hi folks, just published this in Middle East Times and wanted feedback from you folks about this question of who and what is pro-israel and what and who are anti-israel. Very interested in responses and discussion. peace, marc

What Exactly is Pro-Israel?
Published: June 16, 2008
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobby groups in the United States, just concluded its annual Washington conference. It drew a long line of administration officials and the presidential candidates to its doorsteps, all touting orthodox lines on what it means to be pro-Israel – messages carefully crafted to please the lobby.

Now is a good time to ask, what exactly does 'pro-Israel' mean, and who is pro-Israel in the United States today?

The ones who twist every arm in Congress to be silent, to suppress what they know is right to do in terms of a fair Israeli-Palestinian deal? We have before us now a hair-trigger set of confrontations from Lebanon to the Persian Gulf, with long-range missiles, chemical and nuclear capable, aimed at Israel from a country in the Gulf that has no business in the Gaza Strip.

And yet, due to the unending festering of the Palestinian tragedy, Shiite Iran has stepped into Sunni Gaza, in addition to Iraq and Lebanon, primarily because the United States failed to engage fairly, or at all, in the last eight years.

Have our actions made Israel safer, and do they reflect a pro-Israel position? Or is this in fact an anti-Israel position that is sacrificing Jewish and Palestinian children on an altar of self-destructive fears and hatreds? In the end, American politicians are going to say and do what the most effective lobbyists tell them to do regarding Israel. And that translates back to the American people and their voice. The American people must decide what is pro-Israel and what is anti-Israel.

Some interesting lessons learned come from Northern Ireland: On March 26, 2007 Ian Paisley, co-founder of the DUP party of Northern Ireland, sat side by side with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, his most reviled enemy, and the two of them pledged their full participation in an Irish government.

This is the same Ian Paisley who had consistently been the voice of Protestant opposition and demonization of Catholics. This is the same Sinn Fein that had represented the Irish Republican Army as it carried out decades of violence against Protestants. How did these enemies get to 2007? There was a little stop along the way in 1998, in which the United States and one George Mitchell played a central role.

In 1998, former Senator George Mitchell, of Irish descent, oversaw the completion of the historic Good Friday Accord that led eventually to the power sharing arrangements which Northern Ireland now enjoys. He was supported by another man of partial Irish descent, U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Senator Mitchell once told me in person exactly how he managed to successfully outmaneuver the spoilers in the Irish/Protestant conflict. He explained to me: "I had a pad of paper with my handwritten notes. I had the only copy. On it I placed what each side pledged to do, and exactly when and in what sequence they would do it. I let them know that if either side failed in the sequence, then the president of the United States would publicly lay the blame for the failure of the entire accord on the side that had broken their word."

These words were so simple, so remarkable, so pristine in their understanding of negotiation and arbitration. And this is precisely what has been missing from Palestinian/Israeli peace processes from the very beginning.

It is not as if the American road to Irish peacemaking was easy. There were spoilers in America, just as there are now regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There were people on both sides who thought they were pro-Irish. But were they pro-Irish all those decades or anti-Irish? In the end, it was Mitchell and Clinton who were the most pro-Irish, because they stopped the killing of Irish children once and for all.

It goes without saying that the issues were exceedingly complex, that it took years to identify the compromises, and that Mitchell's charisma and skills added up to much more than a pad of paper. However, what was irreplaceable was the American political will to authorize Mitchell to boil it all down to that pad of paper and its conditions.

Perhaps it is time to finally tell our congressmen to tell Mitchell to go to the Holy Land, with a single pad of paper in hand, armed with the only weapon necessary: the American will to write on that pad of paper what needs to be written, what everyone knows must be written.

How many more Palestinian and Jewish children have to die before the American people find the willpower to send a brilliant negotiator to the Middle East with a single pad of paper?


Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. He can be reached at This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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Hi there Marc, again thank you for sending me those links.

You wrote in your article that no one could ever have imagined a day when Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley would sit down at a table together. As someone who grew during up the IRA bombing campaign and who heard the endless stories of sectarian violence I can assure you that I was one of those people who could not believe what I saw when those two foes posed for the cameras. But the peace agreement has always left me with two questions that could certainly be applied to other conflicts of a similar nature. Firstly, can the moderates ever deliver peace and secondly, in order for there to be peace must justice be abandoned? In the case of Northern Ireland it is clear that the answer to these two questions are no and yes, respectively.

I seriously believe that the Ulster Unionist and the SDLP could never have ended the Troubles. Both parties of course played their part by signing the Good Friday Agreement but whatever position they staked out there was always an extremist who could shout from the side lines. Let us not forget the most extreme Nationalists were not flushed out of Irish politics by the SDLP but were murdered by the IRA. As bitter as he might understandable be I doubt David Trimble seriously believes that history will record him as the man who brought peace to Ireland but rather the man who destroyed his own party. This is of course sad, neither was involved in the murder and violence that people like myself were once all to familiar with but the simple fact is these two parties were not the peace makers.

As for the issue of justice this reminds me of an old friend of mine who was from the Catholic community. He grew up in the height of the Troubles and was a victim of violence from both sides. When he saw Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sit down together he just responded with one word: ‘murderers’. I understand and sympathise with how he feels, his childhood was blighted by the supporters of these two men and when he was fourteen he was badly beaten up by British Soldiers for what seems to be no other reason than he was from the Catholic community. For him peace did arrive but justice was never delivered. In the end, despite not being religious, he found comfort in the Christian idea of forgiveness and no longer holds any bitterness but he had to travel a long and painful road until he could forgive.

If we are to apply what happened in Northern Ireland to the Middle East then we are suggesting that it is not Olmert and Abbas who will bring peace but Haniya and Liberman and that the many Palestinian and Israelis who have suffered should never have their day in court. Do you advocate this? When it is put in these terms I am very reluctant to say yes. It is not that I do not see real possibilities in talking to the extremists or in allowing people who are guilty of murder to walk free – to a certain degree that has clearly happen already and it is what we did here - it is because there are too many people in the Middle East who are in the same position as my friend and I am not sure I could look them in the face and tell them that the peacemakers are the extremists and for there to be peace there cannot be justice.

Hi Max

In response to Shaii's discussion What do we want?, I defined Peace Among Groups as Harmony among different groups of people. Examples are neighborhoods, States, and so on.

You may or may not agree with that brief definition

The Irish example illustrates that such a peace indeed is achievable IF, but only if, all the members of the different stakeholder groups are really willing. For that to happen, all the extremist stake-holders (direct, indirect, and presumptive) in the Muddle East conflict need to decide that trying to live in harmony is better than the alternative (physical violence).

I do not see that happening real soon in the Muddle East mainly because of incitement from the presumptive extremist stake-holders in the Muddle East conflict. (For the definition of the stakeholder terminology I use, see the discussion Stakeholders: Who are they and who do they really help?)

My long list of presumptive stake-holders include: Islamists, latent and blatant Jew-haters, many ex-Communist who now have a new crusade, many people-of-goodwill (often without a knowledge of the really relevant facts) who are simply moved by the very real plight of the ordinary Palestian people, and so on.

I agree with your assessment that: "for there to be peace there cannot be justice." Certainly not from the point of view of all who see themselves as stakeholders. That in my view is axiomatic; an obvious fact. I think that perceptions of Justice are very subjective, and depend on the perceptions and experiences of those who (attempt to) assess what Justice is in a particular context. Most such people just have too many different perceptions and self-perceived needs.

Max and Paul,
You're steering this in an awesome direction.
Max - that analysis was brilliant.
I don't believe that without justice there can truly be peace.
It will be a deficient brand of peace, crippled by its compromises.
Paul, saying justice is subjective is near to saying there's no such thing as justice.
Justice must try to be objective - that's why the those statues
of lady justice are blindfolded, right?
And the fact that we so frequently notice when people deviate from the objective for their own subjective reasons, proves that there is an objective for us to recognize.
We're all human, and nobody's perfect, and no system run by people will be perfect, but we have an ideal to at least try to approach, asymptotes maybe, but better than the nothing of subjectivity.
Paul, I like your definition of peace among groups.
I'd say "social harmony," but it's the same really.
Harmony is an excellent word for this.

Thing is, if some stakeholder thinks that justice for them means something that will hurt the harmony generated by the vast majority of everybody else, then their definition of justice must itself be unjust.
Hi Paul my response is below.
Great article!
I certainly agree with the way you frame this, Marc. Asking "have we made Israel safer?" is a great way to look at it. But I think I would disagree in the details. (For one, AIPAC is nowhere near as rightwing or powerful as it's typically made out to be.) Lord David Trimble, who shared in the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in bringing peace to Ireland, has cautioned against overeasy analogies that ignore a great deal of what really went on in Ireland. Instead, he offered a fuller picture where preconditions set before talks were a vital part of making those talks productive and argues that preconditions must be placed on Hamas before they can be included in negotiations. He has reiterated such a position as recently (and perhaps more recently, though I don't know) as January. I'm sure a similar position is presented in a much longer article, "Misunderstanding Ulster," available here, which I'll be reading myself fairly soon.
Hi there Paul.

The Irish example does not illustrate that peace is possible if and only if all members of the different stake holders groups are willing to make peace. That is simply not what happen in Northern Ireland.

When the IRA agreed to decommissioning they had already murdered a few of their more extreme elements and those that survived went on to form the so called Real IRA who are still at large. Furthermore, today the IRA is still involved in criminality with the Northern Bank robbery in Belfast as yet unresolved. On the other side the UDF, who have agreed to a ceasefire, have not decommissioned and are, in my eyes, a terrorist organisation. What has happened in NI is that people with the power to move the process forward engaged in a political process bring some elements of the extremists to the centre while isolating others and the actions of the United States played a productive role in this as Marc has written. It was more than willing to invite the murders of the IRA into the White House as well as the failed leaders of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP - David Trimble, John Hume and others, for example. Marc’s discussion is about whether the US should use many of these successful tactics in the Middle East, a valid question. There is obviously a domestic audience to be considered which was less prominent in the case of Northern Ireland as well as a whole host of related issues such as Iraq and Iran, all of which will no doubt influence US policy makers.

I do not agree with your view of ‘stakeholders’. I would divide such people into two groups: the politically active and the politically inactive. There are many people in the UK who profess deep concern for the plight of the Palestinian people but because their activities to not go beyond expressing their opinions on radio phone in programs or writing newspaper articles they do not actually influence the process at all. The United States in contrast wields more power than any other outside group in this conflict. I do not doubt that your division of ‘stakeholders’ is a valid view but I think it can easily give significance to the irrelevant. If the number of UK members of Palestinian Solidarity increased 10 fold tomorrow I doubt it would shift the Israeli Government’s view – if anything it would harden it – but if the US cut off aid to Israel I think there would be a dramatic change of policy in Jerusalem.

As for what you wrote on Justice I fully agree with Yigal – who expressed it far better than I. I do not accept and for that matter will never accept some sort of ‘subjective justice’. The rule of Law should take its course. The guilty must be punished. But my point in the above was that to a certain degree peace was achieved in Northern Ireland by quite blatantly ignoring the rule of law. Martin McGuiness was clearly involved in criminality in the past (as the Bloody Sunday Enquiry demonstrated), Ian Paisley self-evidently demonised the Catholic community and incited violence with his endless hate speeches and the British Government murdered, beat and probably tortured prominent Catholics throughout the Troubles. None of these have been prosecuted but if they had we might not have the peace that exists today.

The question I have put to Marc is that, yes the American Government must become involved in the Middle Eastern conflict in the way it was with Northern Ireland but how far should they follow what happened here? Should the American government use it influence to convince Israel to release Marwan Barghouti? We let out the Brighton Bomber under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Should the US talk to Hamas? They invited Gerry Adams into the White House. What I wrote above was that yes there is probably a lot that can be learnt from the Northern Ireland conflict but there are huge differences between the two disputes and what we have here is in many respects is a bitter peace where many ordinary Catholics and Protestant who lost love one
Hi Max, i wanted to respond to your note. But i must say that after terrorist attacks i have a hard time concentrating. and your comments are always so wise that i have to do extra thinking. in short, i think that even though there are many factors that are different there are enough similarities to warrant some similar courses of actions. in israel and ireland, but really universally. here goes: yes, a basic aspect of peace is everyone realizing that full justice is never attainable. but, no, this does not mean that justice should not be aspired to, and that justice does not have some objective reality. in general it occurs to me, the kind of justice associated with compensation, acknowledgement and apology are far more doable historically. the kind of justice associated with conflict prevention--locking up criminals, is also doable. but retribution? generally it continues the cycle of violence and undermines a fundamental shift in relations. yes, i do believe that the Barghouti situation is very parallel, especially by all accounts he can lead a far more moderate palestinian path. in fact, i suspect why his leadership was not cultivated by israel to counter Hamas. In fact, i have seen those who are corrupt like Dahlan specifically favored by israeli leaders, and i have my suspicions of how typical this is of colonial behavior. suppress moderates, elevate the violent and corrupt, divide and conquer. in any case... Hamas is a tougher case in terms of coming to the table. but experience suggests globally that ideology is irrelevant. it is the table that matters. if israel really wants them at the table , then they will be there and they will negotiate. they are representing a widely held palestinian position that Arafat and company were tricked into giving away too much recognition of israel without enough in return. the card they hold, then, is the recognition card, that they will continue to indoctrinate the children to obliterate israel--until they get enough at the table. that is a bargaining position, not really an al qaeda position. their methods are terrorist. but there are alot of disgusting things on all sides, and everyone honest knows it. innocents killed by everyone.
i am really too sick to talk. women crushed, babies thrown out of car windows, and jews shooting an Arab man in the head at point blank range five times, his blood spattering on our screens, the tractor finally coming to a hault. sometimes i can't take this.
I don't think the problem is having the sides agree to terms so much as having a U.S. President that is willing to keep up the pressure. I believe this will only happen once the thinking and conversations in our Jewish communities here in the United States reach a tipping point.
We have to create more interest within the American Jewish community in knowing what is going on in the West Bank and in Gaza. Somehow this information has to be created and come from sources that are trusted in the Jewish community so that the information can be taken in by more and more people. If we get the information from people we trust it is easier to take a stand and to express ourselves.
We need to educate ourselves and each other about:
• The history of the Jewish settlements and information about how these settlements are expanding and hurting Palestinians.
• The financial and moral cost of the construction of separation wall, and network of separate roads in the West Bank. For an excellent article read: “ Waste not, wall not”, by Shuki Sadeh printed in Haaretz:
• The road blocks and check points.
• The many wonderful peace-minded, nation building efforts that are going on in the Palestinian community.
• Jewish values about Justice and Equality and how we want to bring them forward into the world.
• The history of the relationship of the Jewish Diaspora to Israel and consider how we want that to look in the future.
We need to learn ways to celebrate Israel and love Israel and also be willing to look at what is not working.
I believe your heart is in the right place,
but I also think you are wrong in an important and even fundamental way.

You wrote:
"I don't think the problem is having the sides agree to terms so much as having a U.S. President that is willing to keep up the pressure. I believe this will only happen once the thinking and conversations in our Jewish communities here in the United States reach a tipping point.
We have to create more interest within the American Jewish community in knowing what is going on in the West Bank and in Gaza."

The goal really is to get the sides to agree to terms. And depends more on the parties than on outsiders intervening for their own interests.
We will see no lasting benefit arise from a solution with whose terms the sides do not agree. I don't think that the American Jewish community are as overwhelming a factor in all of this as you seem to think.

I also find it a bit odd that you wrote:
"The many wonderful peace-minded, nation building efforts that are going on in the Palestinian community.
• Jewish values about Justice and Equality and how we want to bring them forward into the world."

without also wanting to raise awareness about the many wonderful peace-minded efforts that are going on in the Israeli community, which are, after all, a reflection of the "Jewish values" to which you referred.
You think we need to educate ourselves only about roadblocks and checkpoints, without educating ourselves about the environment to which those were a response in the first place?

That said, of course we need constantly to improve how Israel works, and fix what is not working as well. In the proper context.
hi, i respectfully disagree with this. I have had very delicate conversations, at critical moments regarding foreign policy, with powerful evangelicals. Not only are congressmen afraid of Aipac and any word they might use, so are the evangelical leaders. Don't ask me why. it is complicated. But basically this is about muscle politics. essentially they will do what the so-called pro-israel lobby tells them to do. yes, the evangelical have a huge amount of votes. but jews have swing votes which matter much more. no, there is far more power here in Jewish establishment inflluence on policy. this i have seen repeatedly in the halls of power.
Marc, I can believe that a lot of powerful people say they are motivated by fear of AIPAC, but I find it hard to believe. What about outgoing politicians, either those retiring or those who have faced major scandals and expect never to be able to run for anything again. Do they change their voting patterns? Actually, no. I can even believe that some politicians believe AIPAC is powerful, though I think many are cynically manipulating prejudice, but that doesn't mean AIPAC has any real power.

It fits into the history of antisemitism far too neatly, and moreover doesn't at all consider the relationship between AIPAC and those with direct power. Why AIPAC and not Rabbi Lerner's Tikkun movement? Who is responsible for deciding which of these groups would have access to power? That's where the real power lies.

Btw, Ohio Catholics are a more powerful swing vote than Florida Jews, but you never hear about them.



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