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Proposition W and The Pacification of the U.S. Middle East Movement

By Jeffrey Blankfort
Israel & Palestina: Zeitschrift fur Dialog No. 24
July 1990

Originally written in 1989, and then corrected/rewritten in 1990

More than a year a half has passed since Proposition W, a measure calling for a two-state resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was turned down by the voters of San Francisco. In the process of analysing that defeat I found increasing evidence that certain organizations and individuals holding prominent positions in the US Middle East peace movement and who were involved either directly or indirectly in the Prop. W campaign have been engaged in what can accurately be described as a "pacification program" directed at every element of the movement and at Palestinians and Arab-Americans, in particular.

That these organizations and individuals are mostly Jewish should not be surprising. The heavy dosage of mythology and misinformation that the government of Israel and its US lobby have directed at Jewish-Americans since the founding of the state and especially since the Six-Day War, coupled with the constant invocation by self-appointed Jewish leaders of the very real horrors of the Holocaust, has succeeded in stimulating a revival of Jewish ethnocentrism which has produced both a return to a particularly racist form of religious fundamentalism in some American Jews and a secular worship of Israel in others. The latter contains a form of racism that is usually more subtle but equally pernicious. Shunted to the shadows have been the critical contributions which Jews have made to the major struggles of America and Europe's radical and revolutionary past.

This has resulted in the stifling of any serious debate in the American Jewish community by convincing Jews across the political spectrum to defend, rationalize or ignore continuing Israeli atrocities in the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, and to go beyond any question of Israel's survival or security by minimizing or denying Israel's dealings with South Africa and repressive regimes in Central and South America. (The futile and eventually embarrassing attempts by a handful of those Jewish leaders to have Nelson Mandela renounce his support of the PLO before his trip to the United States in July 1990 was a result of this mindset.)

What we are concerned with here is a phenomena that to date has neither been sufficiently challenged nor examined, i.e., how, since the start of the intifada, Jewish individuals and organizations in the so-called "peace camp," New Jewish Agenda (NJA), in particular, with other non-denominational peace groups not so naively tagging behind, succeeded, until mid-summer of 1990, in defining the "correct" response for progressive Americans of all denominations to the months of unremitting Israeli violence.

The Palestinian intifada has produced such dramatic changes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that it is easy to forget the quiescent period with its relative lack of activity that preceded it. We refer not only to the West Bank and Gaza, itself [1] long ignored by a PLO preoccupied with its survival in Lebanon, or to the attitude of the heads of the Arab states who at their 1987 summit meeting ignored Palestinian aspirations altogether, but to the situation among Middle East "peace and justice" groups in the United States, where little activity of any significance was taking place.

How much of this can be laid at the door of NJA and its allies, and how much was the responsibility of pro-Palestinian activists is perhaps judged best on a case by case basis, but regarding NJA, certain things have become apparent.

A review of the organization's publications and internal documents would seem to indicate that controlling the agenda of the Middle East peace movement has been the goal of NJA beginning well before the intifada . What is significant is that both the language and tone of its positions have been essentially unaffected by the mounting statistics of dead, injured and imprisoned in the West Bank and Gaza, and by the changes within Israel itself. And in no area has its position been more rigid than on the question of US aid to Israel.

This was confirmed long after this article was initiated by an internal document of the organization – a letter sent by its national leadership to its San Francisco chapter warning its members that they would be expelled if they took a position calling for the suspension of aid to Israel until it agrees to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. After a series of bitter meetings, this had become a requirement for membership in the revamped Middle East Peace Network (MEPN), a quite different version from the original network of which had taken over the campaign for Prop. W.[2] In the letter, dated Dec. 4, 1989, NJA's national co-chairs admonished the San Francisco NJA members for not having "formed solid relationships" with Palestinian and Arab-American groups in the Bay Area.

In contrast, they presented the NJA chapters in Los Angeles and Orange counties as examples of how it should be done. These chapters, the letter said, "participate in strong progressive coalitions which have expressly not taken up the aid issue. These chapters' relationships with Palestinian and Arab-American groups helped these groups understand NJA's position." The letter aggravated an ongoing debate on the aid issue in the Bay Area chapter which led to its dissolution.

NJA's ability to suppress the aid issue in Southern California and until recently in the San Francisco area demonstrates how it has been more successful in dealing with Middle East peace groups than with the mainstream Jewish community which ostensibly was its original focus. The approach it has taken to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the beginning is non-judgmental and it was this position that was subsequently adopted en toto by the Prop. W leadership, Non-judgmental meant that no one, i.e. Israel, must be "blamed." "Balance" must be maintained. The accepted terminology: "two-state solution" and "international peace conference." The unmentionables:

  1. Israeli atrocities,
  2. the "untouchable" $3 billion plus in US annual aid to Israel ($30+ billion since 1980) and
  3. the activities of the powerful pro-Israel lobby which continues to stifle public debate at every level of government, and which will be discussed in more detail further on.[3]

Comparing the "acceptables" to the "unmentionables" is not designed to pose one group against the other. Rather, it might be said that the historic failure to integrate the "unmentionables" into the broader context of the US peace and non-intervention movement has made the creation of a Palestinian mini-state side by side with Israel ( the "two-state solution" ) with or without an "international peace conference," appear to be the only practical, if unlikely solution at this point in time. What is practical, however, should not be confused with what is just. After 40 years of dispossession from their native Palestine and after 20 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it cannot be seriously argued that there is anything equitable about "giving" the Palestinians a truncated state limited to those areas.

This is what the leadership of New Jewish Agenda has been trying to do, however, since its founding conference in 1980, supposedly as an alternative to the mainstream pro-Israel Jewish organizations – "a progressive voice in the Jewish community, a Jewish voice in the progressive community."

Whether NJA has lived up to that promise depends upon one's perspective and priorities. Many Jewish non-Zionists who joined in its early years soon quit in frustration, concluding that NJA was merely an old form in new clothing. In succeeding years, other Jewish activists seeking a progressive Jewish response to the continuing occupation and unfamiliar with the organization's history, have been attracted to NJA's ranks. Despite sharp criticism from the Zionist ultra-right, as well as the center of the Jewish mainstream for which it claims to be an alternative, NJA's raison d'etre, however, is fundamentally the same. As Proposition W author, Salwa Soladay pointed out in describing the Bay Area NJA Chapter's approach to Prop. W in 1988: "They had three goals: the first was Israel's survival; the second, not to disturb Jewish sensibilities; and the third, to win without sacrificing the first two."

An examination NJA's history should lead one to wonder how it was able to achieve a position of prominence in the Middle East peace movement.

On June 30, 1982, two and a half weeks after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, NJA took out an advertisement in the New York Times, signed by 550 of its members and supporters which, after expressing its concern "about the physical and moral survival of our people and the Jewish state of Israel," proceeded to demonstrate the "balance" which has become its hallmark. "We implore the leaders of the Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese factions to stop the bloodshed and terrorism for which all sides share the blame, the ad read. "We urge a prompt withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian troops from Lebanon." (emphasis added)

It should be recalled that Israel invaded Lebanon with a force of 80,000 men, attacking Palestinian refugee camps and Lebanese cities and towns from the sea and air, killing close to 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and wounding tens of thousands more. The Israeli statistics: 600 soldiers dead. The unprovoked attack broke a US-negotiated eleven month cease-fire on the Israeli-Lebanese border that had been scrupulously observed by the PLO. As for the Syrians, whatever they had done in Lebanon could not compare with the violence perpetrated by Israel, which used the most sophisticated American weaponry against a largely defenseless civilian population.

NJA's advertisement was not the only Jewish response. At approximately the same time that its ad appeared, two other large advertisements were placed by ad hoc groups of largely unaffiliated American Jews, one in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, signed by 300 Bay Area Jews and another in the NY Times signed by 500 academics, lawyers and activists including a few who identified themselves as belonging to NJA. Both ads unequivocally condemned the invasion and called for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Neither sought to "blame the victim" – to blame the Palestinians or the Lebanese whose land had been invaded.

In 1983, with Israeli troops still occupying half of Lebanon, seven members of NJA sent a letter to Pacifica Radio, the nation's leading alternative radio network, urging that Amos Wollin, its highly respected correspondent in Israel, be removed from the airwaves for what they alleged was his "anti-Israel bias." No substantiation was given.

In 1985, David Mandel, a spokesperson for NJA in Sacramento, wrote to KPFA, Pacifica's flagship station in Berkeley, ("inadvertently" on NJA stationery, he later wrote) calling on the station "to recognize the dangers" of giving Lenni Brenner, an important anti-Zionist historian, "a hearing." In a subsequent letter, Mandel compared Brenner with Rabbi Meir Kahane and former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger (who, oddly enough, had appeared on KPFA in its early years).

In the first instance, Wollin was removed although Pacifica's managing director vehemently denied that NJA's letter had anything to do with it, informing me that Wollin was replaced because his accent made comprehension difficult, and that there were differences over payment. Wollin continued to report for Pacifica's Los Angeles affiliate KPFK, where his accent apparently was not a problem.

(For the last year and a half Pacifica's man in Israel has been an American Jewish immigrant, Steve Rodan. His filtered reporting on the intifada and watered-down coverage of the Israeli political scene has drawn sharp criticism from the network's listeners across the country. In July, 1990, it was discovered that Rodan was on the Israeli government payroll working for the English News Service of Israel Radio. Presumably, NJA was not among his critics.)

I use these incidents and those that follow not only to show the preoccupation of NJA with protecting Israel's image and to explain what happened to Prop W on its way to the polls, but to illustrate, as well, the different paths taken by American Jews in approaching the Palestinian conflict from a "progressive" perspective.

The minimum basis for inclusion as a "progressive" is the public acceptance of "Palestinian self-determination" which includes preference for a "two-state solution," a single ("democratic secular") state, or no recommended solution. The latter group believes such "advice" to be beyond the prerogatives of non-Palestinians and constitutes infringement on the concept of "self-determination."

Within these parameters there are two categories, with occasional overlapping: (1) those Jews who are involved primarily from the perspective of seeking justice for the Palestinians and (2) those who are mainly concerned with Israel's survival as a Jewish state and believe a "two-state solution" is (or may be) necessary for that survival. The latter, however, are generally unwilling to see Israel undergo any economic hardship or public opprobrium in attaining it. Moreover, they insist on limiting the boundaries of a prospective Palestinian state to the West Bank and Gaza, and if necessary, East Jerusalem.

Individuals in the first group differ in their attitude towards Israel – ranging from outright opposition to the concept of a Jewish state to critical support – and are either non-Zionist or anti-Zionist. In the middle are those who oppose Zionism from an historical perspective, but accept Israel's existence as part of the Middle East reality. All are primarily concerned with halting Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries as a minimum and an end to US financial support for the occupation. They believe one cannot seriously talk about the occupation without calling attention to its funding source. There may be disagreement on whether aid should be suspended, reduced or cut altogether but there is complete agreement that it is an essential if not primary component of any public discussion.

Finally, they view Zionism, at least in practice, as a form of racism, although there will be differences among them on how much attention should be focused on that linkage. If they advocate a particular solution, it is not usually the primary motivation for their involvement. It is not surprising is that these Jews, many of whom have been active in behalf of Palestinian rights for well more than a decade and representatives of the second group, which I will call the "Israeli Firsters" look upon each other with suspicion and thinly veiled hostility.[4]

Those in the second group, which include a number of predominantly Jewish Middle East peace organizations, and the leadership of NJA and the new Jewish Peace Lobby, in particular, are either overtly or covertly Zionist. More often than not, they tend to minimize the question of Israeli injustices against the Palestinians; regard any mention of US aid as "divisive"[5] or not "useful,"[6] or as we shall see later, even dangerous and will expend most of their energy blocking the efforts of those seeking to reduce it.

They will avoid any discussion of the pro-Israeli lobby, claiming that its power is exaggerated and that it leads to a climate of "anti-semitism." They prefer to submerge these issues beneath their advocacy of the "two-state solution" and, until recently, the very respectable call for an "international peace conference." Criticism of racism and repression of Israel's Arab citizens is not part of their agenda, nor apparently is their existence. In one of its earliest documents, NJA referred to a "Unity Statement overwhelmingly passed at [its] founding conference [which] expressed both our deep concern for internal quality of life and external threats to Israel's survival and also conveyed our support for Jewish political independence and self-determination within Israel…"[7] Presumably, the civil rights of the 15% of Israel's population that happens to be Arab was and is not one of their concerns.

Support of the "two-state solution" and silence on the aid question have, in fact, come to be the sine quo non for their participation in any joint activity or protest relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This has led them, for example, to ignore or withhold support of protests or programs dealing with Israel's ties to South Africa and repressive regimes in Latin America or to raise the issue of Israel's continued occupation and aggression in Southern Lebanon. Predictably, they mimic the Zionist mainstream in vehemently objecting to the classification of Zionism as a form of racism and like the mainstream, they refuse to debate the issue.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the local chapter of NJA, until its recent collapse, was visibly active in wooing the Palestinian community. Its spokespersons worked closely with Allen Solomonow, a former Yeshiva student who directs the Middle East program of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and who shares NJA's strategy and tactics on virtually every issue. Attacked by pro-Israeli zealots in the Jewish community for being "soft on the Arabs," Solomonow has behaved in the eyes of more than one observer as one of the Israeli government's most faithful friends. Under the cover of the "two-state solution" and promoting "dialogue," he has shielded Israel from direct attack within the Bay Area peace movement and among the progressive clergy who he has locked into the "balanced" approach, even at a time when religious groups across the country are taking strong stands in behalf of Palestinian rights as well as questioning the level of US aid to Israel.

Since the beginning of the intifada, Solomonow has been traveling back and forth to Israel, the Occupied Territories, Tunis and Egypt, meeting, he says, with Palestinian leaders. When he returns to the Bay Area he brings "the word" from everyone from the PLO to "the grassroots." Their message to Americans, he says, is the one he took with him: "two-states," "international peace conference," "don't blame Israel" and "don't talk about cutting aid."

Having profited from the experience of Prop W., the leadership of the Bay Area Palestinian and Arab-American community has become acutely aware of Solomonow's role and in June, 1990, they informed the AFSC hierarchy that they refused to work with him on any basis accusing him of racism and paternalism. Solomonow, seeing the Palestinians as hindering his work now seeks to exclude them from participating in AFSC's Middle East work except on his terms and in this he has been backed up by his immediate superiors.

Until the latter part of 1989, Solomonow, together with representatives of NJA and the smaller International Jewish Peace Union (IJPU) and Matthew Hallinan, of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a self-declared "socialist" group whose leadership, with the acquiescence of its members, has consistently identified itself with Israel's "security" interests, formed the nucleus of the Middle East Peace Network which despite the presence of relatively inexperienced Palestinians and Arab-American, was definitely weighted towards protecting Israel. As the MEPN took over the running of Prop. W, the result was predictable as it was incredible: there was no public mention of the intifada, Israeli atrocities, US aid to Israel or the Israeli lobby in the four months of campaigning preceding the balloting.

Hallinan described that approach as taking the "high road." In an interview in the March-April Middle East Report, he told this writer that "we went in a morally neutral way to peace. We took the high road to such an extreme that we were saying we don't want to condemn anybody." In complete agreement with this approach was local NJA leader and co-chair, Naomi Nim, who was brought into the campaign by Solomonow and hired as the key member of Prop. W's paid staff.

Interviewed in the same issue, Nim declared that winning was less important "than beginning a new political base." presumably following the NJA line. A year and a half after the election, no such base exists.

The decision of Hallinan, Nim, the ubiquitous Solomonow and the Prop. W staff to ignore the role of the Israeli lobby in orchestrating and funding the opposition was consistent with the policies of not only NJA, but of Hallinan's DSA and Solomonow's AFSC. (DSA National Vice-President Harry Britt, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the most visibly active local politician working against the measure).

To defeat Prop. W., which led 33 to 25% (with the balance undecided) in a poll taken a month before the election, wealthy Jews and Jewish PAC's (Political Action Committees) from all over the country contributed nearly a half million dollars to a slick direct mail campaign, which invoked the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, and the spirit of the first United Nations, to defeat the measure. (The Prop. W proponents raised $88,000 and squandered much of it on salaries).

The Prop. W leadership not only refused publicize the role of the Israeli lobby in the campaign; they carried that attitude to the point that at no time during or after the campaign did any staff member visit the City Registrar where information on the opposition's financial sources was readily accessible. Predictably, all but one of mostly Democratic office holders in San Francisco, and others throughout the state endorsed the opposition, including some of the more vocal opponents of South African apartheid and US intervention in Central America.

Several politicians from out of the area, in fact, "invested" their own money in the campaign, hoping for a profitable return in their own electoral campaigns; it being no secret in political circles that contributions from wealthy Jews are what keeps the Democratic Party afloat and its politicians in office.[8]

An unidentified (for his own sake) member of the House Appropriations Committee described as "usually pro-Israel," explained to the very pro-Israel Morton Kondracke of the very pro-Israel New Republic (Aug. 7-14, 1989), why there is not even a floor debate in Congress on aid to Israel: "If there were a secret ballot, aid would be cut severely. It's not out of affection that Israel gets $3 billion a year. It's from fear that you'll wake up one morning and find that an opponent has $500,000 to run against you." San Francisco is no different than Capitol Hill.[9]

None of the arguments concerning the lobby faze the spokespersons for NJA any of the other organizations in their camp. Those raising the issue of the lobby run the risk of being accused of being "anti-semitic" or contributing to an atmosphere of "anti-semitism." When concrete evidence of the lobby's power is presented, whether in actual monetary figures or by comments from politicians such as the above quote, the answer is always the same: The "so-called lobby" is only powerful because its interests coincide with that of the US Government.

This position has been true to varying degrees, but assumes that most members of Congress have specific global agendas that takes priority over being re-elected which is clearly not the case. Moreover, it does not account for the vast differences in sums between the money given to Israel as compared with other strategic allies such as the Philipines, Turkey, etc.

How else can one explain (1) the total absence of any debate in Congress on US support for Israel, as opposed to the heated arguments over Vietnam in the past, and more recently, over South Africa, Nicaragua and El Salvador; (2) how the opposition of the Israeli lobby was able to force the Reagan administration to cancel an arms sale to Jordan and lose a $20 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia; or (3) the almost total control the lobby exerts over the Congressional Black Caucus to the extent that when even the interests of black Africa and Israel collide, such as has been the case with Israeli arms sales to South Africa, the CBC is embarrassingly silent.[10]

The lobby's control over Congress and the exchequer is so complete that the 1989 economic aid gift of $1.2 billion was sent to a cash-starved Israel even before Congress approved the 1989 Foreign Aid Bill authorizing the payment, which, technically, would have been made January 1, 1990.

Without the precedent of open public criticism of the Israeli lobby from within the Jewish community, non-Jews will continue to be hesitant to raise the issue for fear of being tarnished with the brush of "anti-semitism." Within the confines of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the leaders of the Jewish community have made that accusation the current form of McCarthyism. By their refusal to condemn or discuss the lobby in their work within the Middle East movement, the NJA and its supporters have been not just silent accomplices. They have been instrumental in maintaining its power over America's Middle East policies. Perhaps, that is how NJA fulfills one of its original goals, as stated in one of its founding documents entitled "Questions Frequently Asked About Agenda." Under the heading, "How Does Agenda Intend to Relate to the Rest of the Progressive Community?;" the answer included the following: "In particular, we will strive to combat anti-semitism on the Left…"

It should be emphasized that there are individual members of NJA whose sincerity in working for a just solution for the Palestinians is not open to question. Unfortunately, they have little influence on their leadership.

The national leadership of NJA, despite the criticism from within the Jewish community, could never be accused of being pro-Palestinian. But who then does it represent? In the Bay Area for more than eight years, NJA made no apparent gain in the local Jewish community. Was it, in fact, trying? During the first year of the intifada, there were many events in the San Francisco Jewish community relating to the Palestine-Israeli conflict, which this writer attended.

These featured presentations by Israeli officials, such as Ambassador Moshe Arad, well-known writers David Grossman and Amos Elon and several professors, etc. covering Israel's political spectrum. It was clear that many Jews at these meetings were deeply troubled by Israel's behavior and would probably have been receptive to NJA,'s propaganda. No one was present from the organization, however, at any of these meetings, either raising questions from the audience or passing out literature. It seems abundantly clear after a decade of its existence that raising the consciousness of the American Jews is not an essential part of NJA's agenda. What they have been trying to do, notes one close observer, is "neutralize legitimate Palestinian anger."

One of the most successful at this has been Deena Hurwitz, formerly co-chair of NJA's Middle East Task Force. Hurwitz is currently operating a "witness" program in the West Bank similar in certain respects to the Witness for Peace Program which functioned in Nicaragua under the Sandinista administration.

Unlike that program in which "witnesses" were encouraged to speak out on their return to the US about the need to cut aid to the contras, Hurwitz' program deliberately excludes the aid question from the indoctrination procedures. Hurwitz, like Solomonow, is a frequent visitor to the Occupied Territories and to PLO headquarters in Tunis and is with him on the front-lines in the battle to keep the question of cutting US aid and the placing of "blame," from reaching the movement's agenda.

She reiterated this line in the May-June 1989 issue of Middle East Report. While acknowledging that in the future, aid may become an issue, at the moment, "the aid question runs the risk of polarizing our limited forces. We can be more effective if we find a strategy that unites us while addressing the essential issues… an important question is whether aid restrictions are intended to be punitive or redirective." (Emphases added)

Here we have a classic NJA statement. First, we have the posing of aid as a "divisive" issue, followed by the inference that it is a non-essential subject. As we have seen above, NJA's threat to withdraw from any coalition which calls for an aid cutoff or which unequivocally condemns Israel or Israeli policies, has invariably served to blackmail other coalition members into falling into line.

Of course, aid is a "divisive" topic. But the question is rarely asked, who will be divided from whom? After more than two years of the intifada, the answer should be quite evident; those who are seriously concerned with a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and those whose overriding concern is "protecting" Israel, whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.

That is not what Hurwitz or NJA mean, of course. Their position is that the raising of the aid issue will alienate "progressive" Jews who may currently support the "two-state" solution and unite them behind current Israeli policy, again pandering to a distinct minority of America's citizenry at the expense of the majority.

Secondly, Hurwitz's statement clearly implies that any attempt to cut, reduce, or suspend aid to Israel as a way of punishment for its behavior is wrong and should be opposed. What she is saying is clear: Israel is not to be judged; Israel is not to be blamed. Is it stretching reality to point out at this juncture that NJA has played the same role in the Middle East peace movement that the U.S. plays in the U.N. Security Council, where any attempt to censure Israel is vetoed by the American representative for "lack of balance"?

Bishop Tutu, Rev. Allen Boesak and most recently Nelson Mandela have compared the treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis with that of black South Africans by the Afrikaner government. Is one brutal regime to be condemned and the other excused? Even within Israel itself, a small but increasing number of Israelis are making the same comparisons and some go even further, comparing the racist attitudes of the Israeli government and a growing section of its population with those of Nazi Germany.

Israel Shahak, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the Warsaw Ghetto and chairperson of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, believes that the problem of NJA and most American Jews is that they are still so closely wedded to Israel that they are unable "to argue with a father figure." "To argue with a father figure is to deny the authority of a father," wrote Shahak in a letter to this writer, "… an unforgivable offense; whatever the fathers or the uncles or – worse, the mothers and the aunts – will forgive, they will not forgive that."

"Here [In Israel], too, at the beginning, when the situation was much worse, this [criticism] was the touchstone of a person's integrity, and in the US, the integrity of such as NJA is tested not by going to Tunis, but by arguing against a Jewish father figure. Most of the Israeli Jews have passed this test long ago but most of the American ones did not."

By working inside the Arab-American community, Shahak continues, "they express , oh so politely, their real belief 'that all this is really the fault of those Arabs who we have 'to educate' into moderation, and once the well-meaning Israeli Jews will see how nice are the Arabs who we made into moderates, they will agree to a solution.' "

And yet, as Salwa Soladay describes elsewhere in this issue, it was their way of looking at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that came to dominate the campaign for Prop. W and contributed to its overwhelming defeat.

One out-of-town visitor came to San Francisco to speak for Prop W. (while refusing to publicly mention, let alone endorse Measure J across the Bay in Berkeley, the proposition which would have made the refugee camp of Jabalya a sister-city to Berkeley). This was Jerome Segal. Probably few Americans have been more associated with the intifada in the eyes of the US public than Segal, a research scholar at the University of Maryland, described by such a source as the New York Times as the "Jewish father for a Palestinian State?" Many more question marks are in order concerning Mr. Segal.

He has, in fact, been described in more reliable publications than the Times as having had some influence in writing the Palestinian declaration of statehood that was announced in Tunis. How much truth there is in that cannot be answered here, but since the intifada he has written a book and several articles telling the Palestinians not only how to create their state (demilitarized, of course) but what, in the future, should be their foreign policy!

Segal's insistence that the threat of suspending, reducing or cutting aid to Israel should not be raised by the Palestinians and their US supporters mimics that of NJA, makeing his motives somewhat suspect since there are several historical precedents which indicate that this has been the only way the US has been able to influence or control Israeli behavior.[11]

Segal's position, underscoring the accuracy of Shahak's analysis, is that such a move on the part of the US "might result in a decrease in moderation on the part of the Palestinians"[12] on one hand and on the other, would make the Israeli government do something desperate ranging from mass "transfer" to mass murder. In Segal's words, what would quite likely be forthcoming would be "a pre-emptive strike against Syria, the expulsion of the West Bank Palestinians and a hunkering down with a nuclear weapons fallback."[13]

In place of threatening an aid cutoff, Segal offers eight "critical functions" the US can undertake, the strongest of which is to "lay a restraining hand" to prevent "draconian tactics" that might (!) be undertaken by the Israeli government.[14] In his February, 1989 column in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, which was devoted entirely to negating the idea of withholding aid as a form of pressure ("not credible", "should be left alone"), he made a pronouncement which can only be considered extraordinary given Israel's already existing economic dependence on the US: "[I]t is not helpful to nourish the belief that the US can and might force Israel to withdraw from the territories because this increases the tendency to depend upon the United States."

In a subsequent column in the August, 1989 issue of the magazine, Segal argues against cutting aid to Israel and exposes himself still further: "I don't believe that a US cutback in aid to Israel would undermine Palestinian willingness to accept the two-state solution, but I do think it would result in a stiffening of Palestinian terms for a final settlement in such areas as right of return, status of Jerusalem, demilitarization, settlements. etc. (My emphasis). What he is calling for in effect is identical to the Peres-Rabin program – the setting up of a Palestinian bantustan.

If Segal and his followers, (and he is intimately linked with NJA) paid any attention to the Israeli press, (perhaps, they do, but choose to ignore it) they would know that the cutoff or suspension of aid is a widely discussed fear in Israel, because it would force further cuts on an already seriously crippled economy.

As Nahum Barnea, wrote in the April 5th 1989 Yedioth Ahronot, US aid has "penetrated their [the Israelis'] lives just as a drug enters the blood of a narcoman [addict]." Barnea theorized "that a majority of them can imagine Israel without the Territories, but they will have great difficulty to imagine, even, life without a massive American intervention in it. America is their horn of plenty."

Writing in the May 12th 1989 edition of Ha’aretz, Nehemia Stressler went even further: "Israel's dependence on the United States is far greater than suggested by the sum of $3 billion. Israel's physical existence depends on the Americans, in both military and political terms. Without the U.S. we would not be equipped with the latest fighter planes and all other advanced weapons. Without the American veto, we would have long been expelled from every international organization not to speak of the UN, which would have imposed sanctions on us that would have totally paralyzed Israel's international trade, since we cannot exist without importing raw materials.

"For the same reason, it is wrong to divide the American money up into military aid of $1.8 billion and civilian aid of $1.2 billion. What we are getting is really unmarked dollar bills…"

Given the recent vote for sanctions against Israel in the European Parliament and the increased isolation of Israel in the UN Stressler's analysis is even more on the mark a year later.

That Israel is vulnerable on the aid issue is not only the opinion of individual Israelis. On June 27, 1989, the Financial Times of London reported on a seminar held by the Israel International Institute in Tel Aviv, described by the paper as "the first serious public discussion" of Israel's dependency on US aid, and attended by leading figures from the Israeli government. According to the article, "the message of the economists who prepared papers for the seminar was, essentially, that Israel's dependence on US aid has become so ingrained that a large, immediate cut would be disastrous. Even relatively modest cuts over time would require serious and difficult adjustments in the local economy."

Without the threat of an aid cutoff, "there is no incentive for Israeli society to vigorously come forward with solutions," said Matti Peled in an interview in the December, 1988 issue of the Paris-based Israel-Palestine. Peled, a former Maj. General and Knesset Member with the Progressive List for Peace, said "I think Israeli society could very easily be forced to accept a change in the situation. Very easily. And it wouldn't take long…"

In 1975, Peled explained, "when Kissinger and Rabin disagreed on how to meet the Egyptian demands on the Suez Canal, it took about a half a year of suspension of all aid to Israel, shipments of armaments, before Israel gave in. And everybody was happy that Israel gave in because it was hurting too many people… So the means to do this are obvious. The question is whether these means will be applied."

There were indications in February 1989 that Congress might be moving in that direction which obviously stimulated the Israeli lobby into action. Rep. David Obey and Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairs of the Congressional panels that appropriate foreign aid, issued warnings for the future:[17]

"They [Israel] will get their money this year," said Leahy. "But they build up enormous resentment in the U.S. and in the future it will hurt them."

Obey said: "You really have to ask, ‘At what point do you stop doing Israel a favor by exempting them from sharing the [aid] cuts? Does it serve any country – Israel, Egypt or Timbuktu – to be exempted so visibly from these cuts?’" A year and a half later, however, Obey opposed an attempt by Rep. Jim Trafficant of Ohio to reduce foreign aid by an across the board 10%. Instead Obey supported another measure to cut the foreign aid to other US recipients leaving Israel's $3 billion intact.[18]

Early in 1990, Sen. Bob Dole, a favorite of the new Eastern European lobby, called for a shift of 5% of the aid currently going to Israel and other US foreign aid recipients to Eastern Europe. By the Spring he was challenging aid to Israel on the principle that its economy is being badly mismanaged, but his colleagues in Congress were, at least in public, pretending not to listen.[19]

Unmoved by that debate on Capitol Hill, Segal has formed his own Political Action Committee, the Jewish Peace Lobby, which is already working in Washington, supposedly to counteract the powerful American-Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) the multi-million dollar operation which oversees all pro-Israel lobbying efforts. Since Segal's PAC, like AIPAC seeks to maintain the present level of aid, (which could hardly be justified even if there was no Palestinian issue and Israel was the center of virtue and democracy that its US supporters purport it to be), there will be no essential difference between the two, since money is the bottom line in Washington as well as Jerusalem.

If nothing else, Segal is consistent. Leaving the Israelis untouched, he calls upon the Palestinians to make the moves toward peace. This is more than a case of "blaming the victims." Segal is asking them to dress their own wounds, clean up the scene of the crime and not talk about it afterward.

He is, obviously, not the first to do so. Putting it another way, historian Arnold Toynbee noted in 1979, that "what is peculiar about the Palestinian question is that the world has listened to the party that has committed the offense, and has turned a deaf ear to the victim." Segal, like Shahak suggests of NJA, is trying to "rehabilitate" the victims, to make them presentable to Israeli society .

At the meeting of the Non-Governmental Organizations on the Question of Palestine at the UN in New York in June 1989, the NJA "line" met strong resistance in every workshop and on the final day the NGO member organizations overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for a series of aid reductions related specifically to Israel's maintenance of the occupation and violations of human rights. IJPU's New York chapter signed on to the resolution while NJA abstained. In the most recent NGO conference in New York in June 1990, with NJA and the AFSC notably absent, the member organizations unequivocally recognized the cutting of aid as the overriding issue.

NJA's leadership, now becoming increasingly isolated, holds to its position, despite reports that the question of aid was a decisive factor in the victory of Question 5 in the Cambridge, Massachusetts elections in November, 1988. For those who will argue that Cambridge hardly represents America, the Washington Post-ABC poll taken at the end of March and the beginning of April, 1989, told almost the same story. Published in the weekly edition of the Post, April 17-24, it showed that while only 26% of those surveyed in one sample were for reducing aid to Israel from its present levels when the dollar amount was not told to them, the figure in a second sample rose to 46% when participants were informed of the $3 billion figure.

Does it not seem strange that the Washington Post can raise the question of aid while NJA, the Jewish Peace Lobby, and let us not forget Mr. Solomonow's AFSC are in the business of tying peoples tongues? That when the subject is South Africa, or Central America, the prescribed medicine is economic sanctions and cutting funds, but when one speaks of Israel, where the amount of aid dwarfs the funding for all of Latin America and Africa combined, the flow must continue while the public is kept in the dark?

At this point, the question must be asked and answered: Why have the NJA, Segal, Solomonow and Hurwitz been widely accepted in the leading circles of the PLO? I can only speculate.

The PLO leadership understands, correctly, the power exercised by the pro-Israel lobby on US Middle East policies. It seems to believe, incorrectly, however, that the key to winning US support is to change American Jewish opinion. Repeated visits to the West Bank and Tunis over the past few years by NJA delegations and above mentioned Jewish activists have apparently convinced key Palestinians that this can be accomplished and that they are the people who can do it, an illusion they have maintained with considerable success, even as the movement here was catching on to their act.

I personally encountered the results of their efforts on a trip to the West Bank in 1983 when a Palestinian professor at Bir Zeit University spoke in glowing terms of NJA and its work in the American Jewish community. When I explained to him that the organization was, in fact, barely active on the Palestinian-Israeli issue at the time and was of no consequence in the Jewish community, he did not want to believe me.

Their overall efforts seem to have been successful. At the very least, it has delayed public debate on the aid question for several years. Until recently, the PLO appears to believe that working with and venerating Segal, NJA, etc. and accepting their line on the "aid" question, (i.e., don't push it, because it will alienate otherwise "progressive" American Jews, etc.) will eventually lead to an American policy move in its favor. It is already a costly mistake.

The Palestinian leaders make another mistake, which is common to both Jews and Arabs in the US, as well. They believe that because the struggle in Palestine-Israel is a Jewish-Arab conflict, it is also a Jewish-Arab problem in the US. That is a myth maintained by Israel's supporters, from the mainstream to NJA. One of its consquences has been the creation of "encounter" groups set up by American Jews, to "dialogue" with Palestinians and Arab-Americans, such as the Foundation for Middle East Communications.

While appearing to be of value, these groups have proven to be just one more way of neutralizing "legitimate Palestinian anger," while diverting attention from more critical issues. e.g., the closing of West Bank schools, mass arrests, detentions, expulsions and the escalation of anti-Arab violence on both sides of the "green line." In some circumstances there have been more negative consequences; some well-meaning Palestinians have become apologists for their Jewish "cousins" and are used by "liberal" Zionists to give credibility to their "balancing act."

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that these Jewish-Arab conversations meet with the approval of Israeli officials. "The question of Palestinian-Americans and American Jews engaging in ongoing dialogue in the United States is not as controversial as one might think," wrote Ruth Mason in the Washington Jewish Week.[20] "The Israeli government position, as well as that of the great majority of leaders of national Jewish organizations, is that dialogue is a good thing." (Emphasis added).

"We are for dialogue at every level and in every way because we feel ultimately it is the only way to reach a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel," Israel's Consul-General in Washington, Moshe Aumann, was quoted as saying in the same article. "Dialogue is the road to peace." In the United States, yes, he says, but not in Israel-Palestine, according to his government's policies.

There is one overriding fact that Jewish leaders are aware of and which Palestinians have either yet to learn or fully understand. Ninety-four percent of Americans are neither Jewish or Arab[21] and it is their tax money that is going to Israel. It is safe to say that the overwhelming majority do not have any vested interest in supporting either side, and unless inflamed by the media, are not particularly concerned with correcting injustices in the Middle East or any other place on the globe. But they do care where their money goes. The fact that one-third of all U.S. foreign aid goes to Israel, and that at a time when key domestic medical and social service programs have had their funds reduced, makes the reduction of aid directly in their financial interest. If there is going to be an American-influenced solution, it will begin by reaching out to them.

Footnotes:

  1. After the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, it became clear to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians that they would have to liberate themselves and they accelerated the building of community organizations that have been so effective during the intifada
  2. In August, 1989 the IJPU submitted a resolution, calling for a suspension of all aid until Israel agreed to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, but did not want to make it a principle of membership in the network, as are the other principles of supporting two states, recognizing the PLO and calling for an international peace conference. After a stormy debate, the vote to make the call for suspending aid a requirement for membership passed by the required two-thirds majority.
  3. According to the Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1987, Pro-Israel PACs paid politicians $6,931,728 in 1986, exceeding the realtor PACs $6,290,108, the AMA's $5,702,133 and the National Rifle Assn.'s $4,763,984, making it the nations largest single-interest group. In the 1968 and 1972 elections "Jews donated more than half of the individual contributions exceeding $l0,000." Congressional Quarterly, Apr. 1974, p.74. In 1968, of 21 persons who loaned $100,000 or more to the Humphrey campaign, 15 were Jewish. In 1972, two-thirds were Jewish. Jews and American Politics, Stephen D. Issacs, Doubleday, N.Y., 1974, pp. 121-122. This continues to be the key seed money for Democratic presidential contenders, e.g.. in 1988, Leading Israel fundraiser and State Democratic Party Chair Walter Shorenstein gave $1.5 million to Sen. Joe Biden's campaign and AIPAC Board Member and wealthy Maryland realtor Nathan Landow donated more than a million dollars to Sen. Albert Gore. In 1984 Landow raised $2 million for Walter Mondale, etc. Dukakis, too, had similar Jewish backing.
  4. What is significant, and perhaps accounts for the sad state of affairs in the Middle East movement is that certain Arab-American organizations and individuals accord more credibility to the second group.
  5. In May, 1989, the Peninsula NJA Chapter (south of San Francisco) passed a resolution calling for the suspending of aid until Israel agreed to an "international peace conference" which was taken to the national meeting of NJA in July, where it was considered "divisive" and no vote on it was permitted.
  6. While showing little reluctance to fall back on "2000 years of Jewish suffering" or the trauma of the Holocaust to defend its positions, any reference to the forced dispersion of the Palestinians in 1948 and the treatment of their survivors in pre-1967 Israel is not considered "useful."
  7. Questions Frequently Asked About Agenda, undated presumably 1980, from NJA national Office.
  8. Contributing to the power of the pro-Israel lobby is the reluctance of major sectors and publications of the U.S. left and non-intervention movement to criticize, let alone confront the subservience of the Democratic Party and its politicians on every level to the whims of whoever happens to be the Israeli prime minister. The "progressive" elements of U.S. society, themselves, exhibit a deference which borders on servility to any Democratic office holder who takes the relatively easy positions of "opposing" South African apartheid and U.S. aid to the contras. That these same officials are silent over Israel's sale of arms to South Africa and the contras, etc. is never discussed.
  9. While PAC's are prohibited by law from contributing to local elections, officials in cities like San Francisco rely heavily on the contributions of Jewish businessmen. This is particularly true of black politicians who lack funding sources within their own community with which to wage increasingly expensive electoral campaigns.In California, the maximum contribution to a public official from a single individual or corporation is $500. On April 7, 1988, in San Francisco real estate developer, Walter Shorenstein, sent 13 checks of $500 each ($6500) to Willie Kennedy, a black supervisor, all from different family and corporate accounts. Shorenstein is the head of the Democratic Party in California and a leading pro-Israel fund-raiser (see Footnote 2). Needless to say, Mrs. Kennedy was one of the first officials to publicly oppose Prop. W.
  10. In 1987, Congress passed a law subjecting any U.S. aid recipient found to be selling arms to South Africa to a loss of aid in the amount of those sales. Israel was estimated by the State Dept. to be selling between $400 and $800 million of arms annually to South Africa. The Israeli Lobby promised the Black Caucus they would support more economic aid for black Africa if the CBC did not push for cut in aid to Israel. The CBC agreed. Aid to Israel was untouched, but the additional aid to Africa was not forthcoming. At that point, economic aid alone for each Israeli averaged $700 annually excluding assistance from American Jewish organizations. Aid for black Africa averaged $1 per person. Rep. Mervyn Dymally, a black congressman from Los Angeles, complained about the Israel lobby's "doublecross" on British television, but the CBC has yet to make a public statement. The late Cong. Mickey Leland, from Texas, was given credit by the lobby for pushing the deal through. (No. Calif. Jewish Bulletin, Aug. 18,1989). During the invasion of Lebanon, he showed his solidarity with Israel by cycling across Israel into Southern Lebanon. A long-time recipient of Israeli PAC money, ($28,700 since 1982) Leland's support for Israel was acknowledged in a telegram from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir to his family: Leland "will forever be remembered as one of the great fighters for human rights and a great friend of Israel." (Jerusalem Post, Int. Ed., Aug. 26. 1989)
  11. In 1956, Pres. Eisenhower threatened Israel with an aid cut off it did not withdraw from Egypt; in 1978, Pres. Carter, allegedly did the same when Israel invaded Lebanon and was still there after three months. In 1975, in a disagreement over the Suez, Pres. Ford suspended aid for six months.
  12. Creating a Palestinian State, J. Segal, L, Hill Books, p. 134
  13. Washington Report, on Middle East Affairs, Feb. 1989 p. 11
  14. Segal, op cit.p, l56
  15. New York Times, F eb. 12, 1989
  16. Congressional Record, May 1, 1990
  17. Washington Jewish Week, July 5, 1990
  18. Congressional Record, May 1, 1990
  19. April 26, 1990
  20. Sheila Ryan, Middle East Report, May-June, 1989, p. 10

Jeffrey Blankfort
POB 548
Ukiah CA 95482