Ah, the Joys of Centrism!
by David Harris
We live in such a sharply polarized world that, regrettably, centrism, independence, and, yes, nuance are alien to many.
Instead, too often, it’s a bifurcated liberal-conservative, hawk-dove, with-us or against-us environment.
But AJC has been fighting mightily against such binary thinking for a long time – and well before Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” or Tony Blair’s “third way” entered the political discourse.
It’s not that we were necessarily so visionary, but rather that we saw the complexity of certain issues, which couldn’t easily be placed in a convenient, airtight, doctrinal box.
Take the Arab-Israeli conflict. We stubbornly refuse to be quarantined in one ideological corner within the pro-Israel community, of which we are among the staunchest of members.
That, though, can lead to some telling and even humorous moments. The last few days are an illustration.
On June 17th, AJC condemned the statement of Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared that the “attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our land has ended.” He called on fellow Israelis to “build, build, build” in the West Bank.
Bennett is a pillar of the new Israeli government. He is also at odds with the prime minister, who has supported the vision of a two-state accord. And he contradicts the chief negotiator for Israeli-Palestinian talks, and fellow Cabinet member, Tzipi Livni, who declared earlier this month, at the AJC Global Forum, that the vision is of “two states for two peoples.”
We believe in a democratically-elected Israeli government that speaks with one, not multiple, voices. And, above all for Israel’s sake, we believe in the pursuit of an enduring peace based on two states, even as we noted in our statement that “we are under no illusion about the difficulties of achieving a two-state accord.” So we chose to speak up. It wasn’t the first time, nor is it likely to be the last time, but this time, for some reason, it was widely noticed.
Along came voices on the right.
One columnist asserted that ours was “an act of sheer lunacy.” He claimed our statement “condemned a democratically-elected Jewish government.” For good measure he added, “In an act of even more sheer lunacy, this organization [AJC] which speaks for probably no one – other than a handful of wealthy liberals – says ‘Bennett contravenes the outlook of Prime Minister Netanyahu…'” Moreover, he alleges that our job is to “assail Jewish organizations which criticize [President] Obama’s support of the Palestinian Arabs.” And last, he claims to have visited our website and found “nothing on the Arabs, naturally – but condemnation of Jews, sure they step right up.”
Not to be outdone, a fellow ideologue wrote a public email claiming we were doing irreparable “harm to the Jewish State and putting its very existence in jeopardy.”
And then there were the voices on the left.
There was the assertion that “This is certainly not the first time the AJC has issued a statement of criticism, but it’s still quite a rarity. The last known time was in March 2011…” Then came the charge that “These days, the AJC is more likely to criticize the U.S. government on Israel’s behalf…” Finally, we were accused of having ignored the comments a few days earlier by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, which were very much in the spirit of Bennett’s. The writer then asked rhetorically if AJC would also take him on, replying to her own query with the words: “It is doubtful.”
Meanwhile, an editorial welcoming our statement on Bennett nonetheless slipped in that: “It’s good to see they’ve [AJC] begun applying the same standard to officials of the Israeli government” as to other governments and officials, whose actions AJC has challenged when they “endanger the Jewish people or the Jewish state.”
It makes you want to laugh – or cry.
Here are the facts, all of which are out there for anyone who cares to grapple with them. But then again that would undermine the zeitgeist, wherein inconvenient truths are too often best ignored, lest they upset one’s carefully constructed outlook.
How could we “condemn a democratically elected government,” when we specifically supported the prime minister who was challenged by one of his deputies? And isn’t Netanyahu on record in support of a two-state agreement, whereas Bennett opposes that objective?
As for our approach to the administration, I’ll let our left-wing and right-wing critics thrash that one out, since one sees us as the nemesis and the other as the handmaiden of the White House. Maybe, just maybe, our stance is precisely what a non-partisan group is supposed to do – support when appropriate, criticize when necessary.
And if there’s nothing on the AJC website about the ongoing Arab campaign against Israel, then this observer has failed to see the hundreds, if not thousands, of national radio broadcasts, blogs (including dozens on this Jerusalem Post website), columns, letters-to-the-editor, analyses, and advocacy and diplomatic campaigns that we continue to author.
As for his mirror image on the left, equally blinded, it seems, by an all-encompassing ideology, she could easily have found our June 12th press release criticizing the remarks of the very same Danon to whom she refers. And she could have located other statements repeatedly supporting the objective of a two-state accord, including after the speeches of Secretary of State John Kerry and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni earlier this month at the AJC Global Forum.
So, too, the editorial writer could have found the same things, challenging the paper’s notion that we’ve only now “begun” speaking up.
The bottom line:
First, all I can say is Caveat lector. Let the reader beware.
And second, at AJC, we’ll proudly continue to defy ideological pigeonholing and call them as we see them.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.