Saturday, July 14, 2012

Joe Walsh Should Be Pro-Israel PAC's Public Enemy #1

There is one member of Congress who is a loud-and-proud supporter of a one-state solution. His name is Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), a Tea Party extremist who came to Washington on the crest of the 2010 GOP wave. His opponent is decorated war hero Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs in combat (Walsh is sick of hearing about that).

Walsh's extremist views have made Israel a surprisingly large issue in his suburban Illinois race. Walsh's district isn't very Jewish (good thing too, because he views most Jews with contempt), but by being so clear in opposing one of the bedrock principles of American pro-Israel advocacy, he has put himself in the crosshairs.

Or he should be. I've already noted the deafening silence that has met the rise of one-stateism on the American right. And as The Forward reports, many of the middle-of-the-road pro-Israel groups are ducking this race entirely (Walsh is getting support from some fringe right-wing groups and is under heavy fire from J Street).

As de Talleyrand famously put it: "This is worse than a crime, it's a blunder." We'll put aside the part where pro-Israel groups should oppose Walsh because Walsh's views are fundamentally dangerous for Israel by the terms of these own groups' statements. Taking out Walsh is in these groups' best interest on a host of levels.

First of all, if Walsh stays in Congress he is showing that one can defy the American pro-Israel consensus with impunity. Obviously, part of being an effective advocate is showing that opposition comes with political costs -- a reputation that takes a hit when a first-term Congressman appears to have the big bad Israel Lobby running scared. And in a sense, Walsh is more dangerous to the pro-Israel establishment than most because he's at the vanguard of a movement seeking to strip "pro-Israel" away from mainstream Jewish groups and turn it into an evangelical Christian construct which doesn't care a whit about Jewish lives or Jewish values. Does anyone think Walsh actually has a use for groups like AJC in directing the future of pro-Israel? Of course not. The more the power of people like Walsh waxes, the more that of the mainstream Jewish community wanes.

Second, a critical element of the pro-Israel community's Washington strategy is to maintain support for Israel as a bipartisan value. Yet that image is increasingly under threat as the heavy pro-Israel hitters are beginning to be seen as essentially arms of the right. There are left-wing politicians they will attack for insufficient support of Israel (sometimes rightly, sometimes not), but there is no way one can be anti-Israel from the right (save Pat Buchanan-esque crpyto-conservatism). Given that, liberal organizations are naturally going to wonder if the supposed bipartisanship of the pro-Israel community, really is. Taking on Congressman Walsh -- demonstrating that they're willing to police their right flank as well as their left one -- would do much to reestablish the fraying centrist credibility of these groups.

And finally -- taking on Walsh is likely a freebie. Walsh is a far, far right-wing Republican who was elected in a wave year and whose seat got even more liberal in redistricting. Most prognosticators think he's going down anyway. So why not line up on the winning side? Even if one is misguided enough to think Walsh is anything other than a massive liability, there's no reason to not jump on the bandwagon here, given the benefits outlined above. If pro-Israel groups can't challenge right-wing Republicans even when the odds are stacked in their favor, what good are they?

Joe Walsh is, almost without a doubt, the single most anti-Israel Congressman serving in Washington today. He needs to be taken down, and hard. And it is a disappointing commentary on the state of the American pro-Israel lobby that they seem unable to muster the balls to take him on.


PastorArt1974 said...

Everything I've heard Joe Walsh say indicates he is very Pro Israel. He attended Glenn Beck's event in Israel last year. And it is obvious how little this author knows about Joe Walsh when the author claims that Joe "holds most Jews in contempt". Fact is that Joe is married to a Jewish girl.

David Schraub said...

Pro-tip: If you're going to argue someone is not hostile to Jews, citing their affinity for Glenn Beck is not the way to do it.

In any event, the American Jewish community has been very clear: If you endorse a one-state solution, you're not pro-Israel. Period. It's a red-line, and Walsh crossed it.

rshams said...

"In any event, the American Jewish community has been very clear: If you endorse a one-state solution, you're not pro-Israel. Period. It's a red-line, and Walsh crossed it."

If that is true, then you would either see mainstream Jewish groups criticizing Walsh, or large numbers of these groups' members leaving as a result of their views not being properly represented. As far as I can tell, neither scenario has occurred.

What I think you're missing is the importance of intent. One-staters from the left ground their view in sympathy for Palestinians and a distaste for Zionism. Walsh (and presumably others on the right who have engaged in one-staterism - if that's the right word) comes to his view out of a belief that the Palestinians are not and can never be partners for peace. If you are pro-Israel, there is a clear moral difference between the two (even if you think, as I do, that Walsh goes too far).

Yes, most American Jews (myself included) support a two-state solution, but a similar number place the brunt of the blame for the conflict and its continuation on the Palestinians. You need to take both views into consideration when you judge the actions of mainstream Jewish orgs.

Don't get me wrong. I think Joe Walsh is an extremist blowhard. But to ask mainstream Jewish groups to go against him - specifically on Israel-related grounds - seems to be a bit much.

David Schraub said...

I don't put much stock in "intent" -- everyone thinks of themselves as protagonists in their own story, and plenty of left-wing one-staters, like Walsh, hold themselves out as friends of Israel (plenty don't of course, but the JVP, for example, is adamant that they are not "anti-Israel"). Nor do I buy into the notion that one-stateism which stems from sympathy for settler extremists is any more pro-Israel compatible than one-stateism which stems from sympathy for Palestinians..

I think the reticence from mainstream groups is a sign of their weakness, not tacit approval of Walsh. They're convinced that right-wing evangelical support for Israel is their best hope, and don't dare criticize conservatives who hold themselves out as supporters of Israel (accurately or not). The ADL tried calling out Mike Huckabee once, and issued a sniveling apology for it once Huckabee went off at them. This is, I think, short-sighted, but it is demonstrative of how the feeble in reality the fabled Israel Lobby is when it seems appropriate for it to challenge right-wingers.

rshams said...

We'll have to disagree on the matter of intent, but I do think that people like Walsh come to their view not out of "sympathy for settler extremists," but out of a belief that the Palestinians cannot be responsible partners for peace. He doesn't appear to be an evangelical Christian, so I doubt there's any messianic fervor behind his view.

But intent aside, I agree that the Jewish orgs that are reluctant to criticize Walsh and his ilk probably aren't supporters of his views, but neither is it necessarily a form of weakness not to actively oppose him based on those particular views. What I take away from this state of affairs is that explicit support for a two-state solution is one, among many, factors that mainstream groups take into consideration. You could try to convince them why they should only focus on that one factor, as opposed to calling them weak/feeble.