Shmuel Rosner
Haaretz (Blog)
May 20, 2008 - 4:04pm

I got so much feedback to the interview with Jeffrey Goldberg two weeks ago (Is Israel finished? Five questions), that it was only natural to try a second round. This time, the topic is Goldberg's New York Times article, about "Israel's 'American Problem'".

Goldberg is blogging here. Here is the (written) interview:

1. I will start with the most basic disagreement we have: I think Israel is a grown-up, an adult, you seem to think it is not. I think Israel should have a leeway to make its own mistakes. You seem to think that we need rescue, and that an American President (Obama?) should be the firefighter pulling Israel of the burning neighborhood. Do you understand why I find your position condescending?

If Israel were a grown-up, it would pay for its own weapons, rather than have America pay for them. If Israel were a grown-up, it wouldn't depend on American Jewish -- and Protestant evangelical -- charities to fund its hospitals, ambulances services, forests, universities and museums. So, pardon my condescension, but Israel obviously needs rescue, or else it wouldn't be taking so much American welfare money. When Israel stand on its own, then we can talk about its emergence as a mature nation. And, by the way, with a GDP of $150 billion a year, Israel could afford to buy all of its own weaponry, but it chooses not to. Not a very grown-up approach.

One other point on this topic, something we've talked about before. Israelis know they're stuck in the West Bank; they know their country is choking on settlements. There's a national consensus that the settlements, especially those east of the barrier fence, have to go. And yet they don't go. Israel is obviously paralyzed by this question, as it has been for more than thirty years. Eventually, people are going to notice that Israel has great difficulty maneuvering its way out of its self-created problems. Could an American president help steer Israel out of this mess? Absolutely.

2. I'll stay with the same topic: If an American President should be "one who prods the Jewish state ? publicly, continuously and vociferously" toward concessions ? why is it problematic for Jewish leaders prod Israel in the other direction? The way I see it, either you think all people should let Israel make its own policies - or all people can try and influence its policies. What you do can be seen as political: One should pressure Israel as much as he wants to, as long as his politics is agreeable to you. Am I wrong? (of course I am, I just want you to explain why)

First of all, I didn't use the word "concessions." I'm talking about modified unilateralism -- a withdrawal of civilians from the West Bank in order to protect Israel's Jewish majority, and its international legitimacy. But to your point: People will say whatever they want to say. I'm under no illusion that you can stop people -- in particular, Jews -- from meddling in Israel's affairs. But when I disagree with the politics of the meddlers, I'm going to say something. It's true, though, that I find some American Jewish meddling distasteful in its vicariousness. And this is true for the left as well as the right. Jews have a choice today: They can play a direct role in the building of the Jewish state -- by living in Israel, by serving in its army, by paying taxes, by putting themselves in harm's way -- or they can stay in the Diaspora and make Israel a hobby. As you know, Shmuel, I've done both. Don't think I'm unaware of the fact that I've turned what was once my life's cause into something resembling a hobby. I haven't done miluim (reserve army duty) in fifteen years, so it's completely appropriate for you or Nahum Barnea to see me as a tourist.

3. You write this: "The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself". But here is another way of putting it: "sadly, the only people who care enough about Israel are those American Jews who identify with right wing ideas - and being the only ones who care, they also contribute more money, volunteer in more organizations and are able to influence the policies of the Jewish community more than the silent dovish majority". Which one is true? And if it's the second option - is it not always the case that people who care are those who call the shots?

Sadly, I think you're right. I think the right-wing of American Jewry, a minority within a minority, has the most energy, and is most devoted to the cause of Israel. It's hard to bemoan this involvement. And it ain't easy to listen to left-wing criticism of Israel coming from American Jews who haven't even visited the place. The silent majority is too silent. All this is not to say that the people of the New Israel Fund love Israel any less than the members of the Orthodox Union, it's just that their numbers don't seem quite as large.

4. Now, the facts: "Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine". Is that right? Because most of the Jewish leaders I meet with - and I think I met them all by now - realize that a final-status agreement will probably include these neighborhoods. They also support a two state solution. They also understand that the many of the settlements will be removed. The only difference between their position and yours is the extent to which they believe that real peace is possible. So I must ask: are you sure the positions you attribute to the leaders of AIPAC and the Conference Of Presidents are really their positions?

This is the wonderful thing about the American Jewish community -- so many leaders! There are leaders who fit your description, but there are also people out there who are substantially more hawkish -- Malcolm Hoenlein, the head of the Conference of Presidents, who is possibly the most important Jewish leader in the country - comes to mind. But here's the thing: It doesn't matter so much to me what they think; it matters what they say. I hope the day will come when the American Jewish leadership speaks about the internal dangers to Israel with as much force as they speak about Iran and Hezbollah. They do great work on the issue of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic fundamentalism generally. But they have to recognize -- and be confident enough to recognize publicly -- the danger of inaction on the West Bank.

5. Last but not least. You write that "John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, in their polemical work 'The Israel Lobby,' have it wrong: They argue, unpersuasively, that American support for Israel hurts America". Here is how Max Boot reacted in Commentary to your piece: "Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious 'Lobby' holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case". So - are they wrong, or are you conceding their case?

Are you kidding? I know Max Boot, and I can't believe he actually read what I wrote. If he had, he wouldn't have made this ridiculous assertion.

The central theses of the Mearsheimer-Walt book, "The Israel Lobby," are that American support for Israel -- support they refuse to acknowledge is broad-based, and not simply limited to the Jewish community -- hurts American foreign policy by alienating Muslims, and that the political activities of the organized American Jewish community caused not only the Iraq war, but is partially to blame for 9/11 as well. This last bit, in particular, is quite obviously anti-Semitic. How did I concede "most of their substantive case"? By rejecting it?

In my op-ed, I dismiss completely "The Israel Lobby"'s grotesque animating idea. In fact, I argued the opposite: American support for Israel doesn't hurt America, but, on occasion, it does hurt Israel, in particular on the matter of settlements. Is Aipac a powerful lobbying group? Yes. Aipac brags about its power. Does Aipac influence the way the American Jewish community talks about Israel? Yes. Does Aipac influence the way members of Congress think about Israel? I would hope so, given the size of its budget. The only thing I wish for is that Aipac would expand its definition of what constitutes a threat to Israel by talking openly about the upcoming demographic challenge to Israel's future as a Jewish-majority democracy.


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