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July 25, 2016 / 19 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Republicans Officially Embrace New Blockbuster Pro-Israel Plank [video]

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Last night the JewishPress.com brought the news that a GOP subcommittee drafted and endorsed a pro-Israel plank that includes every single item on every (truly) pro-Israel wish list, thanks to the hard work of a few lawmakers such as South Caroline State Rep. Alan Clemmons and several pro-Israel organizations, including the Iron Dome Alliance.

But this morning brings more huge news: the full committee endorsed the pro-Israel plank with no changes. And the passage of that adamantly pro-Israel plank was met with a standing ovation by those in the room.

The Republican party ain’t what it used to be, or at least it doesn’t match the anti-Israel party portrait which so many people have tried to peddle.

And what of the Democrats? Jeff Ballabon, chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, told the JewishPress.com that his coalition has made it very clear that they “would still love for Democrats to accept the same language and will attempt to persuade delegates in light of today’s success but ha[s] little optimism that it would be accepted.”

He said the coalition didn’t want this (strongly pro-Israel) policy to be tied only to one party, “this should be America’s policy,” but the enthusiasm with which the important language was met and embraced by the Republican platform committee speaks volumes.

While rumors have been swirling that the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has been trying to stop the truly pro-Israel plank from getting out of the station, if they engaged in that effort, it failed.

And if AIPAC did not work to defeat this non-Two State language, it’s a whole new AIPAC world in which Israel is now in control of the best resolution of the various conflicts besieging the Jewish State, rather than bowing its head to dictates from the U.S. It also signals a change in the lobby’s stance regarding the disputed territories, which it has never strongly embraced.

Here is the language of the new Republican Party Platform on Israel:

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And here’s the video of Rep. Alan Clemmons speaking to the GOP subcommittee, introducing the pro-Israel plank:

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Ushering In the End of AIPAC’s Monopoly

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.” At least, the New York Times once described it as such. AIPAC proudly shares the accolade with anyone who peruses its website, and few if any sources seem to disagree. AIPAC claims to have achieved that status through the dogged pursuit of a simple strategy: cultivating bipartisan support for the declared agenda of Israel’s elected government.

In 2006, Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer complained loudly about the powerful “Israel lobby.” Their screed, soon expanded into a best-selling book, deployed massively shoddy scholarship to combine two stereotypical conspiracy theories. The first and far more pernicious stereotype drew upon a long history of anti-Semitic tropes seeing a cadre of Jews pulling the strings of global power. The second stereotype, popular among Americans who bear no particular animus toward Jews, casts Washington lobbyists as a cabal directing legislative, executive, and occasionally judicial power to the detriment of the nation at large. The Israel Lobby spun these two strands together into the mother of all conspiracies: a large, amorphous, collection of Jews manipulating congresses and presidents to serve the interests of Israel rather than those of the United States. At the epicenter of these puppetmasters and serving as their public face sat AIPAC—possessing a “stranglehold on the U.S. Congress” due to its “ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it.”

In 2008, J Street, the brainchild of activist Jeremy Ben Ami with funding from the anti-Israel philanthropist George Soros, pushed the argument even further. In J Street’s view, AIPAC was doing more than directing policy in a manner contrary to American interests; AIPAC was directing policy in a manner contrary to Israeli interests. In J Street’s world, it is not a cabal of Jews per se pulling the strings of power; it is a cabal of extremist, right-wing, Likudnik, or neoconservative Jews who are leading the world astray. J Street thus cultivates left-wing support from politicians rarely before viewed as sympathetic to Israel in opposition to most actions, positions, and plans of Israel’s elected government. President Barack Obama embraced J Street, elevating the new organization to a position of prominence by welcoming its views as representative of the broad American Jewish community—an elevation that the broad community has explicitly rejected—and often using J Street to demonstrate his Jewish support.

In the summer of 2015, AIPAC found itself opposing both Obama and J Street. Though late to the game, AIPAC eventually agreed with those (like the Israeli government and all major Israeli opposition parties) who saw the Iran deal as an existential threat to the Jewish State. AIPAC raised tens of millions of dollars by claiming to work towards securing the bipartisan support of those it had long touted as friends of Israel. AIPAC’s leaders announced high-profile meetings with senator after senator, availing itself of the access it had accumulated through its years in Washington. Many of AIPAC’s Democratic friends issued lengthy statements decrying the deal’s deficiencies and emphasizing the dangers that it posed to the United States, to Israel, and to the world—fully in line with the public’s overwhelmingly unfavorable view of the deal. Yet when it came to legislative action, even senators considered among AIPAC’s staunchest allies, like Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, Delaware’s Chris Coons, and New Jersey’s Cory Booker, failed to back the organization.

Yet this recent, high-profile failure appears to have had minimal impact on AIPAC’s self-image or strategy. Far from distancing itself from any of the fair-weather “friends” who had disappointed it, AIPAC announced that it would not let this single vote sour any of its relationships. Within days, AIPAC resumed raising funds for its old friends and has yet to suggest that any candidate’s position on the Iran deal should matter in the 2016 elections. At AIPAC’s 2016 Policy Conference, the organization welcomed numerous Democratic supporters of the Iran deal as friends of AIPAC and friends of Israel—reserving its criticism for Donald Trump–ignoring what every other lobby seems to know: While it is nice to have friends on both sides of the aisle, a reputation for rewarding friends and punishing enemies is a necessity for exercising political power.

So, how did the fierce beast of The Israel Lobby become a paper tiger? Was AIPAC’s power overhyped by friend and foe alike? And what does the massive and very public embarrassment of the organization’s Iran deal defeat mean for the future of pro-Israel activism in the United States?

The answers lie far outside normal political considerations, in the microeconomic discipline of Industrial Organization. Because notwithstanding its obvious quirks, lobbying is an industry like any other—and in the parlance of Industrial Organization, AIPAC is a comfortable, entrenched, incumbent monopolist. And though monopolists are big, powerful, and dominant in their heyday, they are notoriously poor at noticing when the conditions that powered their rise shift, to render their dominance hollow. AIPAC has reached that point.

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Any exploration of a market, even an informal one, must begin with some basic terminology. For present purposes, it is useful to think of a grassroots lobbying organization’s mega-donors as playing the roles of lead investors and directors, setting the basic tenor and strategy with which the organization approaches its mission. The “customers” are small donors and volunteers, who bolster the lobby’s claim to represent voters. For the rank-and-file membership, a lobby must produce policy pronouncements, promotional materials, and mechanisms capable of ensuring that those who support its stated mission feel good about its work. A grassroots lobbyist’s fundamental “product line” is thus a steady stream of PR punctuated by occasional high-profile legislation. Finally, the “market” into which a lobby “sells” is the market for feel-good PR related to its stated mission: Potential grassroots activists consider donating money or volunteering time only to organizations whose missions resonate with their own concerns, and they will remain active only if the lobby makes them feel that their contributions serve that mission.

Those informal definitions make clear that AIPAC has monopolized the market for pro-Israel lobbying in the United States. For the most part, Jewish Americans eager to demonstrate their support for Israel through the political process become involved with AIPAC. Devout Christians–by far the largest pro-Israel demographic, and in many ways Israel’s strongest supporters—typically accept the characterization of those who see Israel as a “Jewish issue” and defer to AIPAC’s lead.

Like many monopolists, AIPAC works to create mechanisms for maintaining its dominance by complicating the startup life of anyone considering competing—or “barriers to competitive entry.” One ploy useful in creating such barriers instills public fear and then enlists governmental reassurance. The combination is powerful. At the monopolist’s urging, consumers begin to wonder: If the only known supplier were to disappear, who would guarantee continued supply? A regulator arises to provide the necessary assurance. To pick but one example, AT&T in its heyday convinced Americans that it and it alone was able to guarantee the stability of the telephone network; any interference with its operations would imperil national security. A thus-frightened government prohibited competitive telephony through most of the 20th century and imposed a regulated monopoly instead.

AIPAC similarly encourages its members to ask: If something were to weaken AIPAC, who would fight for Israel? When challenged, AIPAC appeals to a “regulator.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was organized in 1955 for the explicit purpose of giving the American Jewish community a unified voice on important matters of public policy. When it comes to lobbying for Israel—that is, interacting with Congress on Israel’s behalf—the Conference of Presidents has designated AIPAC as the community’s voice. Though a unified voice can confer communal benefits, it is also inherently monopolistic. It shuts down innovators whose voices might prove wiser and more persuasive. Furthermore, given the loosely coordinated nature of the American Jewish community, a unified voice is necessarily a consensus voice, typically representing some lowest common denominator. Is the Jewish community—or any community—better served by a dominant voice unwilling to rock the boat or by many voices, pushing in many directions, intent on effecting change?
In typical monopolist fashion, AIPAC does more than underinvest in policy innovation: It objects to policy innovations that might imperil its monopoly.

Any attempt to launch a pro-Israel lobbying group whose voice differs—and at critical junctures disagrees—with AIPAC’s must do more than raise money, develop political contacts, and lobby. It must confront an entrenched Jewish leadership that has convinced large parts of the community to equate AIPAC’s interests with those of Israel.

In one particularly ham-handed attempt that would make any monopolist proud, AIPAC attacked the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and its longstanding President Morton Klein for attending a critical committee meeting on the Hill and allegedly acting in “an amateurish and hostile fashion.” Steve Grossman, then AIPAC’s president, complained: “This has to stop before it goes further and significant damage is really done.” Howard Kohr, then AIPAC’s Managing Director and for the past 20 years its executive director, wrote to the Conference of Presidents: “Disciplinary action must be taken against ZOA to ensure such behavior is not repeated.”

Monopolists are also notoriously averse to innovation and the risks that it entails. In its place, they burnish a core product offering and invest heavily in convincing the public that they are responsible stewards of the market they monopolize. AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference—termed a “Jewish Super Bowl,” or “Zionist hootenanny”—functions as such an opiate. Attendees at this confab represent a broad cross-section of American Jewry, and speakers often include U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers. At the end of the day, though, the Policy Conference remains a feel-good event that galvanizes grassroots activists and rewards attendees, not a substantive accomplishment. As the 2016 Policy Conference demonstrated, politicians more than eager to spout pro-Israel platitudes to the applause of AIPAC’s members still follow the party line when it comes to legislation; the overwhelming majority of AIPAC’s Democratic congressional friends supported the Obama/Iran deal.

AIPAC’s core substantive product offering is the annual (currently roughly) $3 billion in military aid that the United States provides to Israel. Because parts of this aid require annual renewal, there is always a reason to lobby Congress—on an issue on which the vast majority of Congress-people are eager to oblige. The AIPAC Briefing Book highlights the importance of foreign aid to its offerings: “AIPAC urges all members of Congress to support Israel through foreign aid, government partnerships, joint anti-terrorism efforts, and the promotion of peace through a negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish state of Israel living alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

Yet though the foreign aid bill is undoubtedly important, it may be more important to AIPAC than it is to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing a joint session of Congress in 1996, suggested that it was time for Israel to begin to reduce its reliance on U.S. aid, an idea boasting continued support from some of Israel’s strongest backers. According to retired Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, then minister for Congressional Affairs at the Israeli embassy, irate AIPAC leaders accosted Netanyahu outside the Capitol after his speech to berate him, saying: “Israel can’t forgo foreign aid—it’s our flagship issue.” It is thus unsurprising that AIPAC, in the words of one observer, “has shown no signs of ending its efforts to push Congress to pass the annual military aid bill.” Whatever significance military aid may have to Israel, it is central to AIPAC’s self-image, reputation, and standing in the community.

By eschewing policy innovation while occupying the entire field, AIPAC has imposed upon pro-Israel activism the same sclerosis that monopolists commonly impose upon the markets they dominate. In Israel’s case, that sclerosis is both misplaced and dangerous. Israel is a small state surrounded by enemies seeking her destruction and the genocide of her citizens. As a foreign government dependent on the United States, Israeli diplomacy compels conciliatory statements about American policy and leadership. American activists are under no compulsion to believe such statements. To the contrary, American supporters add maximum value when championing the tough truths that diplomacy puts beyond Israel’s reach.

Yet rather than pushing to expand Israel’s political playing field, AIPAC has instead filtered Israel’s necessary diplomatic risk-aversion through the partisan and policy preferences of its own membership. To pick but one example, numerous American Jewish leaders, including prominent members of the Conference of Presidents, have recognized that American energy independence would weaken OPEC’s hold over American policy and thus serve Israel’s interests. Rather than taking a leadership role on the issue, however, AIPAC demurred, explaining: “We knew as American Jews we couldn’t touch environmental issues and have any credibility with our community. American Jews don’t want to destroy Alaska to import a few barrels less from Angola.” A political monopolist who avoids alliances for reasons unrelated to its mission necessarily weakens that mission—in AIPAC’s case, lobbying in Israel’s best interests.

In classic monopolist form, AIPAC protects its market by playing to avoid losing rather than to win. A pro-Israel lobby that played to win would articulate basic, immutable principles for which it would fight—and it would count among its “friends” only those elected officials who supported these positions even when politically inconvenient. Such a lobby would pressure Israel’s neighbors to work with Israel while removing pressure on Israel to take risks that compromise its security, and it would stop pushing to reward Arab incitement and terror with a PLO-led state. Above all, a pro-Israel lobby playing to win would innovate on policy, promoting truths and ideas that run counter to conventional wisdom—even if such innovations remain minority positions for the years that lobbyists often need to assemble winning coalitions.

Anti-Israel forces understand the strategic imperative of policy innovation, and they are rarely bashful about pushing ideas whose absurdity is apparent to all people of good faith. Yasser Arafat first fabricated Temple Denial from whole cloth in 2000, but within the past year the New York Times has detailed the “controversy” surrounding Jewish “claims” to the Temple Mount, and UNESCO has declared the Kotel a Muslim holy site. BDS, which grew out of the United Nations’ rabidly anti-Semitic Durbin Conference in 2001, began in earnest with a coalition of radical fringe NGOs in 2005. By 2015, allegations of Israeli apartheid and genocide had come to dominate discourse among American academics and European parliamentarians.

Or consider the course of the so-called “Two-State Solution,” once a policy innovation of the far left but now conventional wisdom. In 1980, Jimmy Carter—hardly an Israel advocate—opposed as destabilizing the emergence of an Arab state wedged into disputed territories that Israel had liberated in 1967. Yitzchak Rabin, martyred in 1995 for his dovish politics, never wavered from his opposition to a Palestinian state. In 1998, five years into the Oslo process, Hillary Clinton publicly implied support for an independent Palestine; her husband’s White House issued an official repudiation. Yet AIPAC now doggedly promotes “a negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish state of Israel living alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

The erosion of Israel’s reputation and diplomatic standing among Western governments—and in particular, among Western parties to the left of center—should provide fertile ground for policy innovation. Who objects to the canard that Israel is an occupier? Who lobbies the White House to recognize an undivided Jerusalem—within its full current municipal boundaries—as Israel’s capital? Who takes to task every politician who differentiates the anti-Israel terror of Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah from the world’s other instances of Islamist terror? Who challenges the calls for “balance” in confronting the terrorist mini-state of Gaza that are oddly absent from any discussion of other terrorist safe havens? Who emphasizes the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism? Who pushes American politicians to revisit the Oslo agreement—particularly following Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral withdrawal from its terms during his 2015 speech to the U.N. General Assembly?

To each of these questions, the answer is “not AIPAC.” In typical monopolist fashion, AIPAC does more than underinvest in policy innovation: It objects to policy innovations that might imperil its monopoly. That objection traps pro-Israel activism behind a lowest-common-denominator bipartisan strategy in an increasingly partisan world

***

In a competitive environment, fundamental market shifts create openings for small players pursuing prescient strategies to grow while bigger players pursuing reactive strategies suffer. Monopolists rarely see the signals of a market shift that competition would provide. Instead, they pursue tried-and-true strategies until a crisis lays bare the mismatch between those strategies and the new market dynamics.

For decades, AIPAC has prided itself on its bipartisanship, avoided explicit public statements of partisan preference, and forged coalitions that cut across party lines. The mere viability of such a strategy, however, hinges upon the existence of sizable pro-Israel factions in both parties—and the willingness of those factions to stand together against anti-Israel voices emanating from their own sides of the aisle. The rise of J Street almost a decade ago, and the overwhelming Democratic support for Obama’s Iran deal last summer, should have signaled a shift in the market that AIPAC monopolizes. In typical monopolist fashion, however, AIPAC has given no indication of reconsidering the propriety of its strategy in today’s political terrain.

Throughout the late 20th century, the political parties took clear and divergent stands on economic and cultural issues while demanding far less fidelity to a foreign policy agenda: Hawks and doves, isolationists and internationalists, pragmatists and realists, all coexisted in sizable numbers within both parties. The overwhelming majority of American Jews followed their economic and social preferences into the Democratic Party, where they found a faction that supported their pro-Israel views. Foreign-policy alliances, on issues far broader than Israel, grew across party lines in a manner that served the country well. By allowing proponents of all foreign-policy perspectives and approaches in either party, every president found bipartisan support; politicians at odds over economics or culture found common ground on foreign policy; the nation provided a reasonably unified image to those observing from abroad; Israel served as a unifying feature in American Jewish life; and AIPAC rode pro-Israel bipartisanship to a position of pride among American activist groups.

Unfortunately, the parties redefined themselves for the post-9/11 world and its consequent focus on foreign policy. During the 2002 debate about ending Saddam’s rule, sizable numbers of congressional Democrats gave President George W. Bush grudging support, hedged with statements meant to reassure their supporters that they did not really trust him. Those supporters were hardly reassured. The progressive Netroots sought to push those deemed insufficiently critical of Bush’s unilateral belligerence to the periphery of the party, where they could either recant or depart. By late 2003, these progressives had become a powerful force in the Democratic Party, catapulting the emphatically antiwar Howard Dean into front-runner status before caving to the establishment favorite, John Kerry—who responded to the new tenor of his party by running as both hawk and dove, a candidate who had famously voted for the war before he voted against it. When that doublespeak failed, the Netroots seized control of the DNC for Dean in January 2005.

By mid-2006, when the Democrats determined that Joe Lieberman—the party’s vice presidential nominee only six years earlier—was too hawkish for their party, the progressive takeover was complete. For the first time in decades, the notoriously fractious Democrats had cohered behind a progressive worldview: The world was suffering from misguided and oppressive American imperial overreach. Reduced military engagement would make America seem less belligerent, and consequently less likely to invite attack. Reduced commercial and cultural engagement would make America appear less domineering, and consequently less likely to invite animosity. Increased reliance on multinational organizations would improve American prospects for diplomatic success. And the reinvestment of savings from these retrenchments would build a superior social welfare system.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Republicans moved in the opposite direction. In the conservative worldview, American exceptionalism is real, hard-won, and critical to global stability. The Pax Americana that had begun at the end of WWII and grown following the collapse of the Soviet Union was a noble and elevated experiment. The global order that spread political rights, personal dignity, improved health and nutrition, and material prosperity around the planet was a consequence of America’s leadership. The violent dysfunctionality of the Arab/Islamic world, and the emanations of that violence, posed significant threats to that order.

Unsurprisingly, those taking these divergent worldviews also see Israel very differently. To a progressive, even one with no inherent animus toward Jews, Israel mirrors the worst of America—an oppressor state occupying the territory of an indigenous people, practicing apartheid policies, demonstrating contempt for the international community, and seeking to play by a unique set of rules. To a conservative, the situation is just as clear. Israel possesses all of the right cultural norms and values, stands allied against America’s enemies, and places itself on the front lines of a civilizational battle. Israel holds itself to exceptional standards of humanity and decency despite the constant threats to its existence and widespread opprobrium. Support for Israel is thus a logical and consistent part of the conservative worldview, while an outlier among progressives.

The elections of 2006 through 2010 solidified the resorting of the parties by worldview, and furthered their divergent views of Israel. Hillary Clinton’s hawkish Senate record cost her the 2008 Democratic nomination. Foreign-policy realists boasting impeccable Republican pedigrees—from James Baker and Brent Scowcroft to Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel—suddenly found warmer receptions on the left than on the right. Tony Blair, leader of the maturing European left in the 1990s, discovered that Republicans were his most receptive American audience. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders galvanized young Democrats behind positions overtly hostile to Israel. Sanders was also the only presidential candidate who skipped AIPAC’s 2016 Policy Conference; his submitted comments parroted much of the standard progressive anti-Israel rhetoric—and earned widespread praise from the left, including J Street.

AIPAC’s strategic bipartisanship inevitably dismays both those who view Israel through the progressive lens and those who view it through the conservative lens. In the face of the post-9/11 transformation of the American foreign policy debate, AIPAC remains rigidly dedicated to blind bipartisanship, doing little to educate or inform its members that most of them are trapped in an increasingly progressive Democratic Party boasting an increasingly powerful anti-Israel caucus. Polls show a partisan split on the issue of Israel v. Palestinians of 83R-48D, with pro-Israel Democrats now representing a minority of their party. That 35 percent gap makes Israel one of the most extreme partisan issues in the current political climate, not remotely a matter of bipartisan consensus.

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J Street studied its market well before launching. Its founders understood that AIPAC could not help but alienate the large numbers of Jewish Americans who consider themselves Progressives but harbor some affinity for Israel. The rival organization built upon AIPAC’s unyielding dogma that there is no difference between the parties to insist that the anti-Israel policies gaining salience among Democrats represent the true pro-Israel positions. By redefining Zionism as something close to its opposite, J Street gives American Jews a license to remain proudly progressive and frees Democrats to be increasingly adverse while still maintaining they are pro-Israel. To J Street’s supporters, Israel’s true interests at any given point in time are precisely those that the left says they are—thereby eliminating any potential dilemmas arising from a divergence of Israel’s interests from those of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Furthermore, by providing consistent visible Jewish support for President Obama’s foreign-policy agenda, J Street has already conferred value upon both its members and the Democratic politicians who need their support.

The Obama policy agenda that enabled J Street’s rise caught AIPAC sleeping. For the first six-plus Obama years, nearly every policy or pronouncement touching upon Israel produced a predictable sequence: J Street emerged as an early, enthusiastic supporter, lauding the president’s boldness and urging him to move in an even more progressive direction. AIPAC noted both positives and negatives in the president’s moves, studied their implications from all angles, and eventually announced cautious, grudging support. As late as December 2013, amid widespread alarm triggered at the Obama Administration’s dealings with Iran, AIPAC called a special meeting of the Conference of Presidents to demand that Jewish groups stop criticizing the president. AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr declared at that meeting that AIPAC and Obama share the “same goals” and have only “a difference of strategy”—an assertion that AIPAC ought now regret.

Finally, in year seven, Israel’s government took an unprecedented step to preempt AIPAC. In 2014, AIPAC had been willing to support the president’s call to end sanctions on Iran as a step toward easing negotiations. When it came to assessing the package that the Obama team negotiated in 2015, however, Israel’s prime minister delivered a bold and controversial speech to Congress that forced AIPAC’s hand. AIPAC had little choice but to agree publicly with the Israeli consensus that the deal represented an existential threat. For the first time in many years, AIPAC appeared to launch a full-throated campaign to defeat a Democratic administration priority—though it simultaneously offered counter-productive (if not overtly cynical) reassurances that it would exact no price from “friends” who supported the deal.

In 2016, AIPAC continues to monopolize the field of activists eager to provide policy support for Israel, while J Street provides a useful outlet for those unwilling to abandon progressive policy priorities while maintaining or manipulating a pro-Israel self-image. Another clearly visible market niche, however, remains unfilled: activists adopting the conservative worldview unsatisfied with the compromises inherent in bipartisan policy formulations

The arrival of a partisan pro-Israel group to AIPAC’s right will dethrone the Israel monopolist but not destroy it. AIPAC has invested decades in developing a powerful brand, exceptional connections, a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle, and unrivaled lists of donors and grassroots supporters. Furthermore, AIPAC’s flagship product—the foreign aid bill—is likely to become increasingly important as fallout from the Iran deal triggers a regional arms race. Whether broadly appropriate or not, to the degree that AIPAC can retain its bipartisan relationships, it can help ensure continued military aid to Israel regardless of the configuration of power in Washington.

In addition, though few cast it in such terms, AIPAC plays two other critical roles: It serves as a Jewish pride organization and as a safe space for Truman Democrats. Its annual Policy Conference provides Jewish pro-Israel activists with a brief respite from pervasive anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. And AIPAC’s membership may represent the largest remaining group of hawkish Democrats—voters who reject progressive foreign policy even as they support other parts of the progressive agenda. By providing a forum for such voters, AIPAC fills a niche critical to American national security—as well as to the State of Israel. Voters who place primacy on the ascendance of progressive cultural mores and/or economic distribution, while still favoring a strong national defense, deserve a forum in which they can speak comfortably. AIPAC appears to be the only prominent organization filling that need. Without such a forum, Democratic approaches to this traditionally bipartisan belief will range from cavalier to disdainful—much to the detriment of national security.

The pro-Israel community should push AIPAC to reposition itself with a clear eye on contemporary reality. AIPAC can best serve the pro-Israel cause by redeploying its formidable assets to help pro-Israel, national-security-conscious Democrats defeat the anti-Israel progressives ascendant in their party—certainly the most effective way to ensure continued bipartisan support for Israel. New organizations promoting policy innovation and adaptive political strategies must also enter the pro-Israel market, however, to address challenges, push policies, and forge alliances on behalf of Israel that run counter to AIPAC’s strategic approach and the preferences of its members. AIPAC’s directors and customers—i.e., the Jewish community’s leading philanthropists and the grassroots activists who genuinely want to protect Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship—should accept nothing less.

Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon

Knesset Committee Approves Flag Burning Bill for Final Vote

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday approved for a second and third reading in the plenum an amendment proposed by MK Nava Boker (Likud) to Israel’s Flag, Emblem and Anthem Law, which seeks to increase the punishment for dishonoring the national flag or emblem. The bill equates the punishment for dishonoring the national symbols with the punishment for doing the same to the symbols of countries friendly to Israel.

Currently the law sets the punishment for dishonoring the Israeli national flag and symbols at up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 300 Israeli liras (pounds). The lira was replaced by the shekel as Israel’s legal tender back in 1980, which shows how long it has been since any legislator was last troubled by the dishonoring of the national flag.

However, dishonoring the flag of a friendly country will put you in prison for up to three years, and the alternative financial penalty is $15,000, so the bill seeks to extend the sentence and fine to those same levels.

Committee Chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) complained about the fact that “we belittle ourselves. Anyone whose national flag is burned will be offended. When we are insulted the result is a conviction for a year, and when someone from abroad is upset it’s three years? Do the police keep records of the number of convictions given for such an offense? The national emblems are a source of national pride in every country. It is not a political matter. An American whose flag is burned is offended.”

“Freedom of expression does not mean you are allowed everything. Even religious emblems deserve elementary respect. A person who arrives at a synagogue or a mosque cannot do whatever he wishes. Even at a concert you don’t stand up and laugh. There is no need to exaggerate, but it’s illogical that there are no sanctions against those who burn flags,” Amsalem added.

MK Abdullah Abu Maaruf (Joint Arab List) asked to lower the punishment from three years in prison as the bill states, to a day, and remove the financial penalty. His request was rejected.

David Israel

NY Daily News: BDS DOA at DNC

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The feisty tabloid that gave the world the immortal 1976 headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead” has done it again on Tuesday, with the headline “BDS is DOA at the DNC,” which continued, “Staving off challenges from Bernie Sanders’ delegates, Democrats under Hillary Clinton’s leadership do right by Israel.”

The grownups have prevailed, apparently, at the 2016 democratic platform committee, according to the Daily News report, drafting a platform that would “stop the party from destructively setting benchmarks for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians by calling for ‘an end to occupation and illegal settlements.” Not on Hillary’s watch, Mr. Sanders.

The draft platform reportedly suggests that “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity.” Folks on the right may not like it, but the current, subdued version, beats whatever crazy talk had been suggested by Bernie Sanders’ five proxies on the platform committee— Keith Ellison, Bill McKibben, Dr Cornel West, James Zogby and Deborah Parker—including a call to “end Israel’s illegal settlements and military occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

While Sanders has 5 out of the 15 spots on the Democratic party’s platform committee, presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has 6, and DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has 4. That’s 10 political grownups who actually want to win in November, versus 5 sons of Abbie Hoffman, who can be immensely entertaining in a debate, but usually lead to a GOP landslide come November.

But the Clinton-Wasserman Schultz platform draft doesn’t only push back the anti-Zionist crazies, according to the Daily News, it also commits to “retaining [Israel’s] qualitative military edge” in the region, and to Democrats opposing “any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

Like they said it so eloquently at the start: BDS is DOA at the DNC.

JNi.Media

GOP SubCommittee Endorses Groundbreaking Pro-Israel Platform

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

On Monday, July 11, a GOP Platform subcommittee overwhelmingly passed an historically powerful position in support of Israel.

The language of the proposed plank compares Israel’s vision to that of America’s, rejects dictating terms of any peace agreement by those not living in the region and calls for the termination of funding for any entity which attempts to do so.

The language was hammered out over the past several months by the Iron Dome Alliance and several like-minded groups, and introduced and shepherded through the subcommittee by member delegate Alan Clemmons, South Carolina State Representative.

Jeff Ballabon, chairman of Iron Dome Alliance, spoke with the JewishPress.com Monday evening.

When asked how the strikingly strong pro-Israel language was adopted so easily (in a 14 – 2 vote) by the subcommittee, Ballabon explained that “this is where the GOP base is” and that, combined with “the force of the truth from Alan Clemmons” won the day.

Reached early Tuesday morning in Cleveland, Clemmons explained that the strongly pro-Israel platform language which includes respect for Israeli sovereignty and endorses an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital express American support for Israel.

“I believe the full Platform Committee will adopt this strong statement of support of Israel and her citizens this morning to give Republicans a platform that truly reflects their opinions about America’s greatest ally,” Clemmons told the JewishPress.com.

Ballabon also credited the simplicity of the proposed language, which is “spare, direct, and is what every conservative I know believes in,” with paving its way to passage.

The three-paragraph long plank is entitled: “Our Unequivocal Support of Israel and Jerusalem.”

The first paragraph lays out the common values shared by Israel and the U.S. building to a crescendo which calls support for Israel “an expression of Americanism” and the strong desire of Americans for a relationship with “no daylight between America and Israel.” It also recognizes Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state” and calls for the American embassy to be moved to the capital “in fulfillment of U.S. law.”

The second paragraph commits America to ensuring Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over all adversaries, and supports Israel’s right to defend itself in conventional warfare as well as against legal, economic and cultural warfare. It labels the BDS movement anti-Semitic and calls for “effective legislation to thwart actions intended to limit commercial relations with Israel.”

The final paragraph addresses the establishment of a “comprehensive and lasting peace int he Middle East, “to be negotiated among those living in the region.” It opposes “any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or other terms, and call for the immediate termination of all U.S. funding of any entity that attempts to do so.”

For those who despaired of liberation from the tried and failed “Two State” mantra which seemed to have an impenetrable lock on “pro-Israel” American organizations, the proposed plank is a breath of rarefied air.

And for those who believed that the idea of Two States is the official policy of the Israeli government, you were wrong. There is no such language in the official government guidelines, as reinforced in the prime minister’s statement of inauguration.

As Ballabon put it, the organization which most Americans think of as most firmly pro-Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is amongst the most firmly pro-Two States. But the newly-proposed plank has not “dropped” the Two State idea, it simply hands the decision making over to Israel.

Rather than weaken the more committed, pro-Israel party to line up with uniform but mediocre support, the idea was to dump the idea of the lowest common denominator and instead have a “race to the top.”

Further, Ballabon explained, Republican pro-Israel legislators have grown increasingly less enthusiastic about AIPAC. Iran Sanctions and then the aftermath of the Iran Deal contributed to what was already a growing disenchantment with AIPAC. Ballabon’s distaste for the Israel Lobby is not hidden. He says it has “lots of money but its ideas are bankrupt.”

And while Ballabon was not a confirmed Trump supporter before this GOP Israel plank effort, he said the New York businessman’s Israel policy advisers have been “totally on board” with this effort in a way that was extraordinary.

Ballabon, who has long been a political and media strategist and Jewish community activist, said he has “never seen such a strong Israel policy team as is Trump’s.” He was, he says, “underwhelmed by both Romney and McCain’s Israel policy advisers.”

Tuesday, July 12, the full GOP Plank committee will meet to decide on all the language agreed to by its various subcommittees, including the new Israel Support language proposed by the GOP Platform’s National Security and Defense Subcommittee.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

US, Israel Group to Launch Jerusalem, Manhattan ‘Techotels’

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Reuven Kahane and a group of investors from Silicon Alley and its Israeli counterpart Silicon Wadi are negotiating the purchase of a Jerusalem and a Manhattan Hotel to be transformed and merged into “Techotels,” to brand and serve as an innovation lab for the latest gadgets and innovations geared to the hotel and entertainment industries.

Eli Pollack of Pollack Real Estate Consultants of Jerusalem, Bunim Klein & Sruli Schechter of NYB equities & Ryan Magner are advising on the estimated $325 million transactions.

In addition to the latest technologies and tech-sponsored conferences, the Techotels will seek to become the central hub for hi-tech entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and executives in NY, Israel and the Bay Area, where they expect to purchase a third hotel within the year.

The four-year-old Jerusalem hotel, located minutes from the Old City, will keep its world-famous brand, while the Park Avenue South hotel in the heart of Silicon Alley will be renamed. The hotels will include guest friendly apps, smart keys, Robotic concierge, sensor screen check in Tesla car services, full service video conference rooms and always free, super fast Wi-Fi.

David Israel

How to Talk to Jews about Israel

Monday, July 11th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Abu Yehuda}

Quite a few years ago, I went to a meeting in San Francisco about Israel advocacy, sponsored by the ADL (when the ADL was still interested in Israel advocacy). One of the speakers suggested a form of triage: There are those that are strongly against us, those that are strongly with us and those that haven’t decided. Talk to the ones that are undecided, he said.

I decided to take his advice, and in particular I wanted to talk to the Jews in my own community who (I thought) simply didn’t have the information they needed to understand what was happening.

I failed, utterly, both in my personal appeals and via the media.

The media was less than helpful. During one of our wars, a local TV station asked to interview my wife and me, since our children lived in Israel. I talked to the pleasant reporter on camera for at least a half hour. I mentioned how Hamas fires rockets from populated areas, how Arab casualty figures are inflated, how Israel takes great care not to hurt civilians, and how the terrorism never stops. The reporter kept asking me “but aren’t you worried about your kids?” I deflected the question several times, but finally said “Of course I’m worried, who wouldn’t be?” Guess what 10 second sound bite appeared on the news program!

I tried to buy a day sponsorship from the local NPR station “in honor of the 1000 [or whatever the number was at the time] Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism since 2000.” They refused, saying that I couldn’t prove that there were so many victims. I provided names, dates and locations. They said that it was ‘too political.’ I said it wasn’t political, it was factual and asked how it was different from the sponsorship they did accept “in honor of the victims of the Stonewall Uprising.” That’s different, they said. That was a matter of civil rights, not politics. Anyway, you can’t prove that there were so many victims.

The local newspaper sometimes printed my letters, all 200 words of them, and sometimes not. They rarely printed op-eds that I wrote. Meanwhile the ‘news stories’ that ran every day pushed the ‘cycle of violence’ line that presented the attempts to kill us as a squabble between two parties both at fault.

My personal approaches were, if anything, more frustrating. People were polite, but noncommittal. As time went on, I realized that they weren’t uninterested; rather, they sensed that my position wasn’t shared by many Democratic politicians, NPR and the New York Times. They suspected that I was influenced by Republican ideas or even becoming a Republican myself. I realized, in 1960s slang, that they were shining me on. Anything I said was tainted and could be ignored.

As time went by and Barack Obama became president and Israel more and more a partisan issue, it got much worse. Now it wasn’t the ‘cycle of violence’ anymore, it was ‘Netanyahu won’t negotiate and won’t stop building settlements’. The local Reform rabbi refused to allow a film critical of J Street to be shown in his building. The Jewish Federation, of which I was a board member, was increasingly nervous about programs related to Israel.

It soon became clear that there weren’t very many ‘undecideds’. There were those that were pro-Israel, those that were against us, and those that would not listen because being pro-Israel was out of their political comfort zone.

Last night I attended another meeting, also dealing with Israel advocacy, in Jerusalem. One of the speakers was the brilliant Evelyn Gordon, and one of the things she said was that maybe trying to convince the unconvinced – at least by means of logical arguments – didn’t pay, and we should concentrate on providing the facts and the ideological basis to support those who were already emotionally on our side.

Another speaker, young activist Alexandra Markus contrasted her campus experience of pro-Israel people reciting facts with the emotionally effective drama staged by Students for Justice in Palestine.

I immediately realized that they were right. One of the lessons gleaned from Jonathan Haidt’s insightful book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is that our emotions are in the driver’s seat, and reasoning only comes along as a rider that helps us explain the choices our emotions have already made.

All those years in California, it turns out, I was doing it wrong. That TV reporter understood that in order to make an impact on her viewers, she had to pick out the most emotionally powerful moment in her footage – even if it didn’t help my cause.

The Jewish woman who is emotionally invested in the ‘first black president’, who sees him as a father figure, who comments “I love this man” on a picture of him in Facebook,  is not going to hear me when I list the ways that Obama has damaged Israel and helped her enemies. She is not likely to listen when I bore her to tears by explaining the basis in international law for Jewish settlements across the Green Line. Her President said they were ‘illegitimate’ and if she is anything, she is loyal and patriotic.

What I should have said to her (instead of “armistice lines, 4th Geneva Convention, blah blah”) was something like this:

You are a loyal person, but what are you loyal to? Your ancestors came out of slavery in Egypt, were thrown out of Judea by the Romans, scattered across the world, lived in ghettos, paid jizya to Muslim kings, were burned in the ovens of the Holocaust, and now the Jewish people, your people have finally become sovereign in their historic homeland, and you side with this mediocrity from Kenya instead of them?

And to the Jewish students cowering on their campuses in fear of black and Arab students, I would say this:

You are not ‘privileged white colonizers’, you are an ancient people, the most ancient around. Where is your pride? Nobody has the right or the power to define you. Learn your language and speak it among yourselves, practice your krav maga and deter them from harassing you. Learn the truth about your homeland – and make it your goal to join your people there.

The best thing that pro-Israel American Jews can do is to exemplify Jewish pride, self-respect and self-reliance (like the Jewish state itself). Trying to be ‘Americans of the Mosaic persuasion’ is not a good strategy, as Jewish students are discovering. They should act like Jews, representatives of the people whose roots are in ancient Judea.

They will be accused of ‘dual loyalty’ – a misnomer, because the accusation is that their loyalty to the Jewish people and state is greater than that to America. It can’t be avoided, because they are required to be loyal to their people.

That is the basic contradiction of Diaspora life. If you like living in America, you can decide to live with it. Or you can make aliyah.

Vic Rosenthal

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/how-to-talk-to-jews-about-israel/2016/07/11/

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