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September 2005 > Aipac Charges

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AIPAC Charges Offer Opportunity

When American Jews scanned the front pages of either The New York Times or The Washington Post on the first Friday in August, there may have well been a collective sinking feeling. The day before, an army deserter shot four Israeli Arabs to death on a bus. This was the same day Steven J. Rosen and Keither Weissman were indicted for receiving classified information.

Jews on both sides of the Atlantic and Mediterranean need not despair. They can seize the events of Thursday, Aug. 4, as an opportunity to rethink Israeli policies and their approach to influencing United States foreign affairs.

The Post front-paged both stories, and the Times carried the lobbyist story on the front page and the killing rampage inside. No doubt some in the Jewish community might accuse the FBI of anti-Semitism and point to the violent excesses of Arabs responding to the bus shootings. Many American Jews likely fear accusations of dual loyalty, lumping of all Jews with the bus maniac and even high-tech pogroms.

The Jewish people will muddle through. We Jews, as a people, have survived all kinds of persecution during the last 3,000 years or more. What's important here is that we learn and grow stronger from the August 4th events. Both episodes were spawned by rigid, extremist cultures which until recently went unchecked for years, literally decades. It is now time to check them.

The right-wing movement in Israel has long been visible to the world at large, and its beliefs and methods leave little to interpretation. The framework of Israel advocacy in the United States is far more convoluted.

Israeli Private Eden Natan Zada, 19, deserted the army in mid-June after refusing to participate in preparations for the withdrawal of Gaza and northern West Bank settlements. He boarded the bus in Haifa and killed two young Muslim sisters and two Christian men in the Arab town of Shefaram before enraged Arabs at the scene beat him to death.

Zada is not the first Jewish Israeli to murder or attack innocent Arabs, and the settler movement has not only had its way with the Israeli government but has long been tolerated by Israeli society and Jews in general. This still hardly compares to the scale of extremism and terror on the part of the Palestinians. Fortunately, the settler movement is being confronted head-on via the disengagement plan. It appears to most people that that initiative ignited Zada's killing spree.

Perhaps the Jewish establishment will seriously reassess its framework after the indictment of the two senior staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Critics of Israel, especially the more strident ones, probably grinned when both AIPAC and Israeli officials claimed that they had nothing to do with Rosen and Weissman's alleged crimes. AIPAC fired both of them last April.

The worst-case perception for AIPAC has been that Israel dictates American foreign policy through AIPAC. Image is important because Israel needs all the support it can obtain. At the least, AIPAC is a powerful lobbying group which achieves a high proportion of its legislative goals while many wealthy Jews contribute money to political campaigns for candidates of both parties. Clearly, many reasonable Americans who support Israel's existence and treat Jews respectfully wonder what Israel and its surrogates in the United States are doing.

Right-wing policies represent the views of one-fourth, at most, of America's Jewish population as 76 percent of Jews voted against President Bush in 2004 even as some Jewish leaders bludgeoned their less influential brethren over the head with the proclamation that Bush is the best friend Israel ever had. Meanwhile, other Jews have had to absorb rage from critics of Israel who take notice of AIPAC's activities.

What's significant is not whether the United States supports Israel but how it supports Israel. AIPAC and most other Jewish organizations historically support Israeli policies whether the government is run by the right-wing Likud Party or the more liberal Labor Party. AIPAC and right-wing factions are usually more enthusiastic and active when Likud is in power. When Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister of a Labor-led government in 1992, he told Jewish leaders in America that he could negotiate with the president and congressional leaders himself, thank you very much.

Right-wingers have long backed self-destructive policies which contribute to the bloodshed. It is necessary for America to support sensible policies such as the pullout of settlements in Gaza, which will reduce the dangers for both Israeli civilians and troops who were deployed to protect communities too difficult to defend. 

If anyone doubts that negative perceptions can harm Israel, why did the Presbyterian Church pick August 5th - the day after - to announce a disinvestment initiative? The church said it will call a vote to divest its stock in four American companies if they continue to provide military equipment and technology to Israel for use in control of the Palestinian territories, the Times reported. The August 4th incidents afforded the Presbyterians advantageous political cover. 

Defenders of AIPAC may well stress that Rosen and Weissman have been charged, not convicted. They would be right. Maybe the charges will be dropped or the defendants will be found not guilty. Even if a jury convicts them, they will still have the right to appeal. Furthermore, perhaps someone in the administration is exploiting this situation to weaken AIPAC's influence, perhaps someone is motivated by anti-Semitism, or perhaps this is a bad law or the Department of Justice is misinterpreting it.

All the same, if law enforcement authorities honestly believe that Rosen and Weissman violated the law, they have a responsibility to investigate and, if they deem it appropriate, to prosecute them.

If leaders in the American Jewish leaders hope to avoid a repeat of the August developments, this is the time to think outside the box - the box which they built for us.