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Undermining Israeli democracy from afar

May 27, 2010 – 6:36 pm17 Comments

Source: frontpagemag.com

By Anthony Frosh

Recently, we have seen the launch of two important leftist Jewish political initiatives.  In the USA there is J Street, and now in Europe there is J Call.  Already I have heard calls for the launching of an Australian version.  These organizations have very slick marketing, using the latest in online campaign techniques; and J Street seems to also have the ear of the Whitehouse.  They brand themselves as “pro Israel, pro peace.”  But to what extent are they really “pro Israel?”  And are they even “pro peace” or are they more “pro appeasement”?

At their core, these organizations are about Jewish citizens of Diaspora states lobbying their governments to pressure Israel into making decisions that Israeli democracy has not yet been willing to make.  I believe many of the Jews who join these organizations are acting more out of concern for their own leftist credentials amongst their non-Jewish leftist peers, than they are out of concern for the welfare of the State of Israel.

While I look forward to receiving counter-arguments in the comments section, I urge all readers to first read the following F.A.Q. I have created.

Isn’t everyone entitled to voice their opinioneven if they don’t live in Israel?

Yes, they are.  Kibbitzing from the sidelines is fine.  However, this is quite different to lobbying other governments to pressure Israel into making decisions that are not supported by the majority of Israeli people.

What is a Jew who disagrees with Israeli policy to do?

The most obvious answer is to make Aliyah and directly participate in Israeli democracy.  Once you or your children are serving in the army, I’m sure Israelis will be more open to listening your ideas on how to achieve peace and security. “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier” wrote Samuel Johnson with much truth.  However, in Israel, this  quote is understandably even more apt to the third person than the first, especially when those third persons are wanting to make major decisons concerning national security.

If moving to Israel isn’t for you, you could nevertheless still directly support other organizations that do participate in Israeli democracy, such as Israeli political parties and Israeli NGOs

How is donating to Israeli Political parties or Israeli NGOs different to supporting J Street and J Call?

When you donate money to Israeli organizations, you are enabling them to better participate in their own democracy.  This is very different to lobbying other governments to undermine the will of the Israeli electorate.  Thus leftist Jews who do not wish to undermine Israeli democracy should consider donating money to political parties such as Meretz, or NGOs such as B’Tselem, rather than supporting J Street or J Call.

Aren’t J Street just doing what AIPAC (or in Australia, AIJAC) does, but with opposing politics?

No, they’re not.  Regardless of whether or not you appreciate AIPAC or AIJAC’s politics – and I have my reservations – their process clearly does not undermine Israeli democracy.  Yes, they are Diasporite Jews lobbying their own governments concerning Israel, but they lobby those governments to put less foreign pressure on the Israeli government, not more.  For example, although these groups might support the settler movement and Israeli militarism, they do not lobby their governments to pressure Israel to build more settlements, or to carry out grander military operations in the Levant. Rather they support Israeli government policy regardless of which party heads the Israeli government of the day.

Furthermore, one does not need to agree with all of AIPAC’s politics to recognise that they are an important counterweight to the many nefarious forces that lobby the American government to be more hostile to Israel.

Don’t we need a counterweight to AIPAC/AIJAC?

There already exist several.  For example, in the USA, the State Department is very hostile to Israel, and they constantly attempt to pressure the Whitehouse to take a more anti-Israel line.  One of the major reasons for this is that the State Department is lobbied heavily by the numerous Arab governments.  The same model plays out in almost all other western democracies.  In addition (and in overlap) to the Arab governments, there is considerable lobbying from some of the major oil companies that are operating in the Arab world.

Furthermore, and this is especially the case in Europe, there are huge numbers of citizens who just have pure hatred for Israel and the Jews.  Many of these citizens have roots in Islamic countries, but many of them are just old fashioned Anglo-Euro anti-Semites.  With all of these forces, do we really need more organizations lobbying western governments to be tougher on Israel?

What is so wrong with undermining Israeli democracy, so long as it is done through another democracy?

If you attempt to deny the Israeli people the fundamental right to determine policy for themselves, then you have no right to call yourself “pro Israel.”  Furthermore, the idea that foreign governments can be better trusted than the Israeli government to assure the welfare of the Jewish people goes against the grain of history.  This is true for Australians, Americans, and especially Europeans.  As the Jerusalem Post editorialised:

“One cannot escape the sad irony inherent in the initiative: Here they are, the remnant of European Jewry, expressing their lacking faith in the political reason of their own brethren – the Jewish leaders of Israel – while choosing to placing their own destinies in the hands of Germany, France, Austria and other countries that failed miserably to protect their Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.”

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17 Comments »

  • ariel says:

    Here, here!
    Yeshar Ko’ach!

  • The Hasid says:

    This is an interesting argument, Frosh. I disagree with you (on a fundamental level, I see nothing wrong with NGOs lobbying foreign governments on all sorts of issues, the more the merrier; and also, I like J-Street), but it’s an interesting argument nonetheless. There’s something I don’t understand though…

    Your argument here is based on the idea that “these organizations are about Jewish citizens of Diaspora states lobbying their governments to pressure Israel into making decisions that Israeli democracy has not yet been willing to make.”

    OK. So J-Street’s website says that they have two main aims: “first, to advocate for urgent American diplomatic leadership to achieve a two-state solution and a broader regional, comprehensive peace and, second, to ensure a broad debate on Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.”

    So the second point is pretty wishy-washy. Whatever. But the impression that I get from the first point is that J-Street is about American citizens lobbying their democratically elected government in an attempt to shape their country’s foreign policy. (Which is the point of democracy, right? Being able to participate in government.) i.e.: Not aiming to change Israel’s domestic politics directly, rather the policies of the U.S. in relation to Israel.

    Perhaps I am being overly-optimistic in taking J-Street at face value. (Putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, so to speak.) But that’s always been the vibe that I’ve gotten – that the focus is on U.S. foreign policy. But then, I am a dyed-in-the-wool centre-lefty…

    You also believe that “many of the Jews who join these organizations are acting more out of concern for their own leftist credentials amongst their non-Jewish leftist peers”. That seems like a pretty absurd, sweeping generalisation. I don’t know what makes you think this, but I’d be interested in seeing/reading some evidence (even if only anecdotal) of this, if you have it. Again, perhaps this point simply comes down to a difference of opinion. You’re not going to change my mind, and I doubt I’d change yours!

    As for your last paragraph… Hoooo, I ain’t even gonna go there! (Suffice it to say that I personally have no more faith in the political reasoning of my Jewish “brethren” (and sistren?) than I do in the political reasoning of any other ethnic group or nationality.)

    On another note, I think I now understand why your stated “political views” on Crackbook are “libertarian” :-)

  • ariel says:

    Hasid, I believe I have identified you as Kevin Rudd’s spin doctor! (If not, you’d be really good at it…)

    J-Street is not about changing US foreign policy. It is about getting its government to directly undermine the democratic will of the Israeli people as expressed in the last election. By all means lobby your government to pressure brutal dictatorships who oppress their people (e.g. Iran, Burma, Cuba, North Korea), but don’t tell Israeli’s their stupid and don’t know what’s best for themselves after they choose their government.

    Would you appreciate Brits lobbying the British government to pressure the Australian government into adopting a particular policy or action?

  • neil says:

    Seriously, even when I agree with him, which happens more than I like, I think of someone with outward smugness, with some kind of self esteem issues. “This will show them lefties”, he says to himself. “All my friends on facebook are going to think how courageous I am for exposing the apostates, the turn coats, the defectors. Real, authentic Jews will hail me the conquoring hero. I, bona fide Jew, am the shit. But what now? the real test will be if I can stir the anti-semites – no, I mean, self hating jews – into proving that they actually want the world rid of Jews. I will rock then. Everyone will smile at me on the street, and children will point and stare and say ‘there is the authentic Anthony Frosh.”
    FAQ:
    Does Gallus Australis try to police Jewish identities?
    Yes. Jewish identities are diverse, but some are on the nose for those with perfect taste. People who see themselves as having a Jewish diaspora identity may not like what the Israeli state does in their name, but they should just get over it.
     

  • The Hasid says:

    Heh heh. Thank you (I think…?), Ariel. I try, I try. I should leave my poorly paying arts-industry job and take up spin doctoring in Canberra. I wouldn’t love my job but at least I’d be rich.

    As for your question:

    Would I appreciate the Brits lobbying the British government to pressure the Australian government into adopting a particular policy or action…?

    To be honest, I wouldn’t care. They can do whatever they like.

    Ultimately, such lobbying would have a limited influence on Australian policy because a British lobby group couldn’t undermine the Australian democratic system. We’re the ones who are here, we’re the ones who vote. (Which is Frosh’s point re: Israel.) If the democratic system of any country is functioning and strong (as it is in Australia, and Israel), it will withstand foreign lobbying because the citizens have the final say. Which is another reason why I don’t quite get why Frosh is so up in arms over J-Street… Perhaps he is over-estimating their abilities?

    [Mind you – many Israelis don’t vote in the elections (65% voted last year), so I’m not sure that we even have an accurate picture of “the will of the Israeli electorate”…]

  • ariel says:

    Hasid,
    The fact that you don’t (or wouldn’t) care, is very worrying and I’m sure most Australians here would resent it greatly. It’s not about ability to have an effect, it’s about intent and what it foments.

    Don’t get me started on the Israeli electoral system, about which I have written many times. One of my main points is that not voting is tantamount to accepting the outcome because you could have made it different, but chose not to.

  • The Hasid says:

    I don’t get why that’s so worrying for you… I think most Australians wouldn’t worry too much either. Resentment? Hardly. Australians save their resentment for politicians who misuse their mobile phones.

    I vote. I follow Australian politics. I write letters to my MPs about issues that concern me. I participate in the democratic system as much as I possibly can, short of running for government myself.

    I simply don’t have the time, energy or inclination to worry too much about what lobby groups in other countries do, especially when the extent of their impact and influence is unclear.

    *shrugs*

  • frosh says:

    Hi Hasid,

    I don’t have time to fully address your thoughtful points and questions (very busy day at work – stupid day job!). I’ll try to respond more fully over the weekend.

    For now, let me just sincerely say that I do not include you in the “many of the Jews who join these organizations are acting more out of concern for their own leftist credentials amongst their non-Jewish leftist peers.”

    However, I don’t think this is an “absurd sweeping generalisation” either. The word “many” does not necessarily mean the majority. At minimum, it refers to significant minority. Unfortunately, Jewish history is replete with Jews who have taken a “can’t beat them, join them” approach to coping with adversaries.

    Anyway, I look forward to replying at more length when time allows (probably Sunday).

  • SJa says:

    Frosh

    J-Street is really a counter-response to AIPAC’s right wing leanings. I don’t really accept that AIPAC simply follow what every any Israeli government does in lobbying Congress etc. For example, during the hey day of the Oslo process they were quite luke warm and uncomfortable about the whole process. AIPAC claims to represent the views of the Jewish community in the US – I doubt that very much – they represent the more conservative, right wing elements of the US Jewish establishment.

    AIPAC on the whole simply try to preserve the status quo in Israel and pay slip service to the two-state solution etc.  They have never endorsed any efforts of any genuine peace efforts. They are much more comfortable defending and encouraging Israel with whatever military operation they may have commened (regardless if its good for Israel or not).

    I think in Australia there is not so much of an issue as Australia is largely an insignificant player in relation to this issue – so even if AIJAC operates out of a narrow centre right wing framework (which I think they do), who really cares. I think, however, that there does need to be some kind of space for Jews who care about Israel, but think that the policies of this current government are leading Israel nowhere. Forums such as this one are examples of such space. The AJN  has become a pretty conservative, reactionary paper.

  • frosh says:

    Neil,

    Having a busy yet dull day at work, so thank you so much for bringing laughter into that day.

    We should get together and have a drink sometime… so few people can me make me laugh like you can.

  • Sam says:

    “An American policy in the Middle East more broadly based on diplomacy, multilateralism and real partnership with the European Union, the Quartet and others. We support dialogue with a broad range of countries and actors, including Iran, over confrontation in order to find solutions to the region’s conflicts.”

    This has been copied directly from the J Street website under their heading –
    STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES
    It does not need very much analysis to draw a few disturbing conclusions from this paragraph.
    Firstly to lobby for an American Policy in real partnership with the European Union the “Quartet” ( I am assuming that these are the UN, the US, Russia, and EU) is either stupid or more likely insidious and against the security interests of Israel.

    The last sentence is a joke on whatever level that you examine it.  What dialogue with actors? Does it mean the academy award nominee (he wishes) Ahmadinejad who has featured in a couple of starring cameo performances on the publication. Actually I thought that a dialogue with the Hamas guy that was purportedly assasinated by a more than two dozen Mossad agents might have yielded some promising results for peace in the region, but I guess we will never know now. They should have eliminated him after not before he signed a peace treaty.”

  • frosh says:

    SJa,

    I agree with a lot of what you have said about AIPAC – they are conservative, and they may even just pay lip service to a two state solution, and they may not have been that comfortable with Oslo (although they would argue they were proven right about this, but I accept that is beside the point).

    However, there is no evidence that they ever undermined the Israeli governments negotiations in the Oslo Process.  And to repeat what I wrote in the article above, although these groups might support the settler movement and Israeli militarism, they do not lobby their governments to pressure Israel to build more settlements, or to carry out grander military operations in the Levant.

    In this way, they are fundamentally different to J Street and J Call.  Regardless of their conservative politics, AIPAC/AIJAC lobbying only results in more freedom for the democratically elected Israeli government to make its own decisions, irrespective of whether that Israeli government is a right leaning or left leaning .

  • SJ says:

    Frosh
    What essentially you are saying that only conservative Jews, like AIPAC are entitled to lobby in the US, whilst more left leaning groups, who would like a more actively engaged US in the middle-east can’t.
    I don’t really agree. I have no real difficulty with Jews in the US simply lobbying for a more engaged US involved in the I/P conflict, which I think historically has shown to be a good thing. They are focussing on US’s policy position in the middle east, not Israel’s position. 

    Ultimately, I think whilst jewish lobbies have some influence in Congress, it is very limited in its influence on US foreign policy in the middle east. The power of AIPAC etc is overexaggerated. Still, I don’t think US policy should be constrained by domestic considerations, and if J-Street stops that, its a good thing.  

  • SJa says:

    Last post was mine, SJa.

  • frosh says:

    SJa,

    That’s not whay I am saying.  I accept that everyone is entitled to lobby how they want.

    However, those who care about Israel should consider the following:

    Are they undermining the will of the Israeli electorate?

    Are they just adding to the lobbying efforts of other hostile and nefarious forces. E.g. The Arab League lobbying, the oil company lobbying etc?

  • frosh says:

    Hasid,

    I think one needs to look at lobbying through a more pragmatic lens.  While the anti-Semites (such as Mearsheimer and Walt) love to create the idea that there is this massive and powerful pro-Israel lobby, the reality is, as SJa has also stated, that outside of US Congress, they are not that influential.   The Executive branch of the US Govt is far more influenced by the other lobbying forces that I have outlined.

    Unfortunately, the executive branch has far more impact on foreign policy than the legislative branch. An obvious example of this is that despite US Congress consistently voting to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the US State Dept has never actually carried this out, and never will. This is a failure of American democracy, that unelected bureaucrats can undermine both houses of the properly elected Congress. I guess to anyone who has watched a bit of Yes Minister, this will come as no surprise.

    So, to repeat myself somewhat, while I may not share the politics of AIPAC, I recognise them as an important counterweight to the forces that would like to see Israel no longer exist.  Unfortunately, J-Street serves as counter to this vital counterweight.

  • End Injustice says:

    I am not surprised at European Jewry undermining Israeli democracy. Take the scandal of the Schlesinger twins in Vienna as an example. This horrific situation has been created and endorsed entirely by Rabbis in Vienna to the outrage of the International Jewish Community. What can be worse than using manipulative legal means to tear away 2-year-old twins from the love of their mother? Do we really want to receive guidance on Israeli politics from Austrian Jewry when we see behaviour like this?

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