Counterpoint: Victory wont benefit Israel

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Well, that was fast.

After a campaign in which Nancy Pelosi and her fellow House Democrats assured Jewish voters that a majority they led would be no less vigilant than Republicans in defense of Israel’s security, now comes David Elcott to announce that the Democrats’ electoral successes constitute a “mandate for a different direction” in America’s Middle East policy. The “new direction” he has in mind entails support of efforts to “move the Arab-Israeli conflict back to the front burner.” The only specific measure he appears to propose is one Israel’s leaders have understandably resisted — direct negotiations with Hamas.

I wonder if Pelosi appreciates having the sincerity of her campaign promises put to the test so promptly.

Though he proposes a revival of the “peace process,” Elcott, executive director of the Israel Policy Forum, never explains why he believes a partnership with Hamas would be more successful than the failed Oslo courtship of Yasser Arafat. Instead, he laments how bad things have been “for the last six years.” Here Elcott, like President Clinton, seems content to blame President Bush for any and all misfortunes that befell the Middle East after his predecessor’s tenure.

Elcott’s article is as heavy on domestic politics as it is light on Middle East policy substance. Although he does not explicitly affirm his partisanship, Elcott finds Jewish community leaders to be laudable when they “hold fast” against the administration on this or that issue, where their views align with Democrat orthodoxy, but disappointing if they give any credit to a president and outgoing congressional leadership that have backed Israel steadfastly through a series of very difficult crises. Speaker Pelosi cannot doubt the partisan loyalty of such a courtier.

But is that enough to convince her to throw away her “me-too” Middle East policy script and move in the “new direction” urged by Elcott?

Elcott claims that the Israel Policy Forum’s prescriptions for Israel’s security are more mainstream than the views advocated by mainstream Jewish organizations. But the notion that a massive bipartisan misreading of Jewish opinion explains why Democrats and Republicans both profess to take a tough, skeptical line in the face of threats to Israel’s security is implausible on its face. In fact, political leaders of both parties understand that — whatever their views on other political issues — the most engaged and influential community members are disproportionately likely to reject IPF’s approach.

Yet even as Jewish leaders resist the renewed push for “peace” initiatives that make increased pressure on Israel their linchpin, it’s hard not to notice the enthusiasm for such “solutions” emanating from the academic milieu, the international media, the leadership of certain Protestant denominations and among self-described “peace” activists of every stripe.

Jewish leaders and all Jews who favor a sensibly cautious posture toward “peace” initiatives ought to ponder why this strain of dangerous naïveté about threats to Israel’s security — a naïveté that can, in cases such as that of President Carter, seem to shade into indifference, or worse — finds so much sustenance in precincts where our community’s lopsided preference for the Democrat Party is shared.

For many in our community, there is apparently a deep reluctance to face the reality of the hard left and its strength within the Democrat Party. But David Elcott’s bold timing, and the zeal with which it is now clear he and others will press to revive the failed policies of the past, should suffice to demonstrate that we run a terrible risk by indulging that reluctance.

If we fail to confront the influence of dangerous utopian ideas on the new congressional majority, we risk having our failure construed as a license to break promises made repeatedly this fall. Friends of Israel who are celebrating the election’s outcome have a duty to join those of us who have greeted it with concern in keeping a careful eye on the leaders they are so pleased to have helped elevate.

Noah Silverman is the Republican Jewish Coalition’s congressional affairs director.