AIPAC American foreign policy Israel Israel lobby Israeli occupation Israeli settlements Middle East peace process Zionism

AB Yehoshua wants U.S. pressure and denounces the Israel lobby: Anything new here?

Richard Silverstein’s Tikun Olam notes that Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua called for removing the U.S. ambassador to Israel and attacked America’s Israel lobby. But he missed a few nuances. I might be the only one in the universe who cares about these nuances, as they touch upon some of the work I’ve tried to do over the years, but forgive the self-indulgence:

First, Richard S. quotes from a Y-net story:

In a scathing op-ed published in the Italian daily La Stampa, Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua said George W. Bush should recall the US ambassador to Israel until the Jewish state dismantles all illegal outposts in the West Bank, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday.

“If the American president would have really wanted Israel to disassemble the illegal outposts…he would have done better to stay in the White House…” Yehoshua wrote in response to Bush’s recent visit to the Middle East. “He should have recalled his ambassador to Tel Aviv (Richard Jones) for an indefinite period until the outposts were evacuated.

“I can guarantee you that had he acted in this manner, Israel would have promptly dismantled the outposts, and the US administration would thus cement the faith of the Israelis and the Palestinians in the peace process,” he said in the op-ed.

Yehoshua added that Israel was deceiving the international community into focusing solely on the illegal outposts.

“Instead of dealing with (all) of the illegal settlements (in the West Bank), only the illegal outposts are being discussed – this legitimizes the status of (the other) settlements, in which 250,000 Israelis reside,” he said.

Richard S. then picks up his commentary, which treats this is a remarkable and new development:

First, it indicates a desperation on the part of the rational Zionist center-left. It is clear to them that no one in current Israeli politics has the will or interest to do the hard things that need to get done for there to be peace. Under those conditions, a dyed in the wool Zionist like Yehoshua is willing to give voice to heresy and call for direct U.S. interference in Israeli domestic politics.

Second, the statement bespeaks a recognition among those same rational Zionists that now is the time for a settlement. This realization is accompanied by the conviction that losing this opportunity will be much worse than past lost opportunities because the stakes seem higher than they have ever been in terms of the violence that might be unleashed in the event of failure now….

Interestingly, and not surprisingly, Ynet has omitted Yehoshua’s direct criticism of the Israel lobby. JTA reports that Yehoshua also had this to say:

“Yehoshua further described all West Bank settlements as illegal and described the `Jewish lobby’ as having `become a powerful tool of influence on Israel’s behalf within the U.S. administration.'”

What is important here is that it’s no longer Jimmy Carter or Walt-Mearsheimer attacking the Lobby. It’s now a mainstream Israeli figure like Yehoshua who, as a Zionist, might be seen to have a vested interest in supporting the work of the Lobby

Well, it’s important but the novelty should not be exaggerated. Yehoshua’s statement is noteworthy because his castigation of the lobby and calls for American intervention are so passionate and so public.

But mainstream, leftwing Zionists, including Labor Party leaders, have often asserted that the conventional Israel lobby doesn’t represent Israel’s true interests. Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar and many other columnists have lambasted AIPAC for years. For that matter, let’s not forget that PM Rabin himself took on AIPAC in some widely reported confrontations in the early 1990s. It was clear from all the reportage that one key reason was the perception that the lobby had been much too close to Likud and Greater Israel supporters, and would be an obstacle to the peace process. Rabin’s people did not make any efforts to correct those stories.

In 1993, Israel Policy Forum was founded with the close cooperation of Labor doves, who understood that the conventional Israel lobby could not enthusiastically sell peace talks with Arafat and the two-state solution to the American Jewish community.

Moreover, mainstream, left-of-center Israelis have often called for direct American intervention into Israel’s affairs, especially since the collapse of Camp David II. Former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami has written many times that bi-lateral talks won’t work, because the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians are too wide, and neither side is willing to stop taking steps that preclude a workable settlement. He has called for America and the international community to intervene –in a variety of ways– to save Israel from itself. Over the years, I myself have ghostwritten and placed op-eds for a number of prominent Israelis (trust me on this one) who have expressed similar sentiments.

Yehoshua should be applauded (even though his comments were buried in La Stampa), as should Richard S. for bringing it to our attention. The more the American Jewish mainstream hears from Israelis who want the U.S. to give Israel some tough love, the better. But if they think it is an unprecedented development, they might not take it seriously. They should realize that Yehoshua is pushing the envelope a little farther, but it is not a new envelope

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