It has long been clear that the label "pro-Israel" is almost always misapplied. When the lobby or its friends in the media call a politician "pro-Israel" they mean that he supports everything Israel does, without question, no matter what he may think privately.
Those who dare to issue public criticism are almost surely going to be punished. If they are politicians, they will be threatened with the loss of campaign funding. Those threats may not be uttered directly, but will be conveyed by calls from a politician's top donors.
I remember what happened back in 1988 when my boss, Senator Carl Levin, issued a statement reminding Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that the American position on United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 (the "land-for-peace resolutions) applied not only to Egypt (as Shamir insisted) but also, and rather obviously, to the West Bank and Gaza, as well.
The roof practically blew off the office, with Levin's top donors calling to complain in vehement terms and even New York Times columnist William Safire calling me to make ugly accusations against Levin and about his motives.
Levin, of course, cares deeply about Israel. In fact, he is one of the few senators (then or now) who actually cares about its survival and security rather than simply viewing Israel and its backers in this country as a cash cow. The other senator of the Levin persuasion is Senator Dianne Feinstein, who also issues criticism when she thinks Israel is going off in a self-destructive direction. The rest, the loudest "pro-Israel" voices in that body, don't care very much, if at all, which is why they happily accept the dictates of the lobby. What do they care if the end result of the policies they support are calamitous for Israel?
It is then not surprising that Feinstein is so upset about the Netanyahu government's decision to proceed with planning for the development of the area between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, the area known as E1. She understands that building Jewish apartment houses and shopping malls in E1 would kill the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by cutting Ramallah and Bethlehem off from East Jerusalem and from each other. There can be no Palestinian state if Palestinian territory is divided into three little cantons -- the northern West Bank, the southern West Bank and Gaza -- all walled off from the historic Palestinian (and Jewish) capital of Jerusalem. And, of course, that is what Netanyahu and the Israeli right is determined to achieve.
Feinstein has been dedicated to Israel's survival from the days before she entered politics. No, Israel is not her only issue, far from it. But she cares deeply about it because she is a Jew but, also, because she, like Levin, is above all else dedicated to U.S. national security and she views the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as detrimental to it. Yes, she is one of those legislators (there aren't many) who puts the national interest before the need to raise money for the next campaign. In that respect, she is decidedly old school.
Also old school is her compassion for Palestinians, who she believes are entitled to the same God-given rights as every other people (although, to be honest, she expresses that concern in private more than she does publicly; nothing enrages the lobby more than putting the words "Palestinians" and "rights" in the same sentence).
The bottom line is that Feinstein was alone in criticizing Israel's action. Although the Europeans spoke out vehemently about the sheer destructiveness of Netanyahu's scheme, the Obama administration barely uttered a peep and Congress (stifled by the lobby) didn't even go that far.
That silence is now being defended not just by the lobby (which proudly enforces the silence) but by those who actually believe that Israel's policies are suicidal but don't care enough about Israelis or Palestinians to complain about them.
Their thinking goes like this: why should Obama (or Congress) jeopardize really important domestic concerns simply to bail Israel out. Who cares? The United States has important concerns of its own and our government does not need to waste its energy fighting Netanyahu and his lobby. Why bother?
Of course, to those of us who care about the survival of Israel and justice for the Palestinians, Netanyahu's actions very much matter. Besides, and most important, his actions -- and making the United States support them -- isolates us, virtually eliminates our credibility in the vital Muslim and Arab world, and endangers our interests (including our military and civilian personnel throughout the Middle East). Worst of all, if we don't start playing fair in the Middle East, that whole explosive situation is again going to blow back and explode on our own shores. Doesn't any of that matter to those sworn to defend America?
It is appalling and some of Israel's most outspoken friends in this country are close to despair over it.
Leonard Fein has been one of the American Jewish community's most significant writers, thinkers and activists for more than a half century, a former MIT professor who is now one of the leaders of Americans For Peace Now. His dedication to Israel can only be questioned by those who have no idea who he is or believe that keeping settlers in Hebron is more important than the security of Tel Aviv, Haifa or Beersheva. Here is what he said about the silence that met the E-1 announcement in an email to his friends and followers:
True, the international community is alarmed by the E1 news. But there are two constituencies that have an even greater stake in a two-state solution than the members of the EU. I refer, of course, to the Israeli public and to the American Jewish public. And so far, both have been nearly silent. Why?
Regarding Israel, the temptation is to explain away the silence by citing the oft-noted lethargy of the Israeli public. My sense is that the silence in Israel goes beyond lethargy, is yet another example of denial -- specifically, of denial that anything "out there" matters, of denial that the status quo is lethally absurd, self-destructive. Tuning out becomes a habit and feels like a relief.
It is harder to explain the silence of America's Jews. Ignorance is likely central; there's no reason to suppose that a large percentage of America's Jews are aware of the controversy. Still, Jewish institutional leadership surely is... Can it be that the leaders of our major institutions are not alarmed?
No, that cannot be. Then it must be that even on this potentially calamitous matter, they follow the tradition of omerta, silence as a form of deference to the Israeli government, no matter the urgency of their whispered concerns.
An esteemed Israeli colleague who shares my concerns about all this claims that he and his friends represent "the cognitive majority," albeit not (yet) the political majority. Poppycock. In the world we inhabit, the cognitive majority, however defined, is worth barely a farthing.
Other friends in Israel await an American ultimatum, one with real teeth. But when it comes to Israel, America is toothless.
So we catapult towards a one state solution, thereby ensuring that we will not inherit the wind but the whirlwind, leaving us disinherited, bereft of everything for which we have labored, of everything we have loved.
I don't necessarily agree with Fein that the one state solution would be disastrous but, given the way things are going in the region right now, it is hard to imagine that it could be accomplished peacefully, not unless two states can be achieved first. In fact, one would think that given the fact that time is so clearly not on Israel's side, Israel would be doing everything it could to achieve it. Because, as Fein clearly understands, it looks like it is either two states or nothing. The Netanyahu government could not care less.
That is why, after a lifetime of tireless work for Israel, he speaks of being "disinherited, bereft of everything for which we have labored, of everything we have loved."