George Soros On Israel, America and AIPAC

[It is good to see George Soros telling it as it is. As I read him here and in my own view, Israel’s greatest enemy in the U.S. is AIPAC which is playing a neocon game and deterring American politicians of both parties from helping Israel to negotiate peace with its neighbors. It is a bit ironic today to hear of the Iraqi leadership inviting its insurgents to join the political process, while Israel and the U.S. block acceptance of a Palestinian government which has reeled in Hamas.

If I may voice a word of my own on behalf of Soros — he can scarcely be attacked as a self-hating Jew — the ugly charge of anti-Semitism directed at any who have the temerity to criticize Israel. Such games-playing really is what endangers Israel — attacking her best friends can only breed more enemies — active or passive. I have been there and experienced this ugliness myself. I have had the good fortune of having fought anti-Semitism publicly since my undergraduate days when I wrote an editorial against Yale’s versions. Yes, victims do, indeed, sometimes adopt the tactics of their tormentors when they in turn come to power. May this not be the fate of Israel!!!! Ed Kent]

P.S. Note that Soros is being heard around the world!


Subject: George Soros On Israel, America and AIPAC

On Israel, America and AIPAC
By George Soros

New York Review of Books
Volume 54, Number 6
April 12, 2007

The Bush administration is once again in the process of
committing a major policy blunder in the Middle East,
one that is liable to have disastrous consequences and
is not receiving the attention it should. This time it
concerns the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. The Bush
administration is actively supporting the Israeli
government in its refusal to recognize a Palestinian
unity government that includes Hamas, which the US
State Department considers a terrorist organization.
This precludes any progress toward a peace settlement
at a time when progress on the Palestinian problem
could help avert a conflagration in the greater Middle

The United States and Israel seek to deal only with the
president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas,
in the hope that new elections would deny Hamas the
majority it now has in the Palestinian Legislative
Council. This is a hopeless strategy because Hamas has
said it would boycott early elections, and even if
their outcome would result in Hamas’s exclusion from
the government, no peace agreement would hold without
Hamas’s support.

In the meantime Saudi Arabia is pursuing a different
path. In a February summit in Mecca between Mahmoud
Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, the Saudi
government worked out an agreement between Hamas and
Fatah, which have been clashing violently, to form a
national unity government. According to the Mecca
accord, Hamas has agreed “to respect international
resolutions and the agreements [with Israel] signed by
the Palestinian Liberation Organization,” including the
Oslo Accords. According to press reports on March 15,
the new government, like the present one, will be
headed by Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, but
Hamas will get nine of the government’s twenty-four
ministries, as well as an additional minister without
portfolio; President Abbas and his Fatah party will
control six ministries, and independent
representatives-some said to be under the control of
Hamas or Fatah-and other political factions will fill
the nine remaining ministries. NYR Subscriptions-Save

The Saudi government views this accord as the prelude
to the offer of a peace settlement with Israel, along
the lines of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a
settlement to be guaranteed by Saudi Arabia and other
Arab countries, based on the 1967 borders and full
recognition of Israel. The offer was meant to be
elaborated by Saudi King Abdullah at the Arab League
meeting to be hosted by Saudi Arabia at the end of
March. But no progress is possible as long as the Bush
administration and the Ehud Olmert government persist
in their current position of refusing to recognize a
unity government that includes Hamas. The recent
meeting between Condoleezza Rice, Abbas, and Olmert
turned into an empty formality.

Many of the causes of the current impasse go back to
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to
withdraw from the Gaza Strip unilaterally, without
negotiating with the then-Fatah-controlled Palestinian
Authority. This strengthened the position of Hamas. In
the run-up to the January 2006 Palestinian legislative
elections, Sharon refused to lift a finger to help
Fatah’s prospects. At the behest of the Quartet-the
European Union, the United States, Russia, and the
United Nations-James Wolfensohn worked out a six-point
plan to assist the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip; among
other things, it called for facilitating traffic
between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and opening a
port and an airport in the Gaza Strip. But not one of
the six points was implemented. The Bush
administration’s official in charge, Elliot Abrams,
sabotaged the six-point plan from its inception. Partly
as a consequence, Hamas won the elections in an upset

Then came the blunder I am talking about. Israel, with
the strong backing of the United States, refused to
recognize the democratically elected Hamas government
and withheld payment of the millions in taxes collected
by the Israelis on its behalf. This caused great
economic hardship and undermined the ability of the
government to function. But it did not reduce popular
support for Hamas among Palestinians, and it reinforced
the position of Islamic and other extremists who oppose
negotiations with Israel. The situation deteriorated to
the point where Palestine no longer had an authority
with whom it would have been possible for Israel to

This was a blunder because Hamas is not monolithic. Its
inner structure is little known to outsiders but
according to some reports it has a military wing,
largely directed from Damascus, which is beholden to
its Syrian and Iranian sponsors and a political wing
which is more responsive to the needs of the
Palestinian population that elected it to power. If
Israel had accepted the results of the election, that
might have strengthened the more moderate political
wing. Unfortunately the ideology of the “war on terror”
does not permit such subtle distinctions. Nevertheless,
subsequent events provide some ground for believing
that Hamas has been divided between different
tendencies. It was not willing to go so far as to
recognize the existence of Israel but it was prepared
to enter into a government of national unity which
would have abided by the existing agreements with
Israel. No sooner was agreement reached than the
military wing engineered the kidnapping of an Israeli
soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, which had the effect of
preventing such a government from being formed by
provoking a heavy-handed military response from Israel.
Hezbollah then used the opportunity to stage an
incursion from Lebanon across the internationally
recognized border, kidnapping several more Israeli
soldiers. Despite a disproportionate response by
Israel, Hezbollah was able to stand its ground, thereby
gaining the admiration of the Arab masses, whether
Sunni or Shia.

It was this dangerous state of affairs -including the
breakdown of government in Palestine and fighting
between Fatah and Hamas-that prompted the Saudi
initiative, which holds out the prospect of a peace
settlement. Such a settlement would be very much in the
interests of Israel and the United States.

Defenders of the current policy would argue that Israel
cannot afford to negotiate from a position of weakness.
But Israel’s position is unlikelyto improve as long as
it pursues its present course of military escalation.
Fortunately Saudi Arabia, whose position is also
precarious, has a genuine interest in promoting a
settlement based on two states. It would be tragic to
miss out on that prospect, which would mean both
withdrawal from large parts of the West Bank by the
Israelis, so that a workable Palestinian state can take
power, and acceptance of Israel’s existence by Hamas.
The outlines of such a settlement are quite well
defined. The underlying concepts are not materially
different from what they were during President
Clinton’s time.

The most potent threat comes from Iran. Movement toward
a settlement in Palestine would be helpful in
confronting that threat. But both Israel and the United
States seem to be frozen in their unwillingness to
negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that includes
Hamas. The sticking point is Hamas’s unwillingness to
recognize the existence of Israel; but that could be
made a condition for an eventual settlement rather than
a precondition for negotiations.[1]

The current policy is not even questioned in the United
States. While other problem areas of the Middle East
are freely discussed, criticism of our policies toward
Israel is very muted indeed. The debate in Israel about
Israeli policy is much more open and vigorous than in
the United States. This is all the more remarkable
because Palestine is the issue that more than any other
currently divides the United States from Europe. Some
European governments, according to reports, would like
to end the economic boycott of Hamas once a unity
government is successfully established. But the US has
said it would not.

One explanation is to be found in the pervasive
influence of the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC), which strongly affects both the
Democratic and the Republican parties.[2] AIPAC’s
mission is to ensure American support for Israel but in
recent years it has overreached itself. It became
closely allied with the neocons and was an enthusiastic
supporter of the invasion of Iraq. It actively lobbied
for the confirmation of John Bolton as US ambassador to
the United Nations. It continues to oppose any dialogue
with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. More
recently, it was among the pressure groups that
prevailed upon the Democratic House leadership to drop
the requirement that the President obtain congressional
approval before taking military action against Iran.
AIPAC under its current leadership has clearly exceeded
its mission, and far from guaranteeing Israel’s
existence, has endangered it.

The Palestine problem does not have a purely military
solution. Military superiority is necessary for
Israel’s national security, but it is not sufficient.
The solution has to be political, as President Clinton
recognized. He exerted enormous energy to bring about a
peace settlement and his efforts were so successful
that it took the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
in 1995 by an Israeli extremist to prevent an Israeli
peace initiative with Arafat from being implemented.
Even after Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount in
September 2000 set off new violence, Clinton offered a
peace deal several months later that was rejected by
Arafat but probably suggests the shape of a future

President Bush has never tried. He has adopted the
misleading metaphor of the war on terror and allowed
Ariel Sharon to have his way. Sharon did not want a
negotiated settlement. He came to realize that the
military occupation could not be maintained forever and
withdrew from Gaza, in part, it has been argued, to
strengthen the Israeli position on the West Bank. But
unilateral withdrawal led to the current chain of
events. The Bush administration did not just passively
acquiesce in the Sharon/ Olmert government’s policies;
it actively encouraged them. AIPAC must bear its share
of responsibility for aiding and abetting policies such
as Israel’s heavy-handed response to Hezbollah last
summer and its insistence on treating Hamas only as a
terrorist organization.

The current policy of not seeking a political solution
but pursuing military escalation-not just an eye for an
eye but roughly speaking ten Palestinian lives for
every Israeli one-has reached a particularly dangerous
point. After the Israel Defense Forces’ retaliation
against Lebanon’s road system, airport, and other
infrastructure one must wonder what could be the next
step for the Israeli forces. Iran poses a more potent
danger to Israel than either Hamas or Hezbollah, which
are Iran’s clients. There is the growing danger of a
regional conflagration in which Israel and the US could
well be on the losing side. With the ability of
Hezbollah to withstand the Israeli onslaught and the
rise of Iran as a prospective nuclear power, Israel’s
existence is more endangered than at any time since its

Supporters of Israel have good reason to question
AIPAC’s advocacy and they have begun to do so. But
instead of engaging in critical self-examination, AIPAC
remains intransigent. Recently, the pro-Israel lobby
has gone on the offensive, accusing the so-called
progressive critics of Israel’s policies of fomenting
anti-Semitism and endangering the very existence of the
Jewish state.

The case against those who disagree with Israel’s
current policy is spelled out in detail by Alvin H.
Rosenfeld in a pamphlet published by the American
Jewish Committee.[3] After reviewing the rise of new
anti-Semitic currents, particularly in the Muslim world
and Europe, Rosenfeld equates anti-Semitism with anti-
Zionism and asserts that Jewish critics of Israeli
policies reinforce both. He acknowledges that criticism
by itself is not anti-Semitic; indeed, he writes, “the
biblical prophets stood on the side of justice and were
never hesitant to denounce their people’s behavior when
they saw it deviating from the standards of justice.”
But, he contends, “to condemn Israeli actions and, at
the same time, to forego any realistic historical and
political frameworks that might account for such
actions” is not acceptable. The use of “exaggerated and
defamatory terms,” he writes, renders Israel
indistinguishable from the “despised country regularly
denounced by the most impassioned anti-Semites.”

To call Israel a Nazi state…or to accuse it of
South African-style apartheid rule or engaging in
ethnic cleansing or wholesale genocide goes well
beyond legitimate criticism.

To talk about victims turning into aggressors falls in
his view in the same category.

To buttress his case, Rosenfeld examines the writings
of a number of critics. In particular, he focuses on a
collection of essays whose authors, in his own
judgment, make Noam Chomsky appear as an “almost
conservative thinker,” but the list also includes Tony
Judt, a distinguished historian, whose crime consists
of suggesting a possible binational solution for
Israel, and Richard Cohen, a Washington Post columnist,
who wrote, among other things, that the “sanest choice
for Israel is to pull back to defensible-but hardly
injurious-borders” and to get out “of most of the West
Bank”-a policy often advocated in Israel itself.
Rosenfeld resorts, without any personal knowledge of
the people he attacks, to primitive accusations of
self-hatred, lumping all these critics together as
people who are “proud to be ashamed to be Jews.” He
concludes that “the cumulative effect of these hostile
ideas, which have been moving steadily from the margins
to the mainstream of ‘progressive’ opinion, has been to
reenergize ugly ideas and aggressive passions long
considered dormant, if not dead,” i.e., anti-Semitism.

Rosenfeld’s argument suffers from at least three
elementary errors in reasoning. The first is guilt by
association. The fact that constructive critics of
Israel say things that, when taken out of context or
paraphrased in provocative ways, can be made to sound
similar to the comments of anti-Semites does not make
them anti-Semitic or supporters of anti-Semitism in any
way. Second, there is a lack of factual evidence. Are
the expressions used by the critics really “exaggerated
and defamatory”? That depends on the facts. What is the
more appropriate term, “Israel’s still incomplete
security fence” or “an Apartheid Wall?” That can be
determined only by considering the actual impact the
wall is having on the lives of the Palestinians, a
subject ignored by Rosenfeld and AIPAC.

Third, the professed respect for criticism is a sham
when it is not permitted “to condemn Israeli actions
and, at the same time, to forego any realistic
historical and political frameworks that might account
for such actions.” As presented by Rosenfeld, this
formula implies that Israel’s actions have to be
justified, right or wrong. The appeal to a “realistic
framework” aims to rationalize the Israeli position.
Criticism ought to be considered on its merits and not
by any other yardstick. Suppressing criticism when it
is deemed to be unpatriotic has been immensely harmful
both in the case of Israel and the United States. It
has allowed the Bush administration and the Sharon/
Olmert government to pursue disastrous policies.

The pro-Israel lobby has been remarkably successful in
suppressing criticism.[4] Politicians challenge it at
their peril because of the lobby’s ability to influence
political contributions. When Howard Dean called for an
evenhanded policy toward Israel in 2004, his chances of
getting the nomination were badly damaged (although it
was his attempt, after his defeat in Iowa, to shout
above the crowd that sealed his fate). Academics had
their advancement blocked and think-tank experts their
funding withdrawn when they stepped too far out of
line. Following his criticism of repressive Israeli
policy on the West Bank, former president Jimmy Carter
has suffered the loss of some of the financial backers
of his center.

Anybody who dares to dissent may be subjected to a
campaign of personal vilification. I speak from
personal experience. Ever since I participated in a
meeting discussing the need for voicing alternative
views, a torrent of slanders has been released
including the false accusation in The New Republic that
I was a “young cog in the Hitlerite wheel” at the age
of thirteen when my father arranged a false identity to
save my life and I accompanied an official of the
Ministry of Agriculture, posing as his godson, when he
was taking the inventory of a Jewish estate.[5]

AIPAC is protected not only by the fear of personal
retaliation but also by a genuine concern for the
security and survival of Israel. Both considerations
have a solid foundation in reality. The same two
factors were at play in the United States after
September 11 when President Bush declared war on
terror. For eighteen months thereafter it was
considered unpatriotic to criticize his policies. That
is what allowed him to commit one of the greatest
blunders in American history, the invasion of Iraq. But
at that time the threat to our national security was
greatly exaggerated by the Bush administration.
Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney went so
far as to warn that the threat would manifest itself in
the form of a mushroom cloud. In the case of Israel
today the threat to national security, even national
survival, is much more real. Israel needs the support
of the United States more than ever. Is this the right
time to expose AIPAC’s heavy influence in American
politics? I believe this consideration holds back many
people who are critical of the way AIPAC conducts its
business. While the other architects of the Bush
administration’s failed policies have been relentlessly
exposed, AIPAC continues to be surrounded by a wall of

I am not insensitive to this argument. It has held me
back from criticizing Israeli policies in the past. I
am not a Zionist, nor am I am a practicing Jew, but I
have a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a
deep concern for the survival of Israel. I did not want
to provide fodder to the enemies of Israel. I
rationalized my position by saying that if I wanted to
voice critical views, I ought to move to Israel. But
since there were many Israelis who held such views my
voice was not needed, and I had many other battles to

But now I have to ask the question: How did Israel
become so endangered? I cannot exempt AIPAC from its
share of the responsibility. I am a fervent advocate of
critical thinking. I have supported dissidents in many
countries. I took a stand against President Bush when
he said that those who don’t support his policies are
supporting the terrorists. I cannot remain silent now
when the pro-Israel lobby is one of the last unexposed
redoubts of this dogmatic way of thinking. I speak out
with some trepidation because I am exposing myself to
further attacks that are likely to render me less
effective in pursuing many other causes in which I am
engaged; but dissidents I have supported have taken far
greater risks.

I am not sufficiently engaged in Jewish affairs to be
involved in the reform of AIPAC; but I must speak out
in favor of the critical process that is at the heart
of our open society. I believe that a much-needed self-
examination of American policy in the Middle East has
started in this country; but it can’t make much headway
as long as AIPAC retains powerful influence in both the
Democratic and Republican parties. Some leaders of the
Democratic Party have promised to bring about a change
of direction but they cannot deliver on that promise
until they are able to resist the dictates of AIPAC.
Palestine is a place of critical importance where
positive change is still possible. Iraq is largely
beyond our control; but if we succeeded in settling the
Palestinian problem we would be in a much better
position to engage in negotiations with Iran and
extricate ourselves from Iraq. The need for a peace
settlement in Palestine is greater than ever. Both for
the sake of Israel and the United States, it is highly
desirable that the Saudi peace initiative should
succeed; but AIPAC stands in the way. It continues to
oppose dealing with a Palestinian government that
includes Hamas.

Whether the Democratic Party can liberate itself from
AIPAC’s influence is highly doubtful. Any politician
who dares to expose AIPAC’s influence would incur its
wrath; so very few can be expected to do so. It is up
to the American Jewish community itself to rein in the
organization that claims to represent it. But this is
not possible without first disposing of the most
insidious argument put forward by the defenders of the
current policies: that the critics of Israel’s policies
of occupation, control, and repression on the West Bank
and in East Jerusalem and Gaza engender anti-Semitism.

The opposite is the case. One of the myths propagated
by the enemies of Israel is that there is an all-
powerful Zionist conspiracy. That is a false
accusation. Nevertheless, that AIPAC has been so
successful in suppressing criticism has lent some
credence to such false beliefs. Demolishing the wall of
silence that has protected AIPAC would help lay them to
rest. A debate within the Jewish community, instead of
fomenting anti-Semitism, would only help diminish it.

Anticipating attacks, I should like to emphasize that I
do not subscribe to the myths propagated by enemies of
Israel and I am not blaming Jews for anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism predates the birth of Israel. Neither
Israel’s policies nor the critics of those policies
should be held responsible for anti-Semitism. At the
same time, I do believe that attitudes toward Israel
are influenced by Israel’s policies, and attitudes
toward the Jewish community are influenced by the pro-
Israel lobby’s success in suppressing divergent views.

-March 15, 2007


[1] As the highly respected Israeli writer David
Grossman, whose son was killed fighting in Lebanon,
commented on March 11, “In the present situation any
sort of dialogue between Israel and Palestinians is
positive and has the potential to change the state of
mind of both societies.”

[2] It is not the only one. In a letter to the Jewish
citizens in America, Jimmy Carter wrote that “the
overwhelming bias for Israel comes from Christians like
me who have been taught to honor and protect God’s
chosen people from among whom came our own savior,
Jesus Christ.”

[3] Alvin H. Rosenfeld, “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought
and the New Anti-Semitism” (American Jewish Committee,

[4] See Michael Massing, “The Storm Over the Israel
Lobby,” The New York Review, June 8, 2006.

[5] See the article by Martin Peretz, “Tyran-a-Soros,”
The New Republic, February 12, 2007.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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