When are Israeli leaders going to get smart about American Jews? Not soon, if their clumsy efforts to brand J Street an anti-Israel group are any measure.
Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations this week, Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon had this to say about the pro-peace process lobby and political action committee: “Though we do not have to agree with their ideology, it is important to understand that not only do they not represent the reality, they cannot claim to be a pro-Israel organization since they have bashed Israel on many occasions, such as their solicitations in Congress against Israel following the Goldstone report.”
(Read more about the J Street fracas in this blog by JTA's Ron kampeas)
So once again, the message from Jerusalem is this: if you don't agree with the policies of the current government, you can't be pro-Israel. That means Americans for Peace Now isn't pro-Israel, and what's left of the Israel Policy Forum, and probably most of the Reform movement, and countless unaffiliated Jews who care about Israel but aren't part of the AIPAC/Presidents Conference orbit, and many Reconstructionists, and Labor Party supporters, and ...well, you get the picture.
What is it about these guys that makes them think it's smart to shrink the pro-Israel tent rather than expand it? That it helps Israel's cause by imposing stricter and stricter ideological litmus tests on Jews who care about Israel? That attacking American politicians who support Israel but disagree with some of its policies somehow strengthens support in Washington?
When previous governments were busy trying to make peace with the Palestinians, I didn't hear Israeli officials say groups like ZOA weren't pro-Israel because they loudly objected to their land-for-peace policies.
One source of strength for the pro-Israel movement in this country has been its ability to encompass a Jewish community with a wide range of views about the best route to peace and security for the Jewish state. That, in turn, has helped create overwhelming support in Congress. Now, it seems, the people in charge want to change that and kick out everyone who doesn't agree with them, starting with J Street.
Sorry, I don't get it. And I don't get the argument that Israel now faces existential threats (as if it hasn't ALWAYS faced them) that make dissent something like treason.
Some commenters and emailers have called me an apologist for J Street. I disagree; I'm a supporter of a pro-Israel movement that reflects the wide diversity of the American Jewish community, not just one faction. I'd be making the same argument if the doves were in power in Jerusalem and right-wing American Jewish groups were vigorously challenging their policies.
At a time when Israel faces growing hostility around the world, it seems dumb to shrink the army of active supporters by setting ideological thresholds that will inevitably leave a growing number of Jews on the outside.
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