On the Danger of Criticizing Our Middle-East Policy
There have always been critics of American foreign policy in the Middle East insofar as it concerns Israel and its neighbors but, for the most part, these criticisms have been easily dismissed because they were made by Palestinians or supporters of the Palestinian people. They were easily ignored by American politicians because there are insufficient numbers of Arabs and Arab supporters to affect elections except perhaps in just a few areas of the country. However, there have long been critics of our Middle-East policy who blame some of our problems in the Middle East on our seemingly unbalanced, one-sided support of Israel but they have tended to be pretty silent. The reason is these people have been afraid to make their views known is that they know that they will be charged with anti-semitism, that supporters of Israel will use intimidation to try to shut them up.
Today, a story by Michael Powell appeared in the "Insight" section of my Columbus Dispatch, headlined "Storm erupts over paper on U.S.-Israel relationship." I believe this is the Michael K. Powell who chaired the FCC and who initiated the big fines of media organizations that offended his personal morality (and who is right wing). I believe that Janet Jackson's exposed breast was one of those cases.
This article starts off saying that
Two prominent academics, a dean at Harvard and a professor at the university of Chicago, have stirred a tempest by writing a paper arguing that the Israel lobby often persuades the United States to set aside its own security to pursue the best interests of Israel.Naturally, critics have accused them of being anti-Semitic. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz says they "destroyed their professional reputations." This is an interesting statement. It is very hard for an academic to destroy his or her professional reputation simply by writing one paper that contains mistakes. I venture to suggest that every academic who publishes, including Dershowitz, has published something that turned out to be false at least in part. But their reputations were not "destroyed" as a result. So how does the reputation of these two scholars get destroyed by writing this article? Because they are being charged directly or indirectly by being anti-Semitic.
Dershowitz goes on to say that
"we've heard all this before, the talk of powerful Jewish lobbies and the language one hears on Arab and extreme right-wing Web sites."Here, Dershowitz does not argue against the position taken in the paper these men wrote. Instead, he employs an ad hominem argument that tars this Harvard dean and University of Chicago professor with the same brush used to tar radical Muslims and skinheads. Does this seem fair to you?
I drew attention in a recent blog to an article on the National Review web site which written by Tom Gross who says, "One of the great myths of modern journalism, particularly outside the U.S., is that the New York Times is "pro-Israel." In fact, it would be truer to say that the opposite is the case." Several times in the article he accuses the Times of being anti-Israel and he criticizes Maureen Dowd, a NYTimes columnist, saying "on a visit to Saudi Arabia, Times columnist Maureen Dowd allowed the anti-Semitic slanders of the Saudi deputy education minister to be repeated unchallenged and uncriticized, as if they were fact." Saying someone or some paper is anti-Israel doesn't count as an argument against them. It is simply a verbal ploy designed to "slander" them, to use Grosses term.
I applaud these two scholars for their courage. They had to know that they would be charged with anti-semitism never mind the fact that American foreign policy has been skewed in favor of Israel for decades and we have paid a heavy price for it in lives and money. But I rush to say in defense of myself that I bow to no person -- I can see the slings and arrows headed in the general direction of this blog -- in my concern with genuine anti-semitic behavior. I read a small library of materials on the Holocaust when I was young -- specifically novels, historical accounts, and opinion pieces -- and was horrified. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Copenhagen and was horrified, but also inspired by the courage of the Danish resistance. The name "Baba Yar" is branded across my brain even today though I no longer remember the details of the atrocities committed there. To me, the horror of that time makes it totally irresponsible for anyone to charge anyone with anti-semitism simply to try to shut them up, as Derschowitz and others are clearly trying to do.
Our pro-Israel stance has to a very large degree been forced on us by the failure of our allies to join us in an effort to protect Israel and provide assistance to the Palestinians. We have, for all intents and purposes, been isolated thanks to our cowardly European allies and we have reaped the storm of Arab resentment. I'm not suggesting that any specific anti-American attack was due primarily to our pro-Israel stance. OBL, for instance, had other axes to grind, including our support of oil-rich Arab monarchies. But to suppose that our pro-Israel stance played no role in the hating that led up to the first or second attack on the WTC or the attack on our embassies in Africa or the attack on the Cole is ridiculous. Its part of the anti-American Middle-east stew. But we have to support Israel nevertheless. But we didn't have to support their refusal to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. We did that for Israel when it would have been in our best interests to have helped the Palestinians create their own state. It must have been the right thing to do since Israel has finally "let" it happen. In the same vein, I believe we must pressure Israel to give its Arab citizens equal rights to those its Jewish citizens enjoy and pressure Israel to withdraw entirely from the West Bank areas it has built settlements in, and pressure Israel to be more selective in its attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Anyone who thinks innocent civilians aren't terrorized or even killed in Gaza and the West Bank by these military actions doesn't know much about what is going on. Their weapons accuracy is no better than ours.
The language people use to silence others can be a very powerful weapon. It is one thing to attack the arguments of someone who suggests our policy toward Israel is wrong and quite another to call him or her an anti-semite. We have seen this sort of verbal ploy over and over in other contexts as when people are said to be racist or homophobic or whatever just to shut them up. If a person cannot make an argument that supports his or her position and discredits an opponent's position, then he or she must do the shutting up.
One of the great ironies of American politics is some of the biggest supporters of Israel are members of the Religious Right Wing, people whom I would have supposed would normally be anti-semitic. Of course, their support is predicated on some of their nuttier religious views, not for authentic political reasons. On the last episode of the Sopranos, Tony, recovering from a gunshot wound, told a visiting hoodlum, who happens to be Jewish, that a Bible thumper (my words) said he supported Israel. The Jewish hoolum said, if I recall correctly, "Just wait."