Yesterday's Times previewed the upcoming espionage trial of two former AIPAC staffers in the right context-- the ever-louder conversation about the Israel lobby.
the case comes with issues of enormous sensitivity and emotion, notably the nature and extent of the ways American Jewish supporters of Israel try to influence the United States government.
The two defendants are apparently going to argue that the information they passed along to the Israeli government was conventional Washington talk, not state secrets. My own feeling is that this whole area is a giant mess right now, that Israeli and U.S. interests have been thoroughly conflated in Washington, possibly illegally, and the country needs to separate its interests from Israel.
I'd like to offer a piece of evidence on the issue. Last night I was reading Wrestling With Zion, a wonderful volume by progressive American Jews who are alarmed by what Israel has turned out to be. It contains a staggering statement.
Wrestling With Zion was published five years ago but it gets more and more meaningful with every passing hour. I don't think the book has ever been reviewed in the New York Times, though last year the book was singled out by the American Jewish Committee in a McCarthylike report that suggested that progressive Jews who criticize Israel are anti-Semites. That AJC report was hateful. Soon after it came out, I met Alisa Solomon, the book's co-editor, a gentle, serious, generous journalist, teacher and Jew. The idea that she is an anti-Semite--well, it is simply crazy, and yet I saw how this charge had hurt her personally. A year later I can say that both the AJC report and Solomon's book are symptoms of a generational crisis the organized Jewish community finds itself in right now. For the Jewish leadership is agonized that young Jews, following leaders like Solomon, are becoming alienated from Israel.
Now at the end of the book, Solomon and her co-editor playwright Tony Kushner print a dialogue among several activists and writers. It includes the following exchange between two Brit Tzedek Jews--progressive Zionists--Marcia Freedman, who is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and former president of Brit Tzedek, and Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Brooklyn, a brave rabbi who has openly criticized Israel.
LIPPMANN: [In early 2003, at a meeting of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which calls itself "the national public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community]... the Reform movement tried to come with a resolution about settlements. It seemed like a fairly innocuous resolution they tried to put forward. They weren't even able to bring it forward until they watered it down. And then it was defeated because it was seen as much too far to the left for what a group of American Jewish organizations could bring to the American government, though it was pretty mild compared to what I think many of us would want them to say.
FREEDMAN: It was just about freezing settlement building. It was a nothing statement. It supported a two-state solution. But I think to understand better what happened there, you have to understand that that organization is the umbrella organization for the Jewish Community Relations Councils, which are part of the organized Jewish community and therefore part of the organized Jewish voice that's being directed out of the Israeli Foreign Ministry [emphasis Weiss's] and AIPAC. That was not anything that represents the Jews. It represents a certain section of the Jewish population that is 'the organized' population.
Does that statement require interpretation? Freedman, a very well connected person, a Californian who was once in the Israeli Knesset, is saying that an important issue in the American Jewish community, perhaps the most important moral/political issue of the last 20 years, calling for a freeze on illegal and racist Israeli colonialism, is being decided for American Jews by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. And this is not controversial!? This book has been out for five years. Since then, Walt and Mearsheimer have presented a convincing argument that the neocons pushed the Iraq war out of concern for Israel, and the Jewish community has by and large risen against them. Where is the journalistic investigation of Freedman's statement? Where is the soul-searching?
I'd add that in Jewish, when we say "make aliyah," or move to Israel, it means "to go up." While those who don't live in Israel are called the "yoredim," those who have gone down, which I gather is a bit of a slur. In current organized Jewish belief, there is a higher status given to those who live in Israel than to those who live in the U.S. Which may help to explain the abdication by modern privileged empowered American Jews of all moral authority to Israelis, who live in a brutalized and weak state trapped in a cycle of violence.
Yesterday's Times said:
For Aipac and to some extent the larger pro-Israel community in the United States, the charges... could raise what they regard as an unfair, even toxic question about whether some American Jews hold a loyalty to Israel that matches or exceeds their loyalty to the United States.
I say that question is logical and timely.