As we conclude the somber observance of Tish B’Av, the time when so many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people are recalled, it is perhaps not irrelevant that U.S. secretary of state John Kerry has returned to the Middle East.
Official reports claim Kerry has no plans to visit Israel, but, as Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu reported in The Jewish Press, Kerry met with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while in Jordan. It turns out he is also meeting with various Arab leaders who, according to al Jazeera, Kerry believes “are essential to his push to get Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks.” That’s right. Arab leaders to push – who? Who else, but Israel, to restart the “peace talks.”
Yes, although the entire Middle East is in turmoil, Egypt has just gone through a second revolution, nearly a100,000 have died in Syria’s ongoing civil war, one into which Lebanon is increasingly being drawn, Turkey is nearing the boiling point, Iraq continues to unravel and Iran is approaching nuclear weapons capability, leave it to a group of professional Jewish professionals to sashay into D.C. and tell the relevant congressional committees that now is the time for Kerry to kickstart the Arab-Israeli “peace talks.” And that’s what happened, just before Kerry left for the Middle East.
The Jewish group making the possibly worst-timed suggestion ever is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).
According to its website, the JCPA has a tripartite mission: first, “to safeguard the rights of Jews here and around the world”; second, “to dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel”; and third, “to protect, preserve and promote a just American society, one that is democratic and pluralistic, one that furthers harmonious interreligious, inter ethnic [sic] interracial and other intergroup relations.”
From their mission, you might think that the safety and security of Jews and the Jewish state would be the primary focus of JCPA’s activities. But you might be wrong, as a quick look at their website makes clear. The JCPA’s focus is on liberal domestic issues. Israel and Judaism play a minor role.
JCPA CLAIMS TO REPRESENT THE ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY
Nonetheless, the JCPA can prioritize as it wishes and make whatever suggestions it wants to members of congress. But when the JCPA leaps over its goal to be something and starts proclaiming it is something, that is when people begin to bristle.
That’s news to a whole lot of American Jews who shared their response with The Jewish Press.
Because when the JCPA decided to meet with the House and the Senate foreign relations committees, asserting that the American Jewish community wants Kerry to focus on restarting the peace talks, that claim may have been heard as if it had far more weight than warranted.
Let’s put aside for the moment that when the JCPA went to congress to make its claims, it was double-dating with the American Task Force on Palestine. That’s something they do a lot. Again, whatever JCPA does is its own business.
But The Jewish Press asked a broad geographical cross-section of American Jews who are knowledgeable about the Middle East in general and Israel in particular, whether, as the JCPA asserts, it is the “representative voice of the organized Jewish community,” and if it spoke representing them when it went to congress urging the restart of the “peace talks” at this time.
In a word, no.
People in California, Chicago, Florida, Washington, D.C., and New York were asked to comment. Rabbis, architects, businesspeople, financial wizards, intelligence analysts, and Jewish communal leaders were asked to comment. They all said no, the JCPA does not represent them.
“They don’t represent me,” said Jeff Ballabon, the president of a New York consulting firm and the founder of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem, a consortium of two dozen national pro-Israel groups.
“Israel has stated very clearly: there are to be no preconditions for starting the peace talks, so I have to wonder, why are these groups putting pressure on Israel? I don’t see how any American Jew who cares about Israel’s safety and security would be pushing this now,” Ballabon said.
Carol Greenwald, treasurer of Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, a pro-Israel voice in the Washington, D.C. area, told The Jewish Press that “the JCPA’s claim is a sham. They don’t represent the Jewish community, they are a bunch of self-appointed leftists.”
“Win-win? Nah, it’s they take, we give,” Greenwald said, responding to a claim by JCPA’s spokesperson Ben Suarato, that The JCPA and ATFP were “making the case together and trying to represent the win-win aspect of negotiations.”
How about over in California?
Vic Rosenthal is the treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Central California. His response to the JCPA’s claim, he told The Jewish Press: “I don’t know how they can call themselves ‘the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community.’ They certainly didn’t ask me, or any of the other board members of our local Federation. Many of us feel strongly that forcing Israel to sit down with the PLO, which doesn’t have the ability to deliver peace even if it wanted to, at a time of maximum instability in the region, is worse than a waste of time — it’s dangerous.
And Doris Wise Montrose lives in Los Angeles, where she heads the seven year old, 30,000 strong organization, Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, was emphatic: “The JCPA most definitely does not represent me or my organization. The JCPA represents only those Jewish organizations whose leaders cling to the politically correct delusion that Israel will achieve ‘peace through appeasement’ with enemies who have vowed to destroy it. The position of the JCPA and other like-minded organizations only serve to weaken Israel and put the lives of Israeli citizens in danger.”
In an email from a Chicago suburb, Peggy Shapiro, the Mid-West coordinator for StandWithUs, also rejected the idea that the JCPA represents her views. She wanted to know: “Why are some obsessed with believing that a recalcitrant Palestinian Authority and the terror-government Hamas will suddenly find peace with Israel a viable option? Neither government has given evidence to support such a belief. Yet the JCPA is making another push to push the U.S. to push Israel into another round of talks.”
Shapiro also pointed out that the Middle East beyond Israel is roiling with violence.
“Who focus on Israel and the Palestinians at this moment in history? Egypt is on fire, Syrians are being slaughtered in the thousands, Jordan is shaky, and Lebanon is run by Iran’s terror proxies – Hezbollah. It is delusional to think that peace with Israel is the key and that once (if only) the Palestinians and Israelis arrive at an agreement, the Sunnis and Shias will kiss and make up and all the Muslim world will be at peace?
“I understand the JCPA’s desire for peace. I share it. Yet anyone who believes such wishful thinking is denying some harsh realities on the ground,” Shapiro concluded.
David Steinmann is a New Yorker who scoffed at the JCPA’s claim.
“JCPA neither represents me or, as far as I know, any meaningful proportion of the organized American Jewish community. They may well represent American Jews who are neither knowledgeable about these matters or blind to the extreme dangers to Israel which the current two-state proposal entails,” Steinman explained, and then went on to articulate some of the dangers in the proposals the JCPA was urging the U.S. government to push:
the proposed two-state solution would simply follow in a long line of Israeli concessions which have provided not a single reciprocal gesture from the Palestinians who have instead, continuously increased their demands on Israel in order to even begin to speak about speaking. And, finally, but by no means less important, the proposed Palestinian state would put all of Israel’s major population centers in the center of Palestinian bulls-eyes. Planes landing at Ben Gurion airport, for example, could be shot down with little difficulty from land now proposed as a part of a Palestinian state.
The danger of the plan at the basis of the “peace talks” the JCPA is pushing was used by many respondents to explain how out of touch the JCPA is with any but like-minded peace process pushers, and therefore is not a legitimate representative voice of American Jewry.
Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel, was incredulous that the JCPA would have the chutzpah to claim they are the representative voice of organized American Jewry.
“They don’t represent me or most of the American Jewish community,” Lerner told The Jewish Press. “At this point most of the community realizes that the PA is not serious about peace, most of the community realizes that they must put the security of Israel first, and most of the community realizes that Israel has gone above and beyond for the sake of peace.”
“They seek peace but there is no peace.” Lerner had a suggestion for the JCPA: “they should wake up already.”
Sarah Stern, the founder and president of EMET, a pro-Israel think tank in Washington, D.C., also rejects the idea that JCPA represents her.
With the Middle East imploding all around the tiny state of Israel, now, is precisely not the time to destabilize the one, solid, democratic, ally that we have in the Middle East, the state of Israel. Ask yourself: Has the Gaza withdrawal bought any quiet and calm to Israel’s southern borders? Has the Lebanese withdrawal brought any quiet and calm to Israel’s northern borders? Now, with both Egypt and Syria imploding and Muslim slaughtering Muslim ruthlessly, and with the potential for more violence throughout the feuding Muslim and Arab world, (which by the way, has nothing what-so-ever to do with the size and shape of Israel’s borders,) now is precisely the wrong time to try to encourage Israel to take more ‘risks for peace.’
Chicago pro-Israel activist Richard Becker told The Jewish Press, “Can we not all agree on the definition of ‘insanity’ as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?”
Becker has been an observer of the Middle East conflict for many years. He pointed out that the Arab Palestinians, “have spoken clearly and distinctly on the subject of Israel. They speak unambiguously and with one voice—-no Jewish state, no defensible borders, no Jewish connection to the land, no long-term peace, etc. Are we incapable of hearing ? Or is the truth too painful to bear ?
Becker recommended that the U.S. government should “stop throwing away hard-earned taxpayer dollars on a defective process that sets unattainable expectations with the inevitable outcome sure to disappoint and inflame. We’ve seen this movie before.”
A long time Washington insider, Barbara Ledeen, told The Jewish Press, “It is complete folly to pretend that a so called Kerry ‘peace’ initiative has any traction. There are only two subjects the JCPA or any other Jewish organization should discuss on the Hill – the IRS’s outrageous investigations into Jewish groups and Iran. Anything else is irrelevant.”
New Yorker Helen Freedman, the executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel, was similarly clear: “the JCPA absolutely does not represent the ideology of AFSI. The continued deception about the viability of a ‘two state solution’ defies understanding. We say enough.”
Jerry Gordon of western Florida has been an observer of the Middle East since his time as an intelligence analyst during the Viet Nam war. More recently, Gordon has been writing for the New English Review.
Gordon made it clear that the JCPA does not represent his views.
“Jewish Center for Public Affairs, the capstone of local Jewish Community Outreach Councils, champions outreach to both domestic and Middle East Muslim Jewish hate groups in the guise of dialogue. Its resolutions on academic freedom and free speech denies defense of Jewish college students against anti-Israelism on campus. The JCPA’s views on Israel are in alignment with J Street and the current Administration seeking to impose a draconian two state peace solution rejected by the majority of Israelis.”
But they aren’t in alignment with the people Gordon relies on for accurate information, or to be effective advocates for Israel.
So, while the secretary of state is apparently doing exactly as the JCPA recommended to the congressional committees, it is not the view of many engaged American Jews that it is the right thing for Kerry to be doing. Nor is it accurate for the JCPA to claim it represents the organized American Jewish community. And yes, any claim that there is such a thing as an “organized American Jewish community” is bound to be held up for ridicule. And with good reason.Lori Lowenthal Marcus
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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