WASHINGTON (Jan. 30)
Is it wrong for U.S. Jews to publicly criticize Israel on issues of security or political ideology?
Yes, according to Thomas Dine, executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who debated the issue Wednesday with Leonard Fein, founder and former editor of Moment magazine, a U.S. Jewish monthly and now a columnist for the weekly Forward.
Dine’s views drew no public support during a subsequent hostile question-and-answer session with 55 members of the New Israel Fund, which sponsored the debate on Jewish dissent. The group is a rarity among pro-Israel Jewish groups in that it donates money directly to programs in Israel rather than through the United Jewish Appeal.
Dine was partly echoing a standard policy plank of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which claims that U.S. Jews should not publicly criticize Israel on security issues.
But Dine goes further than the Conference of Presidents in also making Israeli political ideology a taboo subject.
Political ideology basically refers to those tenets of the Labor or Likud parties that drive their policies, such as Likud’s policy of accelerating Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Dine argued that to air Israel’s faults in public would be as insensitive as a marriage partner going public and saying something bad about his or her spouse.
He also cited how the ancient Greek kingdom of Athens fell to Sparta because of “internal strife.” Continued public airing in the United States of criticism of Israel will create “splits among ourselves,” Dine argued.
‘UGLY ALONG WITH THE PRETTY’
Fein retorted by accusing Dine of formulating a “corruption of public discourse.”
If U.S. Jews followed Dine’s model, then they would lose their “credibility” for refusing to acknowledge the “ugly along with the pretty.” That is the difference between being advocates and apologists, Fein argued.
Fein also accused Dine of challenging the motives of critics of Israel by saying that some do so to “get their name in certain newspapers.”
Frank Fisher, treasurer of the New Israel Fund, protested Dine’s position on political ideology, saying an issue such as settlement policy “does not move out of the realm of debate because the government feels deeply about it.”
Dine advised that instead of criticizing Israel publicly, U.S. Jews should do so privately in meetings with Israeli officials.
He said that some of Fein’s statements in the late 1970s critical of Israeli settlements were used by then-Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.) to argue for reductions in aid to Israel. Findley, who later blamed pro-Israel activists for his electoral defeat, was “not very friendly to Israel,” Dine said.
Fein responded that he was glad to have Findley air his views. Had Israel heeded that “early warning” about its expansion of settlements in the West Bank, then it might very well have avoided its current bickering with the Bush administration over a request for $10 billion in U.S.-guaranteed loans for immigrant absorption, Fein argued.