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Israel’s Future is in America’s Hands

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“I don’t accept the term “Jewish Lobby”,  tweeted William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy at the United Jewish Communties. The American Jewish community is incredibly powerful, economically, and politically, but wisely doesn’t want that power to be categorized in easily pejorative terms.

At the heart of the mission of Jewish organizations that have a political presence in Washington is strengthening US-Israel relations, but as Mr. Daroff makes clear that mission remains limited for the most part to what happens Stateside. The American Jewish Community doesn’t have favorites between the left, center or right of Israeli politics. “It’s up to the Israeli electorate. It’s not my role in the Diaspora to tell them who their leaders should be”,  says Mr. Daroff.

There has always been a sharp cultural divide between Jews who live in Israel, and those who live in the rest of the world, (known as the “diaspora”), and Mr. Daroff makes clear that Diaspora Jews shouldn’t have a say in how Israel is run. “We don’t interfere in the elections of others, just as I don’t want them interfering in American elections.”

But in many respects American Jews already do have an undue influence. Home to more Jews than in Israel itself, about six and a half million, American Jews care deeply about defending the State of Israel and their votes, and financial contributions, in Presidential and Congressional elections increasingly reflect that concern. Nobody denies that representatives from the US Jewish community watch the White House and Congress very carefully and try to maintain firm US support for Israel. That support comes in the form of an aid package worth $2.5 billion in 2007, mostly in the form of a military grant, and cements the single most important strategic alliance in the Middle East.

Despite White House concerns over the years that Israel is not doing its part to push forward the Middle East peace process, the idea of removing or substantially reducing the aid package is a third rail. Doing so would unleash an uproar against the incumbent President and would never be sanctioned by Congress. Which is unfortunate, because it’s the only bargaining chip the US has that Israel really cares about.

The idea that American Jewish groups would support or not oppose a US move to remove aid from Israel seems laughable now, but there may be more to the idea than meets the eye. And here’s why.

Israel is at a historical crossroads. It has three choices.

Firstly, to maintain the status quo, occupying the West Bank, holding a hard line on peace negotiations while containing Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This is the position that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes.

The second approach, “The Two State Solution”, calls for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State alongside Israel, most probably to include East Jerusalem. Variations of this deal have been offered to and rejected by the Palestinians at various times in the last decade or so, usually because they did not include the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper.

The third trajectory is the “Single State Solution” whereby Jewish and Palestinian populations merge into a single state. This idea is starting to gather currency among Palestinians who believe they have a long-term demographic advantage (a thesis disputed by some Demographers in Israel who don’t see the Jewish population becoming the minority anytime soon). It is totally unacceptable to the Israelis. Over time Palestinians might move to a “long-game” continuing their rejectionism in the hope of forcing a single-state solution on what they hope will be a Jewish minority, with the support of the International community. Over time, as calls for a single-state approach among Palestinians increase, their appetite for a side-by-side arrangement may dwindle even further. This may happen in a matter of two decades or so.

By far the best approach for Israel and the United States is the two-state solution, and everything but the Right of Return should be on the table. For Israel, the two-state solution would achieve a number of goals. Firstly, after a period of fierce independence, the nascent Palestinian state would rapidly lose Arab state support and become reliant on Israel. Secondly, the new state would mean Arab populations would start looking inwards at injustices in their own non-democratic countries, destabiliizing Israel’s potential foes. Thirdly, a rejuvenated Palestinian population, supported by Israel and the International community may embrace peace. And fourthly, Israel would be able to take advantage of the new stability to build its economy, infrastructure, and society.

To suggest that Diaspora Jews should be mere spectators as this drama unfolds is naive. They are involved and should be involved.  It’s in the interests of American Jews to make their voices heard through their Community leaders in Washington, not with the same tired policies of retrenchment that lead to a continuation of an ultimately destructive status quo, but by proactively influencing the US Government to “go outside the box” and catalyse a desirable two-state solution before it’s too late.

It’s also in the interests of United States to listen to the newer, bolder entreaties of American Jews, to break the log-jam of a habitually frustrating Middle-East Peace process that, right now, it refuses to control.

Both the Palestinians and the Israelis must know that American interests demand peace in the Middle East, and that the US is prepared to apply meaningful financial and other diplomatic pressure to both sides (and in the case of the Palestinians to their allies too) in order to get it.

That pressure can come in the form of sticks, and carrots. The carrot could be more civilian aid to facilitate – for example – new homes and communities for current West Bank settlers moving back to Israel proper, ahead of the declaration of a new Palestinian state.

But the stick would have to come first. And although it may sound crazy, the best way for the American Jewish Community to support Israel is to make clear to the US Government that it would not oppose a threat to cut off Israel’s aid package if it doesn’t hold up its side of the bargain.

I can hear Mr. Daroff laughing now.

Will he still be laughing in twenty years?  We shall see.


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Written by coolrebel

November 15, 2009 at 4:32 pm

6 Responses

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  1. why do Jews have to move? do any arabs have to move? they may consider it their “homeland”, but the “West Bank” is the Biblical Heartland, why can't Jews live there? Why is it fair to rid the proposed state of Jews while arabs continue to live as citizens in Israel? I think in America we call this racism!

    Ben Packer

    November 16, 2009 at 11:12 am

  2. David, I have absolutely NO PROBLEM AT ALL with Americans expressing their concerns to American officials. As you put it: “Jewish-Americans … should not hesitate to express that concern to OUR elected officials.” (emphasis mine)

    What I do have a problem with is Americans attempting to second-guess the democratic choice of the citizens of another sovereign state. Let Americans yell at the American government – vote for whomever they wish, vote against whomever they wish; let Israelis yet at the Israeli government – vote for whomever they wish, vote against whomever they wish.

    But let's not have Israelis telling us that our President is a fool, actively seek to elect someone else, and thereby undermine our democracy; and let us Amerians not tell Israelis that their Prime Minister is a fool, actively seek to elect someone else, and theerby undermine their democracy.

    Again, it is not healthy, moral, or ethical for American Jews to tell Israeli Jews that we know best how they should be governed.

    William Daroff

    November 16, 2009 at 11:09 am

  3. I think all American citizens have a right to express an opinion regarding federal spending including aid to Israel. Concerned Jewish-Americans who feel deeply that Israel's settlement policy is self-defeating should not hesitate to express that concern to our elected officials; to do otherwise is to be complicit in a policy with which we strongly disagree and find ethically problematic. The notion that anyone who does not serve in the IDF and pay Israeli taxes should censor hirself is a manipulative guilt trip that works on fewer and fewer Jewish-Americans.

    David Cooper

    November 16, 2009 at 9:42 am

  4. A twitterer says that I was unclear, and “made it seem like ALL diaspora opinion on Israel is invalid.” That's not what I meant. I am not judding the validity or invalidity of anyone's opinions. My point is simply that Israelis should pick their own government – and their right to do so, and the choices they make, should be respected and honored by everyone – particularly by those of us who have chosen not to become Israeli citizens.

    William Daroff

    November 16, 2009 at 7:51 am

  5. I often wonder why we never hear much about all of the other lobbies that exist within the U.S. It is as if no one pays attention the influence that exists within these other groups.

    Jack

    November 16, 2009 at 6:26 am

  6. Thank you for posting this, Simon. I will limit my comment to the issue I tried to express within the limitations of the 140 characters permitted by Twitter. It's my own view, and not necessarily that of my bosses or organization. It's also not so controversial, so maybe I don't need the disclaimer.

    Israel is a democracy. Israeli citizens vote in elections for their leaders. Those leaders represent the views of those who vote for them. When they do not represent the views of the voters, the voters can vote them out of office.

    To be an Israeli citizen is an honor and a privilege (as is being an American citizen). One of the privileges that comes with citizenship is the ability to vote for those who lead the country.

    For American Jews — or American Jewish organizational leaders — to supplant the views of the Israeli electorate is obviously undemocratic, but it's also paternalistic. How can we sincerely justify the view that our view from Manhattan or Washington on Los Angeles is clearer than the view from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or Sederot?

    Sure, I know what's best – and if I were the Dictator of the World, I could solve all the problems of said world with the snap of my fingers, but I haven't been given that role (yet), nor has anyone else.

    What's ironic here is that all during the Oslo years many on the diasporatic right proclaimed that they knew better than the Rabin & Peres governments. And, during the Sharon era, first those on the left claimed they knew better, and then after disengagement, those on the right joined them. It reminds me of how US Republicans are for a strong uber-Presidency when the GOP is in the White House, and then miraculously become supporters of Separation of Powers with strong checks & balances when they lose the White House. Bottom-line: where you stand often depends on where you sit.

    Second bottom-line: as I tweeted, if diasporatic Jews want to have a role in who leads Israel, it is incredibly easy to vote in Israeli elections. Easier for non-citizens than it is for probably any other country in the world. Under the Law of Return, all Jews have a birth-right to become citizens of the State of Israel. So, if you want to vote, call the Jewish Agency for Israel and/or Nefesh B'Nefesh, and make aliyah. With aliyah comes citizenship & the right to vote, with the right to vote comes the right to second-guess your neighbors as to who should best lead the sovereign State of Israel.

    Simon, thanks for letting me express myself in more than 140 characters! Anyone who wants a taste of my truncated views, can follow me at http://www.twitter.com/daroff

    William Daroff

    November 16, 2009 at 6:03 am


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