The Lobby's Shame

Reading David Grossman's To The End Of The Land J Street is lambasted for accepting support from George Soros while the "pro-Israel" lobby is never called upon to account for supporting policies that have produced so much grief and mourning in Israel.

I won't reveal the plot. It's fiction but, as is well-known, Grossman's 20 year-old son, Uri, was killed during the 2006 war in Lebanon. I am not giving anything away when I say that this would not be the same book if Uri had come home from that war.

The book is heartbreaking for so many reasons. Any book on the mortality of children is going to be. But this one is also heartbreaking because it is suffused with hopelessness. Israel is depicted as a place living with an intolerable situation -- war, followed by more war -- that will never end.

This was not true about Israeli novels written in earlier times. Israeli literature, art and music once pointed to the time, not far in the future, when there would be no more wars. (One Israeli song, popular after the Yom Kippur War, told of a promise a soldier makes to his daughter: "I swear this is the last war.")

That sentiment is no longer a major theme in Israeli art. On the contrary, war and violence is a given. The soldier who leaves a son behind (only boys have combat roles in Israel) is leaving behind a future soldier.

But the book is not only about war. It is about the choking reality of a day-to-day situation in which Israelis and Palestinians are suffocated by occupation.

So why doesn't Israel just end the occupation for its own sake? Why not accept the Arab League (formerly Saudi) Initiative and achieve peace with all its neighbors out of self-interest? It won't be easy, but the wars and the occupation are harder.

Why not just choose the risks of peace over the far greater risks of war so that kids like Uri Grossman don't have to die?

We all know the answer. Politics.

As in the United States, the right and the left played "Capture the Flag" and the right won. The safe position is to be a hawk, no matter how many die as a result of right-wing policies.

Uri Grossman was killed after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a cease-fire that the United States urged him to accept. Olmert was under pressure due to a corruption scandal and needed to look tough. He not only rejected the cease-fire, he ginned up the "pro-Israel" lobby here to make sure no member of Congress endorsed it. Those who did quickly found themselves under siege.

The Israelis should have accepted the cease-fire because the additional fighting gained them absolutely nothing. And, a few days later, they did accept it with the only difference being that Israel lost an additional 24 soldiers. Uri Grossman was killed on the very last day of the war.

I wonder if the "pro-Israel" organizations in the United have any regrets about their efforts to keep the war going. They call themselves "pro-Israel" and yet the policies they support without deviation invariably lead to more bereaved Israeli families like Uri Grossman's.

The status quo lobby is almost always wrong. Back in 1971, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat offered Israel a cease-fire, followed by negotiations toward a peace treaty, in exchange for an IDF pull-back of two miles from the banks of the Suez Canal. But the Israeli government, and the lobby here, didn't like that deal. They wanted the whole Sinai, right up to the Canal. Sadat said: either give us the two miles through negotiation or we will take the whole Sinai back through war.

And two years later, in the Yom Kippur War, the Egyptians crossed the canal and within days Israel had lost 3,000 soldiers. Israel held on to the Sinai but, when Sadat offered peace again, Israel took him up on his offer.

In 1979, the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt. The bottom line: had Israel and its backers here not rebuffed Sadat in 1971, 3000 Israeli lives would have been preserved.

Nine years after the Yom Kippur war, the lobby enthusiastically backed the disastrous Lebanon war, which produced another thousand Israeli dead, the massacre of thousands of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, and led directly to the creation of Hezbollah which now essentially runs Lebanon. (The Israeli government had already used its considerable power in the occupied territories to successfully advance Hamas, which it assumed would stick to praying, rather than pursue an agreement through territorial compromise like the PLO).

And today the lobby is working with the Israeli government to defend Israel's rejection of a 60-day settlement freeze. The latest is that Dennis Ross, formerly of the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Policy and now the top Middle East guy at the White House, has put a whole goodie bag of US concessions on the table if only Israel will accept a one-time freeze.

This is from today's New York Times:

...the United States is offering military hardware, support for a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, help with enforcing a ban on the smuggling of weapons through a Palestinian state, a promise to veto Security Council resolutions critical of Israel during the talks and a pledge to forge a regional security agreement for the Middle East.

For all this, people briefed on the details said, the United States is seeking a single 60-day, nonrenewable extension.

"It's an extraordinary package for essentially nothing," said Daniel C. Kurtzer, who also served as American ambassador to Israel and was a negotiator in the Clinton administration. [Kurtzer is not only a diplomat but an Orthodox Jew and a devoted friend of Israel. - Ed. ]

This is typical. The lobby without fail supports Israeli positions designed to evade peace while extracting whatever it can from the United States. The US looks like a sap but Israel pays a much higher price in lost opportunities -- and lives.

And here's the thing. The lobby never feels any need to apologize for any of its disastrous errors. Thousands of Israelis have been killed as a result of policies they have supported, but they sail on, never looking back, and always labeling anyone who opposes the status quo "anti-Israel."

Instead, it is J Street that is attacked for accepting money from George Soros, whose sole goal in backing J Street was to prevent more killing.

I think it's time to update the famed tag line of the 1970 film "Love Story."

Labeling yourself "pro-Israel" means never having to say your're sorry.