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‘Al Jazeera’ examines Jewish constellation of lobby elites, and marginalized ‘universalists’

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Marwan Bishara
Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara has an excellent piece up at Al Jazeera about the Israel lobby titled, “Palestine as an exclusively Jewish issue in the US: Are Palestinians only relevant by what they mean to Israel…?” Bishara’s target is the monopolization of the issue of Palestinian rights by US Jewish organizations, in which the debate runs the gamut from J Street to AIPAC, one flavor of Israel support versus another.

Bishara’s piece is frank and calm about the power of Jews inside the establishment– “to their credit,” he says–while emphasizing that not all Jews are on board with Israel. Again I’d ask, how many American mainstream publications are anatomizing our establishment in this manner, let alone giving a microphone to anti-Zionists?

Here’s the beginning of his piece, liberal Zionists versus conservative ones:

A Jewish-Jewish debate has heated up in recent years in the United States with new critical voices of Israel taking centre stage….

But confining the US debate on Palestine and the Arab world to a mere intra-Zionist debate is counterproductive. It’s narrowly defining and largely dictating the larger debate over US policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It renders the Palestinians relevant only by what they mean to Israel, not for who they are or how they are related to the larger Arab or Muslim worlds.

Bishara relates the American Jewish rise to the power of the lobby:

Instead of migrating [to Israel, American Jews post ’67] provided indispensable support, financial, political and even strategic.

To their credit – the estimated 4 million Jews, who emigrated to North America from Europe between 1860 and 1960, and their descendants have emerged as powerful and influential actors throughout the American establishment, and hence their position carried huge weight over their main issue of interest, Israel/Palestine.

Here’s his interesting claim that only two times has an American nationalist perspective interrupted the Israel lobby view in D.C. He writes that Washington has become ever more responsive “to domestic Jewish influence.”

The only two exceptions to this rule came first in 1991 when the George Bush administration insisted that Israel freeze all settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to convene the international conference for peace. And in 2010, when General David Petraeus reportedly warned that the Palestinian issue was “fomenting anti-American sentiment due to the perception of US favouritism towards Israel”.

Bishara says the battle between “organized American Jewish elites” is fed by growing embarrassment by Israel’s behavior:

The US turn to the left and Israel’s further turn to the right after the 2008 elections, have polarised the organised American Jewish elites and put pressure on moderate Jewish voices to be openly critical of Israel and distance themselves from the extremist policies of the Netanyahu government.

The new split has reinvigorated the political debate between these Jewish moderates who demand that Israel end its occupation and its illegal settlement construction in order to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the radicals, who demand that the Palestinians embrace Israel as a “Jewish state” and relinquish their rights over Jerusalem and Palestinian right of return, even before a final negotiated settlement is reached.

Bishara breaks away from the elite duality to notice the rise of Jewish progressives like the ones at Jewish Voice for Peace:

But it’s the secularist Jews who don’t necessarily identify themselves as Jewish per se, that have adopted the most uncompromising and moral position on Palestinian rights.

Agree with them or not, these courageous “universalists” identify with the Palestinians as victims of dispossession and oppression, unconditionally. They see the cause of Palestine as an extension of the struggle for freedom from colonialism and war.

Their compass is truly universal and their prism is ethical not ethnic.

But they remain a minority on the margins of the US establishment and outside the influential Jewish organisations.

Bishara hastens to assure us that he doesn’t count Jews; but he concludes that the Jewish presence in the Establishment, for instance Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross as negotiators for peace, has played a role in preventing a solution.

The result is an utter failure of two decades of peace process and a diminished US credibility in the Middle East.

Soon after failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000, I remember reading that Palestinians, like other Arabs before them, felt that the US delegation was divided between Labourites and Likudniks, in reference to Israel’s own centrist and rightist political parties.

Indeed, one keen observer went as far as noting that while the US delegations mediating the first Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt were all Christians with the exception of then US Ambassador to Israel, the later Camp David Summit with the Palestinians in 2000 featured a US delegation that was compromised of only Jewish friends of Israel with the exception of President Bill Clinton.

This piece accepts the profound and unsettling core difficulty of any honest discussion of the Israel lobby– that it’s a theory of Jewish influence. Conservative Jewish influence, I say; but that’s what we’re talking about inasmuch as Zionists have had a hammerlock on US policy in the Middle East. This is why I insist on carrying on a Jewish discussion as part of my work even when folks say I’m narcissistic. We’re not about to see an end to the Jewish presence in the American elite, or for that matter an end to American elites. I see a need to transform that Jewish presence, to embrace Palestinian human rights the same way we support civil rights here. And it’s happening, Jewish life is changing, and Al Jazeera reports it.

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“I see a need to transform that Jewish presence, to embrace Palestinian human rights the same way we support civil rights here. ”

That is the way the majority of dedicated human rights activist have seen this issue for decades. Good thing this discussion is taking place in the Jewish community.

“Instead of migrating [to Israel, American Jews post ’67] provided indispensable support, financial, political and even strategic. [to Israel]”

Isn’t this the definition of a fifth column?

This morning, on the cable TV Turner Channel Remember him, and why he’s now out of the picture?), they ran Fort Apache, a Hollywood story of how a stupid US Cavalry officer (played by Jane Fonda’s daddy with fake gray streaks in his hair) meet his demise and the total… Read more »

“I see a need to transform that Jewish presence, to embrace Palestinian human rights the same way we support civil rights here. ”

Phil, who’s the “we” here?

“To their credit – the estimated 4 million Jews, who emigrated to North America from Europe between 1860 and 1960, and their descendants have emerged as powerful and influential actors throughout the American establishment.” Obviously, only a minority of the 4 million can have become powerful members of the American… Read more »