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March 26, 2007

Israel, the Special Relationship, and 2008 (Part II)


The United States and Israel do indeed have a “special relationship,” and this likely will continue for the foreseeable future. Both nations are modern democracies, and Israel is the only such country in the Middle East. A country as deeply religious as the U.S. (especially Jews but also Christians and even Muslims) feel a special kinship with the Holy Land. And with a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran now threatening to “wipe Israel off the map,” U.S. backing of Israel is as important as ever.


Therefore, most major politicians in the United States are vocally supportive of Israel, with opinions generally running the gamut from 100 percent support of Israel, to the belief that Israel is right, but would be best served by making peace with the Palestinians. Outside of the Chomskyite/academic left and the Buchananite right, there are very few major political organs in the U.S. who vocally oppose Israel, completely back the Palestinians, and/or wish for the state of Israel to cease to exist.


In the last two administrations, the gamut has run from Bill Clinton (who presided over the Oslo Accords peace agreement and tried to push for a final agreement in 2000) to George W. Bush (who has nearly always taken Israel’s side publicly and refused to meet with Palestinian leaders).


But it’s not quite so simple: Clinton said in an interview after leaving office that he loved former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “more than I’ve ever loved any other man,” while Bush was a strong supporter of the circa-2002 “Road Map to Peace” and of Palestinian elections.


Full opposition to Israel, though, is beginning to gain momentum in some circles. The anti-Israel side has gotten quite a bit of attention in the past few months, with the publication of two major works: An essay called “The Israel Lobby” by academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and the book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” by former president Jimmy Carter.


On the question of the “Israel Lobby,” there is no question that one exists. In fact, those in the United States arguing in favor of Israel’s position (AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, etc.) have done a great job arguing their case before the American people, achieving a level of bipartisan consensus in favor of their position that most interest groups would kill for.


But is there “no debate allowed” on the conflict, as Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt have argued? That, to be polite, is nonsense. Israel/Palestine is one of the most contentious, often-argued issues in American life, and to argue that either side “hasn’t been allowed” to debate is nothing short of absurd. Try visiting a college campus or an independent bookstore.


No one, after all, pulled an O.J.-like move to block the publication of Carter’s book. No one in the U.S. has been shunned, incarcerated or killed for their views on the conflict – a luxury they may not have an enjoyed in, say, other parts of the Middle East. (Though, when the former president spoke recently at my alma mater Brandeis, he was asked to debate Alan Dershowitz, but a student activist was quoted in the school newspaper as saying that “because there is no debate” about Israel/Palestine, Carter should not have to debate.)


And furthermore, no legitimate figure is denying Palestinian suffering. In fact, no less a neocon than Paul Wolfowitz, one of the principal architects of the Iraq war, did exactly that at a 2002 rally in Washington – and was booed for his troubles. 


So, when Sen. Barack Obama pointed out before AIPAC last week that no one in the Mideast is suffering more than the Palestinians, was he wrong? The question is really only important if you believe – and I don't – that the party that suffers most wins. Palestinian suffering is certainly real, and greater on average than that of the Israelis. But it doesn't mean they're right, it doesn't mean they deserve everything they ask for and it doesn't mean it's all the Israelis' fault.


The Palestinians have suffered because Arafat stole from them for decades, because they've embraced noxious ideologies from Marxism to jihadism to a mixture of the two, and because (as we all know) they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” most recently by electing a full-on terrorist organization (Hamas) to represent them as their governmental leaders. And until all that changes, the suffering won't end, occupation or no occupation.


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