BY RABBI BRUCE WARSHAL
[Warshal is a Reform rabbi with a bachelor's degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a law degree from Yale. He is a columnist for and publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal of South Florida (Broward County), was chair of the Commissioner of Education's Task Force on Holocaust Education for the Florida Department of Education, and was a member of the board of trustees of Florida Atlantic Un iversity.
This article appeared in the St Louis Jewish Light of May 10, 2006.]
Oh my God, someone has publicly outed the "Israel Lobby." For those readers who do not closely follow the machinations in academia, let me explain. John Walt, the academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, have written a blistering critique of the Jewish lobby, focusing primarily on AIPAC.
Their main complaint is that "the thrust of US policy in the region (the Middle East) derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the 'Israel Lobby'." There is much with which to disagree in the paper, including their assertion that Israel is not a vital strategic asset (there are many generals who would challenge that assertion). But there is also much truth, if we would only be honest with ourselves.
The usual suspects have jumped on the bandwagon, not merely to criticize but to condemn the paper in vitriolic words. Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat who represents the Bronx, declared it "anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel." This is somewhat ironic since one of the complaints of Walt and Mearsheimer is that anyone who criticizes Israel is automatically labeled anti-Semitic. The ubiquitous Alan Dershowitz accused the authors of cribbing from neo-Nazi Web sites, which was a sophisticated way of tarnishing them as anti-Semites without using the phrase. The right-wing New York Sun called it a "scandal" and warned that if Harvard is not careful, "the Kennedy School will become known as Bir Zeit on the Charles."
The Forward was most responsible. Before writing an extensive critical analysis of the paper it acknowledged that "the authors are not fringe gadflies but two of America's most respected foreign-affairs theorists. ... Though it's tempting, they can't be dismissed as cranks outside the mainstream. They are the mainstream."
I agree with Walt and Mearsheimer that AIPAC controls our American government policy toward Israel. But in their paper the two political scientists point out that, "In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers' unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy; the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
Coming from South Florida, I am acutely aware that our government policy toward Cuba is dictated by the Cuban Lobby. Why else would we have such an absurd opposition to Castro? If we can make peace with Red China and the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, why do we continue an embargo against an obscure Communist island, if it were not for domestic political pressure? So it is with the Jewish domestic lobby. My complaint is that the self-appointed Jewish leaders who control AIPAC and other positions of power within the Jewish community do not represent the best interests of Jews, Israel or the United States in the long run.
Let's zero in on AIPAC. It is controlled by right-wing, rich Jewish neo-conservatives. As one manifestation of the truth of this assertion one merely has to look at its annual meeting this past month. At a time when Vice President Cheney's popularity has dropped below 20 percent, the 4,500 delegates to the AIPAC convention gave him a standing ovation for almost a minute before he even opened his mouth and then proceeded to give him 48 rounds of applause in a 35-minute speech. (As my colleague Leonard Fein pointed out, that's once every 43.7 seconds). Considering that 75 percent of American Jews voted for Kerry, it is obvious that these people are out of the mainstream of Jewish thought.
At the same conference, preceding the recent Israeli elections, these delegates were addressed by Ehud Olmert (Kadima), Amir Peretz (Labor) and Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) by video link from Israel. Olmert and Peretz received polite applause. The AIPAC delegates cheered enthusiastically for Netanyahu, especially when he presented his hard line that was overwhelmingly rejected by the Israeli electorate. Once a great organization, today AIPAC does not even represent the feelings of the average Israeli, let alone the average American Jew.
This American Jewish neo-conservatism is unhealthy not only for America but for Israel as well. A prime example: The Israeli press reports that Israel is trying to find a way to deal with the Palestinians while not dealing with Hamas. Official public statements aside, they realize that they cannot cut off all contacts with the Palestinians and that the world cannot discontinue financial help; otherwise Israel will find a million starving Palestinians on its border, and this will not lead to peace or security for Israel. Privately, the Israeli government was against the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act (the Ross-Lehtinen-Lantos bill) which recently passed the House of Representatives. It would cut off all American contacts with the Palestinian Authority, even with its president Mahmoud Abbas, who is a moderate seeking peace. Despite Israel's private reservations, AIPAC not only pushed this bill, it was instrumental in writing it. Even though the AIPAC candidate lost in Israel, he won in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hopefully, the Senate and the White House will correct this.
Beware that you are reading treasonable material. If you "out" the Israeli lobby and you are Gentile, you're branded an anti-Semite; if you are Jewish, you're obviously a self-hating Jew. The Jewish establishment abides no criticism of Israel. You don't agree with me? Take this example: Last month a pro-Palestinian play entitled My Name is Rachel Corrie was to open at the New York Theatre Workshop, a "progressive" company on East Fourth Street. The play is based on the writings of a young British girl who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer when she was protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza two years ago. Although the play was widely praised in London last year, it never opened in New York. The theater producers spoke to the ADL and other Jewish leaders, including big-money Jews on its board, and that was the end of that. But, of course, we don't "censor" discussion concerning Israel. We just politely give our opinions and the voice of the other side disappears.
Another example: 400 rabbis, including myself, signed a letter sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom that appeared in the Forward this past month. It was a mildly liberal statement that proclaimed that "we are deeply troubled by the recent victory of Hamas," but went on to urge "indirect assistance to the Palestinian people via NGO's, with the appropriate conditions to ensure that it does not reach the hands of terrorists." Pretty mild stuff. Yet pulpit rabbis across this country who signed the letter have reported a concerted effort to silence them. The letter has been branded a "piece of back-stabbing abandonment of the Jews of Israel." Synagogue boards have been pressured to silence their rabbis by that loose coalition called the "Israel Lobby."
Just another example of the Jewish establishment stifling any discussion of Israel that does not conform to the neo-conservative tenets of AIPAC and its cohorts. Beware of these self-appointed guardians of Israel and Jewish values. In the end they will destroy everything that makes Judaism a compassionate religion, and if in their zeal they do not destroy Israel, they certainly will not make it more secure.