For AIPAC, trying to function in a world with entirely different rules

Gandhi is revered because his policy of peaceful resistance brought down the British Empire’s century’s old rule over India.  It’s true.  It did.  But what few are willing to acknowledge is that this tactic worked only because he was using it against a moral nation, one that had been financially and emotionally depleted by two world wars in quick succession and that was increasingly removed ideologically from the concept of Empire.  Had he been dealing with an aggressive, hungry imperial nation — England in the 18th century, Stalin, Hitler, etc. — the outcome would have been very different.

My point is that we achieve our victories, not just because of our own efforts, but because of our opponents’ make-up.  And this is where AIPAC comes it, for it has suddenly discovered that it has no say in Washington.  As Lee Smith pointed out, AIPAC hasn’t gotten much done lately:

This weekend, more than 10,000 pro-Israel activists, Jews and non-Jews alike, will gather at the Washington convention center for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference. These friends and supporters of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship will hear from members of Congress and the executive branch who will all testify to the singular influence that AIPAC, as the pillar of the pro-Israel community, wields in the capital of the free world.

But just how powerful is AIPAC if a man who refers to it as the “Jewish lobby” and has defiantly claimed that he is not an “Israeli senator” is slated to be our next secretary of Defense? And, most significantly, how much influence does the lobbying organization actually exercise if it can’t carry the day on the single issue that’s been at the very top of its agenda for over a decade: stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Despite an operating budget of more than $60 million, on the most crucial issue facing Israel’s security, AIPAC has lost the policy debate. The winners include those who believe you can’t stop a nation from getting the bomb if it’s determined to do so, those who think the Iranians have a right to nuclear weapons, and those who argue the Iranians can be contained—among them, our new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

(Read the rest here.)

Smith blames AIPAC’s deafening silence regarding both the Hagel and the Brennan nominations.  He considers this a tactical failure.  I believe, though, that AIPAC’s inability to have a say in the debate about Hagel goes beyond tactics and represents a much deeper problem for Israel and her friends in America.

Up until 2008, AIPAC was accustomed to dealing with a very specific government model:  bipartisan support for Israel.  AIPAC never took sides in a debate because its sole role was to be a non-partisan voice for Israel.  Whether it was dealing with Democrats or Republicans, it simply had to offer these politicians information about Israel.

AIPAC assiduously avoided partisan or controversial stands because its moral weight rested upon the fact that it was not a party organ but, instead, was always a conduit for information and good-will to flow between Israel and Congress as a whole.  In other words, AIPAC could be Gandhi, because it was dealing with an “opponent” (if you consider the government as a whole as being in a slightly adversarial stance to lobbyists) that wasn’t actively hostile.  Indeed, it was often quite friendly to and supportive of AIPAC’s goals.

Things are very different in Washington now, and AIPAC hasn’t caught up to that fact.  The party that holds power in Washington is openly anti-Israel and increasingly antisemitic.  This puts AIPAC in a bind. It’s one thing, after all, to advocate for Israel. It’s another thing to take a stand against the Democrat President’s cabinet choices — something that smacks of the partisanship AIPAC has always avoided.

Until AIPAC acknowledges that the old world is gone and that it’s dealing with a very different one (Dems will continue to be anti-Israel long after Obama has left the building), her voice will remain muted and ineffectual.  What Hagel mistook for a nefarious “Jewish lobby” was, in fact, an organization that worked with politicians who already supported Israel, either for moral reasons or for Cold War reasons.

AIPAC didn’t control those politicians.  It was their servant, not their master, since it enabled the politicians to carry out their own goals.  With the Cold War over and the morality leeched out of public life, Washington, D.C., no longer has any use for AIPAC and the so-called “Israel lobby” is being kicked to the curb.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC

I like the speech that Netanyahu gave to AIPAC.  It’s straightforward and practical.  It hurls no insults, but also pulls no punches and tells no lies.  It acknowledges threats, but responds to them without ugliness or panic.  And it draws big, clear, non-weasely bright-lines, telling what a viable, ancient nation will do to protect itself and its sovereign rights:

In recent decades the hatred of the Jews has reemerged with increasing force, but with an insidious twist. It is not merely directed at the Jewish people but increasingly at the Jewish state. In its most pernicious form, it argues that if only Israel did not exist, many of the world’s problems would go away.

My friends,

Does this mean that Israel is above criticism? Of course not. Israel, like any democracy, has imperfections but we strive to correct them through open debate and scrutiny. Israel has independent courts, the rule of law, a free press and a vigorous parliamentary debate – believe me, it’s vigorous. I know that members of Congress refer to one another as my distinguished colleague from Wisconsin or the distinguished Senator from California.

Members of the Obama Administration,
Senators,
Members of Congress,
Ambassadors,
Leaders of AIPAC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the world faces monumental challenges, I know that Israel and America will face them together. We stand together because we are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dream – the dream of achieving security, prosperity and peace. This dream seemed impossible to many Jews a century ago.

This month, my father celebrated his one-hundredth birthday. When he was born, the Czars ruled Russia, the British Empire spanned the globe and the Ottomans ruled the Middle East. During his lifetime, all of these empires collapsed, other powers rose and fell, and the Jewish destiny swung from despair to a new hope – the rebirth of the Jewish state. For the first time in two thousand years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend themselves against attack.

Before that, we were subjected to unremitting savagery: the bloodletting of the Middle Ages, the expulsion of the Jews from England, Spain and Portugal, the wholesale slaughter of the Jews of the Ukraine, the pogroms in Russia, culminating in the greatest evil of all – the Holocaust. The founding of Israel did not stop the attacks against the Jews. It merely gave the Jews the power to defend themselves against those attacks.

My friends,

I want to tell you about the day when I fully understood the depth of this transformation. It was the day I met Shlomit Vilmosh over forty years ago. I served with her son, Haim, in the same elite unit in the army. During a battle in 1969, Haim was killed by a burst of gunfire. At his funeral, I discovered that Haim was born shortly after his mother and father had been freed from the death camps of Europe. Had he been born two years before, this daring young officer would have been tossed into the ovens like a million other Jewish children. Haim’s mother Shlomit told me that though she was in great anguish, she was proud. At least, she said, my son fell wearing the uniform of a Jewish soldier defending the Jewish state.

Time and again the Israeli army was forced to repel attacks of much larger enemies determined to destroy us. Recognizing that we could not be defeated in battle, Egypt and Jordan, embraced the path of peace. Yet there are those who continue the assault against the Jewish state and who openly call for our destruction. They seek to achieve this goal through terrorism, missile attacks and most recently by seeking to develop atomic weapons.

The ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel has not deterred these fanatics. In fact, it has only whetted their appetite. Iran’s rulers say “Israel is a one bomb country.” The head of Hezbollah says: “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

My friends,

These are unpleasant facts, but they are the facts. The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people.

The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves.

We must also defend ourselves against the lies and vilifications. Throughout history, the slanders against the Jewish people always preceded the physical assaults against them and were used to justify them. The Jews were called the well-poisoners of mankind, the fomenters of instability, the source of all evil under the sun. Like the physical assaults, these libelous attacks against the Jewish people did not end with the creation of Israel. For a time after World War Two, overt anti-Semitism was held in check by the shame and shock of the Holocaust. But only for a time.

It’s official: Obama doesn’t flip flop, he just does nuanced “rephrases” *UPDATED*’

For those of you who think Obama flip flops, your worries are over.  Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes the political op-eds at The New Yorker, explains that you’re just blind to the gossamer nuances of Obama-speak, nuances that place him squarely in the ring with all prior politicians (emphasis mine):

Winning a Presidential election doesn’t require being all things to all of the people all of the time, but it does require being some things to most of the people some of the time. It doesn’t require saying one thing and also saying its opposite, but it does require saying more or less the same thing in ways that are understood in different ways.

By George, I think I’ve got it, and I’ve got the perfect example of this brilliant rephrasing:  Obama’s Jerusalem speeches.  First, Obama tells Jews in June 2008 that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”  (Emphasis mine.)  One month later, he tells the rest of the world that “”The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ’67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent.”

Although simple minds might think that these two statements are binary opposites (read:  flip-flops) — with his first speech saying that Jerusalem will forever remain an undivided Jewish city and his second speech saying he really does want the City divided, except without that aesthetically ugly barbed wire running through it — those of us who appreciate Obama’s nuanced brilliance know that he was saying the same thing both times.  Let me explain:

You see, what you don’t realize is that Obama is a scholar of the finer points of Orthodox Jewish law.  What’s he’s actually talking about is the eruv and its effect on Jerusalem in the eyes of religious Jews, politicized Arabs and the secular world.  (Stick with me here.  This is going to make sense and it will explain to you all the gradated wonders of Obama-speak, too.)

Assuming you’re neither an Orthodox Jew nor the scholarly Senator Obama, and you don’t know what an eruv is, let me (or, rather, Wikipedia) explain (bolded, italicized emphasis mine):

A community Eruv (Hebrew: ערובmixture, also transliterated as Eiruv or Erub, plural: Eruvin) refers to the legal aggregation or “mixture” under Jewish religious property law of separate parcels of property meeting certain requirements into a single parcel held in common by all the holders of the original parcels, which enables Jews who observe the traditional rules concerning Shabbat to carry children and belongings anywhere within the jointly held property without transgressing the prohibition against carrying a burden across a property line on the Jewish sabbath. The legal aggregation is set up to have effect on the sabbath day only; on other days of the week ordinary property ownership applies. A valid aggregation has a number of requirements including an agreement among the property-holders and an aggregation ritual.

One of the requirements of a valid aggregation is that all the parcels must lie within a chatzer, or walled courtyard. For this reason, this type of aggregation is more properly known as an eruv chatzerot (Hebrew: ערוב חצרות‎), an “aggregation of courtyards,” to distinguish it from other types of rabbinically-ordained mixture procedures which also have the name eruv.

In modern times, when housing is not typically organized into walled courtyards, rabbinic interpretation has permitted this requirement to be met by creating a continuous wall or fence, real or symbolic, surrounding the area to be aggregated. The fence is required to have certain properties and consist of structural elements such as walls or doorframes. When the fence is symbolic, the structural elements are often symbolic “doorframes” made of wire, with two vertical wires (often connected to utility poles) and one horizontal wire on top connecting them (often using utility wires). The use of symbolic elements permits an eruv to make use of utility poles and the like to enclose an entire neighborhood of a modern city within the legal aggregation. In contemporary Jewish discourse, “an eruv” frequently refers to this symbolic “fence” rather than to the aggregation or legal status of the properties.

If you drifted off a bit during that scholarly disquisition, let me explain it in more user-friendly terms.  Orthodox Jews are technically barred from carrying burdens across property lines on the sabbath.  This was to make sure that, on the Lord’s day of rest, they didn’t sneak off and do some work outside of the community. When it became apparent in the old days that simply stepping out of your home with your baby in your arms to go to synagogue violated this rule, the rabbis came up with the idea of the eruv, which said that, for Sabbath purposes, the entire walled Jewish community was a single property.  Problem solved.

Nowadays, however, with Jews living in sprawling urban and suburban regions, how do you define a single community for eruv purposes?  Modern rabbis came up with a creative solution, with is to recognize a “virtual” community bounded by string or wire.  This means that, in the absence of the old medieval town wall, your neighborhood can encompass broader boundaries than the eye might suggest.

So, back to Barack Obama:  When he made the two statements that simple minds perceive as conflicting (read:  flip-flopping), he actually understood and was promoting the whole eruv principle.  In June 2008, he said Jerusalem would be undivided.  In July 2008, when he spoke of barbed wire (Wire!  Get it?), he clarified that, in his earlier speech, he was really speaking of the eruv.

What he’s saying — I’m so impressed I can scarcely fathom his Machiavellian (or do I mean Messianic?) brilliance — is that even if Jerusalem is politically divided with a Jewish and an Arab side, he wasn’t lying or pandering to the AIPAC crowd.  His later reference to barbed wire was code for his plan to create a low-key eruv around the entire City of Jerusalem, as opposed to that old-fashioned, crude barbed wire, so that the Orthodox Jews living there can wander freely on the Sabbath — as long as they don’t mind getting lynched should their wanderings take them into the Arab side of the “eruv-ly” undivided City.

Now do you get it?  The Oba-masterly nuance here is that a President Obama will demand a politically divided Jerusalem to satisfy the Palestinians and their fellow travelers, but he’ll set up a subtle eruv to keep the Jews happy.  Problem solved with truly Messianic (or do I mean Solomonic?) brilliance.

The only thing that confuses me is that good Herzberg, laboring mightily at the New Yorker to explain why all of Obama’s position changes aren’t really changes at all (they’re just subtle rephrasings), ignored the true genius behind Obama’s remarkably steadfast position on Jerusalem.  I guess that, unlike Obama, Herzberg is not a scholar of Jewish arcana, and this was one flip-flop he, poor ignorant sap, just couldn’t explain away.

UPDATE:  Although the above was written in a rather silly, snarky spirit, I do like to keep my facts straight.  Soccer Dad, who has more Jewish knowledge in his little finger than I will ever have in my entire body, clarifies some slight errors in the Wikipedia article from which I quoted:

More precisely, Biblically it is prohibited to carry from a private domain to public domain or 4 cubits (6 – 8 feet) in a public domain on the Sabbath.

The problem is that most modern public spaces do not constitute public domains according to the Torah definition. Given that these areas are undefined the Rabbis defined them as (Rabbinical) public space. As such they also provided a remedy for those who wish to carry in those areas.

An Eruv would be ineffective in a biblically defined public domain and one would still be prohibited from eitehr carrying within such a domain or transferring into a such a domain from a private domain on the Sabbath.

The laws of Eruv are very complicated and I have studied them a little. I am hardly an expert. The general rule with any type of Eruv – not just the carrying kind – is that it is a Rabbinic leniency provided to get around a Rabbinic stringency.

I hope this clarifies things a bit. I don’t think that the Wikipedia article is entirely correct.

UPDATE II: Power Line has another good example of Obama’s lies . . . no, I mean flip-flops . . . no, sorry, I mean “rephrasings,” this time regarding the Surge.