The Jewish World / Such a thing as too much support for Israel

The American Jewish media is at pains to remind those who may have forgotten that in discussing the issue of `dual loyalty,' Israel and the United States are not the same country

Eliahu Salpeter

Haaretz

Tishrei 21, 5765

The "Franklin affair," which began with a CNN report that Pentagon official Larry Franklin had given the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC a draft position paper on American policy toward Iran, reminds one of the story of the Jew who'd been slandered in his town. The rabbi invited him over, and told him that people were saying he was having an adulterous affair. "Rabbi, it isn't true," the Jew said. To which the rabbi replied: "What? That it should be true, too? Isn't it enough that people are talking?"

Indeed, as soon as the report surfaced, the Pollard affair was mentioned, along with all of the sensitivities associated with it. The current affair seems less serious: Franklin is not Jewish, it has not been said that Israel initiated the transfer of the document, and the American newspapers have even raised the hypothesis that the leak served a dual purpose; Franklin, considered to hold hawkish views in regard to nuclear development in Iran, wanted to enlist the Israeli lobby in support of a hard line on Iran.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, another bomb exploded. David Szardi, a high-ranking FBI official who is conducting the investigation of AIPAC, is the same person accused a few years ago of harassing a young Jewish lawyer from the CIA out of anti-Semitic motives, and even causing his discharge from the agency. In the trial (which has not yet ended) it was said that Szardi demanded the dismissal of the attorney for suspected pro-Israeli leanings. The arguments: he had been a counselor in a Jewish summer camp, his family contributes to Israeli charities and he is related to former president Ezer Weizman. The lawyer complained, and an investigation was launched against Szardi. The director of the CIA wrote a letter to the Anti-Defamation League in which he admitted that elements of the investigation were "insensitive, unprofessional and highly inappropriate."

This affair has put an anti-Semitic patina on the Franklin affair. Nevertheless, the suggestions of "dual loyalty" in this case do not relate to a single individual, but to a Jewish organization that is considered one of the strongest and most effective lobbies in Washington. Quite a few Jews are seeing the handwriting on the wall, or are afraid that their non-Jewish neighbors will see it. However, the most significant outcome has been that Jewish public figures and newspapers have begun to ask if the identification between Jewish leaders and organizations, and Israel isn't too close.

"At the very least, the fast-moving controversy highlights the many gray areas created when two close allies share military and strategic information through a web of formal and informal contacts," wrote James Besser in the "Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles." "Jewish leaders are worried - and they are right to be."

The weekly "Jewsweek" had sharper words to say about two other affairs that have upset the American Jewish community in recent weeks. One concerned New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. "The fact that Gov. James McGreevey announced last month that he was `a gay American' who cheated on his wife wasn't the scandal in the eyes of most observers. It was the fact that McGreevey had appointed Cipel to a high-paying job as a state homeland security adviser, in spite of the fact that he wasn't remotely qualified and, as a foreign national, couldn't get a security clearance to receive classified information from Washington," wrote Jonathan S. Tobin on September 7. The incident, remarks Tobin somewhat ironically, "marks an interesting turning point in the relationship between Israel and America."

"Yet," Jewsweek notes, "the McGreevey mess isn't the only example of Israelis becoming players on U.S. shores." Another appointment of an Israeli raised questions of a different sort, vexing as well. "The American Jewish Congress has announced that it is appointing Alon Pinkas (Israel's outgoing consul general in New York) as its new director-general... Perhaps I'm missing something, but the idea of a man who was an Israeli envoy just weeks ago taking the helm of a group that attempts to represent the interests of American Jews strikes me as more than a bit odd... But don't the good people at AJCongress understand that blurring the line between American Jewish leadership and Israel isn't healthy for America Jews or Israel?"

The weekly commented that Israelis "are not entitled to be parachuted into an American organization."

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has in the meantime imposed a veto on the Pinkas appointment, but intervention in domestic American affairs was also cited in another Jewsweek article about the stand taken by the Zionist Organization of America (which identifies with the Likud) on the U.S. presidential elections. The ZOA has implied, wrote deputy editor Bradford Pilcher last March 19, that a vote for John Kerry would be "a vote for the Palestinians." "... the Jewish community has gone AWOL on domestic issues in favor of backing a pro-Israel president... It's time we reshuffle our political priorities, and move Israel down the list."

In the same vein, the editor of the left-leaning pro-Israeli monthly Moment, the author Leonard Fein, wrote: "The far more serious threat presented by the unfolding scandal goes to the question of involvement by the pro-Israel community in shaping American Middle East policy. One can be `pro-Israel,' however defined, as part of a general theory of American Middle East interests. If one honestly believes, for example, that Iraq can be transformed into a democracy, or even just a law-abiding state, and that such a transformation would create a domino effect throughout the region - rather fantastical beliefs, but just this side of utterly preposterous - then the fact that such a development would be `good for Israel' is an incidental benefit. If, however, one begins with a pro-Israel commitment and from that backs into a policy that calls for an American `war of liberation' in Iraq, that's another matter entirely.... "As the United States now stumbles its way toward a coherent policy regarding Iran, with the awesome dangers that an ill-chosen policy would involve, it becomes critically important that we know for a fact that government policy has been developed exclusively on the basis of America's perceived interests."

This, of course, is the heart of the matter: where is the boundary between support for Israel, and a policy that is to the mutual benefit of Israeli and American interests, and the promotion of a policy that is intended to serve Israeli interests, as pro-Arab and anti-Semitic groups in the U.S. now charge. In this context, it should be remembered that support for the old homeland is an accepted phenomenon among immigrants to America, that Israel is considered in the eyes of most Americans as the "homeland" of the Jews, and that support diminishes in the second and third generations. Yet it should also be borne in mind that while most Jews are pro-Israel, only a minority actively support Israel. Most of the active support lies in the economic realm, with fairly little in the political sphere, although it is much more focused and effective than among other ethnic lobbies.

Financial and professional support is not usually a problem: when a Jewish millionaire (or professor) supports institutions such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington or Hebrew University, for instance, this does not raise any notice outside the circles of the American elite in which that individual functions. The problem arises when he seeks to support bodies of a political nature: such activity frequently leads to identification with a political party or movement in American society, to which there are, of course, vocal opponents who strive to cast aspersions on their motives. At present, the subjects on the agenda are Iran, Iraq and Islamic terror; also in the sights are neoconservatives who support Bush, a prominent number of whom are Jews.

I have a lot of American Jewish friends and acquaintances, and it would be hard to assume that any of them would ever imagine - in spite of all their sympathy for Israel - to prefer loyalty to Israel over loyalty to the United States. Dual loyalty exists in the eyes of the anti-Semites and in the eyes of those Israelis who delude themselves into thinking that American Jewish support for Israel can compete with the intensity of their American identity. But as long as this scarecrow exists, the government of Israel ought to demonstrate more sensitivity, and must not encourage the impression among Jewish leaders and businesses that absolute identification with Israel is the primary test of their success.