Shmuel Rosner
Haaretz (Blog)
November 6, 2007 - 1:00pm


The debate, or you might want to call it a war, over the role American Jews should play in Israeli politics is about to enter yet another round.

Here is one letter I got from someone deeply involved in such matters: "The Israeli debate about whether and how much input to give Diaspora Jews in Israel affairs is in some ways subordinate to the Diaspora Jewish debate. To put it bluntly - we do not require Israel's permission to assert Jewish rights on issues that concern us". You want an example that this is already happening? Take this new Orthodox Union web site, "a one-stop, one-click hub for community information and activism to defend Jerusalem against division." Or, another example: the new Coordinating Council on Jerusalem, an umbrella organization of U.S. Jewish groups who are taking political positions on the upcoming Annapolis negotiations "and beyond."


Some of those activists, now mostly from the right, read with some interest the Haaretz editorial from last week: "The threat by a group of prominent donors to halt funds unless the Jewish Agency cuts itself off from the WZO - a blatant and patronizing demand as it may be - could accelerate a very necessary debate. The donors reflect the growing tendency among the large contributors to focus on visible results rather than perks."

If that's the case, it's not just true when it comes to philanthropy related to Jewish education, or Jewish culture, they say. There is a limit to what many U.S. Jewish organizations will support or even endure passively from any particular Israeli government or policy, one of them told me. And the "visible results" he is talking about are much different than what Haaretz has in mind: "Using whatever political and economic clout we have to pursue what we believe is the best policy".


Now, the question of Jewish influence over the policies of Israel is as old as the State, and very complicated. Back in 1996, it was an Australian billionaire helping Binyamin Netanyahu defeat Shimon Peres in the election. In many other instances, American Jewish groups were supporting organizations that were pressing Israel into accommodating the Palestinian Authority. Both sides were claiming to serve Israel's best interests. Both sides were conveniently ignoring the fact that it is Israelis, rather than themselves, who were going to pay the price of failure.

The Israeli left was frequently denouncing the political involvement of right wing philanthropists like Sheldon Adelson and Joseph Gutnick. The Israeli right was looking suspiciously at peace activists who were paid with the help of outside sources like the Ford Foundation, and at groups benefiting from the generosity of such Jewish philanthropists as Daniel Abraham and Charles Bronfman. Apparently, the money - and the influence that accompanies it - doesn't smell bad, as long as it's in your pocket rather than in your opponent's.


Enter the Annapolis meeting, and with it the renewed (and one might add boring and tired) debate about Jerusalem, the right of return and the future of the settlements.

Here we go again: Left wing American Jewish groups praising Prime Minister Olmert ("Israel Policy Forum To Olmert: We Admire Your Determination To Make Annapolis a Meaningful Event"), right wing groups calling him to task (ZOA: "The Olmert government, contrary to the views of the Israeli and American publics, is planning to divide Jerusalem").

Both camps are using the peace process as the most efficient tool of fund raising.


A couple of months ago, I criticized the OU for staying mum on an instance of disobedience of Orthodox soldiers serving in the occupied territories. Last year, the OU adopted a resolution that empowered the leadership of the organization to express opposition to Israeli government policies in any appropriate way, "including publicly." Whether this was the right decision is a matter of debate, I wrote, "but the Union now has a golden opportunity to address a problem in need of urgent care, publicly: the Duchifat Battalion affair. And the excuse of we-do-not-engage-in-intra-Israeli-matters is gone."

Needless to say, such condemnation of the Orthodox soldiers never materialized.


Another article I wrote dealt with the opposing political camp (see how fair and balanced I can be?). A group of several dovish organizations were trying to raise funds and resources for the establishment of a new, strong and efficient lobby with the aim of pushing the U.S. Congress and government to increase their involvement in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully.

I blamed them for linguistic acrobatics for claiming that they support Israel: "The distinction some of the founders make between supporting the values of the 'Israeli public' and those of the 'Israeli government' is not reasonable. The public is represented by its government. They may decide not to support it, but they are well advised to avoid a righteous facade that does not respect the voters and their decisions."


So, should American Jews have a voice in shaping Israel's policies?

The naked, unvarnished truth is this: The new generation of American Jewish organizations and philanthropists no longer supports "Israel" in the sense that they support whatever Israel decides that it is in its best interest. They support the Israeli political camp that's more to their liking, and the actions that seem in tandem with their core beliefs.


Is that OK?

That's life.


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