January 11, 2011

Why shouldn't Latin America ignore Jewish concerns?

The Israeli government and Jewish community leaders have spent most of the past two years addressing the Obama administration’s approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, settlements, and Iran. For better or worse, peace talks have stalled, Washington has given up on settlements as an issue, and the Stuxnet computer worm (for better) has crippled Iran’s nuclear “research” program. While we were focused on this range of challenges, a tide of Latin American nations was moving toward pre-approval for a Palestinian state.

Why do Latin American heads of state care about meeting American Jews?

The best answer is that we are perceived to have friends in Washington. In theory, we can get those friends to help or hinder Latin American aspirations. But what incentive have American Jews provided to U.S. – or Israeli – leaders to pressure or cultivate Latin American ties? The United States will soon send a new ambassador to Venezuela, and the Jewish community had little or nothing to do with those negotiations. And Venezuela is our number-one challenge in Latin America. Every government in the region sees it does not need Jewish support to get what it wants in Washington. And now we face the consequences.

Denouncing Iran has only been useful when it led to actual votes in the United Nations Security Council or tougher enforcement of existing sanctions. The same goes for Palestinian statehood. If we truly believe that premature recognition of a Palestinian state will undermine Israel’s security and remove the incentive for direct negotiations, public campaigns will only get us so far. It’s about votes in the United Nations, not full-page ads in the New York Times.

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