SOROS AND MEDIA HEAVYWEIGHTS ATTACK PRO-ISRAEL LOBBY'S INFLUENCE ON U.S. POLICY
The simmering debate over American policy toward Israel and the role of the Jewish community in shaping it exploded with near-nuclear force this week. Several of the nation's best-known international affairs commentators fired salvos at pro-Israel lobbyists and defenders of Israel fired back with unprecedented fury.
In the space of three days, major critiques of Jewish lobbying were published by controversial billionaire George Soros, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, the respected British newsmagazine The Economist and the popular Web site Salon.
The replies were furious. The New York Sun accused Kristof and Soros of spreading a new blood libel. The American Jewish Committee's executive director, David Harris, wrote in a Jerusalem Post opinion article that Kristof had a blind spot and had sanctimoniously lectured Israel.
The editor of The New Republic, Martin Peretz, renewed an attack on Soros that he began a month ago when he called the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor a cog in the Hitlerite wheel.
The outburst over Middle East policymaking was triggered in part by the annual Washington conference last week of the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a highly publicized event that put the issue of pro-Israel influence in the media spotlight. A parade of politicians and presidential candidates came to the conference to declare their unwavering support for Israel, while the lobby itself reaffirmed a hard-line agenda that included cutting all American ties with the new Palestinian government.
At the same time, the latest attacks and counterattacks were also a continuation and an escalation of an ongoing debate in Washington over the purported role of the pro-Israel lobby in shaping American policy in the Middle East and stifling debate. Those attacks reached a peak of venom last year with the publication of a contentious document by two senior political scientists, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who charged that a sprawling, powerful Israel Lobby had pushed the United States into war with Iraq.
Among the latest group of critics, Soros, the billionaire philanthropist and currency trader, was the harshest. In an article in The New York Review of Books, published Monday, he argued that the United States is doing Israel a disservice by allowing it to boycott the Hamas-Fatah Palestinian unity government and to turn down the Saudi peace initiative. But, he wrote, there is no meaningful debate of such policies.
While other problem areas of the Middle East are freely discussed, criticism of our policies toward Israel is very muted indeed, Soros wrote. He added that pro-Israel activists have been remarkably successful in suppressing criticism.
Soros singled out Aipac as a key source of the problem, accusing the lobby of pushing a hawkish agenda on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Aipac under its current leadership has clearly exceeded its mission, and far from guaranteeing Israel's existence, has endangered it, he wrote. Soros's article was noteworthy in part because it broke his longstanding practice of avoiding public identification with Jewish causes. While he has given hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to democratization in the former communist bloc, he has given almost nothing to Jewish causes.
In this week's article, however, he stated apparently for the first time that he has a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel. He said that while he has disagreed with Israeli policies in the past, he has kept quiet because he did not want to provide fodder to the enemies of Israel. However, he said, the mishandling of recent events by Washington and now demanded greater public debate, which he said was stifled by groups like Aipac.