Jewish Political Naivete

Ehud Barak was not even elected before some of the ridiculous predictions of radical changes in Israel-diaspora relations began to show up in the press. This is a regular occurrence now, as is the increasingly silly behavior of certain Jewish organizations that can't distinguish between the trivial and the significant and exert great amounts of energy and financial resources to fight meaningless battles. Paradoxically, it seems the more power Jews acquire, the less many of them understand politics.

A number of stories have appeared suggesting that Barak's election will result in a revolution in the way the Israeli government deals with American Jewry. In particular, the left-wing pro-peace organizations are now supposed to suddenly dominate the U.S.-Israel relationship and the allegedly right-wing, and, by implication, anti-peace groups, will be pushed aside. This idea is fed by remarks by people in the Labor Party suggesting that organizations like AIPAC, who they see as tied to the Likud, will no longer have a major role in lobbying for Israel. This is poppycock.

AIPAC is the principal component of the Israeli lobby and that will not change. The left-wing groups do not have the resources -- members, contacts, or money – to supplant it. AIPAC supports whichever government is in power, usually to the consternation of the opposition, and will make a 180-degree (actually a fraction of that is required) shift in its position to reflect the views of the new Prime Minister. Many Israelis simply don't understand the U.S. political system or how AIPAC operates. I still remember having lunch with three of the young princes of Labor, who shared a disdain for AIPAC, and recall coming away with the realization that they didn't have a clue about the organization or its milieu.

AIPAC and the other establishment groups will enthusiastically support Barak because they want to see the peace process move forward and U.S.-Israel tensions eased. No one is going to question Barak's credentials or commitment to Israeli security. He lacks Bibi's charisma, but, by the end of his term, Netanyahu's formidable communication skills were no longer helping him make his case in the United States. A duller, less articulate Prime Minister with more popular policies should do much better. It worked for Yitzhak Rabin.

It is not just Israelis who don't understand American politics, many Jews here are equally misguided. In some cases, their actions aren't just foolish, but counterproductive. This is particularly true of the Jewish pit bulls who attack anyone who disagrees with them and are unable to distinguish between friends, foes, and enemies that are dangerous.

The latest example of the pit bulls getting out of control involved the campaign against Joseph Zogby, a low-level aide to Martin Indyk, the assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. Zogby's father is one of Israel's most persistent critics, a guy with no constituency or influence, but a good publicist. The son apparently shares his father's views and therefore was viewed as a dark influence at the State Department. In reality, Zogby was a minor figure with zero influence. Sure he's got a bias, so does everyone else working in Middle East affairs at State, and many are equally or more hostile to Israel. It is the career diplomats and political appointees, however, who have the influence, so why pick on this guy?

Zogby was already planning to take a position at a different government agency, so the campaign only provoked him to consider staying to spite his opponents. It also created a backlash because Zogby's defenders could say the only Arab-American at State was being persecuted for his views. Zogby did leave, and I'm sure the pit bulls will claim credit for cleansing the State Department. Of course, they never succeeded in getting rid of Indyk, the official who does have influence, who was also accused of hostility toward Israel, despite the fact that his whole political career grew out of his work with AIPAC.

The lack of perspective in the Jewish community is becoming frightening. Some people can't distinguish between the threat posed by a swastika painted on a bathroom wall and a bomb being placed in a Jewish agency building. We see this all the time with the self-appointed media monitors. Every negative report or factual error is not an indication of anti-Israel bias, a media crusade against the Jews or a shift in public perceptions of Jews and Israel. Sure we should demand accuracy and expect fairness, but a lot of the problems are just not that important.

Do you realize that despite the horrible media bias, the hostility of the Clinton Administration to the Netanyahu government, the Arabists in the State Department, the "self-hating" Jews in the State Department and all the rest of the variables conspiring against us, Americans sympathize with Israelis over Palestinians by more than three to one and that public approval of Israel is the highest it's been since 1991?

We have to fight for what we believe, and stand up against injustice and threats to the Jewish people and Israel. But we also need to know how to pick our fights, not just the ones that we can win, but the ones that truly matter. That is the sign of political maturity. We're not there yet.