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News and Opinion

A Moderate Revolt

-- vBruce S. Ticker

Eight of us ventured to Bryn Mawr College in late October to form a Philadelphia chapter of Ameinu , a group which plans to take a moderate approach to advocating for Israeli policies.

Once we got to talking, I found the others to be a relaxed, genial bunch that I could enjoy working with. Hopefully, we can reach consensus on future issues.

Ameinu is among two fledgling initiatives aimed at raising concerns about Israel in a centrist manner in contrast to the frequent hardline positions of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other ardent pro-Israel groups. These efforts could be valuable if the new organizations press for sensible policies that could genuinely help Israel and Jews throughout the Diaspora.

A news release from the national office of Ameinu states that it can provide “a liberal, pro-Israel organization that is involved in constructive activities and which offers an alternative to the extremes of left and right.” The local chapter expects to meet again in early December.

Meanwhile, billionaire philanthropist George Soros and Morton Halperin, who served in three presidential administrations, are participating in a similar effort involving a range of Jewish organizations. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports it, a late September meeting “focused on how best to press Congress and the Bush administration to back greater U.S. engagement toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to better represent American Jews who don’t buy into AIPAC’s often hawkish policies.”

Both these groups are welcome into the arena where individual Jews like myself have been fending for ourselves. Right-leaning Jews have dominated the pro-Israel side for the last 30 years. They have fervently backed the settlements and other Israeli lapses, and representatives of some major Jewish organizations intimidated people who even questioned Israeli government policies.

There were times that I concurred with Israeli policies, but in the United States the problem with the debate among Jews was that there was no debate. This left the impression with many non-Jews that most or all American Jews supported everything Israel did, right or wrong.

It would have helped had there been moderate Jewish groups in 1982 when a non-Jewish colleague declared, “Israel out of Lebanon.” A few months later, I was employed by a Jewish organization which assigned me to attend a meeting about the Lebanon invasion. A young female employee proclaimed, “Nobody has the right to criticize Israel unless they have been there.”

All these years, many of us have had to contend with both mindless Israel-bashing from critics of Israel and a circle-the-wagons mindset from Israel’s more powerful defenders. Jewish groups willing to criticize Israel usually staked out positions that I considered to be too risky for Israel.

A quarter-century later, the Israeli government is moderating on its own, so it would seem that centrist Jewish organizations are emerging after the damage has been done. There is still plenty of work to be done. They can serve as an ongoing check and balance on the Israeli government and other lobbyist groups in the United States. They can support Israel when it is right; question its policies and actions when they are beyond understanding; and criticize the Jewish state whenever warranted.

Those who associate with these newly emerging moderate groups are likely to disagree on some positions. In fact, I already have a problem with Ameinu’s challenge to the inclusion of Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Israel Beteinu, in the Knesset’s inner circle. They wrote, “His rhetoric and his record are appalling with respect to the Arab citizens of Israel, their elected representatives and to Israel’s neighbors with whom it must continue to seek peace.”

That’s true, but Ameinu is missing the bigger picture. Olmert brought Lieberman aboard to insulate himself politically. To save his political skin since the Lebanon war this past summer, Olmert’s only alternative to rebuild support was turning to the right for help. Why should Olmert listen to anyone who criticizes Lieberman’s appointment?

Most Israelis want Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz ousted because they botched a crisis. Who can feel comfortable with these individuals at the helm? If anything, Ameinu would do far better to lobby to replace Olmert and Peretz, respectively leaders of the Kadima and Labor parties. Possibly the more feasible and least bloody method is for the parties to elect leaders who are more capable and experienced. That would preclude the need for early elections.

These moderate groups, if and when they are built up, can be most effective if they play things by ear. A given course of action can be sensible one minute, but new circumstances can change everything the next moment. These centrist groups can therefore be valuable in helping to guide Israel.

Bruce S. Ticker can be reached at community @ pjvoice.com.

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