What a week or two.
The AIPAC Conference in the United States followed by Purim. In terms of masks and fancy dress, hard to tell them apart.
In fact the whole United States election process seems like an extended Purim spiel.
And we Jews, whether in the USA or here in Australia, are an easy touch. Just smile at us a little, say you love us and we roll over.
Let’s go back 8 years to June 2008, Democratic nominee for President Barak Obama addresses AIPAC and says that:
“Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided”.
Think about the positive implications for Israel of that statement. Amazing really.
Look how that turned out…………….
Reminded me of the time when we were celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Sydney at the Town Hall just before Gough Whitlam was elected as Australian Prime Minister in 1972. Whitlam was the guest speaker, politically partisan communal leaders at the time had organised naïve youth movement leaders like myself to cheer wildly for the man they promised us would be the first Australian Prime Minister to visit Israel etc etc.
And look how that turned out…………….
The point is that whether sincere in the moment or not, whatever a candidate says or promises prior to being elected is not always a reliable pointer to the reality to follow.
Nor are his or her assurances to partisan communal leaders looking for any excuse to back their own preferred political party.
Around the community people are continually putting opinions forward on which future potential US President is or is not better for Israel and now AIPAC, with over 18,000 attendees, has sent some people into political nirvana.
Okay, the two most colourful characters share the commonality of being anti-establishment – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders – one with an apparently observant orthodox Jewish daughter and the other Jewish.
Trump, the Republican front runner, has had a number of differing stated positions on Israel and AIPAC was initially even uncomfortable in hosting him because of his general views and positions at odds with liberal American Jews. They set up protocols such as to do with threatened walks outs and booing of him during his appearance as AIPAC had expected.
But what happened? Trump appeared, said he loved Israel and ….. wild applause.
The biggest issue on which Netanyahu and Obama differed – Iran – and Trump delivers manna from heaven, he tells AIPAC that his:
“number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran”.
Only minutes later another u-turn, Trump is no longer dismantling the Iranian deal but now promising to make sure it is properly kept. Trump told AIPAC that he would:
“enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable. And we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before, folks, believe me”.
So is he dismantling it or implementing it?
Who knows, who cares. He’s got Jewish grandchildren.
We don’t know what he will or will not do, but he seems to get it today at least. Tomorrow, who knows?
On the Palestinian Authority’s incitement of hatred against Israel he said:
“When you live in a society where athletes and movie stars are heroes, little kids want to be athletes and movie stars. In Palestinian society, the heroes are those who murder Jews – we can’t let this continue. You cannot achieve peace if terrorists are treated as martyrs. Glorifying terrorists is a tremendous barrier to peace.”
Now everyone knows that Trump is running as a Republican and that much of his campaign is based on his description of the failings of the current President, Democrat Obama. So it should not have been much of a surprise that he attacked Obama in his speech to AIPAC.
“With President Obama in his final year — yeah!”
Wild applause by large sections of the audience.
“He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me. And you know it and you know it better than anybody,”
Trump continued, to more applause.
And then those funny American Jews, what do they do?
The next morning Lillian Pinkus, AIPAC President, in an emotional release apologised both for what Trump said and how many in the audience had agreed:
“There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night, and for that we are deeply sorry. We are disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone,” she said.
Perhaps therein we can find the problem with Jewish advocacy in the USA.
Sanders on the other hand, was the only one who could not find the time to address AIPAC.
Sanders by the way, being in a minority within US Jewry as he has actually visited and spent time in Israel.
Surely his unexpected successes in Democrat primaries can only be explained by the lack of Hilary Clinton’s popularity within her own party.
For if his skewed views on Israel are anything to judge his general policies on, then he is living in some sort of parallel universe where reality is upended.
In the speech he claims he would have given had he attended AIPAC he castigated what he asserted was:
“Israel’s disproportionate responses to being attacked”
in reference to the last war in Gaza in 2014, and he demanded an end to the
“economic blockade of Gaza,”
Oh yeah, did we say he is the only Jewish candidate for the Presidency? In which case I guess his views are no surprise.
And regular participant Prime Minister Netanyahu, where was he?
You could have been forgiven for thinking that he did not address AIPAC.
Well Bibi appeared by satellite rather than in person after another timing/calendar mishap with President Obama.
The remarkable matter of note was that his speech attracted almost no mention, was apparently non-controversial and neutral. Lucky for Lillian Pinkus, she did not feel compelled to consider issuing a press release apologising for Bibi’s comments.
Initially we were worried about President George W when he was elected because of the problems Israel had with his father when he was President. Then along came an unexpected event and changed the world.
Israel has had difficulties at times even with Presidents who were great friends.
This is normal.
What we all need to remember is that Israel and the United States have a great deal in common and share strategic interests, with at times differing priorities.
At the end of the day what is even more important to Israel than a particular policy on this or that specific issue, is the world view of whoever will occupy the White House for at least the next 4 years.
And the personal chemistry between that person and the Israeli Prime Minister.
We too have an election this year in Australia and we can learn a lot from American Jewry of what to do and not to do.
One prominent American Jewish leader after AIPAC wrote:
“I can’t get past what the mainstream AIPAC member has become. I have concluded that because Likud has been in power in Israel for so long, that AIPAC, as an organization, has moved steadily to the right to represent the government of Israel in America.”
He is wrong.
So wrong as to play a role in diminishing support for Israel and endangering lives.
This is not about supporting Likud or Labor.
Or one or another government of Israel.
This is about supporting the State of Israel and her core issues.
This is about understanding Israel and not misrepresenting her.
The current wave of terror has nothing to do with whoever the Prime Minister of Israel is.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to accept peace deals from whatever quarter they have come.
As a community we need our political friends to understand this, but we cannot expect them to do so if we do not come to terms with this reality ourselves.
Dr Ron Weiser AM
Dr. Ron Weiser is the Zionist Federation of Australia Public Affairs Chairman and the Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW