Yossi Klein Halevi
July 7, 2013
Michael Freund’s attack on David Harris and the American Jewish Committee (“David Harris and the AJC’s self-importance syndrome,”Jerusalem Post, July 1) is a classic example of the destructive ways in which we Jews too often conduct our debates. Instead of recognizing that each side of a given issue is acting in good faith and upholding Jewish values, we tend to belittle, mock and even delegitimize the other.
What upset Freund was the statement by AJC executive director Harris, denouncing Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett for repudiating a two-state solution.
By what right, wrote Freund, does an American Jew who didn’t serve in the IDF have to speak out publicly on a matter affecting Israeli security? Had Harris endorsed Bennett’s position, Freund would not likely have questioned Harris’ right to intervene in Israeli affairs. In any case the time of uncritical American Jewish support for Israel is long gone, and so much the better.
A mature Israeli-Diaspora relationship requires mutual respect and attentiveness, qualities missing in Freund’s article.
Instead he launched deeply wounding personal attacks, referring to “Harris and his ilk” as though writing about enemies of Israel, rather than fellow Jews devoted to defending Israel and the Jewish people.
Ironically it isn’t Harris but Freund and Bennett himself who are out of step with Israeli government policy. Just recently Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu linked a twostate solution to saving Israel from the demographic disaster of a binational state. If negotiations with the Palestinians resume, it’s an open question about whether Bennett’s party, Bayit Yehudi, will be able to remain in the coalition.
In endorsing a two-state solution, Harris is reflecting Israel’s centrist majority. Polls consistently show a solid majority of Israelis backing land for peace – if peace ever became possible. And polls show that a majority of Israelis, however skeptical of the chances for peace, want the government to keep trying.
Upholding a mainstream Israeli position is precisely what AJC has done for decades. In recent years some on the American Jewish Left have denounced the organization for precisely that reason. AJC leaders can take some comfort in being attacked now from the Right as well.
In raising AJC’s record during the Holocaust, Freund misses the crucial post-Holocaust transformation of the American Jewish community into the most assertive Jewish community in the history of the Diaspora.
AJC is now at the center of pro-Israel activism.
Freund’s contempt for AJC demeans one of the most remarkable organizations in Jewish life today. I’ve seen AJC up close, having spoken numerous times before its leadership, met its chapters across the US, and briefed some of the literally thousands of American opinion-makers and world leaders it has sent to Israel through Project Interchange.
AJC reaches out to those parts of the American public where support for Israel tends to be less instinctive – from campuses to mainline Christian denominations to emerging populations like the Latinos. Its bridge-building efforts are indispensable to maintaining American public support for Israel.
Freund’s attack is a useful pretext to say thank you to AJC, for upholding the good name of the state of Israel and the Jewish people.
I feel privileged to be able to reciprocate and affirm the good name of AJC.
The author is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is author of the forthcoming book,Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation(HarperCollins).Date: 7/7/2013 12:00:00 AM