The American Israel Political Affairs Committee ( AIPAC) has stood for more than a generation as the crowning glory of U.S.Jewry’s achievements and prestige. The political action committee has traded in the kind of influence that most lobbyists can only dream of – building a political base and a national constituency which commands the attention of congressmen, senators and presidents alike. While it has certainly had its ups and downs it has, for the main, been one of the best hedges against the descent of American foreign policy into the corrosive anti-Zionism which is the hallmark of so many other Western nations.
But those salad days may now be well behind it. A new U.S. Administration, with broader global concerns, is indicating that it doesn’t need AIPAC and perhaps not even Israel itself. In fact, both may stand in the way of the execution of a strategy of diplomatic engagement designed to placate the grievances of U.S. enemies and build rapport with European allies.
That dark clouds are beginning to gather over the once bucolic relationship should be clear to anyone who has witnessed the cold shoulder the Israelis have received from the Administration to date.
First there was the IDF’s chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who could not, on a recent visit to Washington, get any of his phone calls to the Administration returned, nor could he line up any of his usual business appointments.
Second there was Israeli president Shimon Peres’ off handed treatment during his White House visit, in which he was shunted in and out of the Oval Office without the usual protocol accorded a head of state.
Then there was Vice -President Joe Biden’s ominous remarks to the AIPAC Conference (which the president chose not to attend) in which he challenged the Jewish community and the State of Israel to demonstrate a willingness to make peace- as if the loss of nearly 1,200 Israeli lives and countless injured since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, was not sufficient proof of Israeli sacrifice for that noble goal.
Next week Benjamin Netanyahu will make his first visit to the Obama White House and the protocol used and body language exhibited will be carefully watched. Those who observed Obama’s frosty reception of the U.K.’s Gordon Brown, the U.S.’ traditional ally and his seeming obeisance to leaders of countries who have shown only contempt for American ideals and values, have reason to be cautious.
Gutted from the old document are the following four crucial paragraphs regarding Palestinian compliance with former agreements:
1. Urging the U.S. government to vigorously enforce the Palestinian Antiterrorism Act. In addition, urging the U.S. government and other parties of the Quartet’s to adhere to the position that they will not have contact with or provide funds to a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas recognizes Israel‘s right to exist as a Jewish state, forswears terror, and fulfills prior agreements between Israel and the PLO. Hamas needs to disarm and abrogate its terrorist charter which includes calling for Israel‘s destruction and murder of Jews.
2. Urging Congress and the Administration to continue to support the criteria laid out by President Bush’s June 24, 2002 speech that the establishment of any interim Palestinian state be contingent first and foremost upon the total cessation of violence and incitement, dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure, and the change to a democratically elected Palestinian leadership untainted by terror. This includes the principles that any final peace agreement be the result of direct negotiations between the Government of Israel and such a reformed Palestinian Authority, and that the U.S. continue to oppose any Palestinian assertions or implementation of powers that would jeopardize Israeli security or jeopardize access to Jewish holy sites; =
3. Urge the ruling Fatah party to formally renounce and abrogate the ten clauses of its charter which calls for the destruction of Israel by use of terrorism and opposes any political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
4. Ensuring that Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, remains united as the capital only of Israel, securing the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem without delay, and urging the administration to discontinue invoking the Jerusalem Embassy Act’s national security waiver, and urging that the phrase˜ Jerusalem, Israel” be used on all official U.S. government documents, including passports, which mention Jerusalem.
One of the most interesting features of journalist’s Aaron Klein’s recent book, The Late Great State of Israel, is his revelation that many members of Fatah’s Preventative Security Services, today being armed and trained by the United States, moonlight as al Asqa Brigade operatives, committed to Israel’s destruction and the death of Jews . The al Asqa Brigade, indistinguishable in ideology and operational tactics from Hamas’ paramilitary units, is closely associated with Fatah and has carried out countless attacks on Israeli citizens, resulting in hundreds of deaths of men, women and children. Klein also points out the obvious, that Fatah, first under Arafat and now under Abbas, has never carried out any of its agreements and shows no signs of doing so. Mahmoud Abbas’s response last week to demands that he would not recognize the Jewish character of the State of Israel should be the conclusive indication that any prospective peace deal with the current Palestinian leadership is a non-starter.
And yet the drive for Palestinian statehood bulldozes on, sweeping aside any objections and logical inferences about Palestinian intentions or conduct.
Has AIPAC bought into this new perspective, despite the reality staring it in the face? That is only to be seen in the coming weeks as the Obama Administration makes its Middle East agenda clear and then the AIPAC response.
AIPAC, as an organization, has traditionally followed the government of Israel’s lead on both diplomatic and security issues. But what if the left leaning AIPAC leadership comes up hard against a right leaning Israeli government, one which has yet to endorse a two state solution or that proffers incontrovertible proof that funds being sent to the Palestinian Authority are being used, at least in part, to fund terrorism? Would AIPAC’s positions on unquestioned aid to the Palestinians and support for Palestinian statehood then remain the same?
But the lessons of the Second World War and organized American Jewry’s response to reports of the Holocaust, should act as a salutary lesson to our current leadership. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a popular president who commanded the loyalty of more than 85% of American Jewry in the 1930s and 40s. That leadership, headed by the suave and politically dexterous Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, abided the U.S Administration’s failure to take any action regarding the reports of Nazi extermination policies emanating from Europe. Time and time again, when confronted with devastating accounts of the Holocaust in Europe, the American leadership, in deference to FDR, chose silence, out of respect for the Administration’s argument that the Jews of Europe could only be saved by victory in the land war and all other matters were ancillary and subordinate to that aim. That meant that Wise and his cohorts did not lobby for increased immigration quotas for Jews; they did not push hard for bombing the train tracks leading to Auschwitz and other concentration camps; nor did they actively publicize the death of millions of their co-religionists to the wider American public.
Instead they did the opposite. They demonized those who sought, like the activist Peter Bergson, to bring nationwide attention to the atrocities; they lobbied against the creation of the War Refugee Board , which, if it had been created in 1942, rather than in 1944, would have saved millions of Jewish lives; and they did nothing to urge the British to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish refugees.
And how did FDR repay these acts of loyalty? With derision and contempt, refusing to meet with Wise for months; allowing his Secretary of Immigration ,the antisemitic Breckinridge Long, to stonewall any attempt to increase immigration quotas for Jews and fighting against the creation of a War Refugee Board until it was realized that the political backlash could overwhelm his 1944 electoral campaign.
The lives of millions of Jews are at greater risk than at any time since the Second World War. The American Jewish leadership cannot afford this time to stand idly by, while a U.S. Administration dictates to it how it should respond to a crisis involving the welfare of the Jewish people.
There is a time in history for true leaders to stand their ground and no matter what the consequences, forthrightly speak their mind. That time may be approaching. Lets hope that AIPAC, one of U.S. Jewry’s most impressive organizational achievements, has absorbed the lessons of the 1940s and will do what is necessary to stand adamantly for the protection of the State of Israel and for the preservation of Jewish life.