Mearsheimer and Walt have written an L.A. Times op-ed rightly taking the leading presidential candidates to task for their failure of leadership and nerve on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
…The presidential candidates are no friends of Israel. They are like most U.S. politicians, who reflexively mouth pro-Israel platitudes while continuing to endorse and subsidize policies that are in fact harmful to the Jewish state. A genuine friend would tell Israel that it was acting foolishly, and would do whatever he or she could to get Israel to change its misguided behavior. And that will require challenging the special interest groups whose hard-line views have been obstacles to peace for many years.
As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami argued in 2006, the American presidents who have made the greatest contribution to peace — Carter and George H.W. Bush — succeeded because they were “ready to confront Israel head-on and overlook the sensibilities of her friends in America.” If the Democratic and Republican contenders were true friends of Israel, they would be warning it about the danger of becoming an apartheid state, just as Carter did.
Moreover, they would be calling for an end to the occupation and the creation of a viable Palestinian state. And they would be calling for the United States to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians so that Washington could pressure both sides to accept a solution based on the Clinton parameters. Implementing a final-status agreement will be difficult and take a number of years, but it is imperative that the two sides formally agree on the solution and then implement it in ways that protect each side.
But Israel’s false friends cannot say any of these things, or even discuss the issue honestly. Why? Because they fear that speaking the truth would incur the wrath of the hard-liners who dominate the main organizations in the Israel lobby. So Israel will end up controlling Gaza and the West Bank for the foreseeable future, turning itself into an apartheid state in the process. And all of this will be done with the backing of its so-called friends, including the current presidential candidates. With friends like them, who needs enemies?
There’s nothing new in this, of course. No presidential candidate helped himself win an election by taking on the Israel lobby during a campaign. So the candidates aren’t stupid and they won’t take it on. They remember Howard Dean’s milquetoast comment asking why U.S. Mideast policy couldn’t be more even-handed. For that Joe Lieberman, slave of AIPAC that he is, accused him of “selling Israel down the river.” Dean was soundly thwacked.
So on the one hand, the authors are shouting down a well in writing this column. They’re only likely to hear their own voice echo back to them. But on the other hand, they provoke some important questions to consider: what do we need to do to create a safe zone around candidates that talk more forthrightly and reasonably around these issues during a campaign? How do we encourage pols to gird their loins and speak truth, if not to power, then at least to the American people? In this, we need to call upon the American Jewish peace camp to help. I’ve heard that Brit Tzedek plans to do a candidate forum but when I asked to publicize it here in my blogroll as a political education tool I was told the campaign would happen closer to the election.
Israel Policy Forum’s site doesn’t seem to offer much more on that front. Nor does Peace Now’s. Nor does Jewish Voice for Peace’s. If anyone from any of these groups knows more than I please enlighten us about what you’re doing. We can’t leave the political campaign to the AIPACs of the world, letting them frame the debate uncontested. I know that non-profit groups are limited in terms of what they can do on this front, but it seems to me that political education of the sort that the League of Women Voters and other non-profits do shouldn’t prevent a Jewish group from doing something similar.
Here’s what we shouldn’t be doing. Shmuel Rosner’s The Factor has created a faux computer ranking of the presidential candidates according to the determination of “how good they are for Israel.” Leave aside the utter vapidity of this criterion. How does Rudy Giuliani get a top ranking out of such a tilted system (and Obama ranked 12th–and lowest!)? Most everyone knows Rosner is little more than a shill for AIPAC. So despite having a panel of so-called experts reviewing candidates, the rankings are such that they would virtually match one created by AIPAC’s Howard Kohr.
Despite this criticism, I have to say that Rosner is providing a service that others should emulate. Why aren’t The Forward or JTA probing the candidates beneath their surface pro-Israel platitudes for their views on the I-P conflict?