Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
Rael Jean Isaac was in the right place at the right time. Forty years ago, she found herself in Israel together with her husband, studying the various activist groups that had sprung up in Israel in the wake of the Six-Day War. Some argued for returning the lands won during the war; others, for keeping them. While researching the different movements for her doctoral thesis, she and her husband met veteran right-wing activist Shmuel Katz. The rest is history.
Shortly thereafter, due to Katz’s prodding, Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) was founded and Isaac’s husband became its first chairman. Ever since, AFSI has been one of the few voices consistently promoting a Greater Israel that includes all of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan Heights.
A sociology professor for many years, Isaac today edits AFSI’s newsletter, Outpost. She wrote her first book in 1976, Israel Divided: Ideological Politics in the Jewish State, and since then has authored or co-authored Party and Politics in Israel: Three Visions of a Jewish State, The Coercive Utopians: Social Deception by America’s Power Players, Madness in the Streets: How Psychiatry and the Law Abandoned the Mentally Ill, and numerous articles and pamphlets, including the popular What Shimon Says, a compilation of bizarre quotes of Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The Jewish Press recently spoke with Isaac.
The Jewish Press: Back in 1969, you researched Israeli groups advocating the surrender of the West Bank. It seems like little has changed in 40 years.
Isaac: Actually, the peace movement at that time did not believe in the two-state solution. Only a small group argued for that. Most of them said that creating a Palestinian state would be an example of Israeli imperialism. It would be paternalistic. Most of them wanted to give the territories to Jordan.
Were there no other American Jewish organizations opposing territorial compromise when AFSI came on the scene in 1970?
The whole philosophy of the Israeli government and American Jewish organizations at the time was that the land should be returned for peace.
Actually, one focus of AFSI from the beginning was exposing Jewish organizations that pretended to support Israel while they, in fact, were trying to undermine her. The first of these was Breira, which was founded right after the ’73 war. It was the first organization to make criticism of Israel a “virtuous” and “courageous” act. It’s the antecedent of today’s J Street. They extolled powerlessness as essential to Judaism and power as necessarily oppressive and corrupting. Many rabbis joined Breira, especially Hillel rabbis.
But the leaders of the organization came from backgrounds and organizations that were nakedly anti-Israel, and AFSI exposed this in a pamphlet. Breira then quickly died as a result of internal disputes because a lot of people in Breira had no idea who their leaders were.
Do you ever feel lonely advocating policies that are at odds with those of most other American Jewish organizations?
It is lonely, but on the other hand, we’re convinced that we’re right. In fact, in the last Outpost, we assembled some of the things we wrote at the time of the Oslo Accords, and everything we predicted came to pass. So the confidence that we’re right keeps us going.
But don’t you sometimes think, “What’s the point? No matter what we do, Israel will continue to pursue policies inimical to its survival.”
Well, we’re there for the record and I think that’s important. For example, for the signing of the Oslo Accords, virtually all the Jewish organizations showed up on the White House lawn to applaud. I think it was important that there was an organization that said from the beginning that this is a disaster.
You also never know when you may have influence. We work with evangelical Christians and friendly members of Congress, and I think we’ve had an influence on them. Look, if you don’t do anything, you’re certainly not going to have any influence!
You do what you can. You’re part of the Jewish people and it’s up to you to try and avert any disaster even if it’s difficult and even if it seems discouraging. There was a time when the peace movement in Israel was terribly discouraged because they saw the tide going the other way. So you don’t know how things are going to turn out. It’s discouraging, but you keep going.
Some people criticize groups like AFSI for working closely with evangelical Christians, fearing that they have ulterior motives for supporting Israel.
What’s the difference what their agenda is? They love Israel and want to help. That’s what you need, especially now when the absence of support from anywhere else is so glaring.
What do you think about President Obama?
Obama is by far the most hostile-to-Israel president we’ve ever had. Carter is a close second, but his hostility became manifest after his presidency. Obama is clearly gearing up to exert massive international pressure against Israel, and he’ll have no difficulty getting China and Russia on board unlike the difficulty in getting them to pressure Iran on its nukes.
What is AFSI doing to combat this potential threat?
We’re trying to rally supporters and friendly congressmen. The Republicans are far more supportive on these issues than the Democrats, although that doesn’t have any effect on American Jews who go on massively supporting Democrats. Even now, apparently 55 percent of American Jews support Obama’s stance on Israel. My goodness!
A number of years ago, you co-authored a pamphlet, What Shimon Says, which is still on AFSI’s website, with about 200 strange quotations from Shimon Peres, such as, “It is a great mistake to learn from history. There’s nothing to learn from history” and “Papers are papers and realities are realities. We cannot judge the PLO and its leader just by what he is saying. Would we do so, we would be completely wrong and we would be in troubles.” How do you account for so many strange quotes coming forth from one man?
When it comes to the Jews, I’m always reminded of Sleeping Beauty. Fairy godmothers came to her christening with all kinds of wonderful gifts like beauty, wit and musical talent, but then there’s this angry overlooked fairy who shows up and says, “When she grows up she’ll prick her finger and die.” So the fairy godmothers gave the Jews intelligence, talent, and creativity so they could excel in a host of fields, but the angry overlooked fairy said all those gifts would be worthless because I’ll make the Jews political simpletons, and without political intelligence all the other gifts will prove worthless.
I think Shimon Peres is the perfect example of a political simpleton. And it’s a mark of the Jews’ political naivete that he’s considered some sort of wise man.
Israelis often say, “Yiyeh tov – It will be good.” Do you ever worry that they’re wrong and that Israel might cease to exist as an independent country in the coming decades?
It can happen. You continue to work, hoping that people will wake up to reality. But if the present trends continue the outlook is very grave.
About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.
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