Posts Tagged AIPAC

The real crisis is the America-centric Zionism

Jordan Chandler Hirsch has given the best review that I have seen yet of Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism (UPDATE: except this one) (disclaimer: I have not read the book myself). For those who don’t follow these things, for the past couple of years, Beinart has been trying to pioneer some new form of “liberal Zionism” that, for reasons explained below, I find deeply flawed.

Before I get into that, I would just like to highlight one important point that Beinart has backtracked on. In the New York Review of Books essay with which Beinart originally launched his campaign, he had a premise that was very popular with quite a few of the Jews who were inclined to agree with his position anyway (hi Liam): that the reason American Jews have become increasingly alienated towards Israel is that they cannot “blindly support” Israel the way AIPAC does (which AIPAC doesn’t actually do).

This is understandably an attractive prospect for Beinart and his followers — who wouldn’t want to believe that everyone naturally agrees with them and if only the establishment were different, they would be super popular. Unfortunately for Beinart (and Liam), this assumption is not grounded in reality.  He has since been proven wrong and quietly moved away from this position:

Diaspora Divided > Jewish Review of Books.

Beinart—though he doesn’t explicitly admit to it—largely walks back his theory of political distancing in The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, in direct contradiction to his article in The New York Review of Books, he endorses Cohen’s argument that, for the vast majority of American Jews whose ties to Israel are weakening, intermarriage is a more important factor than politics. Noting that the intermarriage rate among Jews today is “roughly 50 percent,” Beinart admits “the harsh truth is that for many young, non-Orthodox American Jews, Israel isn’t that important because being Jewish isn’t that important.” Later, he states, quite rightly, “it would be wrong to imagine that young, secular American Jews seethe with outrage at Israel’s policies.” “For the most part,” he writes, “they do not care enough to seethe.”

Hirsch goes on to explain the important flaws in Beinart’s thesis. He more-or-less describes my point of view as well: rather than addressing the problem, Beinart is just presenting Read the rest of this entry »

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Olmert Rebukes J Street at their own Conference

Anyone else who just watched Ehud Olmert addressing J Street saw a great performance from the former Israeli Prime Minister. I have a feeling that it was not quite what the organisers of the conference had envisioned when they organised for him to give the keynote address at their conference.

Olmert did criticise the current Israeli Government (he is from the opposition party after all) and he did laud J Street as a legitimate pro-Israel organisation, but he made a lot of points that run counter to J Street’s narrative and policy platforms.

For instance, he spoke about the Iranian threat to Israel and made it clear that the military option, while a last resort, is on the table in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. Also, after speaking at length about the need to make peace and how the current Israeli Government is not moving towards peace (which I don’t entirely disagree with), he very bluntly stated that Palestinians have responsibilities and they do not always meet those responsibilities — proceeding to detail the generous proposal he made to Mahmoud Abbas and how this was walked away from.

(I will note that he spent a while heaping praise on Abbas and explaining that Abbas does not support terrorism and is a partner for peace. My feeling is that this may be true, but Abbas faces a lot of internal opposition in Fatah.)

Most importantly, he said that he will not ask J Street to go to their government and ask them to pressure the government of Israel. As he said, “is this an American problem?” This is exactly the argument I have been using against J Street’s methodology. Israeli government policy is an Israeli problem, it is not America’s place to pressure them one way or the other and doing so often backfires — creating resentment for America in Israel, winning sympathy for the more extreme elements of Israeli society and generally hardening the Israeli mindset against America’s agenda.

Barukh Binah, the deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy, made a similar point when he addressed the conference. I hope (but don’t expect) that J Street’s leaders will take this on board and start re-evaluating their raison d’etre. There are a lot of more productive uses of their time than lobbying Congress.

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Criticising an organisation you do not understand: J Street and AIPAC

To my readers: I’m sorry that this week has been completely focussed on Israel and Toulouse. Hopefully regular blogging will resume soon.

Myriam Miedzian says AIPAC’s policy is making American Jews less liberal on Israel. Her solution, naturally, is to plug J Street.

Myriam Miedzian: How the Split on the Jewish Left Helps AIPAC and What Can Be Done About It.

according to a 2011 poll commissioned by J Street 67 percent of American Jews would support U.S. leadership in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict even if it meant “publicly stating its disagreements” with Israelis and Arabs. This is contrary to AIPAC’s position of pressuring our government into supporting Israel’s conservative leaders.

… Most American Jews remain exceptionally liberal  … It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that AIPAC influences U.S. Jews to be less liberal on Israel than on other issues.

I am completely sick of reading this kind of thing. I noticed that Miedzian hyperlinked references to most of what she said, but not to the bolded sentence. The reason why she didn’t? That is not AIPAC’s position.

J Street and its supporters everywhere have been dismantling a straw man for the past two years, completely missing what AIPAC in fact Read the rest of this entry »

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The worst thing about Obama’s speech to AIPAC

After all the commentary and analysis that’s been going on (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), there is one part of Obama’s speech that really bothers me. See below:

Transcript of Obama’s AIPAC speech –

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly; carry a big stick. And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

So what is it? Well, Obama is the US President. He can afford the best speechwriters out there, he probably has a whole department writing his speeches. In fact, he is a renowned orator — his speeches got him elected. On top of that, he’s a former academic — a legal professor, no less.

So why, then, did he say “weightiness”??? That is not a word! He just needed to say “the weight of these issues”.

Poor form Mr President, poor form.

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Occupy AIPAC and that awkward moment when you just feed into the other side more

A woman getting thrown out of the AIPAC policy conference because she doesn’t want to be “silenced” by pro-Israel groups on campus. See, pro-Israel groups did not accept her anti-Israel group into their fold and that apparently amounts to “silencing” her. That’s like Santorum supporters complaining that they are being “silenced” at a pro-life rally.

(via Liam)

For the record, I’ve been to an AIPAC Policy Conference. It’s an amazing event, I met all sorts of interesting people from evangelical Christian pro-Israel groups, Hispanic pro-Israel groups, black pro-Israel groups and others. That said, as these things often are, it was less about open discussion and determining the future of the America/Israel relationship and more about schmoozing. Most of the breakout sessions followed one of two themes: a) “look at all of the awesome stuff I’ve done over the past year, please give me money”; and b) “I’m really knowledgeable and smart, please buy my book”.

In fact, everyone who went to the conference was pretty much on the same page – they were from a surprisingly diverse range of ethnic backgrounds and political beliefs (it was not at all the “right-wing” organisation that some would have you believe it is), but they were, without exception, not only pro-Israel but pro-Israel enough that they would pay $500 for the conference + accommodation to be with other pro-Israel people and discuss pro-Israel things.

Which brings me to my real point: what exactly does this woman think she is achieving? Who is she trying to convince? The crowd reacted exactly as anyone would expect them to – they booed her until security came to escort her out. She has absolutely no chance of convincing anyone; in fact, she will most likely just reinforce peoples’ perception that they are being attacked. At best, she has wasted a total of three minutes of a session about pro-Israel activism on campus and has given a couple of hundred people a funny story to tell.

This complete lack of self-awareness is why the BDS movement will never get the momentum that it has deluded itself into thinking it has. Norman Finkelstein is wrong about a lot of things, but he’s right about that. It can be seen in the responses that pro-BDSers have had to him, as they huddle in their closed circles and defend themselves to each other. Take Sean O’Neil here:

In flinching move, Finkelstein slams boycott movement.

Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying.  In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.  He accuses activists for Palestinian civil rights of having a secret agenda, that of destroying Israel.

… I recently witnessed BDS’s growing clout at a meeting I attended with a woman working with an Israeli artist helping set up a series of salons in New York to explore and question the Birthright Israel programs, and the idea of a “birthright” in general. The project sounds very interesting, but the woman was visibly frustrated at their inability to find people willing to work with them in the city. They are partially funded by the Israeli Consulate, and as a result have had the proverbial door shut on them by activists, artists, and professors, Arab and Jew alike. This would have been incomprehensible five years ago, when I first heard of the BDS movement at the annual Bil’in conference and it was, at that point, divisive even among conference attendees.

… Finkelstein’s sudden hostility to the solidarity movement is a symptom of this paradigm shift. It is easy to rail against Israel when the existence of a Jewish nation-state seems guaranteed in perpetuity. But that guarantee seems to have eroded a bit. For some this will be scary … For others it is liberating, and you can count among these an increasing number of Israelis who see coexistence – real coexistence, not the tenuous kind that reigns in Jaffa, among other places – as a more attractive guarantee to their security than the ethnocratic state. As the ground continues to shift, some of those who are afraid will flinch, and retreat to safer, more moderate arguments. Finkelstein flinched.

See? He seems to take offence to Finkelstein’s accusation that BDSers have a secret agenda of destroying Israel, only to later reveal his secret agenda to destroy Israel like there was nothing ironic happening there.

Also, the fact that an anti-Israel woman was struggling to find other anti-Israel people to come and talk about why Jews should not have a “birthright” does not mean BDS has “growing clout”. That means BDS has been adopted by people who hate Israel, but those people hated Israel anyway, the only disagreement was in methodology. Here’s how you measure whether BDS has “clout”: are tens of millions of dollars still pouring into the Birthright program every year? Yes? BDS has no clout.

This is in stark contrast to AIPAC. Unlike groups like StandWithUs, who try to counterbalance the BDS movement’s idiocy with some idiocy of their own, AIPAC very carefully consider the best way that they can make an impact in favour of their agenda. While BDSers are annoying a few AIPAC donors, AIPAC are selling the merits of increasing US-Israel security cooperation to Congress. The results speak for themselves.

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Pro-Israel and together? Thoughts on the lobby.

A defence of British JStreet equivalent Yahad in the JPost:

Yahad and the British Jewish comm… JPost – Opinion – Columnists.

Many young and committed Jews of today see Israel’s security and existence as a given, anti-Semitism as an evil which can (and must) be combatted, and the continued rule over another people as a blemish on the reputation of Israel. They love Israel, but wish it to take its proper role as a true equal among nations on the global scene. They do not, in the words of the Zionist Federation director, “claim to be pro-Israel” any more or less than all other pro-Israel organizations, nor should they be required to apologize for their credentials simply because they are not part of the age-old establishment community organizations, who rightly feel threatened by their popularity and freshness.

There is some legitimacy in this, although I still have a massive issue with the way JStreet chooses to operate. Here’s why (my bold):

… The appearance of yet another competitor on the street obviously raises concerns for those organizations who traditionally had a monopoly over fund raising.

Many donors have, in recent years, preferred to switch away from the general organizations and give directly to causes with which they identify. Yahad and J Street, along with other political lobbies and educational organizations, are also out there competing for the minds and the hearts of this small nucleus of donors.

Want to be a left-wing Israeli? Fair enough. I am, however, not in favour at all of this idea of influencing American/British politics to put pressure on Israel and force the Israeli government into a particular position. Luckily this hasn’t really caught on in Australia (yet…).

I met with representatives of both AIPAC and JStreet on a recent trip to the US. JStreet call themselves a “left wing answer to AIPAC”; AIPAC call JStreet “insignificant”, for good reason. What JStreet (and pretty much everyone else who talks about AIPAC) miss is that AIPAC is not a right wing organisation. It has no particular agenda either way and takes no specific stance on Israeli politics. The criticism that AIPAC gets from left wing Zionists is because it isn’t a left wing organisation, but it actually gets similar criticism for the opposite reason from right wing Zionists.

AIPAC is very effective because it has a very narrow — and often misunderstood – agenda. The organisation exists for the sole reason of improving the relationship between Israel and the US Congress. That is it. It chooses a few specific policy items to work on at any one time and will do its best to push them through. It also tries to only picks battles it knows it can win, which gives the impression that it wields much more power than it in fact does.

JStreet, on the other hand, takes a stance on everything to do with the Middle East and tries to push a very specific and very broad agenda onto Israel through the US. It is also extremely partisan — the amount of Republicans it supports can probably be counted on one hand. As a lobby group, therefore, JStreet will only have marginal success in Democrat administrations and will have absolutely no success in Republican administrations.

The other issue is “broadening the tent” within the Jewish community. This I am in favour of — if people want to think like JStreet, why not let them? I think I stole this quote from Jeffrey Goldberg: I don’t agree with all of JStreet’s policies, but I support its right to exist.

Plus the old pro-Israel organisations are to a great extent overly-bureaucratic, anachronistic behemoths with fading relevance. After the current generation of donors die, I’d be surprised if JNF, UIA etc are half as successful – they need to change dramatically if they hope to be. That is why new grassroots initiatives are important. Again, I don’t support a lot of NIF’s donees, but they’re at least doing something different.

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Occupy against occupation’s awkward activist snub


“Oh yeah… that anti-AIPAC thing… uhh… I have to see my… uhh… wife’s family. Yeah, that’s it… big reunion thing… on the other side of the country… sorry about that.”

Will Obama speak at AIPAC? | The Cable.

One can safely assume no administration officials will be speaking at the Occupy AIPAC rally, being organized by Code Pink, which is set to bring together lots of anti-AIPAC activists to Washington in a protest right across the street from the AIPAC conference.

According to their website, one of the speakers at that event will be Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council. Contacted by The Cable, Parsi said, “I’m not speaking there.”

Code Pink spokesperson Rae Abileah told The Cable that Parsi committed to speak at the event weeks ago but then cancelled last week, shortly after Code Pink announced his participation.

“Trita called us and said he forgot he had to attend his wife’s family reunion on the West Coast that day, but he was really sorry and would do his best to help us find a replacement speaker,” said Abileah.

We asked Parsi to confirm that but he didn’t respond.

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Obama saves face with AIPAC clarification

In the wake of his recent Middle-East Policy speech on Friday, which received excessive heavy criticism, Obama met with Netanyahu. The ensuing press conference was embarrassingly tense, with Bibi openly disagreeing on several points – such as the withdrawal of Israeli military from the Jordan valley (at 9:00) and the President’s failure to mention the issue of Palestinian refugees (at 11:00). Despite both leaders reaffirming their “friendship, the body language shows the icy relationship between the hawkish PM and the bleeding-heart President. Obama did not look at all happy while Bibi was talking.

Last night, Obama spoke at the annual policy conference of powerful lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to clarify his position. The full video is embedded below and I have summarised the take-home points.

The most important point is that he constantly reaffirmed his support for the US-Israel relationship, including US support for the Israeli military, and that he constantly recognised Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

AIPAC Policy Conference 2011 | U.S. President Obama’s Speech

On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.

And he also made it clear that he would veto a UN vote on Palestinian statehood without a peace agreement.

…These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.

The first vaguely controversial point was where he spoke about the “harsh realities” that Israel has to face:

…There are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.

And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.

I agree with points one and two – they are extremely important. Really, the clock is ticking for Israel. If a solution is not found soon, we will be looking at a very different Middle East and Israel’s existence as a democratic, Jewish state will become harder and harder to maintain. On the other hand, the validity of the third point has yet to be seen.

He later went on to confirm that Israel has to make “hard choices”, although acknowledged that Israel is not alone in this:

…Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.

To his credit, Obama did not shy-away from his critics and addressed the issue over the 1967 borders that has been plaguing him since Friday. The response has been completely overblown, as observed by the Jerusalem Post‘s David Halperin and Peter Joseph:

When peace met partisanship – JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds.

To be sure, semantics are critical in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. President Obama’s articulation of the date “1967” in his speech was significant. But the dishonest – and dangerous – politicization and demagoguery on display over the last 24 hours in response to this speech, and the dishonest suggestions that Obama has placed Israel’s security in jeopardy by imposing on Israel a full return to the ‘67 border, has been shameful.

Obama’s response was completely fair – as I observed on Saturday, this is not a new policy at all and really should have come as no surprise to most. It definitely did not deserve the hyperbole that it created.

…Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.

By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

That last point in bold is extremely important. As noted by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, the crux of Obama’s speech was self-determination for both sides. He also reaffirmed that he had no regard for Hamas and understood that as long as they defy the Quartet’s three conditions – that they recognise Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and agree to abide by past agreements – Israel cannot negotiate with them.

Obama, the first U.S. president to tell AIPAC the truth – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The time has come to pay for American opposition to the Goldstone commission report on the Israeli incursion in Gaza and the veto of the UN Security Council’s condemnation of construction in West Bank settlements. Obama denied Netanyahu the opportunity to exercise a veto on the terms for negotiations with the Palestinians. The U.S. president said that negotiations could not be conducted with Hamas as long as the organization does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, refuses to accept existing international obligations and engages in terrorism. The Palestinian party to the negotiations was and remains the Palestine Liberation Organization and not Hamas.

Obama also rejected Netanyahu’s demand that negotiations begin based on the principle of Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The president was careful to speak about both parties’ right to self-determination. Period.

That said, there was a fundamental issue with the speech: Obama at no point recognised the Palestinian refugee issue. As Bibi mentioned in the press conference above, it is not possible for these refugees to have the “right of return” that they demand. A just solution must be found, but this will rely on a comprehensive peace agreement. By taking no stance on the issue and not even mentioning it, yet pressuring Israel to make severe concessions, Obama is effectively undermining himself and damaging his relationship with the Israelis. As the Jerusalem Post editorial said:

What about the refugees? – JPost – Opinion – Editorials

Obama’s repeated omission of the refugee issue raises serious questions. The US president did state several times his support for Israel as the “homeland for the Jewish people.” Obviously, maintaining such a homeland precludes recognition of a “right of return” for Palestinians that endangers Jewish sovereignty. Still, if Obama was already taking the opportunity to clarify and reformulate some of the more problematic aspects of his speech from last week, why didn’t he clarify this vital point? The Palestinians’ stubborn insistence on demanding the “right of return” for millions of “refugees” within Israel’s borders marks a refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish state. This outrageous demand, coupled with the fact that Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist organization bent on the destruction of Israel, is an equal partner in the Palestinian people’s official political leadership, are the real obstacles to peace. If Obama is truly sincere in his desire to facilitate peace, he must acknowledge this and do everything he can to remedy the situation.

Obama implicitly acknowledged it by affirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, but he cannot ignore the issue and expect any resolution to be reached.

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