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Author Describes Israel’s “American Problem”: Jewish Groups Which Stand in the Way of Peace

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July - August 2008

Those American Jewish organizations which frequently proclaim themselves “friends” of Israel may, in reality, constitute a significant roadblock on the path to any meaningful peace settlement, argues Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic and author of “Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.”  
Writing in The New York Times (May 18, 2008), Goldberg refers to these groups as Israel’s “American Problem.” When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived at a Jerusalem ballroom in February to address the representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Goldberg reports, “he was pugnacious, as customary, but he was also surprisingly defensive ... He knew that scattered about the audience were Jewish leaders who considered hint hopelessly spongy — and very nearly traitorous — on the issue they believed to be of cosmological importance: the sanctity of a ‘unified’ Jerusalem, under the sovereignty of Israel. These Jewish leaders, who live in Chicago and New York and behind the gates of Boca Raton country clubs, loathe the idea that Mr. Olmert, or a prime minister yet elected, might one day cede the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to the latent state of Palestine. These are neighborhoods — places like Sur Baher, Beit Hanina and Abu Dis — that the Conference of Presidents could not find with a forked stick ... And yet many Jewish leaders believe that an Israeli compromise on the boundaries of greater Jerusalem — or on nearly any other point of disagreement — is an axiomatic invitation to catastrophe.”  
When he spoke with Olmert several days later, Goldberg continued, the Israeli prime minister “said that certain American Jews he would not name have been ‘investing a lot of money trying to overthrow the government of Israel.’ But he was expansive and persuasive on the Zionist need for a Palestinian state. Without a Palestine — a viable, territorially contiguous Palestine — Arabs under Israeli control will, in the not distant future, outnumber the country’s Jews. ‘We now have the Palestinians running an Algeria-type campaign against Israel, but what I fear is that they will try to run a South Africa-type campaign against us,’ he said. If this happens, and worldwide sanctions are imposed as they were against the white-minority government, ‘the state of Israel is finished.’”  
This is why, Olmert has said, his mentor, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, turned against the Jewish settlement movement — which men like Sharon and Olmert once saw as the vanguard of Zionism. Now, they view such settlements as a threat to Israel’s long-term identity as a Jewish state.  
As former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it in 1999: “Every attempt to keep hold of this area as one political entity leads, necessarily, to either a nondemocratic or a non-Jewish state. Because if the Palestinians vote, then it is a binational state, and if they don’t vote it is an apartheid state that might then become another Belfast or Bosnia.”  
Discussing efforts by such groups as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents to enforce what they views as a “pro-Israel” position in the current presidential campaign — particularly with regard to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), who is feared as one whose Middle East views are largely unknown — Goldberg writes that, “... by the standards of rhetorical correctness maintained by such groups ... 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 about external threats to Israel’s safety but made no mention of the country’s missteps). This is an existentially unhealthy state of affairs ... What Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state — publicly, continuously and vociferously — to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state.”  
Why, Goldberg asks, won’t American leaders push Israel publicly in the direction of a genuine peace settlement? To him 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 ... What is needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel ... But this won’t happen until AIPAC and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.”

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