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.