The American Jewish Committee issued a rare criticism of the Israeli government Monday, calling Naftali Bennett’s statement that the idea of a two-state solution is dead “unwelcome comments.”
AJC Director David Harris said Bennett’s remarks “rejecting outright the vision of two states for two peoples, are stunningly shortsighted” and “contravene the outlook of Prime Minister Netanyahu and contradicts the vision presented earlier this month to the AJC Global Forum by Minister Tzipi Livni, chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians.”
Indeed, Bennett’s comments don’t bode well for AJC’s policy, which has been for a few decades now—like most American Jewish organizations—advocating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The AJC just hosted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at their Global Forum, where he stated the urgent need for two states to be living side by side in a homeland of their own, stressing that "If we do not succeed now, we may never get another chance."
This is certainly not the first time the AJC has issued a statement of criticism, but it’s still quite a rarity. The last known time was in March 2011, when the Knesset Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee—headed at the time by Danny Danon (who has also stated his unequivocal opposition to a two-state solution)—held a hearing (more like a trial, I was there) on whether the American Jewish lobby J Street is in fact a “pro-Israel” organization. At the non-binding hearing, it essentially decided that J Street was a “pro-Palestinian” organization. The AJC issued a statement condemning the committee’s infringement on the voluntary and democratic discussions within the American Jewish community:
In holding hearings on whether a voluntary American Jewish organization is indeed a pro-Israel lobby, the Knesset committee has interfered in an entirely inappropriate way in the internal affairs of the American Jewish community.
This statement was in fact a reiteration of a formal agreement made back in 1950 between then Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and then AJC Director Jacob Blaustein. Following the establishment of Israel and its leaders’ urgent calls for Diaspora Jewry to move en masse to their only real homeland in Israel, Blaustein drafted an agreement with Ben-Gurion in which he rejected the Zionist claim that Diaspora Jewry was in exile and the campaign for mass immigration, unequivocally asserting that American Jewry’s rightful home was in America. “The Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political attachment and that is to the United States of America. They owe no political allegiance to Israel.”
The AJC, a veteran organization established in 1906 to address the threat posed to Jews by Russian pogroms and whose stated mission is to protect the civil and religious rights of Jews throughout the world, was upon its creation a non-Zionist organization. It openly expressed reservations about the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine due to its concerns about the charge of dual loyalty in the U.S. and the implications of establishing a Jewish state in an Arab-dominated region. Joseph M. Proskauer, president of the AJC in 1943, once said the idea of Israel is a “Jewish catastrophe,” something that is unheard of today and that would likely be deemed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
Times have certainly changed since then. Specifically following the Six-Day War, the American Jewish Committee—like many American Jewish organizations—has been a mostly uncritical defender of Israel and its policies, regardless of who is in power. These days, the AJC is more likely to criticize the U.S. government on Israel’s behalf, as it did recently regarding Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Obama’s defense secretary. Along with the Anti-Defamation League, it called in February for the Senate to further deliberate before approving Hagel.
Although the AJC statement criticizing Bennett’s comments did not refer to his other comments about the need for Israel to “build, build, build” more settlements or his assertion that a Palestinian state will never exist, its director David Harris did call on other officials within government—presumably Prime Minister Netanyahu—to condemn him: "Since he is a member of the current Israeli coalition government, it is important that his view be repudiated by the country's top leaders."
This statement seems to be pitting ruling coalition members against each other, but ignores the fact that plenty of ministers within Netanyahu’s own party—including Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon—have said precisely the same thing as Bennett. The difference is that Bennett actually ran openly on this platform as head of the Jewish Home Party in the January election. Does this mean the AJC will also call on Danny Danon, Ofir Akunis, Tzipi Hotovely and many others in the Likud to be repudiated?
It is doubtful, but as more and more Israeli coalition members openly declare the two-state solution to be a thing of the past, the AJC will find it increasingly difficult to stand by and defend Israeli policies.