Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 1999 /8 Teves, 5760
Don’t throw out the pro-Israel activists with the peace bathwater
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Ehud Barak addressed the assembled delegates of the General Assembly of Jewish Federations last month via satellite, he laid down what he hoped would be a new rule of American Jewish life.
“Today, to be pro-Israel is to be pro-peace,” said the confident Israeli leader.
For those who haven’t been hiding under a rock, the meaning was clear: Critics of the Oslo peace process as carried about by the governments of the late Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and now Barak, should no longer act as if they represent the majority of American Jews or the interests of the State of Israel.
This not-so-subtle message was intended for those pesky American Jewish gadfly types who have spent the last six years infuriating peace process advocates. Rather than join in the cheerleading for the brave new world sketched by Shimon Peres or even the harsher “peace of the brave” that Barak likes to spin, they have been spoiling the fun.
Groups like the Zionist Organization of America have indefatigably spread the word about the numerous instances of Palestinian Arab violations of the peace accords. They even managed to convince Congress to link American aid to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority to treaty compliance.
Supporters of the peace process gave up trying to contest the truth of the ZOA’s assertions long ago. As far as the Israeli and American Jewish left is concerned, the whole exercise is pointless. I’ve talked to prominent Israeli journalists and government officials about this issue and their response to things like Palestinian hate-TV or Suha Arafat’s blood libels is a loud yawn.
AMERICAN CASH IS KEY
Why? Because if the meetings between Barak and Assad’s foreign minister hit pay dirt, Israel is expecting the United States to pick up the tab (estimated at $15 to $20 billion) for relocating the tens of thousands of Israelis who live on the Golan, increased security measures, as well as lots of new high-tech American weapons for the Israeli Defense Forces.
I happen to agree with those critics who do not understand why, given the risks of Syrian instability following Assad’s death, Barak should be rushing to give away the Golan and risk Israel’s security and water resources before we know what will follow Assad. Assad's regime is dominated by the Alawite minority and only represents the dictator and the rest of his criminal family. Holding onto the Golan makes sense to me. Falling over oneself to beg an old, sick, bloodthirsty dictator to take it off your hands is beyond my comprehension.
Does anyone — even Ehud Barak — believe that real peace with Syria is in the offing?
But Barak is the guy with the security qualifications and the 61 Knesset votes that enable him to do whatever he wants — facts that Oslo skeptics shouldn’t forget. If he can command the loyalty of his coalition (or at least buy it in the case of the Shas party), then his scenario may become reality.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE
Imagine a sullen icy truce with Syria and an equally truculent and frigid peace treaty with the newly independent “State of Palestine,” with a capital in a Jerusalem suburb. Let’s even imagine that somehow the American economic boom will be great enough to convince Congress to pay extra billions for Israel’s security needs and billions more in baksheesh to Arab dictators to buy their good behavior.
Peace, or non-belligerence enshrined in treaties, will have then been achieved on all of Israel’s borders. It may be a scenario ripe with danger, but my guess is most Israelis would be willing to give it a chance.
Where do American Jewish supporters of Israel fit into this future of peace?
Without existential threats to Israel’s existence to worry about and peace plans to debate, the question is, what will American Jews who love Israel have to talk about?
Sure, there are ways to show you care about Israel, such as the laudable Partnership 2000 program, which bring Israelis and American Jews together. But it is no knock on Partnership 2000 or even the various other projects under way to accomplish similar goals to note that once the topic changes from potential peril to potential investment, a lot of the passion goes out of the discussion. Once you stop debating land-for-peace, my experience is that most American Jews just stop listening.
The progress of the peace process in the last few years has come at the same time as a precipitate decline in American Jewish interest in Israel. This is no coincidence.
CONSIDER THE CONSEQUENCES
If security guarantees on the Golan fail — and does Israel really believe the United States can be trusted to see that they don't; if the next intifada arises in the Gallilee; or if terrorism from Palestine into Israel increases rather than subsides, Barak or his successor is going to need the same people he now sees as obstacles.
Thus, before peace process advocates start their full-steam ahead campaigns to squelch American Jewish groups that refuse to support Barak’s initiatives, they need to consider the consequences.
It is true that effectively shutting up some of the most vocal and loyal friends of Israel in this country may serve Ehud Barak’s short-term interests. American Jews who are not “pro-peace” enough for Barak may be a nuisance, but these nudniks also constitute the most hard-core, pro-Israel constituency he has. Even if he succeeds in achieving agreements on Israel’s terms, Israel is going to need all of its American friends, “pro-peace” as defined by Barak, or not.
Before Barak unleashes his gung-ho groups on the skeptics, he needs to remember that even in the post-Zionist world that may exist after peace treaties are signed, Israel will still need a strong pro-Israel American Jewish community.
More tolerance now may pay important dividends in the
JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.