September 2, 2015
Giving Israel a Pass
Posted on Feb 1, 2008
By Barry Lando
Israel’s own domestic Jewish critics, far more vociferous than most Jews abroad, point out that there is another way to end the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli settlers: Start talking with Hamas. You wouldn’t know it from most of the American media, but Hamas has, in fact, repeatedly offered a cease-fire if Israel will also cease targeted assassinations and attacks on Gaza.
Israel, however, refuses to talk to Hamas. To do so would be to recognize the movement, just as the United States refuses to open unconditional talks with Iran. Instead, the Israeli government continues its bloody dead-end policies.
I was in the course of such reflections when I received the e-mail alert from my wife about the purported end of Holocaust studies in the UK.
It’s as if, because of the horrendous suffering of Jews in the Holocaust, Israel has won the right to ignore international law, to visit mayhem on civilians and terrorist fighters alike in the name of national survival. It’s been given a free pass. Those attacking the country’s policies are either hopelessly naive, anti-Semites or self-hating Jews.
Square, Site wide
That’s the position of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the very conservative Washington lobby which claims to represent most American Jews interested in Israel. AIPAC has donned this mantle by default. Surveys indicate that the majority of American Jews hold views more liberal than most Americans. The problem is they no longer feel strongly tied to or concerned about Israel. Many other Jews, though morally uncomfortable with Israel’s policies, have kept silent, not wanting to publicly criticize the Zionist state.
The upshot is that the role of lobbying U.S. policy in the Middle East has been left to organizations whose members do strongly care about Israel, like AIPAC.
AIPAC doesn’t dictate single-handedly Washington’s Middle Eastern policy, but it is one of the most powerful lobbies in the capital. That’s a fact Jews relish discussing among themselves, but are quick to brand an anti-Semitic fabrication if the charge is made publicly.
A few years back I did a report on AIPAC for “60 Minutes” with Mike Wallace. One after another, all the congressional offices I contacted confirmed the tremendous influence that AIPAC wielded, and the fear that could be inspired by an AIPAC threat to target a particular candidate.
We were, however, unable to convince a single sitting House member, senator or staff person to talk on the record. Not that they disagreed with the premise. They were just terrified of taking about AIPAC.
That included the late John Chafee, the powerful U.S. senator from Rhode Island, who at the time was being targeted by AIPAC in his re-election campaign. Normally a stalwart supporter of Israel, Chafee had once contravened AIPAC policy by voting to supply an AWACS plane to Saudi Arabia.
When the report was finally aired, it was the target of more irate mail and phone calls from Jewish organizations across the country than just about any other report I ever did for “60 Minutes.”
There are signs, however, that the situation could be changing, that more Jewish individuals and groups in the United States—as well as in Europe—are willing to criticize Israel’s policies. Groups like Peace Now, activists like Rabbi Michael Lerner in California, journalists and bloggers like Richard Silverstein, who recently forwarded me the Sara Roy essay I’ve quoted above, which says in part:
” ... The Jewish community demands unity and conformity: ‘Stand with Israel’ read the banners on synagogues throughout Boston last summer. Unity around what? There is enormous pressure—indeed coercion—within organized American Jewry to present an image of ‘wall to wall unity’ as a local Jewish leader put it. But this unity is an illusion—at its edges a smoldering flame rapidly engulfing its core—for mainstream Jewry does not speak for me or for many other Jews. And where such unity exists, it is hollow built around fear not humanity, on the need to understand reality as it has long been constructed for us—with the Jew as the righteous victim, the innocent incapable of harm.”
A solemn visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem was de rigueur for President George W. Bush during his recent trip to Israel, just as it is for any other foreign dignitary. Israel uses these ceremonies to convey a message: You see, Mr. President and the world looking in, this is what our people suffered from our enemies. This is why we have the right—indeed the duty—to act in any way we judge necessary to ensure our nation’s survival.
Imagine, instead a different message: This is to put you on notice, Mr. President and the rest of the world. We ask that you join with us in our determination to ensure that such atrocities as we Jews suffered shall never again be visited on any people by any state—including our own.
Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with “60 Minutes.” Author of numerous articles about Iraq, he produced a documentary about Saddam Hussein that has been shown around the world. He lives in Paris. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, From Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.”
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