In response to:

On Israel, America and AIPAC from the April 12, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

George Soros deserves congratulations for his frank, sensible, and comprehensive analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the failure of American policy in the region, the questionable influence of AIPAC, and the difficulties that have so often arisen when Jews themselves speak out in criticism of Israel [“On Israel, America, and AIPAC,” NYR, April 12]. Soros’s long support for an ideal of an open society, in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, makes him particularly attuned to the pitch of societies that are censoriously closing down.

The need for America and Europe to recognize the unity government in Palestine and end the economic boycott is clear. The March initiative from Riyadh must be taken seriously: it substantially offers what has been Israel’s dream since its conception—full normalization of relations with Arab countries once a viable Palestinian state has been put in place. It will not be easy. But negotiation on such difficult matters as the recognition of Israel by Hamas, and on refugees and prisoners, is the only way. As for Jerusalem, political gossip in the city is rife about the desk drawers full of plans for its division, some of these making use of constructive ambiguity. Surely all must recognize that what is now required is a degree of good will and strong leadership. The current opening has come about as a result of the vested interests of moderate Arab states in the wake of the war in Iraq. If this chance is missed, it may well disappear forever.

But it is the second matter raised by George Soros, the question of representation and political pressure by Jewish lobbies such as AIPAC, which moves us to write. This is an issue that has recently come to the fore in Britain as well. Partially as a result of the war in Lebanon, there has been growing concern that the institutions which claim the authority to represent British Jews en masse have tended to offer unquestioning support for Israeli government policies. Criticism of the Israeli position is often denounced as an expression of “self-hatred” or anti-Semitism, “endangering the very existence of the Jewish state,” as Soros notes. In order to legitimate and expand the space for debate within the Jewish community, a group of us—Jews from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and affiliations—have come together to form a network of “Independent Jewish Voices” (IJV).

Our declaration stresses the universality of human rights—therefore both for Palestinians and Israelis. It insists on the need to observe international law, rejects all forms of racism, and urges a negotiated peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. We also stress “that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.”

IJV has attracted an astonishing amount of support in Britain, as well as from groups and individuals around the world. Clearly, Jews in many countries feel the need to speak out as Jews and deplore the fact that critical openness has incurred attempts to silence it either by the withdrawal of funds for research groups or by accusations of anti-Semitism. Because of its political and economic clout, America above all needs just the openness Soros has called for. We sincerely hope that at last this is beginning to take place. Contrary to the views of the pro-Israel lobby, uncritical support of current Israeli policy is NOT a service to Israel.

Dr. Lisa Appignanesi, Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Lady Ellen Dahrendorf, Uri Fruchtmann, Rabbi Dr. David J. Goldberg, Dr. Anthony Isaacs, Ann Jungman, Prof. Susie Orbach, Prof. Jacqueline Rose, Prof. Donald Sassoon, Prof. Lynne Segal, Gillian Slovo, Henry Stewart, members of the Independent Jewish Voices initiating group

This Issue

May 10, 2007