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Dry Bones cartoon - The Ticking Iranian Time Bomb
United States Capital Building. 

The Lobbies
AIPAC skirmishes with APN and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.

-- Bruce Ticker

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert can count on dissent from two disparate segments of American Jews if he ever gets the chance to implement his West Bank pullout plan.

This is healthy. A fresh breeze is starting to blow through the American Jewish community. Jews who advocate diverse agendas for Israel's future have been lobbying the Israeli and American governments over their pet issues, if in fits and starts. Three movements have emerged which simultaneously seek to aid Israeli Arabs, compensate former Gaza settlers, negotiate with the Palestinians and prevent the future dismantling of any more settlements. It barely needs mention that some of these folks are headed on a collision course with one another.

None of these concerns will produce full agreement, but the content is less important than, at last, the very existence of public debate among American Jews. The problem with debate in the Jewish community here is that there has been a very limited degree of debate. Public debate among Jews has been consistently suppressed as long as I can remember, especially when right-wing policies prevailed.

Such debate will not incite a severe outbreak of anti-Semitism. Most Americans will recognize that their Jewish neighbors do not march in lock-step. While anti-Semitism fueled some Israel-bashing, many non-Jews soured on Israel because of the perception of confusing and reckless Israeli policies, and American Jews appeared to sanction them with our silence.

Jews and those who know us well enough understand that there is nothing monolithic about our attitudes. Gentile friends are never surprised to hear three or more opinions among a small group of Jews. American Jews can only help Israel with their criticism, which can rise or fall on the merits. A public airing of a given issue can prod the government to pause, change direction or even scrap a misguided program.

Of course, the dual crises in Gaza and Lebanon has produced substantial criticism of Israel, but there are legitimate questions as to whether Israel has gone too far. For Jews and other supporters of Israel, that concern is subordinate to the urgency of the present threat. However, Israeli leaders have not offered satisfactory explanations for the extent of Israel's response.

Debate is inevitable over the Olmert proposal, which of course is on hold now. Opponents have already promised such in a New York Jewish Week article. "We'll fight it as strongly as we can," said Merion's Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. "With the influx of al Qaeda and new missiles and weapons into Gaza, we dare not let this happen in the West Bank, right on top of Israel's major population centers."

Thirty dovish activists signed a letter to Olmert and President Bush, saying, "Unilateral actions can threaten the possibility of negotiations and could lead to the resumption of violence such as we have seen from Gaza since the disengagement."

Olmert intends to dismantle the more isolated settlements and leave 90 percent of a contiguous collection of land in the West Bank. A military presence will be maintained to prevent attacks on Israel proper. While Olmert will give the Palestinians a chance to negotiate, Bush has left him ample room for unilateral action if the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority continues to deny the very existence of Israel.

Klein and other disengagement opponents need to explain how Israel will continue to protect the settlements and avoid a disproportionate amount of bloodshed. Dovish groups such as Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v?Shalom must explain how Israel can negotiate with anyone who vows to destroy them.

The American Peace Network and Brit Tzedek v?Shalom skirmished with the elephant in the room - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - over restrictive House legislation governing aid to the Palestinians. AIPAC, also known not so affectionately as "The Lobby" for its strong influence, supported the House version, which was approved 361-37. A version in the Senate loosens up the rules for such aid, and AIPAC sources had claimed that both versions would be resolved in conference, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Brit Tzedek orchestrated a communications campaign against the House bill, which the JTA reported was "the first time in memory a dovish group went toe-to-toe with" AIPAC. Some House members reported a 3-1 ratio of calls in opposition, JTA reported. APN publicly challenged AIPAC on the facts of the issue.

The final score is less important than the very presence of a competition of ideas on the public stage. The result was more information released to the general public, which helps the rest of us decide for ourselves. Can AIPAC and its right-wing cousins live with that?

The most sensible lobbying effort to date is being undertaken by a task force which debuted in late April to improve the lot of Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens. The motive is not clear, but two obvious ones were reported in a Jewish Week article - head off Arab extremism and reduce the extra social ills that beset Arab Israelis.

They are both good reasons which complement each other. It is advantageous that a number of Jewish organizations are combining for the effort. That includes the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. It is an example of how the Israeli government can build support in the United States for programs that are long overdue. "There are people in the Israeli government looking for encouragement in this," said Brian Lurie, president of the Alfred and Hanna Fromm Fund, as quoted in Jewish Week.

So far, most of the individuals and groups have already gotten their feet wet in lobbying efforts. The trick is to involve more Jews in the dialogue. Three opinions may suffice at the dinner table, but a far greater number of voices will be needed to sway the powerful.