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October 23, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 23, 2009 PAGE 5A By Daniel Sokatch SAN FRANCISCO (JT'A)-- The upcoming J Street confer- ence [Oct. 25-28] will bring a thousand American and Israeli progressive thinkers and ac- tivists to Washington. Titled "Driving Change, Securing Peace." the conference comes at a critical moment because dramatic as it may sound; we are in a battle for the future and soul of Israel. And despite the concerns of some in our community, Israel is strong enough to withstand free and fair debate about its most significant issues. Indeed, it is only through such debate that these issues will be resolved, The J Street conference of- fers an opportunity to discuss the serious issues affecting Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship, to air out the controversies and to have the conversations that are avoided too frequently by mainstream Jewish organi- zations It also will facilitate the building of connections and synergies among the disparate pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy groups in Israel and the American Jewish community. The timing is critical. Presi- dent Obama's commitment to restarting the peace process, and his understanding that Israel must change its de facto support for the settlement enterprise, has changed the political dynamic between Washington and Jerusalem. Despite the overwhelming support of the majority of the American Jewish commu- nity for this approach and for President Obama in general, most Israelis do not trust this administration to advance Israel's interests. The growing rift between the two communi- ties does not bode well for Israel and its relationships here. The pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy camp can serve as a bridge between the American Jewish and Israeli communities at a time when such a bridge is sorely needed. As incoming CEO of the New Israel Fund, the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis, I am alarmed not only by this rift but also by leaders in Israel and the American Jewish community who seem determined to repel all criti- cismor even thoughtful debate about the deepening tension between security and human rights imperatives in Israel. Initiatives launched by the current Israeli govern- ment-including legislation that would require a Mc- Carthyesque loyalty oath of all Israelis, and attempts to discredit and delegitimize the country's human rights groups (of which we are a lead- ing funder)--seem designed to erode civil society and further marginalize Israel's Arab citizens. Add to this the continuing Orthodox monopoly on reli- gious practice and personal status issues, and the growing economic and educational gap between the haves and have- nots in Israeli society, and you have a recipe for potential disaster that should be of great concern to all of us who love and treasure Israel. J Street. which has added an important new voice to the Washington policy equation on peace issues, understands that the "internal" Israeli issues that NIFworks on are anything but. Israel's record on social justice has a profound impact on its international standing. Countries that deny equality to their indigenous minorities sacrifice their moral standing in the eyes of the world and their own citizens. A foreign minister who heads.a party that consis- tently narrows the definition of citizenship and equal rights is properly regarded with sus- picion by the leaders of other democracies, American and European. And a quasi-the- ocracy that uses one fervently Orthodox standard to define Jewishness--when Jewish identity is the raison d'etre for the state raises hackles among the overwhelming ma- jority of Americans and others who believe in the separation of religion and state. Social justice and human rightS issues in Israel also are crucially releVant here at home. The growing indiffer- ence of many American Jews, particularly young Jews, to Israel is directly related to their concerns over the occupation and the seeming indifference of some Israeli governments to basic democratic values. A Jewish community thatvoted overwhelmingly for President Obama; a community that proudly takes leadership posi- tions in American progressive institutions and causes; a community whose record of concern for social justice and civil rights in the United States is second to none this is not a community that will turn a blind eye to ultranationalism, extremism and intolerance in Israel. Simply put, if American Jews cannot find a way to love Israel and help fix its flaws, if there is no role for the millions of Jews who want Israel to live to the dreams of its found- ers, the American Jewish sup- port that Israel depends upon economically and politically will continue to wane. The New Israel Fund and the other progressive groups that will meet at the J Street conference are unabashedly pro-Israel, and we provide the means for American Jews to support Israel in ways con- sistent with their progressive values. We know there are too many voices on the left. both in the United States and worldwide, that are unques- tionably hostile to Israel no matter what it does. We are the most obvious rebuke to the notion that support for Israel is a right-wing phenomenon, exemplified in the U.S. by evangelicals and neo-cons. We are the bridge between a largely progressive American Jewish community and mil- lions of Israelis seeking a way out of political stalemate and moral quandary. The quest for a humane, just and equitable Israel is the mostpro-Israel act imaginable, and as we part- ner with J Street and other progressive organizations to amplify our voices, we expect that more and more, our voices will be heard. Daniel Sokatch, founding executive director of the Pro- gressive Jewish Alliance, took over as CEO of the New Israel Fund on Oct. 19. By Chuck Freilich JERUSALEM (JTA)--Is- rael's national security is predicated on three strategic pillars: The commitment, re- solve and resilience of Israel's people; the Israel Defense Forces and other defense agencies; and the "special relationship" with the United States. All three face serious challenges today. The U.S.-Israel relation- ship is largely unparalleled in history, one carefully nurtured over decades and in which AIPAC has played a vital role. It is a relationship under attack from numer- ous quarters, including pro-Arab and generally left- leaning groups, renowned scholars who write scurri- lous attacks on the "Israel lobby," and others. It is a relationship showing in- creasing signs of "Europe- anization," where it seems Palestinians and Arabs can do no wrong, Israel no right. It is a relationship weak- ened by well-meaning but dangerously misguided Jew- ish Americans who estab- lished the group J Street as a "moderate" alternative to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. My beef is not over the issues. On some I agree with J Street. It is about the best ways of ensuring the long-term vitality of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the security and well-being of Israel. It is presumptuous of our brethren in the United States, and frankly offen- sive, for them to believe that they "know better" what is right for Israel. The Jewish state is a vibrant, pluralistic democracy. Only Israel's citizens, who endure the consequences, bear the re- sponsibility for its policies. The place to change Israel's policies is in Israel, not Washington. A corollary of sovereignty is the right to err.. We waited for that right for 2,000 years. J Street's stated posi- tion-that it "supports political solutions over military ones" regarding the Palestinians and "strongly opposes the use of force by Israel or the U.S." against Iran--is the height of pre- sumption and chutzpah. So was its position earlier this year, during the Gaza operation, when it opined that "escalation will prove counterprodudtive" and called for an immediate cease-fire. We all prefer diplomatic solutions. Sornetimes it is not entirely up to us; sometimes there is no re- course but military action. The residents of Sderot, now enjoying their ninth months of relative quiet, might question the military expertise behind J Street's assessment. Israel and only Israel will decide whether to attack Iran's nukes. Hopefully it will never come to this, but if it does, J Street had better be be- hind us. This is not to dispute the right of Jewish Americans to express their views. Be- ing pro-Israel, as J Street correctly states, does not mean blind support for every Israeli government position. Many Israelis are at least as critical. I. for one, a fiercely pa- triotic Israeli, madly in love with this crazy place, have published numerous highly critical articles. Jewish Americans who share a deep concern for Israel's trials and travails have the right, even the duty, to ex- press their criticism within the Jewish community, the public at large, pretty much anywhere except before the U.S. administration and Congress. There we have to present one voice--not "pro" every Israeli policy but united, unswerving support for Israel and a strong U.S.-Israei relation- ship. Some have criticized AIPAC's allegedly right- wing, "Likud-minded" ten- dencies, whereas a majority of Jewish Americans are more dovish. This is a fun- damental misconception both of reality and of AIPAC's role, which is to promote the U.S.-Israel relationship regardless of who is in office in either country. Some of Israel's policies may be mis- taken, but they are Israel's, made by its democratically elected government. AIPAC does not and must not get involved in these battles, but simply do its utmost at all times to strengthen the relationship. Only "the Jews," with their well-earned and argu- ably endearing reputation for fractiousness, could conceive of doing some- thing that weakens AIPAC. A model to be emulated, the envy of virtually all other lobbies, AIPAC has been at the forefront of the bilateral relationship for decades. AIPAC may have made mistakes over the years who hasn't? But there is a wise, old American saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." AIPAC is definitely not broken, and for those who take issue with some of its positions and actions, the appropriate recourse is to work for change from within. To date, despite the pleth- ora of Jewish organizations in all other areas, the U.S.-Israel -relationship has largely had one voice in Washington. This is as it must be. AIPAC has a de- voted, sophisticated, often brilliant professional staff and lay leadership. It simply does not get better. For those seeking new and different relationships, get on JDate. Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and a se- nior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, is now completing a book on Israeli national security decision- making processes. This Op-Ed originally appeared on the Jerusalem Post Web site, JPost.com. LFE N gUTU By Jonathan S. Tobin The loyalty of most Ameri- can Jews to the Democratic Party and their current leader President Barack Obama is not in question. Yet while the ide- ology of the majority of their members and contributors is no secret, most major Jewish organizations, not to mention synagogues, attempt to stay out of partisan controversies. even while often espousing liberal causes. Most sensible people understand that these days, the Jews and Israel have friends on both sides of the aisle and it is bad politics as well as bad policy to forget that. But in the partisan rage of the moment, some Democrat- ic partisans want to eschew this common sense approach and to deploy the full force of organized American Jewry to demonize critics of the ' Obama administration. Their rationale is that some right- wing critics of Obama and especially his plans to change America's health care system compared the president to Hitler and his programs to Nazism. Peter Keating of New York Magazine recently wrote that Jewish groups ought to inject themselves into the health care debate on this shaky premise and wondered at their reluctance. Such comparisons are. of course, not merely over-the- top insults but vile. Say what you will about the faults of Obama-care as well as the absurd cult of personality that has grown up around the president but neither he nor his party can or should be. compared to the Nazis. Obama is a preening puffed up poseur besotted with some very bad ideas but he is the elected leader of a democracy and no totalitarian. Hitler murdered six million Jews and launched a genocidal war that took the lives of tens of millions of others. Any comparison between the two or of liberal Democrats with Nazis says everything about the people who make such comparisons and nothing about Obama. The simple rule for rational politics is that anyone who invokes Hitler loses the debate as well the respect of right- thinking citizens. The promiscuous use of the word "Holocaust" to de- scribe anything bad (I knew we were in trouble several years ago when an episode of the "X-Files" had one of the heroes saying that a mysteri- ous happening in a'lake that killed amphibians was a"frog holocaust") has gotten out of hand. Indeed, Keating notes that recently a "Democratic member of Congress decried our current system of health care as a "Holocaust in America." But what liberal polemi- cists like Keating as well as other members of the Obama cheerleading squad want from Jewish groups aren't merely press releases or the usual attempts at education and outreach in response tosuch offenses. What they desire is a full-court press of the entire organized Jewishworldwhose aim is to take down Obama's critics and effectively tar all such dissenters from our No- bel laureate leader's plans with Critics on page 23A ? THB E'S A S X .ON'T CA A IN MY TNERE BE A NBV PHONE, PHONE IN 50... A.7 DryBonesBlog.com