I don’t exactly see the world the way Jeffrey Goldberg does, but on these points I couldn’t agree with him more. His Sunday NYT op-ed, in a special issue looking at 60 years of Israeli independence, insisted that hope for an independent Palestinian state requires not just the ending of but the “reversal of the West Bank settlement project.” On this, pretty much the entire world, including many Israelis, agree. But why hasn’t it happened? Why isn’t the United States demanding the removal of settlements, instead of issuing half-hearted useless warnings while Israel continues to build more and more settlements each day on land that does not belong to it?
(One can only imagine the groans of contempt in the audience this week as President Bush excoriated Arab leaders for their closed systems and violations of human rights, only days after the love-fest at the Knesset where he conveniently overlooked Israel’s role in degrading human rights in the region. )
Goldberg says the problem is American Jewish organizations, who through some fantasized world of their own making, insist on taking positions to the right of even Olmert. The relationship between most American Jews and Israel has always been mediated through fundraisers for the state. Jews have been sold a heady mix of heroic myth-making and vicarious pride. And until now, it has worked, if you don’t actually pick up a newspaper or go to Israel and step out of the carefully scripted tours to see the complex reality. (Yes, just like the US is a much more complex reality than the one-dimensional “patriotic” pablum we are often asked to ingest.)
But Israelis don’t need “friends” who promote a fantasy-based idea of who they are and what they need. They need friends who know how to say, enough is enough. You are destroying yourselves and taking everyone with you. As Goldberg observed,
…by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups as the Conference of Presidents and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, Mr. Obama is actually more pro-Israel than either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak. (To say nothing of John McCain and President George W. Bush, who spoke to the Knesset last week about external threats to Israel’s safety but made no mention of the country’s missteps.)
Goldberg knows the settlements are the main obstacle to peace, and that the US, and anyone who wants to be president of the US, refuses to hold the Israeli government accountable.
So why won’t American leaders push Israel publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.
Goldberg argues that “unthinking American support does hurt Israel.” And it does. But why can’t our presidential candidates actually say what they think, and have an honest conversation about blind US support for terrible Israeli policies?
They should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself.
But this won’t happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.
It’s time for this older generation of leaders to step out of the way and allow a different generation to take the reins.