George Soros, after writing a blistering NY Review of Books essay slamming AIPAC’s pernicious influence on U.S. Mideast policy, disappointed liberal Jews by announcing he would not fund a project simmering over the past six months to create a Jewish counter-lobby to AIPAC:
Billionaire George Soros has no plans to put his money where his mouth is, a spokesman said Tuesday — two days after the philanthropist and political advocate assailed the pro-Israel lobby as a threat to Israeli and U.S. interests.
Rumors, rife since last October, that Soros would fund a dovish alternative to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, quickened when Soros published a blistering attack on the lobby in the New York Review of Books this week. But Soros spokesman Michael Vachon rebutted the notion he would bankroll such an effort.
“He considered it,” said Vachon. “Many people wanted him to fund the effort. In the end he decided he should not be involved.
“On the other hand,” Vachon added, “Who can predict the future?”
That last statement is impossibly coy for me. I say, if you’re in get in; if you’re out, get out. Don’t do a Mario Cuomo Hamlet soliloquy. There’s already more than enough vacillation among key players in this conflict. We don’t need more of the same from Soros.
I can’t say that I’m surprised since on the day Soros’ NYRB essay was published I asked an inside DC source what role the essay played in his strategy regarding the counter-lobby project. The reply came back: “He’s out.”
Soros’ supposed reasoning for dropping out also isn’t fully convincing:
Vachon cited Soros’ lack of prior involvement in Jewish life as the prime reason for his decision. The 76-year-old Jewish hedge fund manager and prominent donor to liberal and Democratic causes has not been a major player in Jewish affairs over his long career, he said.
“He feels he would not have the necessary standing in the community,” said Vachon. “Some people might even be put off by his involvement in such an effort.”
It is certainly true that Martin Peretz will use this argument against Soros and others as well. But since when do we act according to what our enemies say? Since when do they determine the agenda? I’m guessing that Soros himself doesn’t feel the personal commitment to getting as deeply involved in internal Jewish communal politics as he would have to in order to really make the kind of impact that is necessary to take on AIPAC. I can’t say as I fully blame him. How many times can one bear being called a Hitler sympathizer because at the age of 12 you pretended to be a Christian and were sheltered by a government official who confiscated Jewish property?
But still, Soros’ withdrawal is terribly unfortunate. Many of us have that commitment but not the wherewithal to back it up. That’s what Soros would’ve brought to the table.
All I can say is that I somehow hope the initiative continues and proves viable and that somehow Soros is persuaded that it is the right thing to do and that he gets on board. “Ride on the peace train,” George.
I find Larry Cohler Esses’ work in Jewish Week to be impeccably incisive and lacking in the cant one can find in Jewish media outlets like JTA. But this passage, which followed his list of liberal writers who’d recently attacked AIPAC seemed oddly snarky and churlish:
Still, the cottage industry of criticism in the public square by these writers raises oxymoronic questions about their claims of suppression.
Besides the imprecise use of the term oxymoronic without clearly noting what he was referring to, he seems to say that the plethora of criticism of AIPAC gives the lie to the liberal complaint that the Israel lobby suppresses speech it views as anti-Israel. What this ignores is the clear evidence of multiple recent incidents of intimidation to silence or punish Israel critics chronicled here at this blog (Judt, Beinin, Kushner, Khalidi, Massad, Cole, etc.) and elsewhere online. It also neglects the possible explanation that perhaps liberal writers and those media which publish them are becoming less intimidated by the lobby’s reach and are showing some willingness to buck their wrath.