Israel and Zionist Advocacy: A New Era

Categories: Letters From Leadership
By Ami Isseroff

For the past eight years in particular, but even before, the Israel
advocacy volunteer community in the United States was increasingly identified with
the United States Republican party, with right wing neo-conservatism and
Christian Zionist Evangelism. The counter-historical myth was fostered that only
Republicans are true friends of Israel, and that Zionism had some necessary
relation with Republicanism and Republican values.

We need all the allies we can get, but not at the expense of other
opinions. About half of Americans are Democrats – what the neo-conservative pundits
and bloggers often call “left wing radicals.”

America now has a liberal progressive Democratic administration. It has
always had a liberal academic community and political leadership. Bush II was an
aberration. Not only American policy, but American society and culture are
turning to the left, and probably will do so for the next decade.

This polarization increased during the Iraq war and the recent election
campaign. One would have thought that the “Jewish bloc” was going to vote
overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate. Not really surprisingly
about 77% of Jews, about the same percentage as always, voted for the
Democratic candidate. Every election we hear about the supposed Jewish shift to the
Republican party, and every election it turns out not to be so. It is a

The agitation against Barack Obama and the Democratic party by a tiny
minority of “Zionists,” oblivious of evidence, has not ceased even after the

Our friends on the right are mostly out of step with USA and most of
Europe. Many of the writers of Front Page magazine and Pajamas media and the like
have thoroughly confounded support for Israel with support for anti-abortion
legislation, drilling for oil in Alaska, tax cuts and not using condoms.
That’s OK for them. They are conservatives first and only incidentally support
Israel. They say what they are right on the label. If they also support Israel,
that’s find. But a good many “Zionist” pundits are doing the same thing.

The attempt to identify Zionism with Republicanism or Conservatism is
contrary to historical fact. As an advocacy strategy it is disastrous. An
administration is probably not going to listen much to a lobby or interest that they know
represent folks who won’t vote for them. As James Baker said, “F— the
Jews. They didn’t vote for us.” That was not one of his wiser remarks, but it
expressed a fundamental truth. There is no chance the Republicans will pay
much attention to the ADA or the NARAL pro-choice lobby, and you know Barack
Obama is not going to be listening much to the National Rifle Association if he can
help it. We can’t let the cause of Israel and spokespersons for that cause be
put into deep freeze. More important perhaps, a majority of Americans support
the Democratic party. If Zionism and the Israeli cause is identified with
conservatism and the Republican party, it will be shunned. Even worse,
since about 77% of Jews voted Democratic, as they always do (James Baker was
right of course) identifying Zionism with the Republican party or conservatism
isolates Zionism and Israel from American Jews. Indeed, there were and are a group
of extreme leftist anti-Zionists and some anti-Semites in the Democratic
party, but there is no lack of Republican and conservative bigots as well.

It is counter-historical and counter-factual to identify Zionism with
conservative causes or the Republican party. One person who wrote to me
objected to the alleged “socialism” of Barack Obama, which he claimed was “against
Western values.” I had to remind him that almost all of the founders of the
Jewish state were socialists. Historically, every Democratic president
without exception, regardless of their private views, including even Jimmy Carter,
was, on balance, “good for Israel.” The Republicans have a mixed record. The
attitude of the Eisenhower administration was notorious, though Eisenhower was a
good friend of the Jews in principle. The Ford administration was fortunately
voted out of office before the impact of its Middle East “reevaluation” could be
felt. George Bush Sr. was exceptional in being publicly antagonistic to Israel
and claiming that the US had fought Desert Storm as a special favor to Israel.
George Bush Jr. (“W”) has a mixed record. America stood by Israel in the
Second Lebanon War and made a lot of soothing statements about Israel.
Palestinians insist that the United States has been biased in Israel’s favor, but they
will probably claim that about anyone who doesn’t advocate deporting all the
Jews. Mr. Bush proclaimed his support for a Palestinian state in numerous public
addresses, even at the height of the Second Intifada. At the start of the
Second Intifada, he sent Mr Mitchell and Mr Tenet here for the purpose of issuing
reports that were certainly unoptimal from the Israeli point of view.
During Operation Defensive Shield, he sent Secretary of State Colin Powell here
with the thankless task of getting Israel to withdraw and cease hostilities, and
then reneged and pulled the rug out from under Powell because of growing
bipartisan pressure in the United States. The Bush administration is responsible for
the removal of the IDF from Gaza – that was not part of the original
disengagement plan, and the Bush administration is responsible for the participation of
the Hamas in the Palestinian elections – over the objections of BOTH the
Israelis AND the Fatah.

The Bush administration record on Iran is not quite as great as it seems.
They do what is in the interests of the United States, for which they can hardly
be faulted. As far as Israel is concerned, it is another matter. Had the Bush
administration only issued the National Intelligence Estimate that claimed
Iran was not building nuclear weapons, it would have been enough to illustrate the
problem- “Dayenu,” as we say at Passover. Had the Bush administration just
taken care to quietly veto an Israeli attack on Iran, it would have been enough
to show where their heart is – Dayenu. Had they also made sure that we didn’t
have the wherewithal to carry out such an attack at a future date, even if Iran
obviously was developing nuclear weapons, that would have been more than
enough, Dayenu. But in addition to that, they took care to leak all of this
information, so that all credibility was removed from the Israeli deterrent, and Mr
Ahmadinejad could laugh all the way to the uranium stockpile. Yet somehow,
Republican partisans clothed as “Zionists” have managed to convince their
audiences that the Bush administration was “good for Israel,” but Democrats
would be bad. Of course the Bush administration combated Jihadist terrorism, but
they did that because Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda attacked the United
States, not as a special favor to Israel.

I have examined the resolutions of the first Zionist Congress and the
writings of numerous Zionist leaders. I didn’t find in any of them any statement
supporting bans on gay marriage, or support for right to life, drilling for
oil in Alaska or income tax cuts. Some of them, like Theodor Herzl, supported
“socialist” or liberal labor innovations, some, like Nachman Syrkin were
socialists, and a few were more conservative, like Zeev Jabotinsky. Israel
advocacy and Zionism have room for all democratic social and economic

Real Zionist advocates should never confuse their personal political ideas
with Zionism or try to market those ideas as a part of Zionism. This was always
true. However, with the emergence of a new administration in the United States,
it becomes urgent that conservative Zionists understand that a new era has
dawned in American political life. Their insistence on identifying Zionism
exclusively with the extreme right wing of the Republican party is an inaccurate
distortion that will needlessly alienate most of the Jews of North America and about
half the general population from Israel and from Zionism. The enemies of Israel
have worked overtime to identify Zionism with Dick Cheney, neo-conservatism and
the Republican party. Their work is facilitated by neo-conservative Zionists
who insist on doing precisely the same thing.

However, it is not realistic to expect that most of these “Zionists” who
are beating the drums of neo-conservatism will change their rhythm or their
tune. Therefore, it is up to the progressive Zionists, who have generally been
less than forward in defending Israel and representing Zionism, to re-assume the
historic role of Labor Zionism as the representatives of our movement,
rather than confining themselves to criticisms of Israeli policy.

Ami Isseroff

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About Ami Isseroff

Ami Isseroff is director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence, and editor of and He lives in Rehovot.
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