- Israel’s Refusal to Endorse the American Friends of Israel (1956)
The aim in presenting and analyzing the document below on Israel’s refusal to endorse the proposed AFI, the American Friends of Israel, in March 1956, which it considered a threat to existing pro-Israel advocacy activities, is not only a fascinating account of the origins of Israel’s ambivalence regarding garnering support for its case on Capitol Hill, but also serves as an interesting parallel to the current controversy relating to Israel’s policy toward the recently established radical alternative lobby for Israel, J Street.2
J Street invited Ambassador Michael Oren to address its first Washington conference; however, after an extended delay Oren declined.3 The embassy issued a statement saying that it would be “privately communicating its concerns over certain policies of the organization that may impair the interests of Israel”. J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami did not “understand how it is in the State of Israel’s interest to look at J Street as a problem, to write off an organization that represents a large number of American Jews.”
It should come as no surprise that Oren balked at attending their recent annual conference. Since its inception, the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) has refused to endorse pro-Israel organizations it has deemed either ineffective or unwilling to be “instructed” by Israel’s diplomatic representatives. Although AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee)4 was established and financed by American citizens, by sanctioning AIPAC’s monopoly Israel has consistently aimed to diminish the competition, thus ensuring that the source, gathering, and dissemination of information would be controlled by Israel.
Israel’s foreign relations have been directed by the MFA and its diplomatic representatives who inevitably supplanted the Zionist organizations that had for more than thirty years regarded themselves as the official intermediaries between the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) [End Page 189] and their respective countries. Their resentment and umbrage was deep, as they were immediately shunted aside by Israel’s diplomats who devoted their energies to cultivating ties with all sections of the Jewish community. Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben-Gurion maintained that,
We have always to consider the interests of Diaspora Jewry but there is one crucial distinction—not what they think are their interests, but what we regarded as their interests . . . In considering international relations, we must ask one simple question: What is good for Israel? And what is good for Israel is good for the entire Jewish people.5
On 31 July 1950 at a meeting of Israeli and Diaspora leaders at the PM’s office, Henry Montor,6 a prominent American Diaspora leader, lamented that the Zionist Organization of America had dwindled to only 800,000 members and suggested the establishment of an organization, the Friends of Israel that would bring all Jews together “to serve Israel”.7 He pleaded with the Zionist movement to:
Permit and welcome and mobilize those men who want to help the State of Israel in the ways that they choose because the Zionist Movement, for reasons which are immaterial at this moment, has no place for them. I say that that the Zionist Organization of America today is a well of corruption—moral, political and spiritual—to which no self-respecting Jew in American will attach himself.
He maintained that the Zionist organizations were “trembling with rage” and that
The Zionist Movement needs psychiatric treatment. It is frustrated. It is going through a psychological climacteric. . . . There are a large group of Jews who are the Friends of Israel, whether you give them the title or not, and I address myself to the Zionist Movement and ask, is the Zionist Movement prepared to stand in the way of their rendering a maximum service to Israel?
Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, retorted, “You have today a ZOA that can be the most loyal servant of the Government of Israel. Will your Friends serve the Government unreservedly?”
The MFA’s ambivalence towards Montor—manifested in both recognizing his exceptional talents in fund raising, which were offset by its [End Page 190] concern that he could prove to...