Proposed Left-Wing Jewish Lobby Worries Some Israeli Analysts

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Reports of plans to set up a new, left-wing Jewish group seeking to lobby the U.S. government on Mideast policy have worried some in Israel, who fear it could undermine the existing pro-Israel lobby in Washington and harm Israeli security.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the key pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., says its role for more than 50 years has been "to help make Israel more secure by ensuring that American support remains strong."

Reports have emerged over recent months about meetings between representatives of liberal Jewish groups in the U.S. to examine the possibility of forming a new lobby.

The reports indicated that among those considering funding the initiative is billionaire George Soros, a harsh critic of Israeli policies.

Three main groups, all liberal, were said to be involved in the discussions - the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

And although no new lobby has yet been formed, some analysts in Israel are concerned about the impact such a group might have on U.S. support for Israel.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval said that the premise of the group, as it has been described, suggests it wants the U.S. administration to put pressure on Israel in order to advance the cause of peace as though there was no terrorism and no Hamas-led government in the Palestinian self-rule territories.

"This group describes itself as supportive of Israel, but it actually supports the enemies of Israel," Shoval told Cybercast News Service.

He said they had been encouraged by comments made by people like former President Jimmy Carter, who argue that in conducting its foreign policy the U.S. is putting Israel's interests ahead of America's real interests.

"They are trying to garner support among American Jews by pretending support of Israel, but the main aim is to undermine AIPAC and organizations like the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations] - or even Christian organizations, which support the State of Israel," said Shoval.

"The sooner that is recognized, the better," he said. "There is a lot of money behind the organization. It could be dangerous. It is certainly not helpful."

David Elcott, executive director of Israel Policy Forum, declined to talk at all about reports that a new lobby group was under consideration.

He described IPF as an "educational advocacy group" that has strategic differences with AIPAC.

Speaking by phone from the U.S., he said his group was always interested in "expanding the pool" of those who want to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The group, founded 13 years ago, backed the Oslo Accords, the now-defunct Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Amid continuing terrorism the agreement came to a halt with the beginning of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000, just months after PLO leader Yasser Arafat rejected sweeping concessions offered by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak at a U.S.-sponsored summit at Camp David.

Elcott said the IPF was "fully supportive" of the Oslo Accords and continues to promote the view that holding onto disputed territories would only undermine Israel's security, which would only be ensured through an independent Palestinian state.

Another one of the groups involved in the initiative, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, says on its website its goal "is to educate and mobilize American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The third group, Americans for Peace Now was founded to support its left-wing Israeli counterpart, Peace Now, "to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict consistent with Israel's long-term security needs and its Jewish and democratic values," according to its website.

Peace Now's support was hard-hit by the uprising and the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000, although it has rallied somewhat in recent years.

'Community rallies'

According to some observers, AIPAC is inaccurately viewed as conservative.

AIPAC essentially responds to the guidance of the Israeli government and does not "second guess" Jerusalem "on matters of life and death and peace and war," said Dr. Eran Lerman, director of the America Jewish Committee's Israel/Middle East office.

He told Cybercast News Service that at the time of the Oslo Accords a "myth" arose that AIPAC was "somewhat right-wing," because it was slow to see Arafat as Israel's friend rather than its enemy.

The IPF was thus created as "an alternative voice reflecting the opinions of the Israeli center left," a move that reflects in the U.S. the differences and nuances in Israeli politics, he said.

Lerman predicted that the proposed lobby group would not "gain much ground among American Jews." When something serious happens, like an upsurge in terrorism, he said, the American Jewish community rallies and sticks together.

He argued that the initiative had "lost its luster" in the last few months.

Lerman said that he did not think the envisaged new group would "play the game of rivalry." Rather than be against Israel, it would likely urge support for "moderate" Palestinians, he said.

Professor Eytan Gilboa from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies noted that it was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo accords with Arafat, who had first criticized AIPAC and branded it a right-wing organization, giving rise to the IPF.

Gilboa said he did not see the potential new lobby as a "real competitor," but that its creation - coming at a time AIPAC was still recovering from other attacks - should be cause for concern for Israel.

"This particular group is challenging AIPAC. It says that AIPAC is representing the right. This is false," Gilboa said. AIPAC is a representative of American Jews and the policy of whatever government of Israel is in power, he said.

Gilboa predicted that AIPAC would be much less powerful in the next few years and that this could decrease Israel's ability to influence American Mideast policy-making.

On the other hand, he said, the proposed lobby group would likely be a "small" one.

Gilboa also predicted difficulties if the new lobby took money from Soros.

"Soros is highly controversial because of his outrageous attacks on Israel," he said, adding that if the financier funded the group, it would suffer credibility problems.

An AIPAC spokesman declined to comment for this story.

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