American foreign policy American Jews Israel Israel lobby Lebanon

What can American Jews learn from the Winograd Commission?

I am starting to get private and public criticism about this blog from people who believe I am betraying Israel, people who believe I am justifying Israeli war crimes, people who don’t want Israel to exist, people who think the U.S. should provide knee-jerk support for every Israeli decision, and people who believe the U.S. should withhold all support from Israel…So I must be doing something right.

Here is one with elements that may well upset people in all of the ideological camps noted above, but especially the Israel right-or-wrong crowd:

Israel Policy Forum’s MJ Rosenberg, as expected, has written a provocative and instructive piece about the Winograd Commission report on the Israeli government’s handling of the Lebanon War. He thinks Member of Congress who called for a ceasefire, and therefore did not toe the line of the mainstream American Jewish community, are owed an apology. He doesn’t need my help to get (well-deserved) attention and I’ve never felt compelled to point readers in his direction. But his latest “IPFriday” is worth noting. Among his reactions to the Winograd report:

What of us here, the pro-Israel community?

We supported the war whole-heartedly. I didn’t think Israel had any choice but to hit back hard and, throughout the war, held my tongue (and pen) when I started to perceive that the war was going badly. I assumed the Israeli government knew what it was doing, that it wouldn’t risk its soldiers without a solid plan to accomplish the mission.

I was wrong. And so were all those who felt that this war was a necessary battle for Israel — in contrast to the various raids, skirmishes and attacks on Palestinians which accomplish little other than to take lives and postpone the negotiations that will end the conflict.

Especially wrong were those people who tried to shut down criticism of the war by people who understood that it was a mistake, like the Members of Congress who spoke up and said that the United States should help end the conflict by seeking a cease-fire.

The response these Members of Congress received from local community leaders who wear the pro-Israel mantle was loudly and unambiguously negative. They were told that their call for a cease-fire was inappropriate. They were summoned to community meetings where they had to defend themselves against the charge of being anti-Israel.

Now we see that these Members of Congress were not wrong. A cease-fire, once the war started going badly for Israel (which was the precise point that the Congressional cease-fire calls were issued) would have saved dozens of Israeli and hundreds of Lebanese lives.

Those dissenting Members of Congress clearly deserve an apology. After all, the Winograd Commission and, essentially, the entire population of Israel now agree that the war was a debacle.

But apologies aren’t likely. Despite everything we have learned, there are still those spokespeople for the pro-Israel community who believe that lockstep support of official positions is invariably right. No matter that they have been proven wrong, over and over again.

The good news is that the pro-Israel community is changing. Nobody loses their Congressional seat for telling the status quo crowd what they don’t want to hear. Sure, they get some flack from those champions of the status quo. But that is about it. And more and more people in the pro-Israel community want their Representatives to speak up when they perceive our (or Israel’s) policies to be damaging — damaging to America and damaging to Israel. The ice is cracking. The Winograd Report only helps.

7 thoughts on “What can American Jews learn from the Winograd Commission?

  1. Thanks for posting my piece. I’m glad you are getting flack about this blog. You should see my e-mail! If the status quo crowd likes your stuff, you have to know that you are wrong. The last thing they were right about anything was probably 1948 and actually, back then, some of the same organizations that are so rightwing on Israel today actually opposed creating a Jewish state. Some of these guys have been consistently wrong for 60 years! Like the Red Sox it may take them 86 years to get it right.

  2. “I assumed the Israeli government knew what it was doing, that it wouldn’t risk its soldiers without a solid plan to accomplish the mission.

    I was wrong.”

    Politics are ironic.

    Sharon was the individual that formed Kadima. He was also indirectly criticized in the Winograd report for ignoring defense concerns and intelligence in Southern Lebanon, in favor of concentrating on politics in Gaza and the West Bank.

    Olmert was a secondary politician with no military experience, only prime minister because Sharon was in a coma.

    Further irony is that Kadima and even Labor insisted that Peretz be defense minister even as he had no military experience, among the conservative side of Kadima to alternately discredit him or teach him, among labor to add a moderating independant influence to check some of the hawks.

    Lebanon taught Israel a lesson about considering political posturing as more important than competence. (A lesson that they’ve had a dozen opportunities to learn, but haven’t quite, and a lesson that Americans should learn. And, for that matter a lesson that Palestinians should learn.)

    The Winograd report is a critique of skillessness, NOT a particular political or military conclusion. A description of the functional lack of options, the lack of agility, constructing the degree that history is fated rather than responded.

  3. Having not read the Winograd Report, I am curious as to whether or not it touches on the U.S. “encouragement” as reported on YNet [“Neocons: We expected Israel to attack Syria”,7340,L-3340750,00.html ], and I also wonder if this might have something to do with the alarmist non-sense about Syria that has been popping up throughout the Israeli media [e.g. “Israeli Envoy: Syrian Build-up – the Strongest Since 1973 War” ]

  4. John,

    I haven’t read the report either, but tell me, how do you know the news reports about Syrias military build-up have been “non-sense” and “alarmist.” You might be right, but tell me, on what basis are you making that claim? Do you have sources of intelligence that give you access to the truth?

  5. Hi Teddy,

    I didn’t say it was “non-sense” and “alarmist,” but that it is “alarmist non-sense” – there is a difference. Whether or not Syria is building up it military, there is zero – meaning absolutely none – pretense that Syria is in anyway a military threat to Israel. Syria does have its “doomsday option” (a massive chemical weapons arsenal and a myriad of crude delivery devices that can reach all of Israel) but it is just that, a means of deterrence to be used only if there is nothing left to lose (i.e. Israel launches a full scale attack on Syria) as it is virtually a given that Israel could utterly destroy Syria many times over. The point is, regardless of what the Syrians are doing, they are not a military threat to Israel, so all the media reports popping up in the Israeli press suggesting otherwise is “alarmist non-sense.” Syria is not going to attack Israel period, to suggest or imply otherwise is “alarmist non-sense”.

  6. Good for you for negotiating this difficult territory.

    When you start to make powerful people angry, it means you’re on to something. Or so I’ve always found.

    Keep up the good work, Dan.

  7. John S.,
    Maybe I’m just thick, but what is the difference between being “alarmist nonsense” and “alarmist and nonsense”?

    Aren’t you guilty of the same “konseptzia” as the Israeli planners in 1973 that assumed that the Egyptians wouldn’t attack without air superiority because otherwise they couldn’t win? But Syria may have other aims other than defeating or destroying Israel (at least in the short term).

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