Last week, American Jewish Committee (AJC) Executive Director David Harris wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post lambasting the use of Israel as a partisan wedge issue and criticizing those who engage in such behavior. Recently, the AJC and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged all Israel supporters, from every political orientation, to sign a pledge to prevent Israel from becoming a partisan wedge issue. His article was in response to criticisms of the pledge by certain Republican-aligned Jewish groups that dismissed and distorted the pledge’s meaning.
In his op-ed, Harris made the distinction between partisanship and advocacy, arguing that “overwhelming support from both parties is crucial for a consistently pro-Israel American foreign policy.” He wrote regarding advocacy:
Those of us engaged in [advocacy] are focused on the here and now, irrespective of who is in and who is out. The goal may be to encourage the U.S. to do the right thing and boycott the Durban process. Or to exercise the veto in the Security Council. Or to mobilize the international community to take more stringent measures in the face of Iran’s relentless nuclear quest.
For those kinds of things to happen, experience shows that it’s unwise to bet on one party or another being in the Oval Office, but rather to count on bipartisan support. One thing is a safe bet: Vital, even existential, issues affecting the Middle East are likely to arise in every presidential term. When both major parties see support for Israel as central to their world outlook, then everyone is better off.
That’s precisely our goal as advocates. It was the objective when President Bush was in office. It’s the same with President Obama.
Harris wrote regarding partisanship:
Shortly after the Obama Administration took office, it was confronted with the issue of what to do about U.S. participation in the Durban Review Conference, scheduled for Geneva in May 2009.
The Bush Administration, which had laudably walked out of the original Durban gathering in 2001 because of its singling out of Israel, decided the call should be made by the Obama team, not have it imposed on them.
Shortly after taking office, the new administration invited five people to go to Geneva to study the issue, talk with key stakeholders, and present a recommendation. An AJC staff member was invited to participate. We readily agreed.
That unleashed a firestorm from some who detested the Obama Administration from the get-go. It didn’t matter what ensued. Indeed, even after the fact-finding group returned from Geneva, recommended the U.S. not participate, and Washington announced it would not go, the straightjacketed critics were unsatisfied. They could not offer even a grudging admission that the right decision had been made.
After all, to do so would have given the political ‘enemy’ a measure of credit, and in the zero-sum game of politics, that’s rarely done.
Or fast forward to September 2011.
The Palestinians were expected to put in their bid for full UN membership on September 23. Washington indicated it would use its veto, if needed, to stop the effort dead in its tracks. That, however, didn’t dissuade the partisan foes from taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times that very week castigating President Obama for his allegedly anti-Israel policies.
In other words, the partisan approach becomes slash and burn, take no prisoners, and concede absolutely nothing.
When JTA’s Ron Kampeas blogged Harris’ passage on partisanship, he wrote:
Now, I can anticipate the partisan response to a degree: This is about debate, not reporting. Newspapers provide context, political volleys need not.
But there are times when ripping context from a political ad borders on a falsehood.
Click here to read Harris’s article.
Click here to read JTA’s reporting on the issue.
Click here to read NJDC’s coverage of Jewish GOP’ers refusal to sign the pledge.
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