By Barry Dredze
There is an old American saying that goes, “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”
Amid news of polling commissioned by J Street revealing sustained American Jewish support for the policies of President Barack Obama, a recent Wall Street Journal headline scolded us for electing a president who “abandoned Israel” by violating a policy that its author, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current Kulanu Party Knesset Minister Michael Oren, calls “no daylight.”
Among many published responses to Oren’s Wall Street Journal column, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo asked the question in the title of his piece, “Is Israel’s Biggest Problem Jewish Journalists in America?”
It’s a good question – is Oren’s latest op-ed blitz a reaction to the supposed indifference (or worse) of Jewish pundits to Israel’s treatment by the U.S.?
In the piece, Marshall assumes that such pundits are a relatively small cut of American Jewish opinion, writing, “American Jews, who despite not holding a candle to the numbers of Israel’s evangelical supporters, are still a not insignificant foothold of the alliance….” But “not insignificant” is still not necessarily significant.
I find myself arguing increasingly that American Jewish leadership really no longer leads all that many American Jews. Considering that only about 39% of American Jewish adults live in a household where at least one person is a member of a synagogue (Pew, 2013), it is difficult to avoid jumping to the conclusion that an almost unholy alliance of an American-Jewish establishment and right-wing Israeli leadership likely prefers mining the hearts, minds and wallets of Evangelical Christians and other U.S. conservative gentiles over serving the more liberal and secular Jewish rank and file.
A pattern emerges from recent interactions between establishment and, say, dissident organizations. Consider the rejection of J Street by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the struggle between Open Hillel and Hillel International, and the more recent donor summit hosted by Sheldon Adelson for campus groups to pitch for funding their anti-BDS efforts. According to the Forward, some of the groups invited to pitch for Adelson’s funding included Christians United for Israel and the Washington Free Beacon while liberal Jewish groups that are also opposed to BDS like J Street, Ameinu and New Israel Fund were not invited.
Sheldon Adelson’s alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not breaking news. Adelson publishes the popular Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom and gives it away free to promote the agenda of the Prime Minister’s Office, explained Gershom Gorenberg in American Prospect late last year.
“’Newspaper’ in Hebrew is iton,” wrote Gorenberg. “Israel Hayom has gained the nickname Bibiton. A vast army of people wearing red overalls hand it out for free every day, everywhere in Israel. For the newspaper’s owner, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, making money isn’t the goal.”
In fact, the only thing factual reporting lacks in its struggle to report on the story of the occupation and creeping apartheid is money. Sheldon Adelson is buying Israeli public opinion by giving away one of its most popular newspapers, even while throwing upwards of $150 million at failed 2012 Republican presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich.
Gershom Gorenberg cited a former Adelson business partner in a 2011 legal deposition from a suit filed against Adelson in Israeli court, that Israel Hayom loses $3 million a month. But it all amounts to a narrative assault on journalistic discipline and, subsequently, the context of our entire political discourse within which the rest of us must work to break from the status quo.
In the wake of Oren’s perceived revelations, the chairman of Oren’s Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon disavowed Oren’s claims of the Obama White House having abandoned Israel. But unlike Finance Minister Kahlon, Prime Minister Netanyahu only said that he would consider commenting on the matter in public eventually, rejecting the request by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to distance his government from Oren’s narrative and, instead, effectively sustaining his image of a Prime Minister who won’t let any liberal Democratic American president push Israel around.
In the narrowest political terms, that is a potentially huge return on investment.