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February 08, 2007

American Jews and Israel: A Vital Discussion
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last night I lingered over kitchen cleanup to listen to a program on NPR called "American Jews and Israel." It was just excellent. Listen to it here.

Although I have never been to the Middle East except for a stint as a tourist in Egypt, I have followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. I wrote my final paper on Israel's creation in college...then kept up with it over the years as a student of conflict resolution. Still, this radio program really captured so much of the important discussion that is breaking out all over (from anger over Jimmy Carter's latest book to the Walt-Mearsheimer article last year to the implications of the FBI probe of AIPAC)

I hope these debates crack open the brooding and uncomfortable silence that has persisted on this topic in the USA. From my experience working in Congress...its true that as far as this topic is concerned, dialogue itself has become subversive. Our inability to have a public discussion is stymied in both directions--from criticism of Israel on the Right to criticism of Palestinian human rights issues on the Left. I remember as a staffer trying to put together a simple series of dialogues for a willing group of American Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and others from Arab countries---and being shocked at the offices that either dismissed it outright or refused to help, sponsor, acknowledge or even lift a finger to allow it to be successful.

This debate is painful and sometimes raw, but airing the issues will help the emotional temperature level out. For my own purely selfish reasons, I so want this issue to move forward successfully and for the national tone on the issue to become problem-solving oriented. Why? mostly because--to me--Jewish American philosophy and idealism are the heart and soul of progressive America. Indeed, of liberal democracy itself. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sucked so much of the attention and energy out of this vital community-- Energy and commitment is a scarce resource. I want more of it put to work here at home, in the trenches, with everyone who is working to set this country back on track.


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Amen, amen. How about a movement called "Dialogue is Not Subversive"?

It's very hard to get a dialogue going when one of the sides takes the position "Anybody who disagrees with me is an evil antisemite and deserves punishment, not a hearing.".

Then, consider the viewpoint of someone whose first priority is US support for israel. Currently israel gets absolutely unconditional support from the US government. How could that be improved by a dialogue? What are the benefits of dialogue compared to the risks?

There is also the problem that the American Jewish community has exceptionally good communication with and even influence over the Israeli government. Its voice matters in Israel. The same is not true of the Palestinians' partisans here; admittedly these are many fewer in number and less influential even in this country. The point is that a dialog between two groups with the ability to exercise influence can lead somewhere, and is otherwise just conversation.

Perhaps the dialog that really needs to happen is one involving Americans who think our country's interests are vitally affected by who governs what parts of the West Bank of the Jordan River and those who believe they aren't.

On Point is the best NPR show on the radio- I check it every day.

Really? The American progressive Jewish community has a lot of say over Likud and similar cabinets' policies in Israel?

I guess I've missed that!

As a fairly progressive Jew, I think what bothers most of us (I hate to say "us" because I'm only one of us, but you get it) is the way the debate in the US is structured.

Are we to accept the fantasies of Walt-Mearsheimer, that there is a "Lobby" of Jews who suborn American foreign policy interests to serve those of Israel's?

When even the most cursory review of the region would have informed these non-experts that Sharon did everything but chain himself to Cindy Sheehan to keep the US from fighting a pointless war in Iraq? I guess we, as progressive Jews, never got those marching orders to take to Congress!

Or, as David Corn has been quick to point out: There has been no evidence, zero, zilch, nada, nothing, to suggest that Israeli intelligence, the Sharon government or Jews within our departments of State, Defense or (Name Your Alphabet Agency Here) encouraged in any way the US to invade Iraq in order to help Israel.

Israel's priority of Iraq as a "threat?" Oh, probably about sixth on the list of other regional problems.

If the debate is going to be the blood libel crowd crowing about American Jews of questionable loyalty pushing the country to war, then I say we shouldn't even bother debating.

But if the debate would be something more akin to what transpires every day in the Knesset, or in the Israeli popular press, or the Jewish pubs here, or any Shul in America wherein people savage the Bush administration, or the Clintons, or anyone else without even thinking about the implications on Israel, then I'd be all for it.

I also suspect that if the American people truly became regional experts, visited Israel and the Occupied Territories, spent some time in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia or Syria, they probably would quickly realize that the Palestinian Question, if answered, wouldn't lead to peace in the region, the spread of democracy in Arab nations, or an economic or intellectual blossoming there that would make us less interested in oil and more interested in the people who live there.

The problem, as always, is the people who start the debates. Walt-Mearsheimer came off as callow and anti-semitic, even if they didn't intend to do so. Jimmy Carter's caustic, ahistorical "Apartheid" fiction does little to spark discussion because it's so flawed.

The problem isn't that people aren't willing to debate the message. The problem, thus far, has been a lack of credible messengers, especially after reading these efforts.

The problem is just as bad on the right, where one sees Buchanan, et al, making much of the same noise. Do you want David Duke or the Buchanan family entering this debate?

As someone who worked on the Jesse Jackson campaign and had to listen to his shockingly anti-semitic language, in re the NY primaries, I can assure you that for all the good he's done for social justice, he's probably not the guy you want to start a debate about Israel, right?

Ah, if only Sharon had made his misgivings about the war more public! He might have done more to prevent the war than any of the people who actually did come out publicly against it. He might have prevented this useless war.

It's absurdly silly to pretend that there's no zionist lobby which attempts to influence US policy in favor of what they think is best for israel. What's next, will we pretend there's no cuban-american lobby attempting to influence US policy about cuba? But I want to stress that there's nothing wrong with zionists lobbying for what they believe in, just as there's nothing wrong with former Dixiecrats lobbying for what *they* believe in. To say that they "suborn" US foreign policy interests is to prejudge the issue. If it turns out that israeli interests and US interests happen to be aligned, then they're doing nothing against the USA at all. How those interests match up is a matter of opinion, not a Truth that can be used to judge whether a lobby is treasonous.

And indeed those opinions are a fine topic for national debate. Similarly, it's approaching a good time to debate ahout cuba. I personally believe that all the current cuban regime has to hold itself together is their ideology that's wrapped around our opposition. If we were to stop opposing them and things didn't get enough better, fast enough, they'd fall apart.

Of course the people who should be allowed into such a debate is -- everybody. You don't let one side of a national debate dictate who's allowed to represent the other sides. That's silly. Buchanon and Duke and Jackson all get to say their piece, as well as the most raving JDL representatives etc. Let anybody speak who wants to, and it's the individual voters who decide who they want to discount.

It's so silly, first the zionist lobby says it doesn't exist, and then it wants to decide who gets to debate and who doesn't. Such chutzpah,

Again, let his words indict him.

Ah, Soooouuueeeee, once again you display your internal contradictions.

If your partisan faction isn't fully in control, how come you get to decide whose opinions are outside the bounds of acceptable discourse?

You're so used to having total control that you don't bother to argue against people who disagree with you, you just smear them by claiming they disagree with you.

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