Last night former State Department aide David Makovsky talked about Israel policy under Donald Trump in the breathtaking sanctuary of the Central Synagogue in New York. Makovsky works at the Israel-lobby-group the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a spinoff of AIPAC) and expressed three very Israel-centric ideas: Here’s how you could move the US embassy to Jerusalem with a minimum of violence; BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel) is a threat because of the rising numbers of minorities in the U.S. and American Jews have to come up with a Birthright-like program for US minorities; Benjamin Netanyahu as the “leader of all Jews” is expected by American Jews to fight antisemitism in the U.S.
You can move the embassy to Jerusalem.
It is a “historic injustice” that the American embassy is not in Jerusalem, Makovsky. It should have been placed in Western Jerusalem long ago, but the U.S. has honored the original UN partition resolution of 1947 which established Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a corpus separatum from the two states the UN carved out (to no effect). There’s a way to move the embassy to Jerusalem, Makovsky said, but the issue is how much violence it would cause.
There’s a risk. Could you minimize the risk in one or two ways? A, you do diplomacy by the Secretary of State, you go to Arab caitals, and say, we’re talking about West Jerusalem, not East Jerusalem, we don’t expect you to endorse it but all we’re asking you is not to fan the flames, so this doesn’t become a security issue for American diplomatic personnel in Pakistan or Afghanistan… so we don’t want to risk Americans in this regard…
But it could be that Trump likes shock therapy. I’m just going to do it because– here’s the magic moment that American Jews haven’t focused on yet, which is that Obama signed the last waiver December 1st, 2016. Guess when that six-month waiver expires? June 1, 2017, 5 days before the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war and the unification of Jerusalem. If you were one of his political advisers you might say, Mr President, the symbolism is irreversible, you don’t sign that next waiver. I think this issue could come up soon. But here again… how it’s going to be configured to minimize the risk– to me, it’s important.
BDS as a black issue.
Makovsky said that BDS poses little threat to Israel economically. But he’s visited over 125 campuses in recent years and BDS appeals to students of color.
There’s a shifting demographic in this country. Who knows whether under Trump, how that’s going to change. The Pew research poll shows that 43 percent of millennials are not white… I am concerned that Israel is losing on these campuses– that the minorities are able to hook up with SJP, the Students for Justice in Palestine. They’re not two-staters, they never talk about Israel at all. My challenge to all of you is to help come up with– foundations like the Singer foundation and other foundations– to come up a big bold idea like Birthright. I don’t want to use the word Birthright for minorities because it has certain associations…..
But identify minorities on the 50 top campuses in this country. They might be Hispanic students, Black Students Association, LGBT, whatever it is… I’m going to bring their leaders to Israel and I’m going to show one thing, Israel is not a bumper sticker, it’s complicated. And I want them to come back to their friends in the Black Students Association, the Hispanic Students Association, LGBT, and say, I went over there, I see, they have a raucous debate over there, it’s complicated, and here are the shades of gray. How is it that minority students do not have a way to hook up with Israel? What are we doing? I think the minority piece of this is huge.
Makovsky gave an example of minority attitudes: He has a game where he asks students to imagine a Middle East Mt Rushmore. Who are the heroes to be carved in granite– name two Arabs and two Jews.
All I can say is when you mention Mt. Rushmore, they say, “You mention Mt Rushmore because Israel stole the land from the Palestinians, because they’re a minority, we’re a minority.” That was not the case. Israel was the first country to be voted on by the United Nations.
Netanyahu is the leader of all of the Jews.
Moderator Abigail Pogrebin said she was concerned about the rising expression of anti-Semitism in the United States; she quoted Abe Foxman saying the sewer covers have come off; and she said Jews wonder what Trump will do about this and often invoke the name of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Makovsky said it’s ultimately Netanyahu’s job.
Look it’s obviously concerning… I think if God forbid it would intensify, the same prime minister who goes to France and says I’m the leader of all Jews and you know—people, American Jews will expect the prime minister, not just Jared Kushner, to speak out.
Right now obviously he’s loath to get into domestic politics, especially when I think we would all agree that the early phase of their relationship [Trump-Netanyahu] will be a honeymoon. They’ll both kind of say how terrible the Iran deal was and they’ll talk about jihadism or American retrenchment. I mean, there will be common bonding between them– Netanyahu will want that. But if God forbid things would worsen, I think people would have that expectation. I don’t think that’s where we’re now at, at all. I do I think American Jews are right to be vigilant.
A couple comments. It’s plain that Makovsky was chosen as a senior advisor to John Kerry on the peace process because he has solid-gold bona fides in the Israel lobby, and Kerry had to keep the Jewish establishment happy. And look how little they achieved in that peace process: No Palestinian state for nearly 70 years now, since the partition resolution.
The lobby is losing power. Makovsky is expressing generational attitudes that are being swept out to sea, and Makovsky doesn’t realize how far off shore he already is, particularly in his view that Netanyahu could speak for American Jews. Religion plays a role here: Makovsky and his very military brother Michael, who spoke at another NY synagogue on the same topic 10 days ago, are religiously observant Jews who live in a bubble of Israel-love.
Makovsky said something else that bespeaks his bubbled perspective. When Pogrebin expressed dismay at Trump Pentagon pick General James Mattis’s statement three years ago that American forces pay a price across the Middle East for the U.S. special relationship with Israel and Israel is in danger of becoming an “apartheid” state, Makovsky said that Mattis and General David Petraeus before him were guilty of “localitis” — giving voice to “crazy” ideas so as to play to the home crowd in Arab capitals in their job as head of CENTCOM, US Central Command.
This was highly patronizing. But Makovsky also contradicted himself, and affirmed the wisdom of Mattis’s statements. In his Jerusalem comments, he made it clear that American diplomats could die if the U.S. chooses to move its embassy to Jerusalem. I.e., these Arabs care about Palestinians, and nothing will remove that concern, as Kerry said the other day. And secondly, Makovsky said that the real incentive for a peace deal now is on the part of Jews who want to stave off the reality of “a binational state.” Netanyahu knows of this danger, Makovsky says, and he uses the Americans as the heavy to temporize his right wing. When the heavy is gone, and Trump says, do whatever you like, Israel is going to get ever closer to Mattis’s reality.
The charge of localitis can surely be more accurately leveled at Makovsky and Pogrebin and Central Synagogue Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, who started the night off with parochialism:
“We’re all in this room because we have one kind of burning question, but Is it good for the Jews?… Where is the Trump administration going to be in relationship to Israel and other Jewish issues.”
Maybe that’s why the older crowd was there. I imagine many younger Jews hear Buchdahl with jaws dropping at the selfishness.