This week Jewish billionaire George Soros joined the chorus, not for the first time, writing an article in the New York Review of Books in which he accused AIPAC of exerting a damaging influence over American policy.
"Supporters of Israel have good reason to question AIPAC's advocacy and they have begun to do so," he wrote. It appears that Soros considers himself to be an Israel supporter, even if many would disagree. In the article, Soros did not repeat past statements in which he accused Israel of exacerbating anti-Semitic trends, but he provided readers with different reasons to doubt the sincerity of his support. Regarding Hamas, for example, he wrote that "according to some reports it has a military wing." In other words, Soros isn't quite convinced that the rumors are true. He also trotted out the standard accusation, which Carter also made, that AIPAC silences criticism of Israel.
Soros is a prominent contributor to the Democratic Party. He was surely somewhat disappointed when it became clear that its leaders are not enthusiastic about responding to his call to arms. Sure, they want his money, but not his image. Democratic presidential candidate
Sen. Barack Obama, who is seen as being further to the left than other candidates, and whose candidacy has elicited a great deal of interest from Soros, has officially stated that he does not agree with Soros' views on Israel. This will certainly strengthen Soros' feeling that AIPAC is indeed succeeding in silencing others, in taming even the lions. And the article won't be Soros' last word in his struggle against AIPAC. The pro-Israel lobby won this round, but no tranquility is guaranteed by long-term trends.
Note to the readers: this part of the blog was taken from my weekend print edition column.
The New York Jewish Week reported this morning that Soros has decided not to fund a dovish alternative to AIPAC. Soros spokesman Michael Vachon told the paper lack of prior involvement in Jewish life was the prime reason for his decision. "He feels he would not have the necessary standing in the community," said Vachon. "Some people might even be put off by his involvement in such an effort."
If you regularly read this blog you will not be surprised by this decision. Back in October, I quoted an Israeli well-versed in the intricate ways of American politics. He wanted to explain how difficult it is to set up an efficient Washington lobby, one that would exert considerable influence and chose to use the following joke: The chicken and the pig decided to give the farmer a present for his birthday. They were trying to figure out what to bring when the chicken had an idea: "Why don't we make him breakfast? What do you say about bacon and eggs?" No way, answered the pig, and he had his reasons: "Bacon and eggs might be a contribution for you, but for me it's a commitment."
You can read a summery of Soros' criticism - and that of others - in Nathan Guttman's Forward comprehensive piece: 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."
When I wrote about the Carter book a while ago, I referred to the fact that "The critics [of the book], as Carter justly claims, are almost all Jews. That is the only card left in his hand, but it is a strong one, which embodies a trap from which there is no escape."
This reality didn't change much since, and an especially painful manifestation of it was a speech Bill Clinton gave in which he stated that "If I were an Israeli, I wouldn't like it because it's not factually accurate and it's not fair." Clearly, he didn't agree with the book, but fell short of saying that he was upset about it as an American. Has this started to change? I'm not so sure. Clinton sent a letter to AJC's Executive Director David Harris, thanking him for "your articles about President Carter's book. I don't know where his information [or conclusions] came from", Clinton wrote. Again, unhappy with the book but shy of making it clear that he is upset.
Maybe it's a polite way for an ex-President to rebuff a fellow ex, maybe its Clinton's habit to stay vague whenever possible. Bottom line: Jews are still those who make the case against Carter. Cheering from the sidelines doesn't count as much.
And look what my weekly guest has to say about AIPAC: recent (poorly researched and politically slanted) publications have transformed this organization into something quite sinister. Personally, I do not share the underlying philosophy of AIPAC, in particular its unreflective support of hard-line, right wing policies in Israel. But this organization is merely playing by the rules governing the American political system.