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Salon: New left-leaning Israel lobby to take on AIPAC?

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Published: Wednesday December 20, 2006
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A new, left-leaning lobby made up of well-organized philanthropists could seek to take on the powerful, conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Salon is reporting.

"[M]ost American Jews ... do not see eye-to-eye on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the most hawkish, knee-jerk Israel supporters in the U.S. government -- even if their presumed leadership, represented by AIPAC, often appears to do so," writes Gregory Levey. "Moreover, AIPAC's influence in Washington may soon begin to decline, as a powerful new alliance of left-leaning friends of Israel has begun to emerge, with the express aim of reshaping U.S. strategy on the region's most intractable problem."

Levey mentions billionaire George Soros, former Clinton adviser Jeremy Ben-Ami, and Daniel Levy, former adviser to Israeli PM Ehud Barak, as key figures in what could be the creation of "a new, well-funded, well-organized, left-leaning Israel lobby, as an alternative to AIPAC."

The new organization would, according to one left-wing activist involved in early discussions, "[organize] systematically to affect U.S. foreign policy." Another advocate tells Levey that "the right-wing orientation in the community is losing people by the droves, particularly young people. ... Most U.S. Jews support peace in the Middle East, and don't want to shoot down doves anytime they appear."

Excerpts from the ad-sponsored article follow:

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Many American Jews, it seems, have similar feelings. Eighty-seven percent of them voted Democratic in the recent midterms -- the highest number since 1994 -- belying the oft-repeated claim that the Bush administration's staunch support for Israel would move the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote toward the Republicans...

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If the Bush administration decides to seriously reevaluate its strategy in the Middle East in the wake of the Iraq Study Group's recent report -- and among its recommendations is prioritizing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- it will have to deal with a minefield of interest groups. That will surely include AIPAC, a juggernaut that the New York Times has called the "most important organization affecting America's relationship with Israel."

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AIPAC suffered a relatively small but symbolic defeat this past year -- one that may prove to have been a turning point. Earlier in the year, AIPAC put all its muscle behind a congressional bill called the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which even some pro-Israel observers called "draconian." Going beyond even the Bush administration's own hard-line stance on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, it would have essentially cut off all American contact with any element of the Palestinian leadership, and hampered the U.S. government's ability to strengthen Palestinian moderates.

A group of small, left-leaning Jewish lobby groups, including the Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, banded together to battle AIPAC on the issue, and in the end were successful. A watered-down version of the bill was passed, with what they saw as the problematic language stripped away. An AIPAC official recently told me that AIPAC was satisfied with the softer bill's passage -- but it is quite clear that the incident represented a defeat for the organization.

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