Whether it is dangerous for the Jewish community to be considered a single-issue group, primarily interested in Israel, was debated at a session of the 54th General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations here last week.
The issue was discussed before a packed standing room crowd of delegates to the Assembly by Hyman Bookbinder, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office; Marshall Breger, former White House liaison to the Jewish community; and Thomas Dine, director of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“Support for Israel is indeed the highest single priority on the Jewish agenda and nobody should feel the slightest embarrassment or awkwardness or guilt in proclaiming this priority,” Bookbinder declared.
But, he stressed, “Israel’s cause is in substantially good shape today not because of the two-and-a-half percent of Americans who are Jewish and have demonstrated their support for Israel, but because another 50 or 60 or 70 percent of non-Jewish Americans have manifested this support.”
For this reason, Bookbinder argued, Jews have to support issues for the general good, not only because they are right, but by doing so the Jewish community gains sympathy and allies for its own causes, including Israel.
PROBLEM OF ‘GUILT-FREE’ POLITICAL ACTIVITY
But Breger, now chairman of the U.S. Administrative Conference, charged that Jews want “guilt-free political activity” in which they can participate in the political process “but not with people we don’t like.” He said Jews want to take moral stands rather than engage in practical politics.
In addition, Breger said that Jews diminish their political leverage by “not focusing on priorities.” He said that when Jewish groups meet with a political leader they bring up whatever issue is of immediate importance. He said making everything a “life and death issue” confuses politicians and the Jewish community must learn to set priorities.
He said when Jews contribute to a Political Action Committee (PAC) for Israel, politicians who receive the funds understand this. But they do not understand when they then add a host of other issues, according to Breger. He suggested contributing to pro-Israel PACs and if other issues are important to an individual, he should split up his money among PACs focusing on those issues.
Bookbinder rejected the “guilt-free” charge. He said Jewish tradition has always been not only to help fellow Jews but others as well. He noted that general issues impact on Jews, too, pointing out that a cut in the social security cost-of-living allowance would effect thousands of elderly Jews.
Dine said that AIPAC’s job is to focus on the issue of Israel and how other foreign policy issues effect the Middle East and the peace process.
He said support for Israel has grown in Congress and noted the overwhelming majority in the Senate and House who supported delaying an arms sale to Jordan until March 1 and are ready to reject the sale if no progress is made in the peace process.
Dine noted that in the upcoming 1986 Senate and House elections both the Democrats and Republicans “want us on their side. It looks like the gate to the country club has finally come down.”
Reiterating his often made call for Jews to be politically active on the local, state and national level, Dine said Jews can demonstrate their political clout by rewarding their friends.
URGES JEWS TO WIN NEW FRIENDS
Breger urged Jews to concentrate on winning new friends especially in the South and Southwest and among the Christian right. He said instead of attacking conservative Senators and Congressmen for their views, Jews should try to meet with them. He said they will have a better understanding of Jewish concerns and they can be moved on issues, although probably not all the way many Jews would want.
Bookbinder said that he welcomed the support for Israel from such conservatives as Sen. Jesse Helms (R. N.C.) who formerly were not favorable to the Jewish State. But he said at the same time, Jews should not desert the many liberals and Democrats who for years were the mainstay of support for Israel in Congress.
In elections, anyone considered “to be hostile or even indifferent to Israel’s needs cannot expect any Jewish support,” Bookbinder said. But, he added, while a candidate must be pro-Israel, he must also be for other issues important to the Jewish community.
“We should not be in the business of discouraging pro-Israeli aspirants from running against an incumbent solely on the ground that the incumbent is pro-Israel,” Bookbinder stated. There have been reports that several persons considering races against Sens. Robert Dole (R. Kans.) and Robert Packwood (R. Ore.) have been discouraged from running by pro-Israel PACs for this reason.
Dine said being pro-Israel was the sole criterion AIPAC used in judging a candidate.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.