Commentary Magazine


A “Liberal” Israel Lobby?

In this month’s Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg offers a “new” strategy for moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward: the establishment of a “liberal Israel lobby.” This lobby would counter the influence of AIPAC, which, Gorenberg argues, is “more hawkish on Middle East politics than most American Jews.” Moreover, rather than focusing on Israel’s “short-term security needs,” this dovish group would lobby the U.S. to press Israel on ending settlement construction, as “The only workable baseline for a peace agreement is a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank, with some minor exchanges of territory.”

There are two major problems with this argument. The first lies in the assumption that American Jews are overwhelmingly dovish on Israel, and therefore poorly represented by AIPAC. Gorenberg’s empirics actually suggest otherwise. For example, seeking to prove American-Jewish dovishness, Gorenberg cites a recent AJC survey that found a 46-43-plurality support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet support for Palestinian statehood is not a particularly dovish position in the U.S. Indeed, it represents a rare instance of Republican-Democratic consensus-and the close divide among American Jews therefore suggests, if anything, a hawkish streak. In this vein, the same survey showed that 58 percent of American Jews opposed compromising on the status of Jerusalem-a step that Israeli-Palestinian peace likely requires no less than the evacuation of most settlements. Gorenberg therefore completely misses the relevance of American Jews’ 57-percent opposition to military action of Iran: rather than suggesting a dovish outlook on Israel, it most likely reflects weariness with the Iraq war, which American Jews now oppose 67-27.

The second major problem lies in the target of Gorenberg’s advocacy. Make no mistake-I’m sympathetic with Gorenberg’s critique of Israel’s settlement policy, and agree that the Bush administration should exert more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fulfill his prior commitment to halt construction. But Gorenberg’s suggestion that an American “liberal Israel lobby” is the best means to affect this change strikes me as odd. After all, any lobbying effort against the Israeli settlement policy should appeal, first and foremost, to the Israeli government and Israel’s voting public-not the U.S., which bears no responsibility for the settlements and has long opposed their construction.

Frankly, by pinning responsibility for Israeli policy on the U.S., Gorenberg echoes Arab voices, who similarly insist that the U.S. must press Israel as a means of changing Israeli policy. Yet there is a key difference. Arabs–who can hardly promote change in their own authoritarian countries–virtually require a deus ex machina if they wish to see immediate changes in Israeli policy. But Gorenberg is an Israeli citizen, with all the voting rights and civil liberties that come with it. He therefore possesses direct levers for influencing Israeli policy, and hardly needs American Jews–a group he misunderstands anyway–to adopt his cause.