Sam Smith: The Democrats' Israeli Conundrum

Published: Tue 6 Dec 2005 04:00 PM
The Democrats' Israeli Conundrum
By Editor Sam Smith
SAM SMITH - History has a way of coming up with the wrong things at the wrong time. For example, just as Hillary Clinton is gearing up for her 2008 presidential run, increasing numbers of Democrats are diverging from her on Iraq. While she hasn't been hurt so far in the polls, neither has she had to test her strength against a popular anti-war Democrat.
Further, she has to win back her Senate seat and raise money for her White House run, which means policy positions - such as support of the Israeli right - that won't endear her to a party getting more fed up with the excesses of the Middle East. It is worth remembering that something like 9% of New York's population is Jewish and the figure in Florida is big enough to have thrown the last two elections either way.
It is not correct to say that Clinton is pro-Israel; rather she has aligned herself with the most retrograde elements of that country, not a bad trick for one who in the past has been accused on a number of occasions of anti-Semitic rants. If you go to the collection of photos from her most recent trip, you will find not one photo of her with new Labor Party leader Amir Peretz but a number of her standing smugly next to the apartheid wall.
She is not alone. Howard Dean recently gave a speech to the notorious AIPAC Israel lobby in which he was virtually indistinguishable from Bush:
“We all support the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security. But, the establishment of a Palestinian state must be contingent on the cessation of violence and terror. The Palestinian Authority must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and continue the on-going transformation to leaders untainted by terror."
This is, of course, not just about the continued subjugation of Palestine. It's also about Iraq, where we might not be today without the pressure and extracurricular manipulation of the Israeli government. Clinton can't divorce herself from Iraq without getting into trouble with Israel and its supporters. In fact, the way things are going, she might even have to support an attack on Iran.
This is the unpleasant reality of the Democratic Party. Even when it wants to be right it feels it can't afford to be, leaving it the same muddled echo of the GOP it has been ever since Mrs. Clinton's husband took office.
THERE IS, to be sure, a possible way out of the Democrats' conundrum on Israel: act like real Democrats and align themselves with the new Labor Party leadership. With a few exceptions - such the Boston Globe - the major American media seem anxious not to let its readers even learn too much about Amir Peretz and his strikingly different approach to Israel's course. Of course, there's nothing new about this; thanks to our media, it has long been easier to be critical of Israel over there than it has been in the U.S.
What if American Jews began acting like their grandparents - those who helped mightily lead this country towards social democracy and labor and civil rights - and transferred their allegiance from rightwing definitions of Israel towards the far more enlightened ones of Peretz?
The problem, however, is that the Jewish vote is no different from the rest of the electorate: it doesn't matter all that much to campaign managers compared to contributions. And big Jewish contributors tend to be a conservative lot fixated on a Hollywoodized Oz-like image of the motherland.
Still, there is much to be said for activists in general and socially conscious Jews in particular taking a close look at building alliances with the Labor Party and starting to end the long unhappy cabal between Israeli ex-generals and their patrons in the Pentagon and State Department. And we might learn something along the way. After all, this description in the Boston Globe sounds awfully familiar: "Peretz has set out to refashion the once-dominant Labor from a stronghold of urban elites to an engine for socioeconomic change, with the ambitious goal of winning over the many working-class Israelis who have traditionally voted right wing in a rebellion against the country's left-leaning elite." We know another party that could use just such an agenda.
ANNE BARNARD, BOSTON GLOBE - Amir Peretz grew up in this struggling town between the Gaza Strip and the Negev Desert, part of a wave of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries who have long taken an economic and political back seat to the country's European-rooted elite. Now, 50 years after arriving in Israel as the 4-year-old son of a Moroccan gas station owner, the fiery union leader has unleashed the biggest shakeup in Israeli politics in decades, which began when he ousted one of Israel's elder statesmen, Polish-born Shimon Peres, from the helm of the venerable Labor Party. . .
Peretz has set out to refashion the once-dominant Labor from a stronghold of urban elites to an engine for socioeconomic change, with the ambitious goal of winning over the many working-class Israelis who have traditionally voted right wing in a rebellion against the country's left-leaning elite.
He has issued passionate calls to Israelis to refocus the country's political debate on the growing gap between rich and poor, and to reject decades of massive spending on developing and defending Jewish settlements in the territories Israel captured in the 1967 war. . .
''For years this deluded dream of the entire Land of Israel drained all the budgets that could have been used to reduce the gaps, for health, education, welfare, culture, infrastructure," he told Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest daily newspaper. . . 2005/12/01/in_israel_labors_new_leader_brings_upheaval?mode=PF
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