate in the counter-lobby project. Alas, my fear outlined above is probably correct.
Personally, I think that someone who claims they are not involved enough in the Jewish community to “reform” AIPAC has attenuated their very criticism of the organization. If you claim the Jewish community is the only entity which can truly change AIPAC, then how can you expect your views to have any weight with such a community with a comment such as that? Merely criticizing from the outside is not enough. Not with a group as strong as AIPAC. You have to engage and engage from the inside. I am sorry if Soros doesn’t have the interest, or fortitude for that.
Dan Fleshler says
Soros correctly notes that “liberal Jews must also engage with Democratic candidates and tell them we expect more from them than a rubber stamp of AIPAC’s talking points.”
I’ve participated in sporadic efforts to make that happen for decades, as an activist in various support groups for Israel’s peace camp. One reason why it hasn’t happened, one reason for the silence of so many American Jewish doves, is that, until now, liberal American Jewish Democrats just haven’t cared enough about this issue to make it a priority. They have not been single-issue voters. They have cared more about the social safety net, fighting AIDS, global warming, fixing the health care system, etc.. Maybe they’ve written some small checks to Americans for Peace Now or B’Tselem. But when their favorite politicians –say, Barney Frank or Nita Lowey– have caved into AIPAC and the conventional Israel lobby, these Dems have been unwilling to pick up a phone or write a letter or send an e-mail.
For right wing Jews, on the other hand, Israel is and always has been more than their #1 political cause: it has been their mission in life.
I am sensing a change in the air, now. It could not be clearer that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an urgent American priority. Maybe, just maybe, more liberal Jews will wake up and start demanding that elected officials stop reflexively pandering to the organizations that purport to –but don’t– speak for us.
Steffi Schamess says
I’m curious as to whether anyone knows why Soros has given up on his attempts to promote an alternative to the AIPAC lobby. I believe he was meeting with Brit Tzedek v’Shalom folks and other (moderate) left wing organizations — maybe Americans for Peace Now? Does anyone know what happened with those meetings and why what seemed like such a good initiative fell apart? I’m wondering whether the various left-wing groups were too splintered (vis-a-vis tactics, degree of support for Israel, etc.) to come to an agreement. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has an inside track about this!
Richard Silverstein says
I just e mailed w. a Salon reporter today who spoke with a project insider. The biggest obstacle right now is money. There are other hurdles as well.
As for Soros’ thinking, I’m not privy to that. But I guess we have to take him at face value. He doesn’t identify strongly as a Jew. He’s interested in Israel not as a Jew but because it is a barrier to world peace. He prob. feels that it’s up to others more devoted to the issue to make these changes. Plus, as a Holocaust survivor he may feel the personal calumnies he must endure are simply too high a price to pay. He knows that if he goes forward w. this project it requires a full personal commitment to Israeli-Arab peace. People would be going through his dirty linen looking for sins to pin on him. It would be a high price to pay. As he wrote, he has many other priorities, some probably even more important to him that this one. I imagine he’s torn by the whole thing.
Glenn Condell says
I seem to recall a few years ago there was going to be a US version of the Guardian – an attempt to bring some sanity into the wingnut-friendly major media, to be financed by Sheldon Drobny among others. It fell over for some reason – all toto hard probably.
I hope what Soros calls for comes to pass, but it would be more likely if her were involved.
Herbert Kaine says
Georg Soros himself has contributed to anti-semitism in the Muslim world. 10 years ago, he caused a run on the Malaysian currency, the ringgit, wiping out the savings of thousands of Malaysians. Mohammed Mutahir, then PM of Malaysia blamed Malaysian economic woes on Jewish speculators. While many Malaysians may not know where Israel is on a map, they do get a bit touchy when their savings get wiped out. I think that Soros’ efforts on Israel are an effort to sanitize his image in the Muslim world, which is justifiably poor
Willard Olson says
AIPAC is an American problem. While most of us who are not Jewish might think of this as a Jewish lobby, it represents Israeli interests without regard for American interests and often at our expense. To imply that American and Israeli interests are the same is the worst kind of duplicity. Both major American political parties should extricate themselves from the influence of this organization if we are to pretend to be an honest broker in the international community.
Paul Wasserman says
At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2008 conference, the day after the final Democratic primary, my then twelve year old son and I applauded Senator Barack Obama’s statement, “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.” Under the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel. My son and I hoped that Jerusalem would remain the undivided capital of Israel and remain open to all Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Richard Silverstein says
And Obama disowned the statement the week after he made it. Actually currently Jerusalem IS divided bet. Jews & Palestinians. IT will continue to remain divided as long as Israel occupies it. When there are 2 states ea. sharing Jerusalem then the city could become much more of common legacy for all its inhabitants. This will never happen under Israeli domination.