The organized American Jewish communityÂ and Israel are like a tiredÂ old married couple that lives together on the basis of old habits, not new realities. TheyÂ need to make an effort to redefine their relationship so that both canÂ benefit. (Full disclosure: I stole that simileÂ from Jerry Goodman, former director of the National Committee for Labor Israel and Ameinu Board member).
I, for one, want to makeÂ this marriageÂ work. But itÂ will no longer sufficeÂ for Israel to do all the asking and for American Jews to do all the giving, viaÂ lobbying and/orÂ monetary contributions.Â Â Â It needs to be a two-way street. The Israel-Palestinian dispute is no longerÂ a local neighborhood feud. What happens in Tulkarm and Gaza City and Ramallah reverberates in Toledo and Galveston and Rochester.Â Peace and stability in the Middle East and a solution to the Palestinian questionÂ were always anÂ American interest; now they are an urgent priority.Â
I won’t go intoÂ detail to show why this is the case.Â If you don’t believe it, you are delusional. Â All you need to do is look at the front page ofÂ today’s New York Times,Â where a headline blares: “In Lebanon Camp, A New Face of Jihad Vows Attacks on the U.S..” It is just the latest evidence that in the minds of much of the Islamic world, the U.S. and Israel are linked together inextricably as blood enemies, and America is held responsible for Israeli behavior (in the far left, of course, Israel is held responsible for America’s behavior, but that isÂ much too simplistic).
Yet too many Israeli and mainstream Jewish leadersÂ in the U.S. still act as if American Jews’Â sole responsibilityÂ in this relationship isÂ to protect theÂ interests of our poor, beleagured spouse.Â Â
We (i.e., American Jews) need to start asking Israel to help us, too. I’ve published a number of op-eds making this point in the Jewish media and the Huffington PostÂ (see the “Publications” page in this web site, where you will findÂ “The Settlements are My Problem Too” and “What Israel Can Do for America”) Â Before each one appeared, I expected to be tarred and feathered by friends in the Jewish establishmentÂ because I had broken some kind of taboo by being honest about the relationship. But I got support from some very senior American Jewish leaders, one of whom told me. “you’re just stating the obvious.”Â Â I believe I was just articulating somethingÂ they might be willing to say out loud in their living rooms, but not publicly.Not yet…
Â It seems to me that thisÂ theme -what Israel can do for the U.S.–Â is implicit in some of the other blogs from progressive Jews that I’ve been reading.Â Yesterday, Mobius , in Jew School, wroteÂ about AIPAC’s success inÂ pushing Congress to remove a provision from the Iraq spending bill that would have required President Bush to seek Congressional approval before going toÂ war against Iran.Â AIPAC doesn’t always do what Israel wants, but it is hard to believe that was done without the enthusiastic support of the Israeli government.
Mobius notes, correctly: “This is an overt action supposedly done in Israelâ€™s favor that blatantly contravenes American interests. By coercing the Congress to abdicate its Constitutional authority to declare war, they just cut the legs out from under the American people, giving infinitely more leeway to an Executive branch seen by most Americans to have already far overstepped the limits of its power.”
But, understandably,Â he doesn’t go into much detail about what to do about it.Â It’s not enough to organize an alternative American Jewish bloc to either transform or replace the conventional Israel lobby, although that is certainly worth a try.Â More thought needs to go intoÂ redefining the relationship of American Jews withÂ Israel.Â Â Â
No community, no political bloc, is better suitedÂ than American Jews to start asking Israel to stopÂ using its lobbyists forÂ dangerous foolishness like the one noted above, or to stop butting intoÂ the American debate about Iraq, as Olmert did when he told the AIPAC Policy Conference that withdrawing from Iraq would imperil Israel.Â But the question of precisely what we ask of Israel, and how, and when, is a very complicated, delicate question that deserves further discussion.Â It is time to start the discussion, isn’t it?