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Foreign Policy magazine has published a series of generally thoughtful articles about the controversy created by the Peter Beinart article, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment (See my own comments about Beinart's article in The Failure of American Jewish Liberalism). Each of them, with the exception of Jeremy Ben-Ami, contribute a piece of the truth about the current situation of the American Jewish community and its relation to Israel.

It is hard to say that Jeremy Ben-Ami disappoints. If you don't expect anything, you won't be disappointed. By now, we all know what to expect from Jeremy Ben-Ami. Ben-Ami has one set of themes, one article to write, and anything he writes about any topic is apparently going to repeat the same themes with variations. Ben-Ami always maintains, "We are the majority, we are being repressed by fiendish villains, but our day is dawning and we shall triumph." Ben-Ami is like the Jewish kid who wrote the composition about The Elephant and the Jewish Problem. Ben-Ami writes about the elephant and the neocon American Jewish Establishment, the hippopotamus and the neocon American Jewish Establishment, the zebra and the neocon American Jewish Establishment, and so on.. It never seems to occur to him that critics of his thesis, and Beinart's (which is the same thesis) may have a different and legitimate point of view. or raise any issues worthy of serious discussion. He also never pauses to think that there might be important aspects of whatever problem he is trying to explain that are not related to the sins of the American Jewish Establishment. For him, all the critics are just part of the conspiracy. But there is a very important point that Ben-Ami and others in J Street have missed.

Alon Pinkas discusses the revolution that occurred in the American Jewish community when Israel was born. American Jews got an "old country" and could be like every other hyphenated American. His analysis deserves a separate discussion, and it will get it in a separate article.

Alana Newhouse provides another piece of the truth: Beinart conjures up two monoliths: An American Jewish community on the one hand and a "Jewish Establishment" opposed to it. Newhouse writes, "But there is no monolithic Jewish community, and no monolithic Jewish establishment." There is of course, a diversity of organizations and individuals, each of whom is convinced that its opponents are part of a pernicious "establishment" that is unjustly stifling their own true and correct viewpoint.

Steven Cohen. co-author of the famous study on loss of Jewish identity among young Jews, points out the obvious: the disaffection is not due to Israeli policies, but to intermarriage. The population in question doesn't care about Israeli politics at all. This is precisely the point I had made in The Failure of American Jewish Liberalism

Steven Rosen's article was somewhat surprising. As one might expect, Rosen comes down decisively on the anti-Beinart and anti-J Street side of the debate. But his effusive praise for the triumphant progress of AIPAC is almost bizarre in view of the lawsuit he has pending against them. And the biggest surprise is his claim, that in fact, American Jewish support for Israel and conventional mainstream Zionism is not waning at all. Rather, he points out that AIPAC's income from donations is 5 times as large as it was in 2000, and 60 times what it was in 1982, when he joined. Those are impressive figures for a recession year. We can add that since 2000 there has been a proliferation of Israel education and advocacy groups in the United States, including StandWithUs, The David Project and The Israel Project, three organizations that are prospering and have budgets larger than that of J Street. Far from being the dying cause portrayed by J Street, U.S. Jewish support for Israel, at least by that measure, seems to be stronger than ever. The American Jewish (Zionist) Establishment is experiencing a comeback, and is a qualified success.

What is really happening? For the thirty three years prior to the outbreak of violence in 2000, American Jews were largely complacent about Israel. It was just another place, doing fairly well. Even the infamous U.N. Zionism is Racism resolution had been repealed. The old pre-1967 world where Israel's existence was endangered was gone. Everyone could believe that Israel was here to stay and no special advocacy or support was required from the American Jewish community. The Palestinian suicide bombers of 2000 were accompanied by a planned diplomatic and ideological assault on Israeli legitimacy and on Zionism.

The BDS movement was specifically intended to cast Zionism and Israel in the role of apartheid South Africa, and to end Israel as a Jewish state, rather than ending the occupation. At a 2002 conference sponsored by Badil, an organization that agitates for the "right" of return of Palestinian refugees, it was stated that:

About sanctions/boycott campaigns as a necessary means:

- The legitimacy of Israelís regime must be challenged for its racism on the one hand, and its colonialist character on the other. The only way this regime can be brought to collapse is from outside. We have to call for boycott and sanctions against Israel.

...

Targets of boycott and sanction should be the state of Israel, but also Zionist organizations and corporations:

- There is corporate responsibility related to sanctions, divestment, boycott. For example, Caterpillar and Intel (on Iraq al-Manshiyya.). Campaigns should also target the Zionist organization (ĎNational Institutionsí), such as WZO, JA, JNF, which are major perpetrators and maintain discrimination inside Israel.

Divestment, sanctions and boycott campaigns should be launched in ways that best fit the specific circumstances of organizers and their constituency...

If the point is not clear yet, the Intel plant that is mentioned is in Qiriat Gat, inside the green line border, in the middle of Israel, and the former site of Iraq al Manshiya, a site of bloody battles against the Egyptian army in 1948. That is the "occupation" to be ended by the BDS movement.

A part of this assault specifically targeted liberal American Jews. Hisham Sharabi, a Palestinian activist, made this self-fulfilling "prophecy" in 1998:

Popular resistance, which is likely to bring back the intifada, will simultaneously lead to building alliances and grassroots organizations.... If this succeeds by the turn of the century, this new post-patriarchal liberation struggle will regain the human face of the first intifada and win the support of progressive forces the world over, including the support of progressive Jewish forces in Israel and the United States.

The "grass roots" effort was indeed orchestrated and organized carefully. An organization called "Al-Awda," (the Return) appeared on cue and began preaching that giving up the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees was treason. The ISM and PSM groups were set up to coordinate the efforts to delegitimize Israel and crank out justifications of Palestinian terror and sabotage of the peace process for the faithful. The Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Justice in Palestine in Britain and numerous other non-Jewish organizations, both "progressive" and frankly anti-Semitic, joined forces. The Durban conference on Racism held in 2001 was a grand kick-off for this well-organized "spontaneous" grass roots effort. "Zionism is Racism" and "Apartheid Israel" Web sites, pamphlets, articles, books, demonstrations and university weeks sprung up seemingly from nowhere, like poisonous mushrooms after a rain. The "resistance" movements did their part, sending suicide bombers to murder Israelis and forcing a security crackdown, which could then be used to fuel more self-righteous propaganda about Israeli war crimes and the oppressive occupation.

Whatever was needed and did not exist was invented: Muhammed al Dura, the Jenin massacre hoax, a Palestinian "dialog" participant who went around the United States telling the fabricated story that her sister had been murdered by settlers. New lies were created faster than the old ones could be refuted, and amazingly this fare fell on receptive ears among Jews as well as non-Jewish Americans. "Progressive" organizations and Web sites, along with the Stormfront, David Duke and other Neo-Nazi groups all sprouted the same sort of propaganda about the evil Zionists. Whatever peace offers Israel made were quickly shouted down as "Bantustans" and Zionist tricks. Zionist organizations and the government of Israel didn't know what hit them, and many still do not get it. They were not, and are not, built to do grass roots organizing. For historic and cultural reasons, Zionist groups traditionally aim most of their education and advocacy efforts at other Jews. It didn't occur to them to appeal to the larger non-Jewish world as anti-Israel groups are doing.

But the disinformation and subversion Intifadah of the Palestinians kindled a counter reaction. Israel's military prowess, supposed to be the guarantee against violations of the Oslo Accords, turned out to be less than overwhelming when faced with a campaign of outrage combined with suicide bombings, terror attacks and rockets. Any Israeli attempt to defend its cities against rockets and suicide bombers could be labeled a "war crime" by a conveniently produced UNHRC report. Belatedly, American Jews and the Israeli government began to understand that there is an organized campaign, not against the occupation, but against the existence of the state of Israel, which could no longer be taken for granted.

As David Frum points out, a basic flaw in Peter Beinart's thesis is that he ignores the role of the Palestinians in torpedoing the peace process. It is also the basic flaw in J Street's approach. They want to end the occupation with a peace agreement, and they somehow want to believe that ending the occupation will bring that agreement, a peace agreement that will be kept and will allow Israel to exist in security. But what if the Palestinians do not want to sign a "peace" agreement unless it includes conditions that make possible the destruction of Israel? That may well be the case, since even the "moderate" Palestinian government constantly reiterates that it must have "right" of return for Palestinian refugees, will never recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and will not allow Israel any national rights in what they call "Arab" Jerusalem. That's fine with the more radical Jewish groups, but it leaves "pro-Israel" J Street without a realistic program.

Rosen writes:

Is there in fact a trend to disaffection? Or is J Street just the latest in the succession of Breira, New Jewish Agenda, Peace Now, Tikkun Olam, Israel Policy Forum, and all the others that rose and fell noisily while AIPAC quietly built itself into the giant it is today?

My own impression is that the post-Iraq disaffection of some young Jews today is in fact less, rather than more, pronounced than the Vietnam distress that afflicted many when I first got involved. There's nothing new about a minority of Jews disliking Israel -- except all the attention they are getting.

I wish we could believe him, but we all know it is not true. Rosen has confused several different things. Peace Now was never an anti-Israel organization, even if they disagree with the Israeli occupation. Within the Jewish community, J Street, the Tikkunistas and the more extreme organizations are certainly less important than they want everyone to believe. But the problem is not confined to American Jews. Rosen is focusing on the tempest in the Jewish tea pot, but ignoring the bigger picture. We cannot say it is "business as usual." Church groups, unions and universities are cranking out Israel boycotts at an increasingly frenetic pace. Israel government speakers are routinely booed or forbidden to speak at universities. The anti-Israel groups seize on any Jewish group or individual who is willing to condemn Israel, including J Street, Tikkun, Beinart and many others, and trot them out as "proof" that "even Jews don't support Israel." Even the tiny, super-reactionary, misogynist, repressive, fanatic medievalist Neturei Karteh group is enlisted in the "progressive" cause of the Palestinian Arabs. Why not? Anyone "progressive" enough to embrace the Hamas will love the Neturei Karteh. The opinions and doings of Jewish anti-Israel groups are magnified out of proportion to their importance in the Jewish community. because they are useful to Israel's enemies.

There is no reason for complacency or self-satisfaction. Whatever Zionist advocacy groups are doing, it is not quite enough to counter the well-orchestrated wave of organized Israel-hate and Jew hate. It is not just an intramural squabble between a few Jews. The campaign to discredit and destroy Israel is backed by the prestige of the Arab-dominated UN and by ostensible "human rights" organizations, joined by churches and labor unions. It is certainly too early either to declare victory or to decide, as Beinart and J Street did, that the "American Jewish Establishment" (meaning anyone who disagrees with them) is giving way before the "enlightened" forces of J Street.

Ami Isseroff


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