Liberal Israel Lobby: Update II

Though organizers of the new, dovish Israel lobby are still not talking about their plans, James Besser has a report in the Jewish Week:

Dubbed the J-Street Project – “K Street” has become a cipher for Washington’s lobbying establishment and “J Street,” missing from Washington’s downtown grid, has become a local “in” joke – the new project kicks off with a hush-hush fundraiser next Monday hosted by former Clinton administration official Jeremy Ben Ami and Daniel Levy, director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative of the Century Foundation.

“For too long, the loudest American voices in political and policy debates have been those on the far right – often Republican neoconservatives or extreme Christian Zionists,” according to the invitation. “J Street aims to change that. We are the first and only lobby and PAC (political action committee) dedicated to ensuring Israel’s security, changing the direction of American policy in the Middle East and opening up American political debate about Israel and the Middle East.”

Besser quotes University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald making two points, both of which seem outdated to me:

…the new group faces big obstacles, he said, including a limited fundraising pool and the view by many community leaders that “Jews must present a united front” on Israel-related matters to government bodies.

It also faces a political challenge because “AIPAC has been recognized by non-Jewish politicians as the voice of the Jewish community,” he said. An alternative voice “may be hard to sell to non-Jewish politicians who don’t want to be tarred as anti-Israel.”

On fundraising, Wald is soooo twentieth-century. He’s ignoring the Obama online revolution. The net makes it possible to raise money inexpensively from a large pool of small donors – countering the influence of a small number of mega-donors. A new lobby can succeed by depending on many people concerned about Israel’s future who are willing to click to give. That is, it can depend on the majority of Jews.

And if does that, it will also be able to convince politicians that it speaks more authentically for the U.S. Jewish community.

5 thoughts on “Liberal Israel Lobby: Update II”

  1. If you want an organization that speaks authentically for the US Jewish community then the organization must support in Israel what it supports right here in America- integration, equal rights, separation of church and state, no discrimination, majority protection of miniorities, and no ethnic, racial, or religious entitlements. The problem is American Jews want for themselves inclusion, while for Israeli Jews they want superiority and domination. Call it bi-polar.

    As for Zionism, forget about it. At heart it is anti-native and countenances the dispossession and disenfranchisement of Palestinian Arabs. This is un-American. If west of the Jordan say 80% of the people want to live together and in peace, then end partition and live together. Instead, we’ve got 80% at the mercy of 20% who will fight to the death to make good on their covetousness and sense of entitlement. There is no two-state solution. As history has shown, partition only inflames and solves nothing.

  2. As I stated in a comment on an earlier thread about this new “progressive” Jewish lobby, I don’t believe there is any truth in the statement here that this “progessive” group “speaks more authentically for the US Jewish community” than does AIPAC. I will repeat, most American Jews basically defer to the Israeli government’s position on security matters, and so even if a majority of American Jews support the so-called “Two-state solution”, this does NOT mean that they would welcome any pressure on Israel, particularly in the security realm or would support “gestures” to the Palestinians (e.g. removiing security roadblocks in Judea/Samaria or giving arms the Palestinian Authority that could easily end up in the hands of terrorists as has happened in the past) that would endanger security.

    The fact of the matter is that a “progressive” lobby that says AIPAC is not working hard enough for “peace” and is concentrating mainly on Israeli security is not confronting reality. The fact is that the large majority of Israelis now realize that it is not possible to reach a formal peace agreement with the Arabs on ANY terms. Sharon and Olmert openly proclaimed this as the policy of the Kadima party and so they advocated at the time, a unilateral withdrawal and forcing the Palestinians to accept a state on the basis of the borders Israel would fix unilaterally. Of course, this blew up in Olmert’s face as a result of the two wars Israel was confronted with in 2006…i.e. the ongoing attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip and the war in Lebanon. Thus the unilateral approach was scrapped.
    Any aid or political concessions given to the Palestinians is used to strengthen the ongoing war of attrition they are conducting against Israel and which they (wrongly) think they are winning. Thus, a “progressive” lobby which tries to press the US Administration to force Israel to makes security and political concessions without the Palestinians contributing anything (which has been the situation since the beginning fo Oslo) will simply pour gasoline on the fire. The most the US Administration can do is manage the conflict. This does not mean that the situation is hopeless, but Israel will have to continue to face the situation where it will continue to grow, continue to absorb aliyah and to continue to develop its economy for the foreseeable future without a formal peace agreement with the Palestinians, just as it has since 1948 and even before. Thus, I don’t see how a so-called “progressive” lobby can not contribute anything positive to the situation that AIPAC doesn’t alread do.

  3. I will repeat, most American Jews basically defer to the Israeli government’s position on security matters, and so even if a majority of American Jews support the so-called “Two-state solution”,

    My experience is of decidedly more varied opinions, rather more like the variety you see in Israel. I effectively support post-Zionism, for example, with my own probably unique set of ideas on the subject. There are probably more opinions than American Jews.

    There certainly IS a sizeable coalition that backs Israeli security claims, right or wrong. A majority, though? Evidence, please?

  4. Sigh. Rock for rock on who believes what. That last comment of mine didn’t advance the debate.

    Taking a step back, the reality, I think, is that about equal numbers of Jews are inclined to be oppose the Israeli govt as support it right or wrong. Let’s face – it’s best for all of us if both sides are heard, more or less, so the best ideas can win. The former position, I feel, is underrepresented in terms of people willing to go to bat in front of TV screens and walking the halls of Americans in power.

  5. To Jon Kay:

    Of course you are right that it is good for all points of view to be heard. However, when discussing a political action committee, it is important to keep certain things in mind. During the supreme crisis of the Jewish people, the Holocaust, American Jewry was badly divided and represented by a myriad of organizations, each with a different agenda, and riven with turf battles (e.g. Stephen S Wise’s obsession with getting political rival Hillel Kook deported from the US during World War II). President Roosevelt, in his exasperation, told the American Jews to get their act together and put together a single group whom he could meet with and do business with. Thus was born the “Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations”. However, it was too little, too late. American Jewry failed in this supreme test. Most of American Jewry was traumatized by this and resolved “never again!”
    If we fast forward to today, imagine yourself a Congressman. First AIPAC comes to you and tells you what they want and say they are speaking in the name of American Jewry, as they have been , rightly, for many years now. Then , the next day, this “progressive J Street” group shows up, requests very different policies and then says THEY represent American Jewry. Congressman X doesn’t know about all the intracies of American Jewish internal politics. So who is he supposed to listen to? Well, there are other factors at play. Support for Israel is not limited to the Jewish community…it is a pan-American phenomenon. Recent polls show something like 70% of all Americans view Israel favorably whereas only 15% view the Palestinians favorable. Yes, a majority of both pro-Israel Jews and non-Jews would accept a “2-State Solution” IF IT WOULD LEAD TO PEACE…..but most reject pressure on Israel because in their minds, the Palestinians are associated with terrorism, alliances with anti-American Islamic movements and countries like Syria and Iran. Israel is perceived as a pro-American democracy, whereas the Palestinians are not. Thus, the natural inclination of an American politician is to side with Israel. So what is he supposed to think when J Street shows up claims that “no, really, WE represent most American Jews who we say WELCOME pressure on Israel (for the sake of ‘peace’, of course)” which the Congressman thinks could endanger Israeli security and would end up strengthening, at least indirectly, the Palestinian terror infrastructure which is connected to the Palestinian Authority or HAMAS rulers of Gaza? This makes no sense from his point of view. Isn’t it likely that the “American Jewish” point of view would be more or less in synch with Israeli gov’t policy? Isn’t it likely that the horrific suicide bomber war and ongoing indiscriminate rocket attacks the Palestinians have been carrying out for years now would make ANYONE at least somewhat suspicious of the motives of the Palestinian leadership?

    In any event, all the polls (and yes, I know polls can be misleadeing) I have seen about American Jewish attitudes over the years have shown the clear majority of American Jews are willing to have Israel make far-reaching concessions to the Arabs for “true” peace, but oppose pressure on Israel and understand Israeli concerns about security being the foremost concern.

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