Can Diaspora pressure help?
It was fascinating hearing the reactions of left-leaning Jewish commentators and activists to the frosty meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Rather presciently, many of them were writing about it even before the two leaders met.
With minor variations, they were all saying the same thing. Finally we have an American president who will not only support Israel, but who will cajole and gently force it to do what it should have done decades ago, for its own good. And they are all eager to do their part. In the face of a recalcitrant and reactionary Israeli government, even the most purposeful U.S. president needs reinforcements, and they will have to come from the ranks of the Diaspora.
If Bibi failed to get the message in the Oval Office, he will get it from his dear brothers and sisters overseas. If only the Jews of the world make it clear that the occupation has to end, and that Israel can no longer rely on their support if it continues building settlements, then surely this will happen. A compelling scenario.
AIPAC and the other pro-Israel advocacy groups will start to act in Israel's best interests, instead of slavishly following the policies of whatever government is in power. Racist politicians, even if they carry the title of Israel's foreign minister, will no longer be welcome in Jewish communities around the world. Pressuring the Israeli prime minister will be a vote-winner in the Florida retirement belt and north London suburbs.
Personally, as an Israeli, I am both repelled and attracted by this plan. It offends me, since it totally disregards the notion that Israel is an independent democracy. But hey, if the good Jews of the Diaspora can succeed where the world's greatest statesmen have failed, and bring peace to this land, I'll swallow the insult.
The only problem is that it will never happen. Polls may show that the majority of Jews in the West favor a two-state solution, and American Jews certainly voted overwhelmingly for Obama last November. But there is nothing new about this. And still, Peace Now in has yet to become a mass movement in the Diaspora. To mobilize all these peace-loving Jews into pressuring Israel, they first have to care enough.
The problem is that not enough of them seem to be that interested in their Jewish roots or in Israel. While these left-thinking Jews may be prominent on the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Guardian, they have to admit that the growing majority of those who are concerned about Israel are religious and right-wing.
And it is not only the grass roots. Most of the leadership in Jewish communities is simply not capable, psychologically, of openly opposing an elected Israeli government. They long ago became addicted to the princely receptions in Jerusalem, the privileged briefings from IDF generals, the adoration on solidarity missions to Sderot. Without all this ego-boosting, a senior position at a Jewish organization has little meaning.
But even if the entire Diaspora were to undergo a peace-for-land conversion, and its leadership were to regain its own sense of worth, could they sway the Israelis? I have my doubts.
Israeli interest in what the Jews of the world have to say has never been lower. The religious camp, which is mainly right-wing, despises the "soft" Diaspora Jews and would certainly view any demands for a retreat from the West Bank as further proof of the moral bankruptcy of those who prefer the fleshpots to the promised land. And most secular citizens are barely aware of the existence of Jews outside their country. They see themselves as Israelis first, and Jews perhaps a distant second. The only time Israelis actively seek out their Jewish heritage is when they travel abroad to the death camps in Poland.
Public anger at any attempt by foreign Jews - who don't pay taxes here or serve in the army - to dictate Israel's actions would prevent the politicians, many of whom have good relations with Diaspora leaders and communities, from capitulating. Would losing AIPAC's support be a crushing blow? If the administration is already at loggerheads with the government, it may not make that much of a difference. None of the other advocacy groups, especially those outside the U.S., were that effective anyway.
So, if concerted pressure by global Jewry on Israel is almost certainly destined to backfire, what can they still do to try to bring piece? Get a few millions together and invest in Israeli journalism for a start. It worked for the right wing.
The richest Jew in the world, Sheldon Adelson, financed a new daily newspaper, Yisrael Hayom, to push his political agenda. Barely a year later he was sitting in the Knesset gallery, watching his protege Benjamin Netanyahu being sworn in as prime minister. The opportunities are out there, cash-strapped newspapers and television channels are crying out for investors. And how about a high-quality, left-wing daily free paper, to take on Adelson's rag?
Of course, none of this will come cheap. The media business can suck up tens of millions without offering returns. But what is that compared to the dividends of peace?