Six Degrees of Separation:
'Pro-Israel Realists' Versus 'Worried
By Aaron Ahuvia,
Board of Directors
advocates for a two-state solution win the debate within the
American Jewish community? To a large extent, we already have.
In February 2008, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the
umbrella agency representing 14 national Jewish groups and 125
local Jewish community relations councils, voted that "the
organized American Jewish community should affirm its support
for two independent, democratic and economically viable states
-- the Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine -- living
side-by-side in peace and security."
Only one Orthodox affiliate objected and even that only
abstained. We've come a long way from the time that advocating
this view could get one branded as a self-hating Jew, but the
debate isn't truly over yet.
American Jewish opinion falls into four broad categories. On
the hawkish extreme, a small but well-funded group I call
"Greater Israel maximalists" still opposes the creation of a
Palestinian state as a matter of principle and supports
settlement expansion. In the opposite corner, a small but vocal
group of "Palestinian solidarity Jews" sees Israel as the
villain in the ongoing conflict and often does not accept the
legitimacy of a Jewish state at all.
According to a variety of polls, about 85 percent of US Jews
fall between these two extremes and support a two-state
solution, at least in principle. This large central group can
itself be divided into two broad camps, which I call "pro-Israel
realists" and "worried Jews." The 'pro-Israel realists,' such as
Meretz USA and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom supporters, see a negotiated
two-state solution as strongly in Israel's interests and see the
status quo as highly dangerous; they want to move quickly
towards a negotiated agreement. The 'worried Jews' on the other
hand support a two-state solution in principle but see it as
risky for Israel, whereas they see the status quo as relatively
The key to advancing our political cause is organizing and
mobilizing 'pro-Israel realists' who already agree with us,
while wining over those 'worried Jews who are fairly sympathetic
to our viewpoint already. Converting the 'Greater Israel
maximalists' is unlikely. And while some 'Palestinian solidarity
Jews' may be won over, they are a fairly small group and don't
have much political influence. 'Worried Jews' on the other hand
represent a large (by Jewish standards) and politically
influential population. To reach 'worried Jews,' we need to
understand the six key underlying assumptions that separate them
from 'pro-Israel realists.' These six assumptions are important,
because they are the key to whether someone will support us
politically. That is to say, these are the six underlying
assumptions that most directly influence the actions we care
about -- namely influencing the US government to work vigorously
for a negotiated two-state solution. If we can win agreement on
these underlying assumptions or preconceptions, the battle about
specific policy questions will be much easier:
1. What being 'pro-Israel' means
'pro-Israel realists,' being pro-Israel means supporting
policies that we believe will benefit Israel, and doing so
because we care about Israel. Being pro-Israel does not mean we
always agree with the Israeli government, since that would
sometimes mean supporting policies that injure Israel. To
'worried Jews' however, being pro-Israel means saying nice
things about Israel and being critical of Israel's foes. This
sometimes means they will publically support policies that they
know are damaging to Israel. In our conversations with 'worried
Jews' we should not allow this definition of being "pro-Israel"
to go unchallenged. Supporting policies that help Israel is
pro-Israel, supporting policies that injure Israel is not.
2. Zero-sum vs. 'win-win'
'Worried Jews' tend to see the conflict
as a zero-sum game in which anything that is good for one side
is bad for the other. In this mental model everyone falls
someplace on a continuum between being pro-Israel and
pro-Palestinian. This assumption underlies much of the suspicion
some 'worried Jews' feel toward organizations like Meretz USA or
Brit Tzedek. They assume that if we show concern for the plight
of the Palestinians, we are less than fully pro-Israel and
therefore not to be trusted.
'Pro-Israel realists,' on the other hand, tend to have a
"win-win" mental model. We know that the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is not a zero-sum game.
Interestingly, this win-win mental model, once disparaged as
naive, is now being advanced by former 'Greater Israel
maximalists' who have come to reconsider reality. See, for
example, this statement by Vice Premier and Foreign Minister
Tzipi Livni (a former Likudnik) as quoted in the Jerusalem Post,
June 18, 2007:
"For too long, the Middle East has been governed by zero-sum
logic. One side's loss was seen as the other's gain. This
thinking has brought much suffering to our region. It has helped
polarize each side's view of the other and hurt those seeking
common ground. The truth is that the peoples of the Middle East
share the same fate. We are destined to be neighbors. Our
futures are inevitably linked together. And no peace will be
lasting if it fails to take this fact into account."
3. Palestinians: A threat to Israel?
This is the issue that puts the "worried" into the label
'worried Jews,' because these Jews fear that if the Palestinians
have an independent state, they will use it to create a serious
military threat to Israel. Thus, 'worried Jews' are often
pre-occupied with uncovering the Palestinians' hidden desires to
destroy Israel that they fear are lurking behind their public
statements of peace.
'Pro-Israel realists' recognize that Palestinian violence is
a real threat to individual Jewish lives. But 'pro-Israel
realists,' being realists, know that even if the Palestinians
wanted to destroy the State of Israel, they would not be able
to. Furthermore, the Palestinians recognize that they are
militarily no match for Israel in a conventional war, and they
will not be foolish enough to try. Therefore, most 'pro-Israel
realists' recognize that most Palestinians do not like the fact
of Israel's existence, but we do not see this as an
insurmountable obstacle to a negotiated peace.
4. Will Palestinians accept a two-state
'Worried Jews' often believe that there is no overlap between
what Israelis and Palestinians are willing to accept and
conclude that negotiations are futile. ‘Pro-Israel
realists’ understand that there is support in both the
Israeli and Palestinian populations for viable, mutually
beneficial agreements. The problem is the disproportionate
influence of the hardliners in each society. People of good will
on both sides need to organize to counter that influence.
5. Can Israel influence Palestinian
'Worried Jews' sometimes believe that Israel can't "show
weakness" (i.e., offer compromises or concessions), because
doing so leads the Palestinians to feel stronger, which makes
them more violent and less willing to compromise. With this
reasoning, Israel needs to respond to every act of Palestinian
violence with an act of retaliation; and other than that, it
should passively wait for Palestinian opinion to become more
'Pro-Israel realists' counter that the actions of the
Israelis and Palestinians have profound effects on the political
opinions of people on the other side. Many 'worried Jews'
recognize that when Palestinians send signals that they are
willing to accept a viable two-state solution, both Israelis and
American Jews tend to become more dovish. Therefore, these Jews
often correctly argue that the best way to increase moderation
among Israelis is for the Palestinians and Arabs to end violence
and show a clear willingness to compromise.
'Pro-Israel realists' know that Israel can influence
Palestinian opinion in much the same way. Instead of sitting
around and waiting for Palestinians to become more moderate,
Israel can strengthen Palestinian moderates by ending settlement
expansion, removing the separation barrier from Palestinian
land, publicly recognizing Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of
the future Palestinian state, and taking other measures to
clearly demonstrate its readiness for a peaceful compromise.
6. Is Israel doing enough for peace?
‘Worried Jews’ tend to believe that Israel has
always done all it could to pursue peace, but that the
Palestinians have “never missed an opportunity to miss an
opportunity.” ‘Pro-Israel realists’ realize
that Israeli politics is a complex system with many parties and
many views. Some parties support peace through negotiations, but
others have an ideological stance that Israel should not make
any territorial compromises. Even today, the Likud party
platform explicitly states that all of the West Bank will
forever remain part of Israel and that the “government
will oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian
state.” Since some Israeli governments and powerful
political parties explicitly oppose a negotiated two-state
solution, ‘pro-Israel realists’ reject the claim
that all Israeli government actions are taken in the pursuit of
peace. Instead, they recognize the need to look at the merits of
each individual policy, and support those that genuinely promote
Israel’s long-term security through peace.
The debate for the principle of a two-state solution has
largely been won. But we still need to strengthen the activism
of 'pro-Israel realists' and convert more 'worried Jews' to
share our thinking. To do this, focus conversations away from
the hundreds of specific issues that swirl through this
conflict, and onto one of the six core assumptions that
determine people's likelihood of supporting a negotiated
Ph.D., is professor of marketing at the University of
Michigan-Dearborn and teaches “social marketing” at
the Ross School of Business. He is on the board and executive
committee of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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