Helpless in Seattle

I see the Jewish attack dogs are at again. This time they’re trying to get National Security Adviser Sandy Berger fired. What was his crime against the Jewish people? He made an inane remark about Palestinian violence being “both the curse and the blessing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Berger is one of the President’s closest friends and advisers. Gee, I wonder if this campaign will work?

This is only the latest example of the frustration that seems to be coming out on all sides of the American Jewish political spectrum in the wake of the inexorable movement of the peace process toward Israel’s withdrawal to an approximation of the 1967 borders.

The right-wing has been flailing since Oslo in a futile effort to derail the peace process and convince people that Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and even Bibi Netanyahu are moving Israel to the brink of disaster. In Israel the situation has once again gotten to the point where the Prime Minister is receiving death threats. Here, people attack every administration move that hints at the slightest suggestions of compromise and trot out decades-old propaganda points that have been overtaken by events.

American Jews on the left are no less frustrated by their inability to generate enthusiastic support for the policies of the government. Supporters of the peace process wonder why everyone who for so many years preached the importance of American Jewish unity behind the elected government of Israel has suddenly decided it’s all right to express public opposition.

The reality is that as committed as most Jews are to supporting the Israeli government, of whatever political stripe, it is still difficult to completely abandon the arguments we were weaned on. It is hard to conceive, for example, how the Golan Heights, which we were told for more than 30 years were strategically vital, can now be traded for Syrian promises of goodwill. Yet, how can a Jew sitting in Seattle question the wisdom of not only Israel’s Prime Minister, but one of its greatest military heroes?

Like it or not, American Jews have always been largely powerless when it comes to matters of war and peace in the Middle East. We could not force our government to end arms embargoes in 1948 or 1967, to support Israel’s conquest of the Sinai in 1956 or to continue to withhold recognition of the PLO in 1996. To this day we’ve been unable to pressure the government to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

So long as Israel’s position was to hold on to territory, it was possible to lobby the U.S. government to support that position, though even then successive administrations pressured Israel to concede land for “peace.” The situation is different now that Israel is willing to make that trade. You’re not going to convince the administration, especially the give-it-all-back-at- any-price State Department, to take a harder line than the Israeli government has adopted (though, comically, some congressmen have been enlisted for this purpose).

The peace process has been a blur since Oslo. Israel’s boundaries just keep shrinking and, even those who support the process, feel disenfranchised because they have no say in the matter. And Jews from both the right and left are dismayed by the fact that for all the concessions Israel has made, the goal of true peace seems as illusive as ever. Violence against Israeli Jews has continued unabated and the ideological divisions now are reduced largely to whether people believe it will get better or worse, not whether the killing will end altogether.

Judaism is a religion of deeds, so it is contrary to our faith as well as our politics to do nothing, but the reality is that American Jews can do very little to affect the peace process. The boundaries will be drawn without our input. The fate of the settlements will be decided despite our input. The fate of Jerusalem has already been decided – the Palestinian state will have its capital in Abu Dis.

What we can do is what we’ve always done, take steps to insure Israel is as strong as possible. When the peace process is complete and a physically smaller Israel is surrounded by an Ice Curtain, it will need our support more than ever. We must increase our philanthropic commitments to Israeli institutions: schools, social service organizations, the Jewish Agency and the rest. We must lobby our government to provide economic assistance to compensate for the loss of resources and industry that the territorial compromises will entail. The loss of the Golan, for example, will be devastating to Israel’s wine industry. A strong economy is essential if Israel is to prosper in the post-Oslo world.

We must also insure that Israel can deter any future threat. I believe a formal U.S.-Israel defense treaty is vital to this goal, but, at a minimum, we must continue to support U.S. military aid and the sale of sophisticated weapons to Israel, and oppose the sale of similar weapons to countries that could pose a threat to Israel.