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Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2003 / 11 Shevat, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Unneeded Advice

Diaspora know-it-alls plague Israel with 'solutions' and criticism | One of the oddest aspects of my job as an editor is the way some readers regard me as a conduit to the State of Israel. They will call or write me and ask that I pass on to Jerusalem various "solutions" they have concocted to problems faced by Israel.

Some have strategies for defeating Arab terrorism, which include the use of special tactics they have dreamed up. Others, thinking even bigger, claim to have found the perfect peace plan or the formula for political reform of the Jewish state as well as the Arab world.

Not all of the suggestions are goofy but many are. My favorite was the fellow who asked me to have the Israeli Defense Ministry contact him for advice as to how to use high-tech weapons such as radar (which he had operated during World War II).

I don't know what is more touching, the confidence of these readers in their own amateur expertise or their misplaced faith in my own rather limited in fluence among Israeli decision-makers.

Of course, dimwitted suggestions for Israel are not solely the province of individual readers. Various foreign governments and some American Jewish organizations are just as eager to impart their wisdom to Israel's elected leaders. And the truth is, many of their ideas aren't much more sensible than those proposed by some of my loopy readers.

We are used to the spectacle of the European Union nations or even the United States offering hypocritical advice to Israel on how to deal with terror. We know full well that even though they may tell the Israelis to act with restraint, they sing a different tune when it comes to dealing with those who attack them.

But those American Jews who take the attitude that they understand Israel's security situation better than the Jewish state's elected government have enough chutzpah and hot air to launch the NASA space shuttle.


While most American Jewish organizations, including many that fell hook, line and sinker for the Oslo peace mirage, have adopted a chastened and more respectful silence about what Israel should do, others are undaunted.

Take for instance, a leftist American group like the Israel Policy Forum.

While most of us have moved beyond the tired old left-right arguments over Israeli policy on territory that characterized the '80s and '90s, the IPF is steadfastly fighting battles that have already been decided. Their insistence that "Oslo was not a failure," shows that they are marooned in some ideological time warp that treats September 1993 as a "Ground Hog Day" scenario that never ends. The IPF's position has been bypassed by history. They are unfazed by the betrayal of their faith by a Palestinian strategy of answering an Israeli peace offer with a terror war. And they are unashamed about the reported involvement of one of their chief mouthpieces, think-tank wonk Stephen P. Cohen, in a scandalous scheme that funneled cash to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The IPF's cohorts in Americans for Peace Now are in a similar situation. APN has joined the rest of the pro-Israel community in support of loan guarantees and additional U.S. aid for an Israel that is having trouble coping with the war launched by their old pal and "peace partner" Arafat. But they were constitutionally unable to do so without adding caveats filled with advice for Israel.

The Peace Nowniks want the aid to be spiked with conditions that will force Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians. Specifically they want it to be dependent on Israel promising not to use the money on "settlements" in the administered territories and that 20 percent of it will be set aside to pay for moving Jews out of their homes.

Israel had already said it wasn't going to use the money to build "new" settlements (a term that the Jewish left, as well as Israel-bashers elsewhere, use to falsely describe the building of a new house in an existing town). Nor need we dwell on the fact that that this ban on Jews might be interpreted as extending even to those settlements that nearly everyone from right to left in Israel agrees will never be handed over to Arafat such as parts of Jerusalem and its suburbs.

What is truly amazing is that these people are not only are dictating to Israel but are seeking to aid those in the American government who are only too happy to use economic leverage to squeeze the Jewish state to abandon positions that are vital to its security.

Some of those on the left have even added their voices to bogus claims that Israel's justifiable measures of self-defense against terror mark it as a human-rights violator.

But, as always, the left has no monopoly on crackpot opinions. Many on the Jewish right in this country have been using harsh rhetoric about the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that albeit from another point of view.


Unhappy that Sharon has been relatively restrained in his response to Palestinian terrorism, some here openly called for his ouster during the Likud primary. The fact that they were supporting Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been far more accommodating when he had been prime minister, in his failed effort to unseat Sharon was an irony that was lost on them.

Many on the right, including some who spare no effort to label themselves as "mainstream," scoff at Sharon's decision to treat Israel's alliance with America and, in particular, President Bush, as its greatest strategic asset. Sharon rightly has decided to avoid needlessly antagonizing Bush, especially when so much is on the line. But to these Jewish ultras, Bush and Sharon are as bad as the failed leaders of the left.

It is bad enough when leftist Jewish Diaspora critics seek to undermine Israel's democratically elected government. That they do so by sometimes openly siding with Israel's American foes is disgraceful.

But the only word to describe the notion that right-wing American Jews can be more Zionist than a nationalist Israeli government is ludicrous. It is an astounding assertion that ought to cause these Diaspora know-it-alls to blush with shame.

Do we really think that American right-wingers really know more about Israel's security than a man like Sharon who spent his whole life defending it and building settlements throughout the land of Israel?

Similarly, do we really believe that Jewish leftists sitting in Washington or New York care more about peace than the members of the Israeli cabinet who send their own sons out to fight?

Yet nothing seems to deter both these groups from forcing their unwanted and often unneeded advice on the Israelis.

American Jews are fully entitled to their opinions about Israel, its leaders and its policies. All are open to criticism. In particular, Sharon is no more above reproach than his equally flawed opponents.

But what is needed from Diaspora critics is a greater degree of humility about their views on the situation in Israel. Most Israelis I speak to have discarded ideological cant in favor of hard-headed realism. Events have caused many who once were firmly on the left and the right to re-examine their beliefs. But many American Jews seem incapable of this exercise.

By all means, let us discuss and even debate Israel's limited options. But let us have an end to the self-righteous Diaspora lecturing that Israel neither needs nor wants.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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