April 10, 2003
Political Ties of U.S.
The old truths by which we in the Jewish community have ordered our political alliances are being shaken to the core.
This became clear to me last week, as I sat, shmoozed and listened along with the 5,000 delegates at the 43rd annual Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C.
Widely regarded as one of the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington, AIPAC has always approached its mission to promote American-Israel cooperation, friendship and assistance on a bipartisan basis. This year's meeting, set against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the continuing fight against Al Qaeda and the growing economic crisis engulfing Israel as a result of the intifada, was one of the most momentous in its history.
It was in that context that I, as well as nearly 280 others from Los Angeles, decided to make the pilgrimage to Washington. While the issues that we came to discuss were of the utmost gravity in and of themselves, I saw that the effect those issues will have on the political orientation of the Jewish community might be of far greater consequence.
I came to the meeting with a left-of-center, progressive viewpoint. So, I suspect, did most of the 5,000 conferees from around the country. I had never felt comfortable with the Republican Party, because it seemed to be exclusionary and had tolerated discriminatory practices against Jews and blacks in the past.
Jews, having suffered from discrimination throughout their history, have allied themselves with progressive forces, no matter where they found themselves. In the United States, we made common cause with the Democratic Party, particularly since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the recognition of Israel by President Harry S. Truman.
However, perhaps it is time to rethink those alliances.
Over the last several years, an evolution has occurred in the Republican Party and on the right in general. The ranks of neoconservative thinkers are filled with Jews who are having a significant impact on conservative ideology, making it increasingly alluring.
Yet, like an affair whose fire has ebbed, we cling to our former partner, the Democratic Party, for fear that our new love may not be as good or as faithful. We are looking for one more sign before ending that old, comfortable relationship.
On the first day of the conference, Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate and spokesman for the right-wing, fundamentalist Christian viewpoint, gave an impassioned speech in support of the State of Israel. He made no bones about where his sentiments lay, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and he received several standing ovations for it.
True, his Christian values motivated those sentiments, but he dismissed any notion that an apocalyptic vision of the second coming (and the resultant conversion of the Jews) was the real reason for his and fundamentalist Christian support for the Jewish state.
Another blow against the alliances we so cherished was struck by Jesse Gabriel, president of the UC Berkeley student body. His campaign for that office was triggered, in part, by left-wing, pro-Arab forces, whose demonstrations on his campus were becoming increasingly hostile to Israel and Jews themselves.
This alliance has made all but the most die-hard Jewish liberals feel uncomfortable. When did the Jewish people become part of the discriminators, rather than the discriminated, and when did Israel become the oppressor and not the oppressed?
A blow was delivered by the team of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but it clearly emanated from their leader, President George W. Bush.
As the terrorism against Israel spiraled out of control, it was hard for Jews to fathom why Israel's so called friends -- foreign and domestic -- abandoned her and denounced her in the most vitriolic, and yes, sometimes anti-Semitic terms. How odd it was that the charge that the Jewish community exercised undue influence on the American decision-making process emanated from a senior member of the Democratic congressional delegation and not from the right.
Yet, all the while this Texan, whose father was regarded as indifferent at best when it came to Israel, stood increasingly tall and resolute in her defense. In light of Sept. 11, was not Israel's struggle with terrorism a microcosm of the position that the United States found itself in, in relation to Al Qaeda, Iraq and the world?
Both Powell and Rice in their respective speeches reaffirmed the strong bonds, both sentimental and tangible, between the United States and Israel. They pledged the administration's continued political support, as well as its economic support, in the form of the emergency aid package to ease Israel's economic crisis.
Like most convention delegates, I have found the Democratic Party to be a comfortable, supportive partner on a range of issues, and most particularly on Jewish issues, such as Israel. The Washington conference crystallized troubling doubts for many about where we Jews find ourselves politically.
The Iraq War appears to be heading rapidly to a successful conclusion. The pressure on Bush to deliver Israel by Europe, Britain, the United Nations and Russia in the forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be enormous. How Bush responds to those pressures may well determine the political orientation of the American Jewish community for the next 50 years, just as Roosevelt and Truman's actions determined it for the last 50 years.
Dr. Alexander Ford, a delegate to the AIPAC conference, practices medicine in Beverly Hills.