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AUDIO: Robert Scheer Interviews Tom Dine, a Longtime Advocate for Israel and Mideast Peace

Posted on Jan 8, 2016

By Robert Scheer

Ze’ev Barkan / CC BY 2.0

In Friday’s episode of “Scheer Intelligence” on KCRW, Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer speaks with Tom Dine, senior policy adviser at the Israel Policy Forum and former head of American Israel Public Affairs Committee from 1980 to 1993.

The two discuss Dine’s 53-year career in public service, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 as a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (an event from which the region still has not recovered), and Dine’s role in negotiations between Syria and Israel in recent years.

Dine also discusses why he considers the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq one of the worst decisions in the history of American foreign policy.

Read the transcript below.


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Hear other episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

Robert Scheer: Hello, I’m Robert Scheer, and welcome to Scheer Intelligence, my new podcast in collaboration with KCRW. My guest today is Tom Dine, the senior policy adviser at the Israel Policy Forum. He has had a 53-year career in American foreign policy. Highlights of his public service were 10 years in the U.S. Senate, where he worked with the legendary Frank Church from Idaho; he worked with Ed Muskie; and he worked with Ted Kennedy, when Ted Kennedy ran for president in 1980. He also at one point was president of Radio Free Europe, based in Prague, during the height of the Cold War. But he’s probably most well known—I shouldn’t say probably; he’s unquestionably most well known—as having run AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And AIPAC is well known as probably the most powerful lobby in Washington; it’s a lobby, basically, for Israel. It is a lobby that’s gone through different transformations. It’s been feared as having enormous political power, and maybe that’s been exaggerated, maybe it’s not.

But that’s not the reason for talking to Tom Dine. I’m talking to him as yet another person in these podcasts who I consider an American original. And the crazy quilt of American culture, with our immigrants and slave, ex-slaves and people of different religions and backgrounds, throws up very interesting personalities. And Tom Dine is one such personality. He started out as an idealistic volunteer for the Peace Corps in the Philippines; he was definitely on the liberal side of things during those years in the Senate. I first met him when he was working for Ted Kennedy, who I did admire very much. And you know, then he went to work for AIPAC, and he took a rather strident position; he was hanging around with people like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle; he certainly enthusiastically supported the first Gulf invasion; he wasn’t at AIPAC for the second one, but he did support it. And then most recently, he’s had some reservations about the more hawkish side of things. He was one of a hundred prominent supporters of Israel who asked Bibi Netanyahu to be more responsive to what Barack Obama was trying to do in the negotiations with Iran, and to revive a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians as a way towards peace. And now he’s emerged as a more dovish presence, as have many people before.

I want to begin with my own personal reflection on this. I happened to go to Israel at the time of the Six-Day War; I was in Egypt at the end of that war, I saw it from the other side, and then went over to Israel. And when I was in Israel, I went over into the West Bank, which was occupied. And one thing that struck me is that the Palestinians had not attacked Israel; the Palestinians were in fact an occupied people. They were occupied in what we now think of as the West Bank by Jordan, in the Golan Heights by Syria, and Egypt had occupied Gaza. And Gaza was a particularly miserable place. So these were not mild occupations. And there was no Palestinian army; the Palestinians were not in a position to threaten Israel. So this was a war with Arab powers—Arab powers that Israel has come to peace with; Syria a little more problematic, certainly with Jordan, certainly with Egypt. And somehow the Palestinians get left out. And at that time I remember interviewing Moshe Dayan, who was the legendary leader of the Israeli victory, [and] others. They were doves in the basic sense; they were supporters of the Labor Party, they believed in peace, they believed you shouldn’t occupy a people. They talked about, you know, “Come back in five, 10 years, you’ll see; this will be wonderful; there will be irrigation, these people will be happy, and of course they’ll move to their own society and not be threatened by us, and we’ll live in peace.” I think they believed that, in some basic way. But now, talking to Tom Dine, somebody who’s lived through this world; you’ve had drinks with [Yitzhak] Rabin, you were in Israel many times; you were actually in Syria as well. And you’ve been up to your eyeballs in this whole thing. Was that a naive reading on my part of those early days, and in fact, what has changed?

Tom Dine: It is not naive, what you just said. But it’s a long history. And frankly, I agree with what you said and still believe it. There’s a, for some of us, there’s a dream about Israel, that we will live up to what Hillel told us to do: Act on your values. The values being a nation state in which Jews are not slaughtered; a nation-state that [is] based on Talmudic ethics, on modern contemporary rule of law in which justice is equal for all. So all those things are still certainly in my head, and in my drive for Israel to come to terms with, as you said, the Palestinians, who have been left out. Left out for a variety of reasons, mainly because Arabs don’t like them. In fact, as we’re seeing now in this blood-soaked region of the world called the Middle East, the Arabs don’t like each other.

RS: Let me stop for a second on that: “The Arabs don’t like them.” Because I think there is a kernel of truth to this. The Palestinians were very much like the Jews; people of the diaspora. And that diaspora included the Arab world. Very often, they were people who took up occupations that required a certain kind of learning or a certain kind of skill that wasn’t being supplied in that society. When I was in Egypt, there were Palestinians who were advisers to the government, or who knew how to make things work, or who had medical education. And the Palestinians spread throughout the world; they are basically a diaspora people.

TD: And a smart people.

RS: Yeah, and—we’ll I’m of sort of the view that most people are smart, or can be smart with the proper education. But leaving that aside, it always struck me as ironic that they’re two people that really had a great deal in common, were the Palestinians and the Jews—including the Jews who went to Israel. But basically, [they] came out of the whole European experience; they were treated with suspicion where they went, they were marginalized at times. And as I said, with the Six-Day War, nobody really on either side wanted to give them a state at that point; they were used as a pawn. Was that not the case?

TD: It was the case, but you’re leaving out part of that history, which is that the Palestinians, Arabs, whatever words you want to use—and in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, “Arabs” was the name for Palestinians—and the Arabs rejected the 1936 commission that the British put together to try to make it a two-state solution. Then the U.N. activities in ’47 and ’48, and the Palestinians, or Arabs, rejected having a half a loaf. The Jews took a half a loaf, they were to take a half a loaf—

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