Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Is an Israel Policy Debate Possible in the U.S.?

NPR's "Day to Day" program of Monday October 30 had a segment entitled "Is an Israel Policy Debate Possible in the U.S.?" For many it may come as a surprise that this question is even asked. After all, it's a free country isn't it? Well, maybe not as free as we sometimes like to think. A controversy arose recently when Tony Judt was scheduled to give a talk on the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy at the Polish Consulate in New York City. (Note that Mr. Judt is a Jew who was a Zionist in his youth.) After telephone calls from one or more Jewish organizations the Consulate abruptly cancelled the talk on the day it was to occur.

This has been referred to as l'affaire Judt and commented upon by Juan Cole and others. If you search Cole's blog you will find several posts re l'affaire Judt.

What I want to point out here is the degree of exaggeration leaders of pro-Israel organizations often use in defaming those with whom they disagree. I use the term "defaming" advisedly because there is massive irony in the fact that people who founded an organization called "The Anti-Defamation League" so often use defamation as a tactic. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who called the Polish Consul stated on "Day to Day" that "Tony Judt had been critical of Israel and at times had called into question its future existence." The key phrase here is "called into question [Israel's] future existence."

And how did Mr. Judt call into question Israel's existence? As far as I can tell Mr. Judt suggested that Israel should become a multi-ethnic state including both Jews and Palestinians. The "Day to Day" reporter said that "three years ago, Judt wrote an essay in The New York Review of Books arguing that most Western Democratic states have become multi-ethnic and multi-cultural." Mr. Judt called the idea of a Jewish state an "anachronism" in that context, suggesting it too should become multi-ethnic.

It is a frequent complaint of Israelis and pro-Israelis that Israel's "existence" is threatened or that its "existence" is called into question. If a group like Hamas does say Israel should not exist then that qualifies as calling its existence into question. But if a Jew and former Zionist expresses the opinion that the form the future state of Israel should take is bi-national or multi-ethnic I think it is defaming him to say that thereby he has "at times... called into question [Israel's] future existence." These are disinformation and smear tactics to try to emotionally pressure others to ignore Mr. Judt's opinions. Although what was said to the Polish Consul to lead them to cancel Mr. Judt's talk is now shrouded in a mist of charge and counter-charge, it would be naive to think that in private conversation worse charges about Mr. Judt were not made to emotionally pressure the Consul to cancel Mr. Judt's talk.

For more on this issue one can learn of a debate on "The Isreal Lobby and U.S. Foreign policy at the Council for the National Interest or read more about this controversy in Philip Weiss' article, Israel Lobby Watch , in The Nation.

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