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Argentine courts eventually charged Iranian and Hezbollah officials, but no one was ever arrested. Now, on January 27, Argentina and Iran agreed to create a joint “truth commission.” Israel promptly protested, and mutual recriminations flew.
The Jewish community response was more complex. AMIA President Guillermo Borger initially objected, but withdrew his complaint after meeting on January 29 with Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, himself the son of a famed Argentine Jewish human rights leader. Ten days later Borger reversed him self again, declaring that the “truth commission” could bring “a third bombing.” Kirchner attacked Borger the next day, wondering aloud where he got his “information” about future bombings. Her rebuke apparently worked; further Jewish protests have been muted and poorly attended.
The third crisis, less dramatic but arguably more serious in the long run, is in Washington, where Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense met historically unprecedented resistance from Senate Republicans. Several motives drove Republican opposition, but the one that dominated televised Senate hearings, and drew the most impassioned public comment, was Hagel’s attitude toward Israel.
Without plumbing the details of Hagel’s views on Israel — they’ve been explored elsewhere at length — it’s important to note that they hardly approach the icy disdain of former Republican defense secretaries Caspar Weinberger and James Schlesinger. Nor, for that matter, of Republican ex-president George H.W. Bush. What’s new isn’t Hagel’s skepticism, but the level of pro-Israel purity now expected of our public officials.
Importantly, the campaign against Hagel isn’t the direct handiwork of the mainstream Jewish or pro-Israel lobbies. The main pro-Israel lobbying organization, AIPAC, has been silent. The two top Jewish advocacy powerhouses, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have lagged ambivalently behind. The campaign has been led by Republican lawmakers and partisan hard-liners like Bill Kristol and Daniel Pipes. Regardless, it’s perceived as representing the will of Israel and its advocates. Politically, that’s what counts.
Thus the latest Washington brawl adds to the ongoing redefinition in the popular mind of pro-Israel advocacy and, by extension, of Jewish advocacy. Once considered a moral beacon, it’s now commonly viewed as a bullying force that throws its weight around without regard to American interests. This dim view, once confined to fringe extremists, began creeping toward the center a decade ago in writings by respected academics like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Now it’s standard fare for op-ed writers and late-night comics.
Ironically, efforts to silence such talk as bigotry merely prove the point. Witness Hagel, pummeled by Israel’s friends for having once said that Israel’s friends intimidate their critics.
Many community leaders view crises like the ones in Australia, Argentina and Washington as evidence of a new global anti-Semitism. Israel’s intelligence services conclude differently: that Israel’s continuing West Bank occupation and settlement expansion are fueling a rising frustration among Israel’s longtime friends, gradually morphing into hostility toward Israel and her staunchest defenders. Even veteran hard-liners like national security council chief Yaakov Amidror, once renowned as Israel’s most right-wing general, have begun voicing alarm over the problem.
Israel has been trying for 45 years to explain its right to settlements, and hasn’t convinced a single foreign government. Now the effort is merely discrediting the explainers.
Some Diaspora pro-Israel advocates still insist that settlements aren’t the cause of Israel’s problems, but they’re only spouting yesterday’s talking-points. Worse, they’re digging themselves — and their communities — into a hole.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org