I just listened to Jeffrey Goldberg’s attack on Walt and Mearsheimer’s book the Israel Lobby back in 2007 at Yivo, the Jewish historical center in New York. Goldberg said that the book was in line with the anti-Semitism of Charles Lindbergh and represented an assault on Jewish political enfranchisement.
Well that was 7 years ago. Now the Forward understands what a great story the Israel lobby is, and Nathan Guttman has done first-class reporting on the tsunami of attention freshman congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso got this summer when he was one of eight congresspeople to oppose the $225 million emergency funding to Israel during the Gaza massacres. In “How the Israel Lobby Set Beto O’Rourke Right,” Guttman three times mentions donor pressure on O’Rourke.
Critical local press coverage included a public comment by one of his own Jewish donors to the El Paso Times that in voting as he did, O’Rourke “chooses to side with the rocket launchers and terror tunnel builders” of Hamas.
And in my favorite line in the piece:
He reached out to Jewish donors and friends who were more than happy to start the healing process.
That would get your attention. O’Rourke explains that he only voted against the funding because he felt it was rushed and irresponsible, and hadn’t considered the political repercussions. Now he’s going to be flying to Israel! The process that Guttman describes reminds me of the education of Judge Richard Goldstone. First he worried about civilian casualties. But in the end he worried more about his standing inside a small rightwing Jewish community (South Africa establishment Jewish community).
But since then, behind the scenes, what has followed is a long process of mutual outreach and hours of hashing out differences, until the final act, which is now in the works: an El Al flight to Tel Aviv on the pro-Israel lobby’s dime.
“He’s a good guy, but he didn’t know how the Jewish community would react,” said Daniel Cheifec, executive director of the Jewish Federation of El Paso. “Now he knows that this community is not going to be very happy if he screws up again.”…
“I really don’t understand how he makes his decision,” Rabbi Stephen Leon of Congregation B’Nai Zion, a local synagogue, told the El Paso Times even before The New Yorker piece [by Connie Bruck] picked up on the pushback. “It’s a great, great disappointment to the Jewish community here. We had meetings with him prior, to talk to him about the importance of Israel, and the way he voted makes very little sense.”
El Paso, a city with a 70% Hispanic majority, has a relatively small Jewish community, estimated at 4,000, amid a population of some 862,000. But Jews are well represented on O’Rourke’s donor list, with local businessman Stephen L. Feinberg among the top contributors to his campaign.
O’Rourke, in a Facebook posting, tried to explain his vote. “I could not in good conscience vote for borrowing $225 million more to send to Israel, without debate and without discussion, in the midst of a war that has cost more than a thousand civilian lives already, too many of them children,” he wrote…
Hours after the controversial vote, O’Rourke launched a damage-control campaign that proved to be effective. He reached out to Jewish donors and friends who were more than happy to start the healing process.
A meeting was arranged with a group of 10 pro-Israel local leaders, including key members of AIPAC, along with heads of the local synagogues and of the Jewish federation…
After the first meeting came another and then a third one. In between, pro-Israel activists sent O’Rourke articles explaining Israel’s position. O’Rourke also met with the Israeli consul general to the Southwest, Meir Shlomo, and invited federation leaders to meet with him in Washington when they come to the capital for the Jewish federations’ General Assembly in November.
Those who care about the 500 children killed in Gaza have our work cut out for us. And it’s important to identify what is in the road. This article is clear about that: the Israel lobby, the aging American Jewish establishment with its religious attachment to a Jewish state. There are many ways to counter that power. My own way is organizing inside the enlightened idealistic American community, which includes many many Jews– crucially.