The AIPAC policy conference, simply put, is a tonic for the battered and bewildered supporter of Israel – battered by the incessant hatred of Jews and the Jewish state that emanates from the Arab world and its fellow travelers in the West, and bewildered by an Israeli government that is seemingly rushing headlong into another catastrophic signing ceremony that will be a another prelude to another wave of retreats, terror and mayhem.
First, the good news. It is an incomparable experience to stand with more than 14,000 lovers of Israel – Jews of all stripes and backgrounds, and non-Jews of all races, creeds and ethnic origin. AIPAC is remarkably successful in bridging gaps. In truth, it was not at all surprising to see rabbis of three Jewish “denominations” standing on stage together and each describing his warm feelings towards Israel. Despite all the rhetoric, we are accustomed to Jews uniting in times of communal danger. What was shocking (!) was how natural it was for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md) standing together, each explaining the vital American interest in a strong US-Israel alliance and pledging to promote and strengthen that alliance even more in years to come.
Watching them, I could not think of another issue facing Americans today on which Republicans and Democrats make common cause, work in tandem, and do not seek to undermine the other. Indeed, each lauded the bipartisan nature of the US support for Israel – a support that has always been rooted in Congress. Presidents come and go, and some are more and others are less supportive of Israel. But Congressional ties to the Jewish state have been robust for decades. And I wondered, why? Why, in fact, do Americans support Israel over the Arabs by margins of five or six to one?
Contrary to our enemies’ propaganda, it is neither the Jewish vote (which is miniscule to begin with, and overwhelmingly Democratic) nor Jewish money (Arabs have much, much more, and spend it) that sway the American public and political class. It is, rather, the Jewish soul – the spirit of the people of Israel. And AIPAC did a wonderful job in conveying this message.
Throughout the Convention Center, one did not have to go far in order to see pictures and accounts of Israeli teams throughout the world on a variety of rescue missions and other acts of compassion. There was a large map that depicted the dozens of countries across the globe (some that do not even recognize the State of Israel) that have been the beneficiaries of Israeli aid during catastrophes and natural disasters. Israeli rescuers are often the first on the scene, saving victims, building hospitals, stabilizing food and water supplies, and thwarting the spread of disease. Other groups of Israelis have traveled the world to teach more efficient uses of water to areas that are parched and where drought is a familiar though unwelcome visitor.
And, of course, the technological innovations that Israelis have brought to the world are unparalleled. The latest on display – and already in use by law enforcement across the US and the world – is a device that allows people literally to see through walls (brick, steel and otherwise) and facilitates hostage rescue and the capture of any band of malefactors. And those evildoers and Jew-haters who advocate a boycott of Israeli products should immediately stop using their computers and EZ-passes, and order their physicians to abstain from treating them with any of the Israeli medical devices that have transformed health care. That’ll teach ‘em!
Why does Israel attract such support from Americans? Because at the end of the day Israelis are good people who are trying to make the world a better place. And all the best propaganda that money can buy will not change that. AIPAC, though, has a critical role in publicizing these good deeds – the latest, rendering medical care to victims of the mutual atrocities in Syria – that would otherwise be suppressed by the forces of hatred.
Of course, being “good” has its downside, and it is disheartening to hear otherwise intelligent and sophisticated people in the political class speak of “peace and prosperity” in the Middle East as if it were just a few more Israeli concessions away. The “good” often have a hard time seeing the “bad,” and certainly acknowledging the permanence of “bad.” But it is a reality, and from the hi-tech entrepreneurs to the parade of politicians spouting clichés and platitudes, the concerns for Israel’s future are justified. Israel is only country in the world –and probably ever –that always seems to be either five minutes away from complete redemption or five minutes away from complete destruction. The ge’ula and the churban seem equally plausible prospects. What is needed is strength, courage, convictions, belief in the narrative of Jewish history and the unfolding destiny of the Jewish people. The temptation to give up so close to the end is tantalizing.
The German military strategist Karl von Clausewitz wrote: “Given the same amount of intelligence, timidity will do a thousand times more damage than audacity.” One sees this unfolding today in US foreign policy where timidity now rules the roost, under the guise of a people tired of war. The Romans said – and this corollary has yet to be repealed – Si vis pacem, para bellum, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” America’s strategic decline and shifting alliances spell short-term trouble. Obama’s America is not feared by its enemies and not respected by its friends. Obama’s naïve world view was summarized by his reaction to Putin’s seizure of the Crimea, when he trumpeted its illegality and then suggested that “Putin’s lawyers must be telling him something different.” Does he really believe that Putin consults lawyers before acting? Only a community organizer would even think in those terms, much less articulate them.
Such gullibility is harmful to America but it could deadly for Israel. Israel is on the verge, allegedly, of marching down the road to two inconceivable outcomes: first, that it can rely on the United States to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It is simply inconceivable that the US will act militarily against Iran in an Obama administration, like it is unimaginable that Iran will agree through negotiations to cease the development on its own. Iran is successfully playing the same game it has played in the past. The suspension of sanctions in exchange for temporarily delaying uranium enrichment allows it to sufficiently recover from the effects of the previous sanctions to be able to weather the next economic storm when it ends negotiations on its own terms. Israel is really on its own in dealing with Iran.
Second, it is inconceivable that Israel would agree to surrender more land, establish another Arab state on its own land and emasculate its defenses in the Jordan Valley. It is ludicrous. It is implausible. But is it happening?
Providence granted the Israelis a respite from the expected pressures of the White House by distracting Obama and Kerry with the problems in Ukraine. But in a world of free choice, it is up to the Israelis to change the dynamic, be audacious, rely on itself, and not kowtow to US pressure when it comes. Listening to John Kerry’s speech at AIPAC before he immediately flew off to Kiev was an eye-opener. He really believes, apparently, that partitioning the land of Israel and creating a hostile state will solve the problems once and for all – that peace and brotherhood will descend on the Holy Land. And he believes that against all reason, against all odds and against all the available evidence, historical and current.
So, too, Netanyahu believes that his winning strategy will be to get the so-called “Palestinians” to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” If they say those magical words – “Jewish State” – then surrender will be at hand. He doesn’t think they will, but that is the height of foolishness. Once again, Israel will be in a position of transferring objective and valuable assets – its land – in exchange for words – words that might not be sincere when uttered and that can be retracted once the concessions are pocketed. Is he counting on the Arabs’ hatred of Israel being so irrational that they will not be able to utter those words? What a fool’s bargain that would be. If they had any sense, they would say those words, and say it yesterday.
They are just words. In his Epistle to Yemen, the Rambam advised the beleaguered Yemenite Jews who were being persecuted and forcibly converted (on pain of death) by the Muslim natives to say the Muslim declaration of faith – just say the words and do not allow yourselves to be martyred. It’s just words. The so-called “Palestinians” can also say words. So what? Deeds and attitudes matter more.
Few people in the world give a better speech than Israel’s prime minister, even if every word has been heard before. But does he really believe what he is saying? Is he a cunning genius – or too clever by half?
A right-wing journalist asked me the following question: If AIPAC is pro-Israel, how can it support a Palestinian state? I answered simply that AIPAC supports the Israeli government; it is the current Israeli government that supports a Palestinian state.
And therein lies the problem, and the hazardous road ahead. But that road will be infinitely smoother with strong and faithful leadership in Israel backed by a strong and faithful leadership in the United States, especially including the good people at AIPAC.