Hitting the right notes
It must be remembered that American Jews are first and foremost loyal to America, and although their commitment to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state runs deep, it is shot through with American interests.
The invitation earlier this month of Jewish communal leaders to the White House was intended first and foremost to counter the notion that the price of the new administration's efforts to be perceived as an honest broker in the Middle East will be paid in Israeli currency.
Washington has always behaved like a very complex orchestra, encompassing the administration, Congress, think tanks, diplomatic representatives and lobbies. All of these components include Jewish 'musicians': influential Jewish organizations and leftist liberal groups. There are even isolated pockets producing discordant anti-Semitic tones.
To a certain extent, U.S. President Barack Obama chose to entangle the Washington establishment even more deeply. Following his election, he created many centers of power in government to engender rapid changes in specific realms. In foreign affairs involving Israel, four such centers exist: around Vice President Joe Biden; the National Security Council; the State Department, its emissaries and advisers; and the Pentagon. Sometimes this creates internal competition which produces divergent messages, making it difficult for foreign officials to make an impact and leaving the important decisions up to the White House. The centers of power that deliver the goods will continue to exert their influence. Others will disappear.
The Jewish component of the Washington orchestra has considerable weight, especially ahead of next year's Congressional elections - Obama's first political test. The makeup of the delegation to the White House, which this time also included groups from the liberal left, such as J Street and Peace Now, does not essentially change the picture. Some of these groups are in any case part of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and would have been on the list of invitees during the George W. Bush era as well. Others, even if they have switched their organizational hats, were present at similar meetings during the Bill Clinton era.
The influence of North American Jews is a function not of their electoral weight, but of their position in society and the amazing organizational abilities they provide for their candidates. This ability is concentrated in the hands of the big organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which are usually at the center of the political spectrum.
However, it must be remembered that American Jews are first and foremost loyal to America, and although their commitment to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state runs deep, it is shot through with American interests. Neither the settlements nor the vision of the greater land of Israel are at the top of their priorities.
This is also the reason for the sweeping Jewish support for Obama during the last elections. They understood that Obama was not endowed with an emotional relationship to Israel as were George W. Bush, Clinton and Ronald Reagan. However, they believed he was bringing a new message to America. They believed that a stronger America and a better world would also be good for Israel. Obama's closest advisers, who were gauging their maneuverability vis-a-vis the Jewish community and the government of Israel, also came to these simple conclusions.
Jerusalem must make a similar analysis. To produce the music most beneficial for Israel, we must clearly define the joint and overlapping interests of both countries and focus on them - whether it be Iran, strategic collaboration or strengthening the moderate axis in the Middle East. These are the boundaries within which American Jewish influence may be called upon.
Those who try to orchestrate the tones in Washington must be careful, lest they play the drums rather than the cymbal, or the trombone instead of the flute. American Jews must not be made to face the dilemma of choosing between their commitment to the Jewish state and loyalty to their American birthplace.
The writer is the director of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
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