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A Reply To David Harris, The American Jewish Committee, and The Emergency Committee For Israel (And A Plea To AIPAC and ADL)

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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hold a press conference at the Capitol on May 17, 2009. / Photo Courtesy of Talk Media News

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

by Jeff Pozmantier

David Harris heads the American Jewish Committee, and in between conducting its affairs, he likes to blog. A lot. Much of what he has to say is well written. Much of what he has to say is topical. Much of what he says is red meat to battled hardened pro-Israel troops.

His latest blog is written in response to concerns he and the Anti-Defamation League share over the issue of civility and bipartisanship among groups, like The Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), that claim their primary focus is supporting Israel. ECI published an ad that seemed to position support for Israel as a Republican versus Democratic battle. In ECI's view, conservatives (read Republicans) are the real Israel supporters.

No, check that.

In ECI's view, positioning Republicans as the defenders of Israel is good for Republican politics and Israel is just a convenient vehicle to use to accomplish their purpose. That approach is one that gives Harris and Abe Foxman, the head of the ADL, a severe case of shpilkes. As it should.

The last thing the traditional Jewish organizational supporters of Israel want, and this also includes AIPAC, is to wage a battle where Israel becomes a partisan pinata. In their view, that ultimately weakens overall support for Israel.

But ECI's founders, Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer, have a history of engaging in tactical fights whose overarching goal is to help the many conservatives and conservative causes they support. Bring on the controversy. The more publicity the better. If positioning Democrats as anti-Israel is good for conservatives, then that's a winning Republican platform that must be pursued.

Harris doesn't want ECI's voice to get any louder. So Harris' blog touches on his bipartisanship concerns and what he sees as the U.S.'s strong support of Israel, but he avoids directly implicating ECI, lest ECI use AJC's "attack" to continue efforts that Harris wants to stop.

Harris' theme is correct. His tactical approach is not. The main tactic that Jewish organizations (such as AJC, ADL, and AIPAC) should adopt is to start advocating for Israel to act as if it understands that peace with the Palestinians is an Israeli vital interest - not simply a favor to the Palestinians. The goal of bipartisan support and more world-wide support, including U.S. support, is best ensured by taking the Palestinian issue off of the table. And that support is increasingly threatened by Israel taking more aggressive action to engage in "we'll show you" settlement building thanto reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

U.S. support is not guaranteed simply because of Congressional lobbying/fundraising/pressure tactics conducted by various pro-Israel organizations, and it is not threatened by legitimate disagreements about Israeli policies or actions. Disagreement can be healthy and helpful as long as the motives are pure. ECI's are not. Harris would be wise to clarify the distinction between legitimate disagreements among those advocating on behalf of Israel and the motives of ECI.

Fundamentally, however, the U.S. must continue to believe that its strategic interests are met by strongly supporting Israel. Yes, there is still that values connection we all hear about: Israel is the region's only democracy and its people share many of our best attributes and beliefs. It also doesn't hurt that its spokespeople seem to speak in less accented English than the Palestinian spokespeople. (While that shouldn't matter, it's Sales 101: People like to buy from people who are like them.) But the values connection only goes so far.

America's serious economic issues are one concern. While that may threaten some of Israel's three billion dollar funding, that's only one aspect of American support, and it is one that Israel has the capability to manage.

It is the geopolitical changes taking place that should be the real focus. If the U.S. can get more of what it wants in the Middle East region from Turkey, and slowly continues to back off of its key global role, as best demonstrated by leading from the rear in Libya, withdrawing from Iraq, and announcing plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, why would it be logical to assume that in 2015 or 2020 the U.S. will continue to remain aligned with Israel to the extent it is now?

Iran is a present day threat to Israel and the entire Middle East region if their nuclear program can't be controlled. AJC, ADL, and AIPAC regularly hammer that point. There is no substantive disagreement other than, perhaps, in how to respond to that threat. However, the policies of the current Israeli coalition government also represent a threat to Israel's survival as both a Jewish and democratic country. This is an increasingly common view not only among American Jewish supporters, but also among Israelis.

The growing economic, religious and political issues inside Israel combined with an increasing disconnect between Israel and its Jewish Diaspora are a real long-term danger. Those issues must be strongly and regularly addressed by our mainstream Jewish organizations ( andon a bipartisan basis) or they will ultimately fail in their mission.

While key security officials within Israel and the United States feel we still have diplomatic levers to pull with Iran to prevent them acting against Israel (and Iran must also consider the ramifications of an attack that would also kill and injure many Arabs and Palestinians), there is growing concern about whether we have any diplomatic levers to pull with the present Israeli government that will cause them to change course. AIPAC, AJC, and the ADL can play a role in helping that process occur.

ECI's role is to get conservatives and Republicans elected. What they are now doing is certainly disingenuous, if not dangerous, and pro-Israel supporters who back ECI are doing Israel no favors.

The ADL, AJC, and AIPAC can no longer remain on the sidelines, afraid that substantive disagreement with the Israeli government is harmful. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tit for tat tactical games - if the Palestinians keep going to the United Nations, Israel will build more settlements - may appease his coalition members, but they only highlight this leadership failures as well as his apparent preference for feckless tactics over cogent strategies.

Israel's future strength is best ensured by accelerating steps to achieve the Quartet's (European Union, U.N., U.S. and Russia) recommended borders and security solution.

That can act as the first step toward a near term final agreement, one that not only will allow AJC, ADL, and AIPAC to have fewer battles to fight with ECI, but will help cement a resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian geopolitical soap opera. The AJC, ADL, and AIPAC can have a more expansive role to play in getting Israel to the finish line. They just need to choose to take their parts.

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