Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Dear Mr. Alpher, Give Me a Break

| October 5, 2016


A Hebrew-language version of the op-ed appeared in Haaretz on September 28, 2016. The translation was provided by the author.

AIPAC "causes enormous damage to Israel" from afar, so claimed Rogel Alpher in his article "Dear American Jews, Get a Life" (Haaretz, 9/25). In a wild attack on the pro-Israel lobby in the United States, Alpher accused the organization of operating like a mafia and ruining our lives in Israel through "financial thuggery," no less. According to Alpher, AIPAC deprives Israel's citizens of the right to determine their future in the most critical areas, including the future of the territories. He summarizes his scholarly treatise with the words "it should go f* itself, this AIPAC."

Alpher confuses cause and effect. The problem is not with AIPAC. It is Israel which is acting on its own, and with great vigor, without any help from AIPAC, to bury its future as a Jewish and democratic state. It might be worth noting, however, that a few threats do still delicately impinge on our national security, and without security, the rest does not matter. The Iranian nuclear project has been postponed, not terminated; Hezbollah's and Hamas' terrifying rocket arsenals continue to grow; radical Islamism is spreading; terrorism continues; and the storms of the Middle East continue to rage and hold in store for us a future that will not be easy.

Israel's security is based on three main pillars: the resolve of its people, the IDF and the relationship with the United States. Without U.S. assistance, Israel would be economically weak and diplomatically isolated, the IDF would be an empty instrument. The U.S.-Israeli relationship, which is special and possibly even unprecedented in the history of nations, exists in no small measure thanks to AIPAC. This magnificent organization, the masterful creation of the American Jewish community, was built with painstaking labor and profound deliberation over the course of decades. Its army of enthusiastic volunteers and first-rate professional staff are dedicated, with all of their beings, to the future of Israel and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Israel has received an almost unimaginable amount of U.S. aid to date, over $120 billion, more than any other nation in history, and a new $38 billion aid package, for the next decade, was just signed. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been misleading, and it probably reflects a small decrease in real terms (and is, in any case, less than what might have been achieved had he not behaved so recklessly on the Iranian issue), it is still a huge accomplishment. We will use this aid to buy the aircraft that may still have to fly to Iran, or suppress rocket-fire, the Iron Dome, David's Sling and Arrow anti-rocket and anti-missile systems, missiles, radars, and much much more. Alpher is ready to throw all of this away with a stroke of his pen.

AIPAC's decision to initiate the letter by eighty-eight senators, which calls for an even-handed decision in the Security Council and will require both sides to make the difficult concessions necessary, was the right move, much like previous initiatives of this sort that it has undertaken in the past. Those who truly seek to preserve our future as a Jewish and democratic state, and not merely to revel in childish temper tantrums, know that another one-sided anti-Israel decision at the UN will not bring us any closer to our goal. This can only be achieved through serious and effective negotiations — and we are not the only ones responsible for their absence. Just as the right wing has no answer to the demographic threat, the left does not have a satisfactory explanation for the Palestinians' repeated rejections of far-reaching peace proposals, to which we could add little.

AIPAC works to strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the deepest sense, regardless of the identity of the particular governments in office in Washington and Jerusalem at any given moment, and that is how it should be. In Israel, like the United States, some have right-wing views, others left. Alpher is unhappy with the current government in Jerusalem and wants to cut off the branch on which our relationship with the United States is based; in the future a "right-wing Alpher" may issue similar appeals. AIPAC must remain above these divides.

For this very reason, AIPAC generally refrains from formulating positions if its own on the major issues and tries to adopt as consensual an approach as possible, as evinced by the senators' recent letter. There have been only few exceptions to this rule over the years and some mistakes may have been made, but very few. It is also clear that AIPAC correctly derives its understanding of Israel's interests primarily from the government in office, which was democratically elected to represent it and has at its disposal all of the assessment and strategic organs of Israel's foreign and defense policy establishment. Those who disapprove of Israeli policy — and there certainly is much to disapprove of, especially on the Palestinian issue — should direct their critique where it rightly belongs, to the Israeli electorate.

Americans of all religions and races support AIPAC, but the Jewish community is obviously the primary pillar. The fact that American Jewry has chosen to support Israel from afar and is not truly a part of the Zionist undertaking, is regrettable, but this is a long standing reality and is preferable to a complete lack of involvement. As it is, the non-orthodox part of the American Jewish community, which constitutes Israel's "strategic hinterland," is fading away due to intermarriage and assimilation. AIPAC volunteers at least channel their Judaism to intensive and fruitful activism. Instead of criticizing, he should have praised.

Alpher's boorishness in regard to our relations with the United States is exceeded only by his vulgarity. Verbal violence is unacceptable from all sides of the political spectrum, from the left no less than the right, and we have already learned the hard way that it can also lead to physical violence. Moreover, his coarse style does not reflect any playfulness, Sabra-like naughtiness, or a refreshing journalistic style, it is vulgarity for vulgarity's sake and is abhorrent. Compared to Alpher, even Minister Miri Regev is beginning to look cultured.

So, my dear Mr. Alpher, give me a break. First of all, ask for forgiveness from the wonderful people who work night and day on behalf of Israel's security and think again before launching one of your baseless diatribes.


[1] "Give Me a Break" is transliterated from English in the original.

[2] "Get a Life" is transliterated from English in the original.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Freilich, Chuck. "Dear Mr. Alpher, Give Me a Break." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, September 28, 2016.