Feb 15th 2014

American Jews Must Support, Not Hinder, Kerry’s Efforts

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

I am one of those who certainly support J Street’s ongoing efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, and I applaud their repeated outreach calling on congressional leaders and Jewish groups to support Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace offensive. I am puzzled though by J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami’s call for financial assistance to “help send more pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates to Congress and stand-up to the personal attacks on Kerry.”

Regardless of how well-intended, there are three major concerns over Ben-Ami’s appeal:

To begin with, anyone who follows Congress’ deliberations and sentiments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process witnesses overwhelming support of Israel, and many congressmen have called on the Obama administration not to pressure Israel to make concessions it does not wish to make voluntarily.

The problem here is not that there is no congressional support for Israel, but there are not many who specifically support Kerry’s peace efforts, as stated in Ben-Ami’s call. What this sadly means is that American Jews should elect only representatives that support a certain policy related to Israel and that should be the sole criteria that would qualify them to be elected.

The message that this sends, especially to non-Jewish voters, is that Israel, and only what is good for Israel (albeit from different ideological perspectives), is what should be the litmus test for old or new representatives. What this misguided approach does is reinforce the notion that Congress is in Israel’s pocket, serving one pro-Israeli interest group or another.

The second problem with Ben-Ami’s appeal is that congressional elections will be held toward the end of the year, and all new and veteran members of Congress will effectively start working at the end of January 2015. Considering the urgency to make some serious progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, how will the election of “pro-peace candidates” now help Kerry’s efforts, when time is of the essence?

There is a desperate need to make progress at this very juncture in the negotiations. Not that I expect a comprehensive peace agreement will be achieved within the next twelve months, but if there is no significant progress to keep the Israelis and the Palestinians engaged and hopeful, I seriously doubt that the negotiations will continue for another year.

Ben-Ami himself reaffirmed in his own words that time is critical when he stated: “The next couple of months will be a decisive moment for the peace and security of Israel. As Kerry prepares to roll out his framework agreement, we cannot afford to stand idly by…”

To that end, J Street should rally current members of Congress in support of Kerry’s tireless efforts and present each and every one with the terrible prospect of a new conflagration if Kerry’s efforts fail.

Every congressman should be hearing not only from representatives of the strongly conservative-leaning American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who blindly supports the current Israeli policy of intransigence, but also from the heads of the plethora of major Jewish organizations who fully support Kerry’s efforts.

The third problem is that although J Street touts itself as an “organization that primarily focuses on nonpartisan education and advocacy on important national issues,” it has done little to educate members of congress with the real conflicting issues between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not enough for a congressman to hear from a lobbyist why he or she should support what is best for Israel.

To educate these representatives about the real issues that separate Israelis from Palestinians, they should be invited to see and listen to Israelis and Palestinians discussing the perils of no peace. They should witness the plight of the Palestinians under occupation and understand why continuing occupation dangerously erodes Israel’s moral standing, which affects every Jew regardless of their place of residence.

J Street must counter AIPAC’s argument that Israel is under siege, surrounded by enemies seeking its destruction. This argument has been effective on Capitol Hill, and instead of pushing for peace now by supporting Kerry’s efforts, they are unwittingly contributing to Israel’s self-destructive policies.

The fact is, despite AIPAC’s best efforts in Washington, Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the international arena. The potential failure of the current negotiations will squarely fall on AIPAC’s and its surrogates’ shoulders.

J Street must challenge AIPAC on its own turf and demonstrate that the preservation of Israel as a viable and secure state rests on peace even though it requires painful concessions. Regardless of how painful these concessions may be, they will pale in comparison to the self-inflicted wounds that Netanyahu’s policies are leading to.

J Street is an organization worthy of support by every person who cares about Israel’s future and about ensuring that the American-Israeli bond continues to grow stronger. No one, however, should take that for granted.

The US and the West in general are running out of patience and soon there will come the time when Israel can no longer count on their automatic political support, not to mention a host of other collaborative relations critical to Israel’s national security and well-being.

The monumental time, energy and political capital that Kerry has and continues to invest must not be squandered by so-called Jewish leaders who are sitting on their cushy chairs 10,000 miles away and counsel no concessions at the expense of Israeli blood.

They should go not only to Israel but also to the occupied territories and experience the life of a Palestinian, deprived of his personal freedom, with no opportunity and no hope for a better future. What will they expect from him to do?

Israel is creating its own time bomb through self-destructive policies, and every American Jew who does not raise his or her voice in support of the peace process is complicit in the bloodshed that will inescapably unfold.

Every congressional candidate needs money to run for office and that is legitimate. But none should take a dime if it is conditioned upon supporting any political position that affects Israel one way or the other.

They must be educated, not bought, in order to become conscientious of the high stakes involved that will come from failure.

They must understand that Israel’s very existence rests on peace with the Palestinians.

They must act accordingly if they truly care not only about Israel but the Palestinians as well, because the Israelis’ and Palestinians’ futures are intertwined and neither can live in peace and security without the other.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."