Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Silence of American Jewish Leaders

by Isi Leibler

Traditionally, Diaspora Jewish leaders speak up on behalf of Israel, frequently even taking the lead on issues in which geopolitical considerations made it problematic for the Jewish state to be engaged. Examples abound: the plight of Soviet Jewry, the campaign to rescind the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, the World Jewish Congress exposure of Kurt Waldheim as a war criminal and, more importantly, achieving restitution for Jewish assets plundered by the Nazis from various bodies including the Swiss banks and insurance companies.

However, with the erosion of cabinet solidarity after the Rabin era, the intimate relationship which existed between Diaspora Jewish communities and the Israeli government and its ambassadors rapidly deteriorated.

In stark contrast to former charismatic leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and even Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is inclined to release trial balloons to test the waters of public opinion rather than articulate his policy in advance to the nation. This was exemplified by the contradictory rumors floated from government sources before it was resolved not to concede to the outrageous Turkish demands in the wake of the Mavi Marmara affair.

Combining the vagueness of publicly stated government policies with the dramatic upsurge in anti-Israel hostility, it is not surprising that most Diaspora Jewish leaders are now far more hesitant than in the past to criticize their host governments over Israel-related issues.

The change in behavior is especially obvious with American Jewish leaders who were formerly renowned for their feisty domestic and global initiatives on behalf of Israel.

AIPAC continues to effectively lobby the case for Israel on a bipartisan level in Congress but its role is, by definition, limited to this arena.

However, over the past six months, the principal organizations involved in public affairs – the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations (Presidents Conference), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Anti- Defamation League (ADL), and Bnai Brith International – while remaining unreservedly committed to Israel have generally been reluctant to explicitly challenge the Obama administration’s pressures and one-sided demands upon Israel.

AMERICAN JEWS are understandably hyper-sensitive about a further erosion in the bipartisan relationship, a crucial factor in maintaining public support for Israel. Yet reluctance to publicly criticize their president contrasts sharply with the dramatic Jewish grassroots backlash against Obama exemplified by the stunning upset in the New York’s 9th Congressional District, a largely Jewish-populated electorate – where the Democratic candidate, an Orthodox Jew, was defeated by a Roman Catholic Republican.

In addition, many Democratic congressmen have themselves uninhibitedly contradicted their president by supporting Israel.

Despite the extraordinary support which emerged when Netanyahu articulated the case for Israel in Congress, since then the Israeli government has consciously avoided airing its differences with the US administration. There are even rumors that Israeli officials encouraged Jewish leaders to remain silent to avoid further alienating the administration.

Irrespective of the merits of such an approach, it would be a major blunder for Israelis to encourage American to behave passively while the Obama administration treats Israel, its ally, in such a shabby manner.

Take for example the Turkish imbroglio and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s intense pressure on the Israeli government to apologize and concede to their outrageous demands. One can imagine how Begin or Rabin would have reacted had the US pressed them to capitulate over such an issue, but our government decided not to respond. Yet why should American Jews not express indignation at the chutzpah of their government pressuring Israel to apologize for its soldiers defending themselves against terrorists? The same applies to Obama’s statement about the 1967 borders with swaps. Israel (mistakenly, in my opinion) may feel constrained in responding to the ongoing pressure in order not to antagonize those countries wavering over the UN Palestinian statehood issue.

But surely American Jews, angered by their government’s one-sided demands, which place Israel at such a disadvantage, should not feel inhibited about protesting against such behavior.

THERE WAS a notable absence of Jewish response to the US endorsement of the despicable UN Human Rights Council resolution to criminalize religious “stereotyping” specifically as applied to Islam. The resolution proposed by the Islamic states sought to prevent any public criticism or discussion of Muslim infringements of human rights or criticism of Islam – a clear repudiation of freedom of expression. One would have even expected Jewish liberals to protest against such a policy.

In talking points for commemorating the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Obama administration listed countries which had suffered from terror. As on a previous occasion, Israel, which has endured more terrorism pro rata from Islamic fundamentalists than the other countries mentioned, was notably omitted from the list. Yet the only organization protesting this glaring omission (as other issues) was the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

The same applied to the outrageous parting shots by retiring secretary of defense Robert Gates, who castigated Netanyahu for his “ingratitude.”

Again, only ZOA protested against this boorish charge.

Public opinion in the United States is currently overwhelmingly supportive of Israel. But this should not be taken for granted and it would be shameful to rely on Christians and conservative friends of Israel to publicly protest against the double standards employed by the Obama administration in its relationship with the Jewish state.

To make matters worse, presumably in their zeal to retain their “liberal” credentials some Jewish leaders seem to compete with one another to defame evangelicals who support Israel.

This was exemplified by the vitriolic attacks leveled against Glenn Beck, who visited Israel to express solidarity with the Jewish people and launch a global movement committed to supporting the Jewish state. “If the world goes down the road of dehumanizing Jews again, then count me as a Jew and come to me first,” he said. What more could one ask from a friend? Besides, Beck’s support for Israel has had a major impact, especially in the United States.

One is not obliged to identify with all policies espoused by allies, but during such difficult times, when many of our former liberal supporters have abandoned us, to condemn someone displaying the courage to support us in this current hostile environment without imposing any reciprocal demands is simply inexplicable.

Besides, Beck, who passionately defends Israel against the barbarians at our gates, has an infinitely better understanding of Middle East politics than his critics and should be commended by all friends of Israel.

We return to the original question. Why are most reputable American Jewish leaders off the radar and reluctant to publicly confront the excesses of the administration? If, for purported diplomatic reasons, the Netanyahu government has asked them to remain silent, this would be scandalous. Diaspora Jews living in a democracy like the US do not require a green light from the government of Israel to speak up and protest if they believe that their government is applying double standards against Israel, its ally. If Jewish leaders persist in remaining silent, their kinsmen at a grassroots level will simply continue bypassing them.

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post

Isi Leibler


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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