WASHINGTON (JTA) – A think tank linked with the Republican Jewish Coalition launched a broadside against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an unusual attack from a segment of the U.S. Jewish community that has been unstintingly supportive of Israel.
In an article appearing this week in the American Thinker, a conservative Web-based journal, Jonathan Schanzer – the director of policy at the RJC-affiliated Jewish Policy Center – co-wrote that Olmert’s apparent willingness to concede parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians “can be seen only as a last-gasp effort to revive his flatlining premiership.”
Schanzer authored the piece with Asaf Romirowsky, who is identified as an associate fellow of the Middle East Forum and manager of Israel and Middle East Affairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, another organization that generally avoids any criticism of the Israeli government.
Schanzer and Romirowsky compared Olmert to Labor predecessors Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, saying they also agreed to similar concessions in last-ditch efforts to save their legacies.
“Olmert is now chasing peace with the Palestinians at all costs, in a desperate attempt to secure his place in world history, knowing full well that future Israeli history books will not be kind,” they wrote. “This fits a sad but familiar trend of other sputtering Israeli prime ministers in recent history.”
The article was sent out on the Jewish Policy Center’s listserve, timing it ahead of U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to take place later this month in Annapolis, Md.
With the Annapolis meeting approaching and Olmert voicing increasing support for intense negotiations with the Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister is facing rising criticism from Jewish Republicans, despite his public support for President Bush’s Iraq policy.
Also this week Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire and a major backer of the Republican Party, publicly upbraided the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for backing increased assistance to the Palestinians. Adelson also excoriated Olmert for contemplating a deal on Jerusalem and likened him to a suicide case.
The American Thinker article has “gone viral on the Internet and it’s provoked some discussion,” Schanzer told JTA. “Right now there’s a lot of optimism about the Annapolis talks. My philosophy about the Middle East is that optimism over peace talks while there’s violence against Israel every day is just not realistic.”
JPC shares an office and many board members with the Republican Jewish Coalition. Schanzer described the two as “sister organizations.” As a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit, the JPC cannot support political candidates, but it acts as the RJC’s educational and policy wing.
According to Matt Brooks, the RJC’s executive director, the JPC is an entirely separate organization. The RJC, he said, does not influence any of the center’s editorial decisions.
“Jonathan wrote that piece and it represents his personal views,” Brooks said, declining to share his opinion of the article. “It has no representation or in any way should be inferred as speaking on behalf of the RJC.”
Schanzer told JTA that he tries “to look at this as an American, as a Jew and as someone who cares for the future of Israel.”
“I don’t change the way I write for any venues,” he said.
The JPC mission statement, written by Schanzer, asserts that “Jewish Americans can no longer afford to stubbornly hold on to outdated ideas of the past. This includes optimism over misguided Middle East peace deals, appeasement of dictators, and unrealistic hopes that dangerous realities in the Middle East might simply change without tougher U.S. policies.”
Schanzer emphasized that his problem was with Olmert, not the Bush administration, which is brokering the peace talks.
“It’s easy to separate out Olmert and the Bush administration,” Schanzer said. “What we have right now is an administration that sees an opportunity. The Palestinian Authority is very weak. Without the United States there’s a question whether it would be in control of the West Bank. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are relying on America.
“America has leverage for the first time in a long while. When you have a prime minister of Israel who puts up parts of Jerusalem, that is an Israeli problem, not an American problem.”