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Mistaking Tom Friedman for America

If Israel were to lose mainstream support in the United States, it would be a grievous blow to the nation and place the wisdom of its political leaders in question. But the problem for the Israeli left and their supporters in the United States is that while they may think Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government deserve to lose American support, there is no evidence this is taking place. Indeed, every indication, including the desperate attempts of the Obama administration to pander to pro-Israel opinion as part of its election year Jewish charm offensive, indicates that there is no reason to believe most Americans think ill of the Jewish state or view its policies as being responsible for the failure of the peace process.

But that didn’t stop Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past head of the Reform movement in the United States, from writing in Haaretz today that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.” What does Yoffie, a dedicated liberal as well as a stalwart believer in Zionism and Israel, have to back up this startling assertion? Believe it or not, he thinks a typically nasty column about Israel by Tom Friedman in the New York Times (whose purpose was to denigrate Mitt Romney and bolster support for President Obama) is reason for Israelis to start soul searching. Even Yoffie concedes that “the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.” If that is so, then why should Israel seek to appease Palestinians who have demonstrated no interest in peace by making more concessions in the absence of a sea change in their political culture that might make peace possible?

There’s no question that Yoffie and other critics of the Netanyahu government are unhappy with the current situation. The overwhelming majority of Israelis, most of whom once enthusiastically backed the peace process, have lost interest in chasing after the Palestinians and begging them to accept a two-state solution. Having turned down three offers of an independent state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, and having refused even to negotiate since then, the Palestinian Authority has proven it is unwilling to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The status quo is not ideal for either side, but when compared to the danger of a withdrawal from the West Bank that might replicate the terrorist state in Gaza, its understandable that standing pat rather than inviting such a disaster seems to be the consensus opinion.

So while most Israelis would happily accept a two-state solution that would involve territorial withdrawals in exchange for an end to the conflict, they understand there is little chance of that happening anytime soon. This is a judgment shared by most Americans and their leaders; the polls showing U.S. support for Israel are still strong. The efforts of both Republicans and Democrats to compete for pro-Israel votes confirm this is true.

That leaves inveterate Israel-bashers like Friedman gnashing his teeth at a reality that neither he nor any of his fictional cab driver sources predicted. Friedman was so angry about the bipartisan support for Netanyahu that he indulged in an anti-Semitic stereotype to falsely claim AIPAC purchased a standing ovation from Congress for the Israeli last year. The idea that he represents American public opinion is ridiculous, though perhaps not so comical as Yoffie’s fawning description of him as “the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.” Nor can he claim Friedman’s position represents a change from the past, as he has been blaming Israel for the lack of peace since before the Oslo process began.

Yoffie worries that unless Israel is “seen at all times as aggressively pursuing peace,” disaster looms. That is a position that has some merit. He rightly concedes the possibility that the perception that it is not pursuing peace is unfair. But given PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s continued refusal of Netanyahu’s invitations to talk, blaming Israel for not wasting more time chasing after him is not a serious argument.

The Reform leader’s real excuse for writing this piece seems to be the op-ed article published by the Times a couple of weeks ago by settlement leader Dani Dayan which ignored the question of how to govern the million Palestinians in the West Bank in the absence of a peace agreement. But as Yoffie knows, Dayan’s views don’t represent those of most Israelis or even the government.

Until the Palestinians decide to seek peace, there is little Israel can do. The last 20 years of peace processing has shown that neither settlement freezes nor even territorial withdrawals will buy Israelis the peace they long for. Castigating them for not repeating those mistakes or reinforcing the false notion that a failure to do so is undermining U.S. support for the country does no one any good.


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