One of my pet peeves is that Americans for Peace Now, a worthy organization that has documented and opposed the settlement project as no one else has, is a member of a rightwing conclave: the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. And as such it is also a member of the executive committee of the leading Israel lobby group, AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The membership reflects Peace Now’s desire to gain access to the corridors of power– and a 1950s-era demand from Christian leaders that Jews speak in one voice — but it has put Peace Now in a completely hypocritical position lately on two very important issues: 1,the vicious campaign against the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been led by the Conference of Presidents. 2, Peace Now’s urgent messaging to American Jews to show politicians that AIPAC does not speak for all Jews.
First, BDS. The New York City Council is considering anti-free-speech legislation to “condemn all efforts to delegitimize Israel,” through BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Its contracts committee held a hearing on the resolution on September 8.
The president of the Conference of Presidents expresses pure venom toward the BDS movement at minute 47, and does so in Peace Now’s name:
My name is Stephen Greenberg. I am chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. On behalf of the Conference’s 53, representing the entire spectrum of the American Jewish community, I want to thank you… [for] combating the BDS movement and its bigoted, discriminatory and reprehensible goals and activities.
The ramifications of BDS are far more nefarious than economic and political isolation. BDS is increasingly posing an actual physical threat to Jewish students and advocates of the Jewish state and its activities span the commercial, cultural and academic spheres. BDS is a poison that is permeating our communities, a cancer of hate that is metastasizing through society.
Although the BDS campaign has far reaching aspirations, it is engaged in racist and discriminatory practices in every domain.
BDS represents an actual physical threat to young Jews? There is no evidence of this. The Conference has adopted an extreme, intolerant response to BDS, which has classically progressive aims: to end the occupation and discrimination. Back in June, when Governor Cuomo signed his McCarthyite anti-BDS executive order, which bars state commerce with groups or individuals who support BDS, Stephen Greenberg was at his side.
Two. During an Arab American Institute panel on the politics of the two state solution at the Democratic Convention in July, Peace Now president Debra DeLee spoke about the urgency of reforming the Jewish community in the eyes of politicians so that they would feel safe in opposing the occupation– and the misrepresentation by AIPAC of the Jewish community (minute 50).
The other thing that can be done and that we in the Jewish community have to work extremely hard to make happen, is– and I think we’ve done it enormously–I think we’ve done it, I think J Street has helped make enormous strides– we have to get politicians up and down the line on the ticket, certainly in presidential politics, to understand that there is not unanimity in the Jewish community. That the Jewish community does not all speak with one voice. That AIPAC does not speak on behalf of all Jews, that the definition of being pro-Israel is not what politicians believe pro Israel has been, which is Israel right or right. That there are Jews who will come out and say that what Israel is doing is wrong, and that the definition of being pro-Israel is that you care deeply about a future for Israelis that they deserve as well as Palestinians that they deserve, and that that future involves two states… I believe that that is changing every day. I think we have to continue. We have to be everywhere… We have to be visible. We have to change for elected officials, and for party officials, what the understanding of what the Jewish community is and what the Jewish community feels.
So AIPAC is an Israel “right or right” organization and it puts a false face on American Jewry. But Peace Now is still on the AIPAC executive committee. Maybe time to walk?
I asked Ori Nir of Peace Now how Peace Now can justify being used by the Conference of Presidents when it expresses such intolerant opinions, and how it can justify slamming AIPAC. He wrote to me:
As you know, APN has decided, years ago, to become a part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. We stand behind that decision. And, as we have discussed in the past, our participation in the Conference does not mean that we agree with statements made by other member- organizations or by its executive officials.
I think Peace Now’s need to hang in there reflects a traditional outsider-mentality on the part of Jews that is anachronistic in an era when Jews have such power in the establishment and influence over Middle East policy (as DeLee herself acknowledged when she spoke of the power of Jewish “donors” over policy). It would actually show more power on Peace Now’s part if it broke with these reactionary institutions and formed its own club and openly took on the pro-occupation forces in American politics. It might have some real influence in its goal of stopping the settlements. It could catch a clue from Jewish Voice for Peace, which is not trying to get into the Conference of Presidents because it represents a new generation of American Jews who actually have diverse views and are willing to express them.
The difficulty is that there is something that is more important to APN than the two-state-solution: Zionism. That’s the other thing that binds APN to the Conference: it is a Zionist organization and Zionists feel that to preserve the Jewish state they must all put their hands on the same lever in Washington, no matter how gnarly and rightwing those hands. (No one believes in the Israel lobby more than the Israel lobby itself.) But Zionism is an outdated ideology, and it ruins everything that it touches.