There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers – don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.
What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.
Now, there is another approach – one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:
1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.
2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.
The third is particularly noteworthy:
3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.
It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship. For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.