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The Jewish Lobby
The Jewish Lobby
By Neve Gordon
A few of you here dont like the Jews and I know why, Jerry Falwell declared in a 1979 I Love America rally. In 1993, he made a disparaging reference to the little Jewish lawyer who was handling a lawsuit that challenged the eligibility of Falwells Liberty University to receive state aid. The Anti-Defamation League has documented these comments in a report on the religious right and concluded that such statements dehumanize Jews.
Yet despite his anti-Semitism, the governing Likud party in Israel claims that Falwell is an Israeli ally. In 1980, he was awarded Israels Jabotinsky medal, and some time afterwards he received an airplane from the Israeli government as a token of its gratitude for his long-standing support. Interestingly, Falwell was also the first person Prime Minister Netanyahu met in his latest visit to this country. This is not so surprising considering that Falwells bigotry and his assault on pluralism and tolerance in the U.S. mirrors, in a somewhat twisted manner, Netanyahus intolerance; which is supported by numerous groups within the American Jewish lobby.
Netanyahus January 1998 visit in many ways exposed the controversy within the Jewish lobby. One could not help but notice the ad war in major U.S. newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. Millions of dollars were spent. One group within the Jewish lobby challenged Clinton to take a pro-active stance in the peace process, another insisted that he should not pressure Netanyahu, while still another betrayed a message of thinly veiled racist hostility towards Palestinians. Although over 50 percent of the ads were against any form of compromise with the Palestinians, such a trend does not reflect the American Jewish opinion which is, in the main, for concessions. The Jewish Weeklys Larry Cohler explains that many of the hard-line ads are placed by wealthy individuals who head front organizations that lack popular membership.
The debate in the Jewish lobby revolves around two central issues: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and religious pluralism. Mark Rosenblum from the Jewish lobby group Peace Now believes that the two are connected. There is an empirical overlap between those who oppose the peace process and those who believe in social coercion concerning questions of faith, he says; Israels peace and its religious openness are both contingent on democratic forces. Netanyahus decision to invite the evangelist to be the keynote speaker at his greeting rally is testimony that, like Falwell, the prime minister has no use for tolerance or religious pluralism.
J. J. Goldberg, author of Jewish Power, explains the controversy in slightly different terms. He claims that the debate over the peace process can be divided between those who think that a conflict must be won and those who think that a conflict must be resolved. Netanyahu is on the side of those who think that a conflict must be won. He believes that giving the Palestinians political freedom is a compromise Israel should not make; autonomy over civil institutions like education and health is one thing, a state is another. The prime minister therefore rejects the Oslo agreement which implicitly recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination, a notion that amounts to statehood.
Within the American Jewish community, however, Netanyahus view is in the minority. According to Tom Smerling from the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), an organization that conducts regular polls within the Jewish community, 70 percent of Jews express strong support for the Oslo accords and want the Clinton administration to take a pro-active stance to move it forward.
Despite the evidence that American Jews are pro-Oslo, most Jewish organizations from the center to the extreme right support Netanyahus approach. The Smithsonians decision to cancel a conference discussing Israels 50th anniversary sheds light on the struggle between the different Jewish camps. Despite the fact that the conference was organized by the New Israel Fund, a progressive Jewish organization which is committed to strengthening Israel as a social democracy, Congressperson Michael Forbes (R-NY) opposed it. In a letter to the Smithsonian, he claimed the conference would heap unfair and one-sided abuse on Americas most trusted ally. The Smithsonian bowed to his charges; Forbes sits on the House Appropriation Committee which determines the Smithsonians budget.
I was among those who persuaded Forbes to take a stand on the matter, Morton Klein said over the phone. Klein is currently at the helm of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest Jewish organization in the United States, which in the past years has been coopted by extremists, some of whom have deep pockets. In the recent elections for the World Zionist Congress, ZOA received a meager 2.9 percent of the vote. Yet, despite its lack of popular support within the Jewish community, ZOA continues to make its case very noisily. During a two-week period in January, ZOA placed three full-page ads in the New York Timesat an average cost of $70,000 a page.
Arafat is a killer, a killer Klein yells less than a minute after we begin talking. He has given a green light to terrorists and has praised suicide bombers. He hasnt done anything to obliterate the infrastructure of the Hamas. Arafat is one of the most evil men of the 20th century. Like Falwell, Klein has a Manichean view of the world. Israelis represent the children of light while the Palestinians are the children of darkness; the conflict is presented as a zero-sum game which excludes any possibility of compromise.
ZOA opposes Oslo and, according to University of Notre Dame political scientist Alan Dowty, it has used three tactics in an effort to undermine the peace process. First, it has insisted that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. Second, it has condemned U.S. troop deployment on the Golan Heights. This is an interesting tactic since, according to Dowty, no one has seriously suggested that the U.S. actually deploy any troops. Finally, ZOA has tried to stop U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
Following the September 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake, Israeli politicians familiar with the occupied territories dilapidated infrastructure understood that the new authority would have to invest billions of dollars in order to create a sustainable economy. Rabin recognized that poverty can lead to unrest and therefore asked other countries to contribute. Forty-three countries pledged $2 billion to support the fledgling Palestinian Authority, of which one-fourth would come from the U.S.
ZOA opposed the effort and lobbied Congress in order to prevent the transfer of U.S. funds. Consequently, on July 29, 1994, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Spector and Alabama Democrat Richard Shelby managed to insert an amendment which hindered the transfer of money to the Palestinian Authority. The Administration opposed it, but to no avail.
ZOA and other extreme groups are not the only organizations that object to Oslo. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the most powerful group within the Jewish lobby, is also against the peace agreement. More significantly, there appears to be a link between ZOA and AIPAC. It is highly unlikely that Senator Specter who has received $298,623 from AIPAC subsidiaries since 1980, and Senator Shelby who has received $135,825 since 1984 would have initiated the amendment without receiving a green light from AIPAC.
AIPAC is a middle of the road Jewish organization with an annual budget of about $15 million, five or six registered lobbyists, and a staff of around 150 people. Similar to other lobbying groups, AIPACs major objective is to pressure members of Congress to vote according to its recommendations, helping to re-elect incumbents who have a good voting record, and punishing those who dont by funding an electable opponent.
Like a parent company, AIPAC has several subsidiaries. It functions as an umbrella organization for many of the pro-Israel PACs, some of which hide their identity by choosing names that conceal their goalsAmericans for Better Citizenship is one such example. In a 1987 article, The Wall Street Journal<D> reported that many of the PACs which draw money from Jewish donors and operate under obscure sounding namesare operated by AIPAC officials or people who hold seats on AIPACs two major policy-making bodies. Richard Curtiss, author of Stealth PACs<D> claims that in 1988, three candidates each received more than $200,000 from pro-Israel PACs and four other candidates received more than $100,000, 10 to 20 times more than candidates are permitted by law to accept from any single special interest PAC. In 1990, some 50 pro-Israel PACs gave a total of $4,948,934 to federal candidates, while in comparison PACs opposed to gun control gave a mere $914,000, and those on both sides of the abortion issue gave $747,000.
Goldberg notes that although the majority of Jews vote for Democratic candidates, by 1996 Jewish PAC money was going to Republicans over Democrats by a six-to-four margin. This incongruity is reinforced by a more troubling discrepancy: namely, that AIPAC does not represent its constituents views on questions concerning peace in the Middle East. Following the 1992 changing of the guard in both the White House and the Israeli Knesset, AIPAC elected a Democrat, Steven Grossman, to lead the organization. In Jewish Power, Goldberg argues that despite the change in leadership, AIPAC continued to be controlled by the gang-of-fourLarry Weinberg, Robert Asher, Edward Levy, and Mayar Mitchell, all past presidents of the organization. All four, Goldberg says, oppose the Oslo agreement, and have lobbied Congress to obstruct the peace accord and the American initiatives that were meant to back it up. When Grossman convened the officers group to discuss how AIPAC could block the obstructionists, the four simply over-ruled him, Goldberg writes. Grossman was silenced because he believes that peace in the Middle East entails territorial concessions by Israel and self-determination for Palestinians.
Now that Netanyahu is in control the disagreement within AIPAC seems to have dissolved, resulting in the adoption of the prime ministers agenda. In a January 1998 issue of the Near East Report, AIPAC published a detailed article entitled The Year in Review. Concealed in seemingly impartial language, the editors fully appropriate Netanyahus line, while rationalizing the decision to support all of the prime ministers policies by claiming that Netanyahus Likud [is] undergoing an extraordinary ideological transformation. It almost appears as if AIPACs editors want the reader to think that Netanyahu is a dove, maybe even a socialist. Yet Netanyahus primary objective from day one has been to undermine Oslo, and most Israeli analysts believe that he has succeeded.
Netanyahus best known sloganArafat has given terrorists the green lighthas been used over and over as an excuse not to abide by the Oslo agreement. AIPAC has bought this line as have several influential figures within the Clinton administration and Congress. Nonetheless, this slogan is entirely spurious. The Hamas, after all, succeeded in perpetrating attacks no less lethal before Oslo when Prime Minister Shamir, not Arafat, was in full control.
AIPAC, ZOA, and Peace Now are all members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chair of the organization, states emphatically that he represents the Jewish voice in this country. While the Conference is in favor of peace, he says, it is by no means committed to the Oslo agreements. Unlike the Jewish community which he claims to represent, Hoenlein prefers to speak of peace in abstract terms. He seems to have forgotten that everyone can support abstract peaceeven the fascist Rabbi Kahne did.
Hoenleins view explains the lack of vision of the Conference of Presidents. The organization is abandoning its constituency and is urging an agenda inimical to Israeli democracy. When asked about religious pluralism, Hoenlein asserts that since the Conference is an umbrella organization it doesnt have a view on the matter. Considering that close to 85 percent of the Jews in this country are adamantly against the ultra-orthodox monopoly over questions of conversion in Israel, Hoenleins answer is extremely equivocal. I also learn from Hoenlein that Netanyahu has a right to meet Falwell, and that people have a right to call Arafat Hitler.
Fortunately, an ad hoc lobbying group called Beit Shalommeaning house of peacewas recently formed by 16 Jewish organizations which united to offer an alternative voice. One of the founders, Gavri Bar-Gil, says that the dominant lobbies do not represent the majority of American Jews and this is the reason that several progressive groups have come together. Unlike AIPAC, Beit Shalom does not lobby by distributing funds to political candidates, but uses an action alert network which generates faxes and phone calls from members to decision makers. Their approach is more grassroots: Its not only that we dont have the money to fund campaigns, Bar-Gil says, but that funding candidates is part of a political culture with which we disagree.
Beit Shalom is attentive to the views of the Jewish community and represents a large segment of it. It is attempting to challenge the right-wing Jewish organizations and the Israeli government insofar as they deviate from the road to peace and undermine religious pluralism. Harold Shapiro, who represents the Education Fund for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace in Beit Shalom, believes that for many Jews the term pro-Israel can no longer mean blindly following the policies of the Israeli government. Jerry Falwell, says Shapiro, is not pro-Israel no matter what he says about Israel. Shapiro argues that an integral part of being pro-Israel includes taking an ethical stance for peace and pluralism which is antithetical to Falwells worldview. Shapiro does not hesitate to criticize Israels decision to continue building settlements in the occupied territories, its use of torture or the provocative opening of the Jerusalem tunnel last year. He also avers that all strings of Judaismreform, conservative, reconstruction, and orthodoxshould be treated equally in Israel. It is not only about democratic principles of tolerance and pluralism, Shapiro says, but foremost its a question of Israels future, a future that will enable the people of Israel to live in peace with their neighbors.
Like other Jewish organizations, Shapiro adds, We, too, are Zionists, we believe in a Jewish homeland. We also believe that just like the Israelis who will be celebrating Israels 50th anniversary this May, the Palestinians deserve self-determination. They too have a right to a state of their own. Shapiro recognizes that in order to achieve peace one has to compromise. Questions concerning pluralism and tolerance are integral, of course, to the current debate within the Jewish lobby, he says, but let us not forget what is at stake. When a people are denied political freedom and a small minority determines who is a Jew then justice is being sacrificed, no more... no less. Z