Abe Foxman, President of the Anti-Defamation League and a stalwart cheerleader for Israel in Washington, has been worried about President Barack Obama ever since the new Administration took office. When Obama named Senator George Mitchell as his Mideast envoy, Foxman actually complained that the problem with Mitchell was “meticulously fair and even handed,” which he insisted was not a desirable approach for the U.S. to take to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ever since Obama’s Cairo speech, Foxman’s concerns have become more pronounced. It’s not that the Anti Defamation League president didn’t take heart from Obama’s insistence that Israel’s security is sacrosanct; or that “he made strong statements against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.” No, his concern — among others — was that Obama should have “made clear that Israel’s right to statehood is not a result of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.”
He’s not the only one who argues this, of course; many on the Zionist right have long insisted that the movement claimed sovereignty in Palestine not on the basis of the Holocauast, but claiming to represent the continuity of the Hebrews of Judea thousands of years ago. [continued…]
This past Monday, President Obama met with the heads of a number of prominent Jewish groups, to talk about the state of U.S.-Israeli relations and the future direction of U.S. Middle East policy. Virtually all the news reports I’ve seen suggest that the attendees had a cordial and candid discussion. After reading through various accounts, I have three comments.
First, although a few individuals in the Israel lobby continue to downplay its influence, the very fact that this meeting was held is additional testimony to its important role in shaping U.S. Middle East policy. Why was Barack Obama taking time from his busy schedule to meet with the heads of groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, J Street, Hadassah, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (among others)? Simple: he knows that these groups have a lot of political power. He also knows that the success of his Middle East policy depends in large part on getting significant support from them. In a political system like ours, where well-organized interest groups routinely wield disproportionate influence over the issues they care about, holding a White House sit-down with these key leaders was smart politics.
Second, the meeting also makes it clear that there have been significant changes within the lobby over the past several years, and that there is an evident rift between those who think the United States should continue to the same “special relationship” with Israel, and those who believe that it would be in Israel and America’s interest if Washington adopted a more candid and nuanced policy toward the Jewish state. It is noteworthy that the invitees included representatives from both J Street and Americans for Peace Now — groups that openly favor a two-state solution and have been backing Obama’s campaign to halt all construction in the settlements. Maybe even more noteworthy, the more hard-line groups were remarkably restrained in defending the settlement enterprise. [continued…]
The idea for Israeli author Alon Hilu’s latest novel, “The House of Dajani,” came to him one day in a Tel Aviv cafe when he began mentally stripping the city to its roots.
Where he ended was with an Arab boy in the 1890s, at his family farm near what would become the Jewish metropolis, hallucinating about a future in which an army invades and builds skyscrapers over the land.
The novel based on Hilu’s ruminations has now embroiled him in an intense discussion of Israeli letters and the identity of the Jewish state. Critics have labeled the book anti-Semitic, lambasted what they call its loose use of historical details and branded Hilu’s unflattering portrayal of early Zionist immigrants as an effort to undermine the state. Admirers awarded the book Israel’s richest literary prize, only to have their decision reversed over conflict-of-interest allegations. [continued…]
The other day I mentioned the explosive allegations made by PLO political section head Farouq Qaddoumi that Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan had conspired with Israel and the U.S. to have Yasir Arafat killed. Abbas has called Qaddoumi’s statement “lies” and threatened punishment, and rumors are that Qaddoumi will soon be expelled from his position in the PLO; Qaddoumi has presented documents that he claims prove his contention. His comments to a group of Jordanian journalists have led to a minor diplomatic crisis between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. That will pass. But they have also led a defensive Mahmoud Abbas to order the closure of the Al Jazeera offices in the West Bank.
That’s a major mistake, and all too typical of the way the Palestinian Authority and most other Arab governments have approached critical media over the years. Shutting down critical media outlets represents the bad habit of the official Arab order, which has never adjusted to the contentious new media (whether Al Jazeera or political blogs). [continued…]