Ever since the end of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, pressure has mounted around the world for a final settlement of the Middle East conflict; scenarios and counter-scenarios have been proposed, the merits of step-by-step diplomacy have been weighed against the merits of an overall settlement achieved at once and among each of the parties, and in this country an agonizing debate has gone on over the proper role of the United States with regard to the contending sides, and especially with regard to Israel. In the midst of all this, as might be expected, much talk has taken place inside the American Jewish community about relations between that community and the Israeli government and people—what they have been, what they might be, what they ought to be.
Of late, much of this talk has focused on a new and controversial Jewish group called Breira, which advertises itself as offering “a ‘choice’ for shared responsibility between Israel and the Diaspora.” On the one hand, the emergence of Breira (the word in Hebrew means “alternative”) has been hailed by the New York Times and the Washington Post as a major political development, auguring a new willingness on the part of American Jews to criticize the state of Israel. On the other hand, some American Jewish organizations have reacted to Breira with suspicion and hostility, and one group, Americans for A Safe Israel, has published a well-documented pamphlet, written by Rael Jean Isaac, which challenges Breira’s legitimacy and charges that “the majority who join [it] are unaware of the purposes of the minority who shape the path of the organization.”1 Mrs. Isaac’s arguments merit serious consideration, but first it is necessary to know something of Breira’s history.
Breira was founded in the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. It offered to serve as the vehicle, within the Jewish community, for an open and critical discussion of all matters of concern to American Jews, especially their relation to Israel. Its initial statement of purpose, issued in December 1973, declared: “Nothing is more important for the continued vitality of Jewish life than extensive discussion within the Jewish community about the State [of Israel], its problems, its policies, its relationship to us and our hopes for it.” At the time of its founding Breira was made up of young veterans of the 60’s Jewish counterculture (grouped mainly around Response magazine) and a number of Reform and Conservative rabbis concerned with asserting the spiritual and cultural parity of Jewish life in the Diaspora with that in Israel.
Breira first came to the wider attention of American Jewry on November 4, 1974, when it issued a flyer opposing the mass “Rally Against Terror” held to protest Yasir Arafat’s appearance before the United Nations. This demonstration, in Breira’s view, was counterproductive, and “only reinforced Jewish anxiety and Israeli isolation.” Since the Arab League had designated the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, “coming to terms with the future role of the PLO in negotiations with Israel” had become a “necessity,” and Breira called on the Israeli government to declare its willingness to negotiate with “the full range of Palestinian leadership.” (Interestingly, most of the members of Breira’s Advisory Committee refused to endorse this statement.)
Until the middle of 1975, Breira voiced its criticism of Israeli policy within the confines of the Jewish community, where it had to build a base of support in order to become a viable organization. While the results of Breira’s “membership drive” were not spectacular, neither were they insignificant. To its initial core of members Breira was able to add a considerable number of rabbis who had been active in the civil-rights and anti-war movements of the 1960’s, among them Eugene Borowitz, Balfour Brickner, Joachim Prinz, Arnold Jacob Wolf (who is now Breira’s chairman), and quite a few campus Hillel rabbis. Although all were “Zionists,” some of these rabbis were not altogether out of sympathy with Al Fatah, even as they had not been totally unsympathetic to the Vietcong.2
Although Breira’s statement of purpose had placed a considerable range of issues on the organization’s agenda, and had cited the need for “extensive discussion and debate within the Jewish community” about these issues, it soon became evident, first, that the one subject that held Breira’s interest was in the fate of the Palestinians in the Middle East and, second, that little prior discussion was taking place even on what Breira’s own position was to be on that subject. In July 1975, Robert Loeb, Breira’s executive director, testified before Senator McGovern’s Subcommittee on Near Eastern Affairs and called upon Israel to negotiate directly with the PLO “on all future relationships between their two states [sic].” Statement after statement was issued by Loeb, in Breira’s name, criticizing Israeli policy, especially on the West Bank. Mark Bruzonsky, a columnist for interChange, Breira’s monthly review, wrote in Newsday (August 27, 1976) that the United States ought to “impose its leverage” on Israel and even “coerce” it, if necessary, into negotiating with the PLO and establishing a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza. Arthur Waskow, of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and a member of Breira’s executive committee, held seminars under Breira’s auspices for members of Congress “to open,” as he put it, “new perspectives they hadn’t considered” with regard to a resolution of the Palestinian question.
In the spring of 1976 Breira circulated a statement expressing solidarity with the “peace forces” in Israel actively opposed to Gush Emunim, an Israeli political-religious group which calls for the annexation of occupied West Bank territories. The statement was endorsed by many Jewish intellectuals not associated with Breira, and it was the understanding of some of them, at least, that the statement would in no way be linked to Breira. When the statement, entitled “It is Time to Say No to Gush Emunim,” appeared in the Jerusalem Post, it did indeed make no mention of Breira. Loeb, however, simultaneously issued a press release in which Breira openly took responsibility for the statement, and on the strength of this the New York Times published an editorial lauding Breira and noting that it was “picking up wide support among influential Jewish intellectuals . . . overcoming as well the misapprehension of many Jewish Americans that criticism of Israeli policies would be seen as a rejection of Israel.”
With an editorial endorsement from the Times, Breira suddenly became an organization of national prominence. To the roster of names on its various committees were added those of Village Voice radicals like Paul Cowan and Vivian Gornick and, more significantly, those of distinguished American Jewish intellectuals like Irving Howe, Arthur A. Cohen, and Nathan Glazer. When a series of private meetings was held last November between PLO representatives and a number of American Jews, among them Breira’s Arthur Waskow, it was Waskow who published a piece on the New York Times Op-Ed page about it. So well established had Breira become that at the end of February of this year it was able to hold its first national conference, featuring as speakers a number of well-known political analysts and religious figures.
If Breira has attracted the attention and support of many rabbis, liberal intellectuals, and Jewish students and professors, it has also become the object of a good deal of concern within the organized Jewish community. Much of that concern, articulated in detail in Rael Jean Isaac’s study of Breira,3 is grounded in the prehistory of the group and of those running it. Robert Loeb, for example, the executive director, came to Breira from a group called CONAME (Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East), where he had been in charge of field activities; and John Ruskay, who along with Loeb has worked on a full-time basis for Breira from the beginning (he is now its secretary), had served on CONAME’s steering committee. At least one other prominent member of Breira had been affiliated with something called MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project), and both CONAME and MERIP appear to have had close links with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, a radical think-tank and organizing center founded in 1963 by Marcus Raskin and Richard Barnet. All of these organizations, Mrs. Isaac goes on to show, have had a history of hostility to Israel.
Lavishly funded by grants from various foundations, the Institute for Policy Studies supports a number of staff members all of whom are engaged in specific “projects.” For some time, Arthur Waskow, a senior fellow at the Institute and now (as noted) a member of Breira’s executive committee, once headed a project on “The Crisis of American Jewry” (which resulted in the publication of a book, The Bush is Burning!, containing organizational guidelines and descriptions of the various radical Jewish groups with which Waskow was then involved) and he currently runs an IPS project investigating the “triangular relationship among the U.S. government, the Israeli government, and the organized Jewish community inside the United States.” Waskow’s own views regarding this “interaction” are hardly positive. In an article for Response magazine in 1971, he argued that the “Zionism” of established Jewish organizations “is no devotion to the dream of Zion, but a snivelly admiration for Dayan, for jet-planes, for the Johnson or Nixon or Agnew who will deliver them.” In that same article, he urged the American Jewish community to shift “its moral, political, and financial support” to dissident Israeli groups such as Siach (the Israeli New Left). Breira’s “project of concern” bears a striking similarity to Waskow’s current project at IPS.
According to Mrs. Isaac, the Institute for Policy Studies has a number of anti-Israel activists on its paid staff. Joe Stork, a member of the “collective” that produces MERIP Reports, is one such staff member. MERIP, which was founded in 1971, identifies openly with the PLO, and distributes its literature, its posters, and even its flags. When terrorists gunned down Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, MERIP issued a flyer reading, “Munich and similar actions cannot create or substitute for a mass revolutionary movement, but we should comprehend the achievement of the Munich action. . . . It has provided a boost in morale among Palestinians in the camps. . . . It is regrettable when people are killed, Israeli or Palestinian or Lebanese or Syrian, but at the very least we should know where to put the blame.” (On Israel.) In 1974, MERIP Reports printed “Zionism and American Jews,” a speech given by MERIP’s Sharon Rose to the 1973 convention of Arab-American University Graduates, a group described by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith as “the key PLO ‘connection’ in the United States.” Sharon Rose addressed herself to the question, “How did Zionism move from a tiny force to being accepted by most Americans as the equivalent of Judaism and what are the perceptible cracks in the political hegemony of the Zionist movement and what forces are likely to widen them?” An earlier essay by Miss Rose, included in Waskow’s book, The Bush Is Burning!, called for a “bi-national, democratic secular state, encompassing the entire area of the original Mandate”—which of course is exactly the PLO euphemism for the dissolution of the state of Israel—to carry out the necessary “revolution” in the Middle East.
In 1971, at the Institute for Policy Studies, Mrs. Isaac reports, MERIP conducted a discussion on “How American Radicals See the Resistance Dilemma”; its proceedings were subsequently published in 1972 in the PLO’s Journal of Palestine Studies. At the conclusion of the discussion, Barry Rubin, a member of the MERIP “collective,” called for a specifically Jewish anti-Zionist organization. “I think it would be good to have Jews campaigning actively for Palestinian needs,” he said. “It immediately breaks up the myth combining Judaism and Zionism. In that case it’s something that probably Jews can be much more effective in doing.” After August 1974, Rubin’s name no longer appeared in MERIP Reports, but in September 1975, when the first issue of the Breira newsletter interChange came out, Barry Rubin was listed as associate editor for international affairs. InterChange identified him as a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University but neglected to cite either his association with MERIP or with the violently anti-Israel Maoist Guardian.
Coname, the other organization in the background of Breira, was established in 1970. Its sponsors included such recent supporters and activists of the New Left as Marcus Raskin, Richard Barnet, Barbara Bick, and Arthur Waskow, all from the Institute for Policy Studies, as well as I. F. Stone, William Kunstler, Staughton Lynd, and Howard Zinn. Peter Weiss, chairman of the Institute’s Board of Trustees (and vice president of the Samuel Rubin Foundation, one of the Institute’s—and now Breira’s—main financial supporters), was a member of CONAME’s steering committee along with other New Left notables like Paul Jacobs, Noam Chomsky, and Irene Gendzier (among others). Unlike MERIP, CONAME did not call for the destruction of Israel—though it sponsored speaking tours for such Israelis as Arie Bober and Israel Shahak, who did. Rather, CONAME argued that a Palestinian state must be established alongside Israel and that the PLO must be recognized by the United States and brought to Geneva.
On October 25, 1973 nineteen Arab-American or pro-Arab groups, among them CONAME, sent a telegram to members of the House and Senate urging “absolutely no arms and advisers to Israel.” In December 1973, “in response to various requests from those wishing to become more active in the struggle against Zionism,” the Middle East Coordinating Committee, a well-known pro-Arab group, issued a “partial list of groups and organizations in the New York area who are actively working on behalf of justice in the Middle East.” CONAME was on the list. Time magazine (June 23, 1975) listed CONAME among the “some 20 organizations” that were “carrying the Arabs’ message.”
Breira, Mrs. Isaac proceeds to show, is lineally descended from CONAME. Loeb and Ruskay came directly out of CONAME into Breira; indeed, they seem to have helped set up Breira while they were still working for CONAME. (When, in April 1976, CONAME merged with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Alan Solomonow, CONAME’s executive director, cited Breira as an organization continuing CONAME’s work.) Presumably, they felt, like Barry Rubin, that a specifically Jewish organization actively campaigning on behalf of “Palestinian needs” would be more effective than a non-Jewish one. CONAME and Breira shared an identical position on the PLO and the need for a Palestinian state, but Breira was carefully designed to make its appeal to the Jewish community rather than to the “peace community.”
Loeb and Ruskay did not build Breira by themselves; Arthur Waskow, in a 1976 Response symposium, revealed that he had “helped to build” Breira—and Mrs. Isaac demonstrates that “the old Waskow circle” consisting of veterans of many of his organizations, “provided a wealth of recruits” to Breira. Waskow was also discreetly involved with MERIP, sharing a Washington post-office box with that organization. In all his complex involvements with MERIP, CONAME, and Breira, Waskow has of course continued to be funded by the Institute for Policy Studies which, in addition to its indirect sponsorship of MERIP and CONAME, has undertaken to introduce PLO representatives into the mainstream of American life.4
If individuals such as Loeb, Ruskay, and Waskow were marginal elements in Breira, it could be argued that their views and past activities are not a matter of serious concern. Unfortunately, Mrs. Isaac maintains, they are among its central figures, and it is they, rather than any of the rabbis and intellectuals listed on the organization’s masthead, who make its policy. A certain deception is thus being practiced, Mrs. Isaac concludes. Loeb, Ruskay, Waskow, and Rubin claim to be “Zionists” and sail under the colors of an organization that professes love for Israel, yet all of them have been identified with markedly anti-Israel organizations in the past, and none has repudiated that connection. In October 1973, while Israel’s survival literally hung in the balance, their “concern” for Israel was such that they opposed emergency military aid. Since then, Mrs. Isaac asserts, they have built Breira into a front group, enlisting the good names and reputations of well-meaning rabbis and liberal Jewish intellectuals, but all the while working to advance the interests of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Even before Mrs. Isaac’s pamphlet appeared there were signs of friction within Breira over the activities of its full-time staff. At least a few of those whose names were listed on Breira’s masthead had begun to feel they were being used, in effect, as window-dressing. One such person was Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a well-known Zionist and former president of the American Jewish Congress, and one of Breira’s “stars,” who in June 1975 sent a letter of objection to Loeb about a statement denouncing Israeli foreign policy which Breira was planning to issue at a press conference. Rabbi Prinz complained: “The Advisory Committee, of which I am a member, has never met [!], and so decisions are left to you and Arthur [Waskow], after some superficial consultations with one of us or with none of us.” (At the time Waskow was nowhere even listed as a key figure in Breira.) Rabbi Prinz subsequently resigned from the organization, but it was some time before his name, and thus the appearance of his endorsement of Breira, was removed from its stationery.
In recent months, controversy over Breira has intensified both inside and outside the organization. A number of prominent people who had joined or supported the group have resigned—notably Nathan Glazer and Jacob Neusner5—and others who had contemplated joining are reported to have had second thoughts on the matter. (No doubt some have also been drawn to Breira precisely because of the adverse publicity.) One newspaper, the Jewish Week, has waged a lengthy out-and-out campaign of denunciation against Breira, but has also opened its pages to rebuttals by Loeb and others. As for the established Jewish organizations, their reaction to Breira and to the controversy surrounding it has ranged all the way from alarm—one or two agencies have enjoined members of their own staff from publicly espousing positions contrary to those officially adopted by the organizations employing them—to diplomatic silence. And as a consequence of all the charges and countercharges, Breira itself, at its national conference held in late February, released a series of platform resolutions which clearly reflect a moderating tendency on a number of key issues and a desire to create as broad a base as possible by clinging to the lowest common ideological denominator its members can agree upon.
It remains to be seen whether, in the effort to broaden its appeal—which will mean, and has already meant, issuing strong declarations of support for a secure Israel, endorsing aliyah, and, above all, muting the preoccupation with the PLO—Breira will dilute itself out of fashion. But whatever the future shape of the organization, the significance of Breira as a phenomenon transcends the particular issues it finds to concentrate upon, and in the end it is the phenomenon itself which remains to be understood.
Breira came into existence and has gained strength and adherents during a period when the political fortunes of the state of Israel have reached perhaps an all-time low. Before 1973 Israel was, to be sure, isolated in its immediate geographical vicinity and surrounded by enemies sworn to its physical destruction. Since 1973, however, Israel has become increasingly isolated in the world as a whole, shunned even by many of its former friends and treated as a pariah by the community of nations. The reasons for Israel’s new and more complete isolation are of course in the first instance political, having to do with the need to insure the supply of oil from Arab countries to the West. But what political considerations demand, moral considerations have come to justify. Hand in hand with the withdrawal of political support for Israel on the part of a dependent and weakened West has gone a withdrawal of sympathy, of moral support. The campaign of vilification against the Jewish state, initiated by the Arabs and the Soviet Union, and participated in enthusiastically by many Third World nations, has met with only token opposition from Israel’s friends and allies.
The resolution of the UN General Assembly equating Zionism with racism, the ceaseless accusations that Israel is an outpost of imperialism in the Middle East, a “white” colonial power bent on thwarting the legitimate national aspirations of a people whose land it took away by force—these lies and others like them may or may not be accepted in their entirety in the West, but less and less is anyone inclined to refute them. It has increasingly come to be accepted as true that the fundamental cause of justice in the Middle East is on the side of the Arabs, the fundamental cause of injustice on the side of Israel; indeed, a serious question has been raised as to the very legitimacy of Israel, its right to exist.
Now, this idea—that Israel is the source of the problem in the Middle East—has not only come to inform the political thinking of Western governments intent on wringing concessions from Israel in order to placate Arab oil-producing nations, but it has also come to permeate public opinion as well—progressive opinion, enlightened opinion, liberal opinion. With the success of the worldwide campaign against Israel’s legitimacy. liberal support for Israel can no longer be taken for granted—certainly not in Europe, and not even in the United States. And if liberal support cannot be taken for granted, the once-solid front of American Jewry is also beginning to show serious signs of a split. If the economic and geopolitical interests of the United States in the Middle East and the interests of Israel should diverge further, that split may become more pronounced.
Breira is a symptom of that split, a vivid demonstration of the inroads made into the American Jewish consciousness by the campaign to delegitimize Israel. In its monthly newsletter, in its public pronouncements, even in the newly “even-handed” resolutions passed at its national conference, Breira tacitly and often not so tacitly endorses the idea that the “problem” in the Middle East is not the decades-old Arab refusal to recognize and make peace with Israel, but rather Israeli “intransigence.”
One might expect to find, in the publications of a group nominally supportive of Israel, the utmost skepticism concerning Arab intentions toward the Jewish state, yet in Breira’s publications it is not the Arabs but the Israelis who are always and willfully assumed guilty until proved innocent—guilty of mistreating their Arab minority and brutalizing the Arabs in the occupied territories, guilty of expansionism, guilty of military vainglory and arrogance, guilty of economic exploitation, guilty, in short, of imperialism and racism.
The Arab nations, on the other hand, are assumed in these same writings to be, if not quite innocent, then certainly well-intentioned. Breira spokesmen have made a positive habit of attributing to Arab leaders a burning desire for peace that the Arabs themselves would be surprised to learn they possessed—certainly one they have never bothered to express publicly in anything but the vaguest and most hedged-about terms. Yet to judge from Breira literature, some Arab countries have already recognized Israel, while others are just waiting for the chance to be allowed to follow suit. Thus, according to a resolution adopted at the national conference for which no documentation was provided, “certain Arab countries and Palestinian leaders are willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Arthur Waskow in his Op-Ed piece in the Times stated as fact that the PLO leadership was ready to accept the legitimacy of Israel, and was only restrained from doing so publicly for fear of reprisals by hardliners inside the terrorist organization. The PLO itself, of course, has repeatedly taken pains to assure the world that it continues to adhere rigidly to the Palestine National Covenant calling for Israel’s elimination.
The effect of these and other such denials of the reality of the Arab-Israeli confrontation is to place the moral burden of proof on one side only, and the weaker side to boot. This, to say the least, is a peculiar position for a “Zionist” organization to assume. Is Breira, then, “anti-Israel”? There is no doubt that there are some associated with the organization who can be objectively so described, for it would be impossible otherwise to explain their preoccupation with a terrorist organization whose first principle is the dismantling of the state of Israel. Even if one’s main concern in the Middle East were the fate of the Palestinians, and one’s main hope the satisfaction of their aspirations to national self-determination, one would hardly need to insist, as Loeb and Waskow and others in Breira have done, that these aspirations can be satisfied through the PLO and the PLO alone—especially when even a number of Arab leaders, including President Sadat of Egypt, have suggested such alternate non-PLO solutions to the Palestinian problem as a co-federation with Jordan (not to mention other solutions proposed by Israel and the friends of Israel). But so fixated on the PLO is this faction within Breira that it continues to insist on the centrality of that organization at a time when the PLO has been decimated in size and influence by the power politics, and the bullets, of its Arab “brothers,” and when many observers are coming to believe that, to quote a recent report in the New York Times, the PLO’s role in Middle East history may “be at an end.”
In addition to its pro-PLO faction, however, Breira is made up of rabbis and liberal Jewish intellectuals and academics who may well form a majority, and who are far from being “anti-Israel” in any simple sense of the term. Yet these people too have lent their support and prestige to a movement that seeks to “solve” the Middle East conflict by placing the burden of proof on Israel. One might speculate endlessly about the motives of these Jewish men and women. Liberal guilt, a desire to be on the side of “liberation” and “progress,” a weariness at having to uphold Israel’s cause when that cause has gone out of odor or has come to seem hopeless, even an unconscious and paradoxical wish to be, for once, on the side their own government may be leaning toward—whatever the particular impulse, it is clear that, as they do not in fact wish Israel harm, they must find convincing reason to advocate the course they do, and persuade themselves that following it will lead away from danger and toward peace. It is here that the reassuring notion comes to hand—a notion invented by necessity if ever one was—that the Arabs themselves are ready and willing to make peace with Israel and have already said as much if one only succeeds in interpreting their words properly.
That in addition to mere wishful thinking there is a hint of unconscious racism in this last idea cannot be discounted altogether; Breira’s pronouncements are in general characterized by an appallingly patronizing attitude toward the Arabs, a refusal to take them or anything they say seriously. But as Rael Isaac points out, what strikes the observer above all in such mental maneuvers is the unspoken desire, born, perhaps, of the feeling that Israel has become an intolerable burden, to distance oneself as a Jew from Israel’s fate. Because this desire cannot be confronted honestly, reality is denied or redefined, one’s intentions become cloaked in the language of moral rectitude, and a conviction takes hold that the “solution” to Israel’s dilemma is both simple and at hand.
But the motives and intentions of the sundry and various elements in Breira are one thing, the ends, the organization serves, whether it wishes to or not, are another. In spite of its recent protestations to the contrary, what Breira has primarily managed to do is to lend a seal of Jewish approval to the idea that the party at “fault” in the Middle East is not the 100 million Arabs who vowed once to throw Israel into the sea and now, after thirty years, actually stand within hailing distance of achieving that aim, but the 3 million Israelis, who for thirty years have sued for nothing but the opportunity to live among their neighbors in peace. Breira furnishes an “address,” inside the Jewish community, to which anyone in government or in the world of public opinion may appeal who is seeking to promote a policy of one-sided pressure on Israel and needs to overcome the opposition which American Jewry has heretofore offered to such action. As Mark Bruzonsky, a supporter of Breira, put it candidly and approvingly in a recent article, Breira’s “hope is so to weaken American support for current Israeli policies as to force policy changes, by U.S. imposition if necessary.” In other words, by breaking the united front of the Jewish community, Breira may contribute toward making it possible for the United States to impose terms on the Israelis from which everyone will benefit but the Israelis themselves, and they may pay dearly indeed.
Both Mrs. Isaac’s pamphlet and the reaction of some established Jewish organizations to Breira have been characterized by the group’s defenders as a “witch-hunt” and an attempt to suppress legitimate dissent within the Jewish community. The truth, however, is that far from being suppressed, Breira has attracted many members and financial supporters from the heart of the American Jewish “establishment” itself, including staff members of the major defense agencies and leaders of the rabbinate. Indeed, the whole issue of “dissent” is a bit disingenuous. Neither Breira nor its supporters have been notable in demanding that the Jewish Defense League (which may be thought of as Breira’s counterpart on the Right) be given a fair hearing by the “establishment”—despite the fact that this dissenting organization has evoked much greater hostility than Breira has.
The reason for the hostility both to Breira and to the JDL is that the overwhelming majority of American Jews, and the organizations representing them, believe neither in the latent peaceful intentions of the PLO toward Israel nor in the annexationist policies advocated by the JDL. Accordingly, anyone espousing either of these positions must expect to be met with criticism and opposition. Considering that the literal survival of the state of Israel is at stake, it is not to be wondered at that the criticisms should sometimes be harsh and the opposition passionate.
As for the charge of smearing and witch-hunting, which has been leveled by (among others) Alexander Cockburn and James Ridgeway (writing in the Village Voice, March 7, 1977) and by Irving Howe in a letter to the Jewish Week: to describe as a witch-hunt the scrupulous documentation of the political history of individuals and groups undertaken by Rael Isaac is itself to perpetrate a smear. In addition, it might be pointed out that charges of witch-hunting and of conducting a smear campaign come with ill grace from the likes of Cockburn and Ridgeway, who do not hesitate to characterize the Jewish Defense League as “parafascist,” and from Irving Howe, who has spoken of a “mixture of Stalinist and McCarthyite methods” [!] being brought to bear by the Jewish Week against Breira.
In a recent article in the Nation, Arthur Waskow likened the role of Breira today to the role of the anti-war movement of the 60’s. Just as the anti-war activists of the 60’s, he wrote, initiated contacts with Hanoi and the Viet-cong and so helped bring “peace” to Vietnam, so Breira has initiated and participated in meetings between representatives of the PLO and American Jews in the hopes of bringing about an end to conflict in the Middle East. Waskow chided American Jewish leaders, many of whom had opposed the American intervention in Vietnam, for not recognizing the parallelism of the two situations and for turning their backs on today’s “peacemakers.” He concluded:
We know now that those who criticized the policy of the U.S. government in Vietnam were right. . . . Why is it so hard for the American Jewish leadership to learn this lesson from its own experience. . . ?
There are several interesting facets to this argument. One is that Waskow should so cavalierly overlook the fact that American Jews do not stand in relation to the government of Israel, which is after all the concerned party here, as they did in relation to their own government when it was a party to the conflict in Vietnam; they do not hold Israeli citizenship, and they have neither the rights nor the obligations thereof, the latter including emphatically the obligation to fight and perhaps to die for the decisions the Israeli government must make. But what is most arresting about the analogy Waskow draws is something else again. The proper term for the “peace” that was finally brought to Vietnam is not peace but, for the one side, victory, and, for the other side, defeat. The “peace” that came to South Vietnam—for which Waskow now takes credit in behalf of the antiwar movement of the 60’s—was the peace of obliteration, the peace of the grave; the country called South Vietnam no longer exists.
This is, indeed, precisely the sort of “peace” which the Palestine Liberation Organization and, as the weight of all the evidence strongly suggests, every self-respecting Arab government in the Middle East have in mind to bring to Israel as well. To work knowingly for such a “peace,” to lend one’s support to those who work for it, may be easy to reconcile with an attitude of enmity toward Israel; it is not so easy to reconcile with any more positive emotion.
1 Breira: Counsel for Judaism, by Rael Jean Isaac, Americans For A Safe Israel, 30 pp., $1.00.
2 In an article for Sh'ma magazine, Rabbi Balfour Brickner described the “intense personal conflict” he had felt during the Jordanian civil war in 1970, when a “radical Jewish friend” phoned from Washington and asked him to take the lead in collecting Jewish names to protest possible United States intervention. “The issue might have been simple for the ordinary American Jew,” Rabbi Brickner wrote, “but not for those who, despite their love of Israel, had long and loudly protested their country's intervention into the Vietnamese civil war. Was the Jordanian situation any different?” After prolonged soul-searching, Rabbi Brickner decided that it was different. “When I called my friend back he seemed to understand but, in talking, he threw me into a turmoil a second time, asking how I would feel if Hussein overwhelmed the guerrillas. Ouch.” Rabbi Brickner did not explain why the prospect of the PLO's defeat threw him into such a turmoil.
3 Mrs. Isaac's own sympathies, to judge from other of her published writings, would appear to tend toward the position of the Land of Israel movement, but her pamphlet on Breira is free of any overt bias and is scrupulous in its respect for evidence and in its use of documentation. Mrs. Isaac is also the author of a useful and well-argued book, Israel Divided: Ideological Politics in the Jewish State; see my review in the September 1976 COMMENTARY.
4 An IPS internal memo, sent on February 11, 1976 by IPS staffer Saul Landau to Samuel Rubin, one of the Institute's financial “angels,” proposed a series of discussions among friendly members of Congress, such as James Abourezk and Anthony J. Moffett, members of the PLO United Nations delegation, “Israeli doves,” and, finally, a “Breira representative, IPS people [and] Arab Americans not in Congress.”
5 Neusner, a professor of Jewish studies at Brown University and one of Breira's early members, has written recently that he joined the organization hoping it would provide a forum for the free discussion of the whole spectrum of issues facing American Jewry and contribute some “important and serious thought on the definition of Zionism and the tasks of Zionism in the [Diaspora].” But, he says, it has done nothing of the kind. Instead, “Breira is an organization with a single obsession, which is not Zionism, not peace in the Middle East, not any of the great issues of that world—but the West Bank and the evils of Jewish settlement thereon. Its principal interest is to tell the Israelis what to do in connection with what is (alas) only one of the many aspects of policy they have to work out.” Another early member of the organization who has subsequently disaffiliated himself, Alan Mintz, says in a recent article that he missed in Breira any unequivocal expression of “ahavat Yisrael, unconditional love for the Jewish people”; following Israel's setbacks in the Yom Kippur War, Mintz notes, the mood in Breira “can only be described as jubilant.”