March 29, 2007
Pundits Pile On—Heap Blame on Israel and the Pro-Israel Lobby for Middle East Ills
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Over a three-day period last week, a series of prominent commentators harshly attacked AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and other passionate defenders of Israel for 1) unduly influencing American Middle East policy and 2) chilling debate over the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, as well as left-leaning billionaire Holocaust survivor George Soros, and pundits in the Economist and the online magazine Salon piled on, expanding a diatribe issued by academics Steven Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago several months ago, who charged that the powerful Israel lobby had pushed the U.S. into war with Iraq.
Coincidentally, I just returned from AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which, with 6,200 people in attendance, was the largest gathering of pro-Israel activists ever assembled. AIPAC---the American Israel Public Affairs Committee---is the primary target of these recent journalistic attacks, though its critics would also include all staunch defenders of Israel in their sights.
For the record, AIPAC’s three-part lobbying agenda this year was hardly radical: 1) Tightening sanctions against Iran to prevent the rogue Islamist nation from acquiring nuclear arms; 2) Limit any further aid to the Palestinian government until it recognizes Israel, forswears violence and agrees to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements; and 3) Support this year’s U.S. foreign aid bill, which includes $2.4 billion in military support to Israel (80% of which will be spent in the United States).
While AIPAC is undoubtedly one of the largest and best organized lobbying groups in the U.S.---with some 100,000 members---it employs only 10 lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to deal with the nation’s 536 Congressional representatives and their staffs, numbering several thousand more. Indeed, most of AIPAC’s lobbying work is done the old-fashioned way, by citizens like you and me walking the halls of Congress, educating their representatives one by one.
But even more disturbing, Kristof, Soros, and other Israel detractors consistently and conveniently ignore the larger point that overwhelming American support for Israel is not by any stretch a new phenomenon, nor is it limited to members of Congress. In fact, for decades a clear majority of Americans have supported Israel in its battle against Arab aggressors and Islamic terrorists.
The reasons for this support are spelled out plainly in the article below, produced by the pro-Israel watchdog group, CAMERA. The article also dissects, then decimates Kristof’s argument. I hope you’ll review this important piece, and I hope you’ll use the button at the bottom to forward this FLAME Hotline to two or more of your friends. This is one way we can fight back and keep the focus on a just and enduring Middle East peace.
Kristof’s Blame-Israel Rant
"Talking about Israel" is the headline of the caustic column by Nicholas Kristof, which appeared Sunday (March 18) and Monday (March 19) in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune respectively. His thesis, which echoes allegations by Jimmy Carter as well as by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the discredited "Israel Lobby" study, is that Republicans and Democrats alike are not talking critically about Israel, and instead "have learned to muzzle themselves." He points to several politicians, Hillary Clinton among them, saying that she "has safely refused to show an inch of daylight between herself and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert."
"That silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself," he avers, while he himself keeps mum on several key points that contradict his argument.
Silent on Mutual Interests
First, Kristof ignores the fact that American citizens and politicians are, on the whole, supportive of Israel because of shared American and Israeli interests, first and foremost of which is democracy. He is silent on the strategic value to the United States of a militarily strong Israel. He does not mention that Israel saved U.S. ally Jordan from a PLO-Syrian invasion in 1970. He is silent on the Israeli intelligence coups in acquiring both a MiG-21 and a MiG-23 during the height of the Cold War, and the immediate and invaluable access the U.S. was given to those Soviet-built fighter jets. He does not talk about Israel's prescient destruction of Iraq's nuclear program in 1981, an action that prevented Saddam Hussein from having nuclear weapons when he invaded Kuwait nine years later—nuclear weapons he could have used against American troops during the subsequent Gulf War. And, of course, he is mute on the fact that the United States and Israel, as, respectively, the largest and most powerful democracy internationally and the only democracy in the Middle East, are natural allies in the war against global Jihad.
A Gallup poll released March 5, 2007 reveals that the majority of the American public understands what Kristof does not. "For the nearly 20 years Gallup has been tracking Americans' sympathies in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, more Americans have continually sided with Israelis.That remains, as a solid majority of Americans (58 %) say their sympathies lie with the Israelis and only 20 % say their sympathies are more with the Palestinians," Gallup stated.
Kristof, though, doesn't get it. Instead of acknowledging that American political candidates are responsive to American interests and widespread public opinion, he suggests that pandering politicians are beholden to a special interest lobby out of sync with American concerns. In fact, rather than being "silenced" or "muzzled," politicians are reflecting the will and interests of the majority of the American people. It's called representative democracy.
Just Who Doesn't Get It?
"American politicians just don't get it," Kristof insists, quoting Jordan's King Abdullah who blames "the denial of justice and peace in Palestine" for the "wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration."
It's hard to imagine how Israel is responsible for Sunni violence against Shi'ites in Iraq, for the Muslim genocide of black Sudanese, and for rising Shi'ite-Sunni tensions across the Muslim world. For good measure, Kristof elaborates: "From Morocco to Yemen, to Sudan, the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people more than almost anything else."
But these "ordinary people" perceive the "Palestinian cause" through the filter of highly propagandistic Arab media and political rhetoric that demonizes Israel and the Jewish people and grossly misrepresents the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dictators have long exploited the Palestinian issue to divert the attention of their own people away from domestic grievances.
Time Magazine's Lisa Beyer has also commented on this issue, deploring the "corrosive myth: that the fundamental problem in the Arab world is the plight of the Palestinians" in her Dec. 18, 2006 Op-Ed "The Big Lie About the Middle East." She wrote:
"Yes, it was a great disturbance in the Arab world in the 1940s when a Jewish state was born through a U.N. vote and a war that made refugees of many Palestinians. Then the 1967 war left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and thus the Palestinians who lived there. But the pan-Arabism that once made the Palestinian cause the region's cause is long dead, and the Arab countries have their own worries aplenty. In a decade of reporting in the region, I found it rarely took more than the arching of an eyebrow to get the most candid of Arab thinkers to acknowledge that the tears shed for the Palestinians today outside the West Bank and Gaza are of the crocodile variety. Palestinians know this best of all. To promote the canard that the troubles of the Arab world are rooted in the Palestinians' misfortune does great harm. It encourages the Arabs to continue to avoid addressing their colossal societal and political ills by hiding behind their Great Excuse: it's all Israel's fault.
'It's all Israel's Fault'
"It's all Israel's fault" is exactly Kristof's approach. He writes:
"Hard-line Israeli policies have profoundly harmed that country's long-term security by adding vulnerable settlements, radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hezbollah, isolating Israel and nurturing another generation of terrorists in Lebanon. The Israeli right's aggressive approach has hurt Israeli security, just as in much the same way that Bush's invasion of Iraq ended up harming U.S. interests. The best hope for Israel isn't a better fence or more weaponry. . . . Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians."
Kristof's one-sided, blame-Israel approach completely exempts the Palestinians from any responsibility for their own actions. He disregards all the long history of Palestinian rejection of peaceful compromise with Israel from 1948 to the present, and ignores the many measures, including territorial concessions, taken by Israel to end the conflict.
Fortunately, the many politicians supportive of Israel are very conscious of this history. As Michael J. Granoff of Tenafly, N.J., pointed out in a March 20 letter-to-the-editor in the New York Times, "Senator Clinton had a front row seat through the 1990s as Israel tried to negotiated in good faith with an interlocutor who never even offered unequivocal recognition of Israel's legitimacy."
For Kristof to ignore this longstanding pattern of Palestinian rejectionism by representing the Palestinians as hapless victims of intransigent, "hard-line" Israel is to exhibit the soft bigotry of low expectations. In addition, Kristof's blinders to the Palestinians' role in perpetuating the conflict underlie his naive and faulty belief that if only Israel will pursue a peace agreement (as if that has not been tried), peace will reign. In fact, peace-making is a two-party matter. Talking about the Palestinians—their hate indoctrination of the young and their use of foreign aid to build a "Hamastan" in Gaza—would be a good start down that road. (Regrettably, the New York Times has again and again gone out of its way to avoid discussing Palestinian incitement.)
Repeating Discredited B'Tselem Statistics
Kristof resorts to discredited statistics on Palestinian casualties provided by B'Tselem to make his case that Palestinian suffering is "tragically real," and therefore a justified reason for anger across the Arab world. He writes:
"B'Tselem, a respected Israeli human rights organization, reports that last year Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians and six Israeli soldiers. In the same period, B'Tselem said, Israeli forces killed 660 Palestinians, triple the number killed in 2005. Of the Palestinians killed in 2006, half were not taking part in hostilities at the time they were killed, and 141 were minors."
As documented in CAMERA's Jan. 3, 2007 analysis ("B'Tselem's Annual Casualty Figures Questioned"), there are two major problems with B'Tselem's identification of Palestinians as "not taking part in hostilities at the time they were killed."
First, in many cases, B'Tselem identified individuals as not being involved in hostilities at the time they were killed when there was credible information to the contrary. These include, for instance, Muhammad Mahmoud Rajab a-Jarjawi, 19, killed Nov. 23 in Beit Lahiya. B'Tselem ignored the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency report that said Jarjawi was one of "a group of armed Palestinian resistance men who were confronting the invading Israeli tanks." CAMERA's two-month study (November and December 2006) turned up a number of similar cases. B'Tselem ignored AFP reports that Sa'id Salem Suleiman Hajaj, 20, and Tah'ir Hassan 'Abed al-Masri, 16, killed Nov. 18, were both armed, according to the Israeli army. B'Tselem also ignored incriminating material in AFP and AP reports about Muhammad Salamah Hussein Hamidan, killed Nov. 16, and Wahib Musieh Nayef a-Dik, killed Dec. 14.
And, in a particularly misleading case, B'Tselem said that Muhammad ('Eid) Amin Mahmoud Ramaheh "did not participate in hostilities when killed," and at the same time noted "He was armed." (According to an Israeli army press release, Ramaheh "and one of his men opened fire [at soldiers at a roadblock]. The soldiers returned fire, killing the two...") B'Tselem was similarly contradictory about 14-year-old Jamil Abd al-Karim Jamil al-Jabaji, killed Dec. 3. According to B'Tselem, he "did not participate in hostilities," but was "killed while throwing stones at soldiers."
Second, among those identified as not being engaged in hostilities at the time of death were terrorists regularly involved in planning and carrying out violent attacks. For instance, B'Tselem covered up the fact that the aforementioned Ramaheh was a Tanzim leader and that Sa'id Hajaj was a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The same goes for Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade members 'Alaa a-Din Jamil Khamaiseh and Salim Usef Mahoud Sa'id, both killed Nov. 8.
Postscript: Papering Over Disagreements
Kristof is so eager to portray the Bush administration as beholden to Israel (for nefarious reasons), that he ignores disagreements that occur between the two nations. Here's a dispute Kristof missed—"Israel takes harder line than U.S. on Palestinians" in the International Herald Tribune's leading page-one story Monday, March 19, the day the Kristof column ran in that paper. And, in the New York Times: "U.S. and Israel Differ on Contact with Palestinians."