Right-wing Israeli group heads to Washington to drum up support
Im Tirtzu leaders went to spread their proclaimed goal to 'Renew and reinstate Zionist discourse, thinking and ideology in order to secure the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.'
Pretty much everybody who wants to be a serious player in Israeli politics visits Washington, D.C. sooner or later. The purpose can be real or fleeting, but it's an essential box to check.
This week, the visitors were the leaders of Im Tirtzu, the controversial Israeli grassroots movement whose proclaimed goal is to "strengthen the values of Zionism in Israel and to renew and reinstate Zionist discourse, thinking and ideology in order to secure the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
Ronen Shoval, the head of the movement, and Erez Tadmor, who deals with the policy and public advocacy matters, came decked out in impeccable suits, carrying brochures in English citing the movement's successes. They came mostly for private meetings, to make connections, fundraise and explain to the conservative activists and writers how they can help Israel (the answer: attack. Mostly the New Israel Fund ).
"We forgot why people our age should risk their lives to defend Israel instead of making money abroad," Shoval said on Sunday in a meeting with journalists and activists in Washington. "And if people don't believe in Israel inside Israel, how can we fight the deligitimization of Israel abroad?"
The efforts to undermine Israel's image, he's convinced, are "not authentic."
"There were three attempts to destroy Israel - in wars, with terrorism, and with 'the Durbin strategy,'" he said, referring to the UN conference which equated Zionism with racism. "The organizations who receive mostly foreign funding are not about human rights - they are about hunting Israeli officers abroad. I think Americans should fight the NIF, it's an American problem. They want to destroy Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."
Breaking the Silence, the organization of former soldiers who testify about violations committed by the Israel Defense Forces, is not authentic either, they argued.
"Ninety percent of their testimonies - there are no names, no specific places," says Shoval. "Besides, they are hypocrites. I know my army. I was in Operation Cast Lead. If you see something is wrong, you stop it, instead of looking at it in order to tell later to the press."
The movement leaders weren't inspired by the recent Arab revolutions either. "The conflict in the Middle East is not about Judea and Samaria," Shoval says. "It's about radical Islam, which doesn't recognize our right to exist. We need to figure out ways how to survive, and the way is to be strong. We'll have a solution the day a radical Muslim treats his wife as a human being, then maybe he will see Jews as human beings. In order for the opportunities for peace to exist, they need different shows on TV, different education."
State gets tough
It might have taken the State Department almost a day to comment on Israel's decision to approve over 400 new units in the West Bank following the slaughter of the Fogel family in Itamar - but after the harsh condemnation of the cruel deed, there came no applause for the Israeli government's "price tag."
The State Department was dealing with a small crisis of its own over the weekend with the resignation of spokesman Philip Crowley, who criticized the U.S. detention of alleged Wikileaks source Bradley Manning while speaking at MIT. Crowley said the policy of holding Manning in solitary confinement most of the day was "ridiculous and stupid," putting U.S. President Barack Obama in an awkward position.
The U.S. is also very much focused on aiding Japan in its hour of need and looking for the best way to deal with Libya's Muammar Gadhafi, without being dragged into another adventure of toppling a stubborn dictator.
But U.S. officials still found the end of last week time to meet with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and to clarify that the clock is ticking towards the recognition of the Palestinian state in the UN, and this time the U.S. won't be able to block it.
It might not include 1967 borders - but for those who forgot, the State of Israel still has provisional borders too.
The idea that Israel should get more aid with the current turbulence in the region seems more like a fantasy when Israeli representatives are fighting hard to retain whatever aid was assigned within the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding.
The attack in Itamar, horrific as it is, did not change the basic fact that only a solid Israeli initiative fully backed by the U.S., or a U.S. initiative that Israel is ready to run with, can prevent the aftermath of the UN Palestinian decision, be it sanctions on Israel or another Palestinian uprising.
America's UN envoy, Susan Rice, who vetoed an anti-Israel resolution last month at the Security Council, will be the first one to explain there is no time for games with another dramatic expansion of settlements.
It's not clear how many staffers there are left willing to deal with the stalemate.
Special Envoy George Mitchell has pretty much disappeared recently, National Security Council member Dan Shapiro's nomination to become U.S. ambassador in Israel was sent to the Senate for approval.
Shapiro might be a great candidate, knowledgeable, connected and genuinely caring - but as an ambassador, he'll probably try to be an active player in the peace process, and some of his Jewish predecessors have discovered that being a Jewish American bears excessive expectations of some Israeli players who have difficulty accepting someone who is Jewish and impartial.
The U.S. Jewish community will probably miss Shapiro too - he was the one to brief them during the periods of crisis, or perceived crisis, over the last two years. It's not always clear what purpose the briefings served - if the idea was to calm the community, it didn't necessarily work, since each participant took away something different according to their political views.
Only "The Obama administration means good" got through consistently. Whether this good is good for Israel, is still open for debate among the Jewish leaders.
The administration's outreach to the Jewish community includes festive events and frequent speeches by officials speaking frequently at community function, but White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said he wouldn't take it so far as to assign the community the role of the official intermediary between Washington and Jerusalem.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich explained that "the U.S. and Israel are bonded by core values and commitment to democracy - and part of that is the opportunity for citizens to engage with their government. The president believes it's vital for us to hear directly from Americans from all walks of life, including the Jewish community - and their input absolutely gets factored into our policy and decision making process."
Lehrich says the job of outreach to U.S. Jews will go to Danielle Borrin, but said she would not be alone.
"Like all of the work done by our Office of Public Engagement, outreach is overseen by Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett," he said. "In addition, the community hears regularly from top foreign policy advisors like Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro."
One of the Jewish leaders told Haaretz that Democrats have more natural connections with the Jewish community, but former White House Jewish liaison Scott Arogeti said the Bush administration also made a point of reaching out to the community.
"We were in constant communication with leaders of the Jewish community ... Often times we would reach out to individuals and organizations within the Jewish community to promote President Bush's agenda on a wide range of issues and other times various Jewish organizations would reach out to us. It was a two way street," he said.