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

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

  1. I get a different take on the term “Israel Lobby” in common usage, than the distinction between a liberal and conservative approach.

    I still smart from being accused a few thousand times of being a racist, for stating that Israel’s existence is a good in the world.

    A thousand times, I am called complicit with the “Israel Lobby”, with no distinction as nuance or objective or limits.

    By the majority of dissenters that I encounter on the web, the book “The Israel Lobby” is NOT an urging for a peace at the green line, but a contempt for Israel itself.

    This is the important comment, the goal, the focus.

    ““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.””

    The digression to the “Israel Lobby” and the focus on that part of the comment by Richard S and Phil Weiss, is a distraction.

    We’ve got to keep our eye on the prize, and reject “which side are you on”.

  2. I don’t want to quibble with you on this since we’re both on the same side but…can you tell me the last time you heard any Israeli call for the U.S. to call home its ambassador to express its displeasure w. Israeli policy?? That’s a pretty radical statement.

    I don’t discount all the previous developments you noted. But what Yehoshua said was unprecedented.

  3. There should be some tough love for the Palestinian Authority, including Abbas.

    Aid donors should tell the PA to support land-for-peace and stop threatening Israel with continued war if Israel doesn’t agree to right-of-refugees-to-return-plus-land-for-peace.

  4. Richard,
    I liked that Yehoshua spoke strongly, and prospectively in my understanding of what moving forward entails.

    Recalling an ambassador is a STRONG message.

    http://files.tikkun.org/current/article.php?story=20080121063805512

    This tikkun article suggests that Bush is incapable (both for backbone and competence) to guide a peace.

    Third parties are needed to bridge hurdles.

    Peace takes a combination of unilateral actions, bi-lateral agreements, multi-lateral agreements, structured with real accountability enforced by either reliable third parties, or reliable international institutions.

    Israel apparently currently ISN’T taking any unilateral actions to pursue the peace effort, and only currently undertaking the appearance of bi-lateral.

    I thought that they felt it was urgent to conclude a peace deal under Bush.

    I don’t think the internal argument has been made about the untenability of the current situation. I think that should be the focus of attempting to change Israeli’s and American’s minds.

    Yehoshua contributes to that effort by urging it. Previously, there were few recent patriotic Zionist voices that described that the expansion and settlement strategy was implausible (even aside from morality).

    A convincing pragmatic political argument includes criticism of the current, and the existence of a path to different.

    Jonathon’s hopelessness (constructing demands, rather than efforts) is common.

    I believe that the realities have teetered. There is NO current possibility of Israel being surrounded by enemy Islamic states, as Jordan and Egypt are in a condition of treaty. Sure, their regimes can fall (they haven’t since the inception of Israel), but not too quickly for Israel to adjust its preparations.

    The Arab League I believe is sincere in recognizing Israel, even as their attitude is reflected in a prince’s recent statement “We welcome Israel to be the Jewish jurisdiction of the greater Arab nation”.

    Those are DIFFERENT objective conditions.

    Israel has to shift from only what was necessary to a combination of what is necessary with what is possible.

    Careful, but moving forward.

  5. If tough love is good, then why not show some tough love for the Palestinian side also?

    Indeed, if tough love helps the recipient then showing tough love only to Israel is unfair to the Palestinian side.

    In 2001 the Taba talks failed over two issues. One was the status of the Temple Mount. The other was refugees, with the Palestinian Authority demanding that Israel allow 500,000 Palestinians to immigrate to Israel. Some say that the PA would have settled for 200,000 Palestinians immigrating to Israel.

    People can get as upset as they want to about less than 500,000 Jews living in the West Bank. The problem is that it doesn’t matter. No matter how many or few Jews settle in the West Bank, the Palestinian side is going to demand that Palestinians settle in pre-1967 Israel.

    The question that I ask people is whether, if offered a state in the West Bank, Gaza and most of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians should turn it down and fight on for the right to settle inside of pre-1967 Israel.

    The answer is clearly No. So why not some tough love for the Palestinians side?

  6. Dan used the expression “give Israel some tough love.”

    The metaphor of “tough love” doesn’t work in conflicts where there are two sides. If giving Side A “tough love” helps Side A, then presumably giving Side B “tough love” would also help Side B.

    Or so the argument would go. It would be very hard to push Israel on anything while leaving Palestinian demands for settlement rights in pre-1967 Israel in place.

    Indeed, the concern is that those who argue for “tough love” against Israel but not the PA would eventually argue for “tough love” to force Israel to settle Palestinians in Israel.

    I think the metaphor of “tough love” won’t work. It is applicable to teen-agers who harm themselves. But voters in democratic nations such as Israel are not usually teen-agers.

    Also, who is the parent? Is the USA Israel’s parent? “Tough love” is an unusual metaphor, and hard to follow.

  7. Tough love only works in a bilateral conflict in which both sides contribute measureably to the conflict if it is applied to both sides. To be able to apply pressure to both sides a mediator must have significant interactions with both sides and leverage over both sides. Because Washington has much greater leverage over Israel than over Palestine, it cannot by itself apply tough love effectively. But the Europeans have significant leverage over the Palestinians. This is why it is important for Washington to learn the lessons of Northern Ireland and apply the dual mediation format (Dublin and London, there) that worked so well in that conflict. This would involve inviting the European Union to work as equals in a future peace process in exchange for the Europeans being able to apply pressure on the Palestinians in conjunction with American pressure on Israel. But such a move would mean that a future administration would have to be willing to go against the Israel lobby and fight it tooth and nail. Clearly, no president who owed his election to either organized Evangelical social conservatives or the Jewish establishment would be willing to take this risk. Therefore, if we want it to occur we must look outside of these usual pathways and reject candidates (Huckabee, Giuliani, Clinton) who are dependent on these two groups.

  8. Could we agree to use the term “Conservative Israel Lobby” rather than “THE” Israel Lobby.

    I’d like to think that Britzedek is also an Israel Lobby, and APN and Meretz USA.

    Lets not give the currently conservative AIPAC control over the English language, even as some might want to.

  9. Jonathan,

    Of course “tough love” needs to be given to both sides. The point is not to give it to just one side. But pressure from the U.S. can accomplish only so much. To my mind, it is called for in order to stop both sides from taking steps that will soon preclude the possibility of an enduring solution. But when and if there are serious negotiations, diplomatic sticks could not possibly help to persuade Palestinian negotiators to give up the right of return in practice. Only carrots have a chance to succeed.

  10. “””Clearly, no president who owed his election to either organized Evangelical social conservatives or the Jewish establishment would be willing to take this risk.”””

    Why not say “pro-Israel establishment,” if supporting Israel–rather than being Jewish–is the defining characteristic of this group.

    It makes me uncomfortable when people use the adjective “Jewish” to describe something which they do not like, such as “the Jewish lobby” or in this case “the Jewish establishment.”

  11. “””But when and if there are serious negotiations, diplomatic sticks could not possibly help to persuade Palestinian negotiators to give up the right of return in practice. Only carrots have a chance to succeed.”””

    Such as the economic aid which the Palestinian Authority receives from Europe and the US? Using that aid as a carrot to get the PA to stop demanding the right to settle in pre-1967 Israel would be a very good idea.

    Why isn’t it happening?

  12. Jonathan,
    I used the term “Jewish establishment” to represent the groups that claim to speak for the mainstream of organized American Jewry such as the American Jewish Congress, Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, AIPAC, et al. These seem to represent the mainstream of Reform, Conservative and modern Orthodox Jews or at least would claim to. I guess I’m taking their claim on face value rather than using it because I disagree with them.

  13. The problem is that you are associating something that you disapprove of with the adjective “Jewish.” That means that being “Jewish” is a defining characteristic of whatever it is that you disapprove of.

    If the defining characteristic is in fact “groups that claim to represent Jews” then why not just say that?

    It is possible to fashion a reasonable invective against whatever you oppose without identifying the objects of your criticism as “Jewish.”

    Why not do so?

  14. Jonathan,
    When an establishment is the establishment of a particular ethnic group, it is foolish not to identify it as such. Would it be objectionable for me to say that much of the black political establishment is backing Clinton despite Obama being black? I suppose if talking about the Jewish establishment makes me an anti-semite in your eyes than making the latter statement makes me a racist. I think it just makes it clear who I’m talking about.

  15. A more common construct is “Jewish lobby” instead of “Jewish establishment.” Lots of people see no problem in attacking the “Jewish lobby.” I saw an anti-Israel non-Jewish woman do so at a talk by Ruth Wisse at the DC Jewish Community Center last year. The audience started booing her.

    The person next to me said that it was rude for me to boo, but I think it is appropriate.

    Later I spoke to the woman, who appeared to have a Jewish husband as well as a horrible face-lift that looked like a death-mask. I said that people don’t like it if you refer to the “Jewish lobby” because you are associating “Jewish” with something that is bad.

    I said that it wouldn’t matter what else she said, she lost her audience at the JCC as soon as she complained about “the Jewish lobby.”

    She replied “They are (Jewish)! They are! What should I call them?”

    You continue:

    “””Would it be objectionable for me to say that much of the black political establishment is backing Clinton despite Obama being black?”””

    (1) First of all, you have introduced the caveat “much of” in your description of the black establishment, toning it down considerably from what you said about the Jewish establishment.

    You had no such caveat in your statement about the Jewish establishment.

    (2) Furthermore, it is not clear that you view support for the Clintons as a bad thing, so you have not associated “black” with anything bad, unwise, immoral or unethical.

    “””I suppose if talking about the Jewish establishment makes me an anti-semite in your eyes than making the latter statement makes me a racist.”””

    You may simply be inexact or even incompetent in your manner of communication. You may not be an anti-Semite at all. You may be a philo-Semite. You may be a Jew.

    “””I think it just makes it clear who I’m talking about.”””

    It is not at all clear who you are talking about.

    You don’t mention the names of the organizations that you object to. Are you talking about the Union of American Hebrew Congregations? Brandeis University? The U.S. Holocaust Memorial?

    Far from clarifying your message, your reference to “the Jewish establishment” obscures it.

    That is why I say that the problem here may not be that you are anti-Semitic at all but simply that your style of speaking will offend some listeners.

    Others may find you convincing. If you are happy with your words then fine. I still have a right to complain.

  16. Back to content (how we use words are also content).

    Is there any way that you can imagine that Israel can avoid being baited by Hamas, or not take the bait.

    The result of every time they (an organized military) interact with Hamas or Hezbollah (both also organized militaries but as “popular” independant cells), Israel looks like and sometimes does immoral actions.

    They give agitation the fruits of “effort”, rather than assertive but rational dialog.

  17. No, I think that how people are using words around here is more important for us.

    Tom’s reaction indicates that he doesn’t understand that when he makes the object of his invective “the Jewish establishment” he loses some of his audience immediately.

    Not as many as he would lose if he complained about “the Jewish lobby” but a significant number.

    It would be one thing if that were a calculated decision on his part. But I think he has no clue.

  18. Is anybody going to answer Richard Silverstein’s question?

    “when is the last time you heard anyone in the lobby call for the U.S. to withdraw its ambassador to express its displeasure with Israeli policy?”

  19. The Little Dickie Silverstein Marching Song

    I am a little kapo,
    It makes my mommy mad,
    Cause when I am a kapo,
    Those Zionists get sad!

    I celebrate the jihad,
    and terror all the while,
    I fill my blog and web page,
    With loud salutes of Sieg Heil!

    I want to see them Zraelis,
    All dumped out in the sea,
    My swastika a waving,
    Cause everything’s bout me.

    (from the Kapostein blog)

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