A Bimonthly Jewish & Interfaith Critique of
Politics, Culture & Society
Mar/Apr 2004 || http://www.tikkun.org
Democrats Boost Their "Pro Israel" Credentials
Certain that the right wing of the Jewish world represents an indispensable constituency, virtually all of the Democratic Presidential candidates have avoided serious discussion about how to bring peace to Israel and Palestine, fearful that they might say something that would alienate this section of the Jewish world. Not one of the candidates has been willing to endorse the Geneva Accord or even to discuss why not.
The pandering helps re-enforce the notion that the "pro-Sharon" voices really are the voices of the entire Jewish community. Media rarely describes the candidates as speaking to the Jewish right wing, but instead to the "pro-Israel" or even "Jewish" vote.
The dramatic reversal of Howard Dean's stand, from calling for a more even-handed approach last Fall, to capitulating to the pro-Sharon camp by January of 2004, is illustrative. Faced with an assault by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Mel Levine, and dozens of others, the candidate lauded for his supposed stubbornness and maverick tendencies did a 180 degree turn long before the Iowa caucus.
In mid January, the Dean campaign announced the appointment of Al Gore's national security adviser Leon Fuerth as chairman of Dean's foreign policy team. "Those in the pro-Israel community who know Leon Fuerth and the role he played with Vice President Gore will be pleased," said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. "He has a long record of involvement and there have been any number of encounters that demonstrate his understanding of the region and his support for a robust U.S.-Israel relationship."
"Leon Fuerth's appointment helps send a very strong message to the foreign-policy world and the American Jewish community that Howard Dean's values and policies related to the Middle East should be ones they should be comfortable with," said Steve Grossman, national co-chair of Dean for America and a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). While the AIPAC presence in the Dean campaign has been overwhelmingly powerful, there has been no comparable openness to the Israeli peace forces. Attempts by Tikkun and others to engage Dean in a dialogue about the Middle East have been rejected.
Meanwhile, few of the grass roots activists who were engaged in building the Dean campaign made any significant attempts to get him to address the Middle East. Deep commitment to the notion of "Anybody But Bush," and to their hopes for Dean to be the one who could replace Bush, have led many Dean activists to argue that they can't afford to push their candidate to take a stand on an issue that might lose him some votes.
The question of Middle East peace was raised to candidate John Kerry on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. In a first statement, apparently spontaneous, Kerry said that he did not see any real leadership willing to take a stand to move from some of the settlements, and that would be necessary. Within hours the pro-Sharon forces had managed to get to him and, according to news reports, Kerry reversed himself, loudly proclaiming that Sharon would in fact be a leader who would take the steps needed for peace. Amazing integrity! Anything for a victory at the polls.
Yet a recent poll in the Jewish world suggests that this fear may be unfounded. It reports that no matter who the Democratic candidate will be, close to 1/3 of Jewish voters are likely to vote Republican in 2004, and they include many of the very pro-Sharon people who have created the impression that "the Jews" will not tolerate any criticism of the Occupation. The votes are already lost to the Democratsnot because of their failure to pander to Israeli supporters of the Occupation, but because these same right-wingers favor the kind of militarism and pro-corporate policies that the Republicans champion and Democrats faintly try to mimic.