Israel Policy Forum revived to rise above partisan fray as a pragmatic pro-Israel voice (HA´ARETZ NEWS) 06/20/12)
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Group´s veteran and recent advisers to convene in New York; among
names signing onto IPF revival are Rabbi Eric Yoffie, U.S. Rep. Gary
Ackerman, Deborah Lisptadt and Charles Bronfman.
When U.S. President Bill Clinton chose in January 2001 to unveil his
Clinton Parameters for Arab-Israel peacemaking, he chose an Israel
Policy Forum gala to do it. Four years later, then-Israeli Deputy
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought the same audience to announce then-
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s willingness to negotiate with the
In more recent years, however, the IPF has nearly disappeared in
influence and presence. Now it hopes to revive itself with some of
Jewish life’s heavy hitters, people who hint they are frustrated with
the seemingly partisan politics of J Street and others.
“You could make the case that an organization like IPF is more needed
now than ever, promoting a two-state solution without playing
politics,” said Aaron David Miller, a former negotiator in the first
Bush and Clinton administrations who since his retirement from
government in 2001 has been associated with IPF. “You do have
increasing polarization in the Jewish community now, and it´s not a
Miller is not alone in his assessment.
Among the new significant names signing onto IPF’s revival are Rabbi
Eric Yoffie, who just ended his term as president of the Union for
Reform Judaism; U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who is retiring and
in recent years had public disagreements both with the Israeli
establishment and J Street; Deborah Lisptadt, the eminent Holocaust
historian; and philanthropist Charles Bronfman.
"I believe that the broad base of the American Jewish community wants
and needs realism [that] to my mind, neither the left nor the right
are providing,” Bronfman said in an email to JTA. “IPF´s work in all
areas will attempt to foster the real probabilities of a two-state
Next month, the group’s advisers, veteran and recent, will convene in
New York to consider the group’s direction. The agenda underscores
how tentative the project still is: The second item is titled “What
did happen to the IPF?”
Is there room for a Jewish group that pushes the Israeli consensus on
peacemaking and keeps above the cacophony of the American partisan
Twenty years ago it was a no-brainer. The IPF was founded at the
behest of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was frustrated with
the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s slowness to embrace
the nascent Oslo peace process with the Palestinians.
Peter Joseph, IPF’s president now, said he is not alone in seeing the
need for nuance in an age when pronounced dissent from some groups
characterized debate on the region. Joseph would not be more
specific, but he did not deny that this description could apply to J
Street, the liberal lobby that bills itself as “the political home
for pro-peace, pro-Israel Americans” and which grew by leaps and
bounds just as IPF was fading.
A J Street spokeswoman declined to comment on IPF’s resurrection.
But M.J. Rosenberg, IPF’s Washington director until 2009 and now the
author of an often biting blog with a pronounced leftist slant, said
the Middle East policy community may not be as welcoming as it once
“J Street will remain the address for people who want to oppose
AIPAC,” he said. “All this will do is drain support away from J
Street because it won’t drain support from AIPAC.”
Rosenberg stressed that he wished his former employer the best.
Meanwhile, former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block noted how fraught the
waters were for IPF’s reemergence. He noted in a statement that
Joseph was funding Open Zion, an ideas exchange hosted by Peter
Beinart, who has stirred controversy with his writings suggesting
that younger American Jews are growing alienated from Israel. Beinart
recently proposed boycotting settlement goods while increasing
purchases from Israel proper.
Joseph, who is in the private equity business, told Tablet recently
that he found Beinart’s boycott call “polarizing” but confirmed to
JTA that he continues to fund Open Zion.
“You can´t be effective if your support and your ideas are fringe,”
Block said in an email interview with JTA. “It´s not immediately
clear what niche IPF will seek to fill. While he has distanced
himself from Peter Beinart´s repulsive call for a boycott against
Israel, the president of IPF and its key funder is still underwriting
Mr. Beinart´s struggling blog, which provides a platform for anti-
Israel, one-state crackpots and people who oppose sanctions to stop
Iran´s dangerous nuclear pursuit.”
Yet there was cheering from at least one institutional corner.
“We welcome any effort to advance the two-state solution and to
secure Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy, living in peace and
security with its neighbors,” said Debra DeLee, the president of
Americans for Peace Now. “We will be happy to work hand in hand with
a reinvigorated IPF.”
IPF’s rise and fall was synonymous with the peace process itself.
Throughout the 1990s and into the first years of the 21st century,
IPF occupied a unique Middle East policy nexus: the making and
influencing of policy, and the thinking about it. Among those
associated with the group at the time were Sandy Berger, Clinton’s
national security adviser; Stephen P. Cohen, a Yale and Princeton
Middle East scholar whose citations by newspaper pundits achieved a
notorious ubiquity; and Marvin Lender and Alan Solomont, Democratic
Party fundraisers with reputations as kingmakers.
Its Israeli associates had roots in the country’s security
establishment, lending heft to its emphasis on negotiations and
eventually a two-state solution.
Among Clinton’s last acts as president was to outline the “Clinton
parameters,” the peace plan deal rejected by the Palestinians. He
chose an IPF gala to make his historical speech.
Yet as attitudes hardened during the second intifada, IPF’s emphasis
on interaction seemed less relevant. Still, IPF managed to retain
some clout. Its assiduous nonpartisan status attracted attention from
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who would invite then-IPF
president Seymour Reich to meetings with Jewish leaders when she
sought a voice to balance AIPAC’s hawkish line.
IPF’s last major hurrah was its 2005 gala dinner in New York, when
Olmert, representing Sharon, signaled a new readiness to talk with
the Palestinians. Olmert, in a speech that made headlines, declared
that “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we
are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies."
The ensuing efforts to renew peace talks by President George W. Bush
and later President Obama never gathered momentum, and the dialogue
in the American Middle East peace community - and among American
Jews - grew more fractious. There was a dichotomy between those who
favored the classic AIPAC strategy of heeding the Israeli government
of the day and those such as J Street who favored intensive U.S.
IPF was not spared the dissension: Rosenberg argued within the
organization for a more assertive alignment with J Street, while
Joseph insisted on maintaining the nonpartisan middle.
By late 2009, with J Street a frequent interlocutor with the Obama
administration, Rosenberg left, and IPF was absorbed into the pro-
Obama think tank, the Center for American Progress. The Washington
office closed; all that remained was a small four-person operation in
IPF was little heard from until it parted ways with CAP late last
year. Joseph said the parting was amicable.
Joseph is in Israel this week at the Israeli Presidential Conference,
networking and seeking Israeli interlocutors in the security and
political establishments. One likely partnership is with Blue White
Future, the new group convened by top former security officials that
advocates a degree of unilateral disengagement from the West Bank.
The IPF president added that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu’s broad, new national unity government can provide an
impetus toward peacemaking with the Palestinians. The key, he said,
is not to impose American ideas but to get a sense of the Israeli
reality and encourage the trends within it that seek peace.
“We pay very significant attention to Israel’s security needs,”
Joseph said. “Anyone looking at this seriously needs to take that
into account.” (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 06/20/12)
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