AJC, NIF share a concern: Israeli democracy
01/07/2011 - 11:32
James Besser

I can't recall many times when the American Jewish Committee and the New Israel Fund have been on the same page on a critical issue involving Israel, but it happened this week.

The mainstream-to-its-core AJC, in a strongly worded statement, called on the Knesset to “reconsider its decision to form a parliamentary committee to investigate Israeli groups critical of the country's military,”

David Harris, the group's executive director, said this: “The Knesset’s action today contravenes the democratic principles that are Israel’s greatest strength. Israel’s vibrant democracy not only can survive criticism, but it also thrives and is improved by it.”

He criticized the “selective targeting of groups critical of the IDF,” something he said that “runs counter to Israel’s legal and political tradition, and does no service to the one state that is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.”

I suspect Harris is worried about Israel's democracy for the sake of Israel – but also because of the potentially devastating impact on an American Jewish community weaned on romantic images of Israel's status as the Middle East's only democracy.

The New Israel Fund, a favorite target of the Israeli and American Jewish right, is more directly involved, since some of the civil rights agencies it funds are the obvious targets of the Knesset action.

“A healthy democracy respects and protects human rights,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch in a statement.  “It does not engage in continual attempts to put its internationally-respected human rights organizations out of business.”

He blasted Yisrael Beitenu, which is pushing the investigation. “The escalating attempts by right-wing factions in the Israeli government to shut down and even criminalize the necessary work of the human rights community delegitimizes Israel’s standing as a democracy in the eyes of its allies in the U.S. and Europe,” he said.

And he connected the effort to something that's been an active topic of conversation in the Jewish blogosphere in recent days thanks to The Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg.

“The renewed wave of legislation and inquiries against the human rights community is part of an ever -more troubling trend in Israel,” he said. “Israel is on a dangerous path – vilifying its legitimate critics, dehumanizing non-Jews and Jews who disagree with ultra-nationalism, poisoning social cohesion and isolating itself from would-be friends and allies. Those of us who love Israel must take responsibility to speak out against the growing dangers to Israel as a democracy and as an open and just society.”

There you have it; it's pretty obvious concern about where Israel's democracy is headed cuts across some pretty important lines in the American Jewish community.

No doubt Israel's most ardent supporters in the Jewish community will brush off the surge of  concern about Israeli democracy as just more leftist Israel bashing.

Well, you have to be pretty far out on the fringes to call David Harris a leftist Israel basher, is all I can say.

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