"I represent the Israeli defense forces," Michael said. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. Michael seemed to imagine himself the gatekeeper protecting Los Angeles' Westside for Israel's political interests, and those of the famous Berman-Waxman machine. Since Jews represented one-third of the Democratic district's primary voters, Berman held a balance of power.
All that year I tried to navigate the district's Jewish politics. The solid historical liberalism of the Westside was a favorable factor, as was the strong support of many Jewish community leaders. But the community was moving in a more conservative direction. Some were infuriated at my sponsorship of Santa Monica's tough rent control ordinance. Many in the organized community were suspicious of the New Left for becoming Palestinian sympathizers after the Six Day War; they would become today's neoconservatives.
I had traveled to Israel in a generally supportive capacity, meeting officials from all parties, studying energy projects, befriending peace advocates like the writer Amos Oz. I also met with Palestinians and commented favorably on the works of Edward Said. As a result, a Berman ally prepared an anti-Hayden dossier in an attempt to discredit my candidacy with the Democratic leadership in the California state capital.
This wasn't a particular problem at the time. Since the 1970s I had favored some sort of two-state solution. I felt close to the local Jewish activists who descended from the labor movement and participated in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements. I wanted to take up the cause of the aging Holocaust survivors against the global insurance companies that had plundered their assets.
While I believed the Palestinians had a right to self-determination, I didn't share the animus of some on the American left who questioned Israel's very legitimacy. I was more inclined toward the politics of Israel's Peace Now and those Palestinian nationalists and human rights activists who accepted Israel's pre-1967 borders as a reality to accommodate. I disliked the apocalyptic visions of the Israeli settlers I had met, and thought that even hard-line Palestinians would grudgingly accept a genuine peace initiative.
However, all these rank-and-file constituencies were attuned to the question of Israel, even in local and state elections, and would never vote for a candidate perceived as anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I had to be certified "kosher," not once but over and over again.
The certifiers were the elites, beginning with rabbis and heads of the multiple mainstream Jewish organizations, especially each city's Jewish Federation. An important vetting role was held as well by the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), a group closely associated with official parties in Israel. When necessary, Israeli ambassadors, counsels general and other officials would intervene with statements declaring someone a "friend of Israel."
In my case, a key to the "friendship issue" was the Los Angeles-based counsel general Benjamin Navon. Though politics drew us together, our personal friendship was genuine enough. I think that Benny, as he was called, wanted to pull me and my then-wife, Jane Fonda, into a pro-Israel stance, but he himself was an old-school labor/social democrat who personally believed in a negotiated political settlement. We enjoyed personal and intellectual time together, and I still keep on my bookshelf a wooden sculpture by his wife, of an anguished victim of violence.
The de facto Israeli endorsement would be communicated indirectly, in compliance with laws that prohibit foreign interference in an American election. We would be seen and photographed together in public. Benny would make positive public statements that could be quoted in campaign mailings. As a result, I was being declared "kosher" by the ultimate source, the region's representative of the state of Israel.
Nevertheless, throughout the spring 1982 campaign I was accused of being a left-wing madman allied to terrorism and communism. The national Democratic leader Walter Mondale commented jokingly during a local visit that I was being described as worse than Lenin. It was a wild ride.
I won the hard-fought primary by 51% to 45%. The Bermans stayed neutral. Willie Brown, Richard Alatorre and the rest of the California Democratic establishment were quietly supportive. I easily won the general election in November.
But that summer I made the mistake of my political career. The Israel Defense Forces invaded Lebanon, and Benny Navon wanted Jane and me to be supportive. It happened that I had visited the contested border in the past, witnessed the shelling of civilian Israeli homes, and interviewed Israeli and Lebanese zealots-crazies, I thought, who were preaching preventive war. I opposed cross-border rocket attacks and naively favored a demilitarized zone.
Ever curious, and aware of my district's politics, I decided we should go to the Middle East-but only as long as the Israeli "incursion," as it was delicately called, was limited to the 10-kilometer space near the Lebanese border, as a cushion against rocket fire. Benny Navon assured me that the "incursion" was limited, and would be followed by negotiations and a solution. I also made clear our opposition to the use of any fragmentation bombs in the area, and my ultimate political identification with what Israeli Peace Now would say.
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