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Tom Hayden regrets past support for Israeli policy

by stopAIPAC.org Friday, Jul. 21, 2006 at 12:42 PM

In 1982, Tom Hayden shocked peace activists by his unqualified support of Israel's aggression in Lebanon. Hayden now writes of the political pressures he was under, and warns that politicians should *not* be afraid to speak up now, as he was then. It is yet another reason why progressives throughout California will continue to oppose the agenda of AIPAC, and protest its festivities this coming December.

Tom Hayden: Things Come ’Round in Mideast

Twenty-five years ago I stared into the eyes of Michael Berman, chief operative for his congressman-brother, Howard Berman. I was a neophyte running for the California Assembly in a district that the Bermans claimed belonged to them.

“I represent the Israeli defense forces,” Michael said. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. Michael seemed to imagine himself the gatekeeper protecting Los Angeles’ Westside for Israel’s political interests, and those of the famous Berman-Waxman machine. Since Jews represented one-third of the Democratic district’s primary voters, Berman held a balance of power.

All that year I tried to navigate the district’s Jewish politics. The solid historical liberalism of the Westside was a favorable factor, as was the strong support of many Jewish community leaders. But the community was moving in a more conservative direction. Some were infuriated at my sponsorship of Santa Monica’s tough rent control ordinance. Many in the organized community were suspicious of the New Left for becoming Palestinian sympathizers after the Six Day War; they would become today’s neoconservatives.

I had traveled to Israel in a generally supportive capacity, meeting officials from all parties, studying energy projects, befriending peace advocates like the writer Amos Oz. I also met with Palestinians and commented favorably on the works of Edward Said. As a result, a Berman ally prepared an anti-Hayden dossier in an attempt to discredit my candidacy with the Democratic leadership in the California state capital.

This led to the deli lunch with Michael Berman. He and his brother were privately leaning toward an upcoming young prosecutor named Adam Schiff, who later became the congressman from Pasadena. But they calculated that Schiff couldn’t win without name recognition, so they were considering “renting” me the Assembly seat, Berman said. But there was one condition: that I always be a “good friend of Israel.”

This wasn’t a particular problem at the time. Since the 1970s I had favored some sort of two-state solution. I felt close to the local Jewish activists who descended from the labor movement and participated in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements. I wanted to take up the cause of the aging Holocaust survivors against the global insurance companies that had plundered their assets.

While I believed the Palestinians had a right to self-determination, I didn’t share the animus of some on the American left who questioned Israel’s very legitimacy. I was more inclined toward the politics of Israel’s Peace Now and those Palestinian nationalists and human rights activists who accepted Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a reality to accommodate. I disliked the apocalyptic visions of the Israeli settlers I had met, and thought that even hard-line Palestinians would grudgingly accept a genuine peace initiative.

I can offer my real-life experience to the present discussion about the existence and power of an “Israel lobby.” It is not as monolithic as some argue, but it is far more than just another interest group in a pluralist political world. In recognizing its diversity, distinctions must be drawn between voters and elites, between Reform and Orthodox tendencies, between the less observant and the more observant. During my ultimate 18 years in office, I received most of my Jewish support from the ranks of the liberal and less observant voters. But I also received support from conservative Jews who saw themselves as excluded by a Jewish (and Democratic) establishment.

However, all these rank-and-file constituencies were attuned to the question of Israel, even in local and state elections, and would never vote for a candidate perceived as anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I had to be certified “kosher,” not once but over and over again.

The certifiers were the elites, beginning with rabbis and heads of the multiple mainstream Jewish organizations, especially each city’s Jewish Federation. An important vetting role was held as well by the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), a group closely associated with official parties in Israel. When necessary, Israeli ambassadors, counsels general and other officials would intervene with statements declaring someone a “friend of Israel.”

In my case, a key to the “friendship issue” was the Los Angeles-based counsel general Benjamin Navon. Though politics drew us together, our personal friendship was genuine enough. I think that Benny, as he was called, wanted to pull me and my then-wife, Jane Fonda, into a pro-Israel stance, but he himself was an old-school labor/social democrat who personally believed in a negotiated political settlement. We enjoyed personal and intellectual time together, and I still keep on my bookshelf a wooden sculpture by his wife, of an anguished victim of violence....

More at this link.

Note: This coming December, AIPAC holds its annual "membership" activities in the Bay Area (San Jose, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco). It usally involves not only hundreds of its grassroots supporters, but AIPAC makes sure that politicians at not only the Federal level, but also politicians at the State and local level are invited to participate and listen to their pro-occupation, pro-militaristic, vision of "solutions" for the Middle East. The world can no longer afford our silence. We must organize and sound a definitive NO to the politics of militarism, oppression, and State Terror. We can demand a foreign policy that cares about all people, and cares about basic fairness. Please join our contact list .

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