Yes, it’s an election year, and once again it’s “through the looking glass time” for the American Jewish community. Bucking the views of the majority of American Jews, candidates are once again doing their best to court the Jewish vote with the hawkish AIPAC line articulated by the self-appointed “American Jewish establishment.” I was particularly disappointed to read Obama’s recent letter to UN Ambassador Khalilzad, in which he wrote that Israel was “forced” to respond to the Kassam attacks with an economic blockade. (Forced? In point of fact, the Israel’s blockade was not initially a response to the Kassams, but rather to Hamas’ electoral victory in June 2006.)
As President Bush attempts to revive the peace process in the final year of his Presidency, those of us in the American Jewish majority would do well to express to the current candidates know what it truly means to be Pro-Israel. To this end, I commend to you this excellent article by Gershom Gorenberg from “The American Prospect.” An excerpt:
I suggest that it’s time to talk about what “pro-Israel” should mean. Not because the discussion will change campaign rhetoric: The candidates will stick to cliches. But after the election, one will have to govern. Members of Congress will need to decide how to vote on the usual strident resolutions backed by AIPAC. Debate now on what it means to support Israel might mean that a year from now, elected leaders will be able to refer to publicly recognized ideas to justify acting more sensibly.
Start here: Being pro-Israel does not require backing the most bellicose possible Israeli position, anymore than being “pro-American” requires backing the war in Iraq. To be “pro” means to support, to want a country to survive and flourish. Supporting an ill-considered war (Iraq, Lebanon) is like encouraging a friend to leap into a barroom brawl: a poor form of friendship.
To be pro-Israel certainly doesn’t mean basing foreign policy on the alleged conflict of civilizations; the whole West locked in combat with the Islamic world. The perception that the United States is at war with Islam leaves Israel dangerously exposed on the front lines. It is in Israel’s interest to get along at least tolerably with as many of its Muslim neighbors as possible.
A pro-Israel policy does not mean refusal to talk to Iran. An Iranian bomb is certainly a serious danger to Israel. Refusing to negotiate with Teheran means giving up in advance on possible ways to reduce the threat. There are hard-nosed strategic analysts in Israel who advocate a diplomatic quid pro quo: U.S. acceptance of the Iranian regime in return for an end to uranium enrichment and support for terror groups. If America resorts to military means, it will further destabilize the Middle East, doubling the damage caused by the war in Iraq.
Being pro-Israel certainly doesn’t mean standing in the way of peace negotiations with Syria, as the Bush administration has consistently done. Negotiations might not succeed. If they do, they will probably produce a cold peace– which is much better than the current reality of cold war, in which Damascus uses Hamas and Hezbollah as proxies to bleed Israel. (If one reads Obama’s statement to AIPAC very closely, he said that, “No Israel prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States.” I’d like to believe the “or blocked from” is a hint at ending the veto on peace talks with Syria.)
Most critically, support for Israel does not mean support for West Bank settlement, for the Whole Land of Israel, for endless occupation. The sane, mainstream Zionist vision was and is of a democratic state with a Jewish majority, with full rights for all citizens, a country living at peace with its neighbors. (That’s what the country’s declaration of independence says.) Rule over the disenfranchised Palestinians of the West Bank undermines democracy. Every additional settler makes withdrawal more difficult.