Jewish Liberals Say The Dog Wags the Tail (I Say the Tail Wags the Dog)

Doni Remba, a peace activist, disputes my claim that the progressive voice in Jewish life has been marginalized by the neocons. He has some evidence: he says he’s getting traction in the Jewish press for his view that there has to be a progressive lobby, to push for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. His post follows, below.

I have one important quibble, ahead of time. Remba reflects the conventional leftish pro-Israel view that the dog wags the tail. I.e., that Israel is a client that does as the imperial U.S. wants it to do. The U.S. doesn’t want Israel to talk to Syria; so it doesn’t. His view of the Israel lobby is that it is merely seconding rightwing choices that the U.S. government is making. And so he says:

American choices heavily constrain the Jewish state, eliminating options and creating the environment in which Israel must make its own now far more limited and difficult choices.

That’s where I demur. I believe that Israel has made its own choice not to speak to Syria, for years, and that its friends in Congress reinforce that line here. I feel like a lot of lefty Jews want to think the dog wags the tail: the Stephen Zunes line, that neocon Zionist Jews have had only minor influence over a rightwing administration. Or here is Shlomo Ben-Ami, in the latest Commentary, making the same point (I’m afraid it’s not online yet, but I just got my issue in the mail):

“[T]he interplay of factors that truly make up American foreign policy [are] strategic considerations, imperial ambitions, oil, the arms industry, corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, ideology, and, last but not by no means least, the political and intellectual profile of the president. Bush’s moral certitude and self-imposed divine mission makes [sic] utterly redundant the need for an ‘Israel Lobby’ to teach him the political gospel it wants him to follow in the Middle East.”

I think Ben Ami is wrong, that he is blinding himself to a multitude of sins under that little word “ideology,” that George Bush had little idea of anything when he came into office. I.e., that neocons are smart guys with a highly-developed belief system; and they also had agency here (yes, along with a lot of other fools who pushed this war).

In fairness, Remba does go after Jewish “communal leaders” choices. A nice way of putting the fact that neocon beliefs about the Arab world have gained wide currency in the erstwhile liberal Jewish leadership. But read Remba’s post (which he was not able to post; problems again, sorry folks):

You write: “I do question the political will of the body of American Jewry; if they feel misrepresented by the Israel lobby and their congressmen, they ought to rise up against them. George Soros says he’s going to start an anti-occupation lobby. Good for him, I’m in his camp. Will he get numbers?”

I’d like to offer two of my recent articles on this subject for your and your readers’ consideration. The first, published in the English edition of Ha’aretz, “Wanted: A Moderate Pro-Israel Lobby,” can be read in Ha’aretz or on my blog at http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/2006/11/haaretz-wanted-moderate-pro-israel.html

The new dovish pro-Israel peace lobby is not a Soros initiative, but an cooperative effort of many liberal/progressive Jews from various Jewish organizations, think tanks, liberal Democratic political activists and funders.

How many supporters will we get? Watch and wait. Many of us are working on it.

As president of Chicago Peace Now (Americans for Peace Now’s Illinois-Indiana Chapter) for the last six years I, for one, have had some success, with the help of many colleagues and friends, in building support for dovish policies on the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts in the mainstream Chicago Jewish community and beyond.

Second, here is an excerpt from my latest monthly column in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, which is sometimes syndicated nationally in the Jewish press. Perhaps it will give you a dash more hope to realize that pieces like mine are printed in mainstream Jewish papers around the country. This piece is titled, “Look Who’s Pressuring Israel”:

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in November, I wondered whether AIPAC would work to promote a US-Israeli peace initiative with Syria or the Palestinians. AIPAC’s Israel spokesperson responded on November 23rd in Ha’aretz that “AIPAC’s mandate is not to pressure the Israeli government to follow a particular course.” Reading these words, I scratched my head. Who said anything about “pressure?” In reality, the Bush Administration is pressuring the Israeli government to refuse peace talks with Syria, according to the testimony of Prime Minister Olmert, his advisors and cabinet ministers. AIPAC, and its allies in the organized Jewish community, who rush to loudly protest any time there is a whiff of US pressure on Israel in favor of a peace initiative, has absolutely nothing to say when the White House blocks Israel from talking with Syria. Even when the US isn’t making overt demands on Israel, US foreign policy choices have so large an impact on the Middle East and the overall strategic context in which Israel lives, that every action the US takes–and those actions it fails to take–casts an iron boot of coercion on Israel. American choices heavily constrain the Jewish state, eliminating options and creating the environment in which Israel must make its own now far more limited and difficult choices.

The Bush Administration’s military escalation in Iraq, which includes raids and arrests of Iranians, may lead the US down the slippery slope to a new war with Iran, warns Kenneth M. Pollack of the Brookings Institution. Bush’s actions may provoke “the Iranians to respond, which in turn would escalate the situation and provide the Bush administration with the casus belli it needs to win Congressional support” for such a war, fears Johns Hopkins University Iran scholar Trita Parsi. Bush’s refusal to bargain directly with Iran, his rejection of the unanimous bipartisan recommendation of the Iraq Study Group for direct talks with Iran and Syria, and his preference for more force, are recklessly pushing Israel and our Sunni Arab allies into an incendiary region-wide conflagration with Iran, Hezbollah and Syria. Neither Israel nor the US will achieve their military or political goals in such a clash, which will give birth to an even more insecure and explosive Middle East in which Israel will have to live.

I called, and I call again, on the Bush Administration to return to sanity: to abandon its failed policy of isolation and implied threats of regime change against Syria and Iran; to explore the possibilities for a grand bargain with both countries which would meet US strategic interests in Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf Arab states, Israel and Palestine. I call on the President not only to permit Israel to test the waters with Syria through a secret back-channel, but to send American mediators to such meetings to maximize the chances of their success.

Finally, there’s the stifling burden of inaction to which we subject Israel daily: the crushing weight of the Bush Administration’s failure to build a regional diplomatic framework within which Israel can make safe and secure choices for peace with its Arab neighbors; the failure of American Jews to speak up–as American citizens, if not as Jews who are deeply concerned for Israel’s well-being–about what’s best for the national security of the United States and its allies, especially Israel; the timorousness and apathy of so many American Jews who have yet to express their solidarity with the forces of progress and peace in Israel itself, even within the Israeli government. We, the American Jewish community, have massively constrained Israel’s freedom by the many dangerous choices we have let our communal leaders, and our government, make in the Middle East. Citizenship doesn’t end at the voting booth.

Gidon D. Remba is co-author of the forthcoming The Great Rift: Arab-Israeli War and Peace in the New Middle East. His commentary is available at http://tough-dove-israel.blogspot.com/ He served as senior foreign press editor and translator in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office during the Egyptian-Israeli peace process from 1977-1978. His essays have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, the Nation, the Jerusalem Report, Ha’aretz, Tikkun, the Forward, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Chicago Jewish News, JUF News, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

(Gidon) Doni Remba (aka Tough Dove Israel)

P.S. My piece, “Look Who’s Pressuring Israel,” excerpted in my post, was also reprinted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund in their weekly E-Alert. You can’t get more Jewish mainstream than that. It’s slightly encouraging that such establishment outlets are circulating my writing, particularly when I say the kinds of things I say in this piece, including the criticisms of AIPAC, exposing its hawkishness and bursting its propaganda bubble.