Thursday, March 19, 2009

Response to "Israel Lobby Intimidation"

This morning's issue of The Indianapolis Star included a "Fresh Thoughts" editorial by Scott Williamson entitled "Israel Lobby Intimidation". (Note that I don't necessarily hold the title against the author; I've learned that titles that I suggest for my IN Touch posts aren't used and, instead, the editorial staff of the paper chooses a title. Therefore, I will give Williamson the benefit of the doubt that he did not choose the inflammatory title given to his post.) There is much that I could write about Williamson's post, in particular the fact that the evidence simply doesn't support the allegations that he makes. Instead, I'll start by simply copying the comment what I posted in response to Williamson:

You make the statement that Mr. Freeman withdrew his name after "repeated attacks" and claim that these attacks came from supporters of the "Israeli right".

First, since when is it an "attack" to discuss a particular nominee's previous stated positions as well as the nominee's affiliations (including those nations from whom the nominee has accepted payment)?

Second, why do you presume that someone who was opposed to Mr. Freeman must, by definition, be a supporter of the "Israeli right". Isn't it equally possible for supporters of Israel or for an equitable resolution to the conflict to be concerned by Mr. Freeman's positions and ties to Saudi Arabia?

Finally, while in response to a later comment, you endeavor to distance yourself from the distasteful connotations of the term "Israel Lobby", in your original post, you allege there is a "taboo that forbids our public officials from disagreeing with Israeli policies". Of course, you don't back this statement up with evidence because it is simply untrue. American officials criticize Israel all the time; Secretary of State Clinton did so during her recent visit to Israel. The belief in a "taboo" is simply buying into the worst aspects of the myth of the "Israel Lobby" that you then attempt to avoid.

Moreover, isn't it possible that American officials largely don't disagree with Israeli policies because they do, in fact, agree with those policies? The argument ought not to be whether the mythic lobby is so strong as to create a taboo; instead, the question ought to be whether America should support a democratic regime that recognizes human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other basic notions of fairness that are important to us as Americans or end that support in exchange for support of non-democratic regimes that have no respect for human rights and which use violence as a means to political ends, both foreign and domestic?

Another thing worth noting is the content of some of the other comments to Williamson's post (selected comments only, internal format editing not noted, all spelling errors in original):

Carl writes: Chas Freeman's sin was to utter the truth: 9/11 attacks were the direct result of our blind support for Israel. We need patriotic Americans to speak out against the Israel Lobby. Senator Joe "israel" Lieberman and Chuck Schumer led the fight in Congress. It is a shame that a patriotic and talented American like Chas Freeman was driven out by a parasite lobby. The Israel lobby is a malignant in America's body.

Jack writes: And you wonder why Hitler called the Jews a threat to his country?

mike writes: this is why germans hated jews and finally decided to take back their country

Lowell writes: Shame, Americans have NO control over their country. Obama/McCain all had to get blessing of AIPAC for becoming President. Rahm Imanuel (his father was a memeber of jewish "terrorist" organization Irgun, which killed countless Britisth!) runs White house.What do you expect? Time for Americans, to take their country back. America needs more Jimmy Carter, Paul Finlay!

Keltrava writes: When Israeli air force and ground troops weee killing hundreds of children, women, civillians, policemen and bombing UN compounds, schools, bomb shelters, government buildings and private homes without any objection from Obama he promised to have plenty to say after inauguration. So far not a whisper. A look at Obama's appointments, financial backers and speeches at AIPAC clearly demonstrates that AIPAC will define US policy in the Middle East.
While Williamson may have intended his post to raise and address a good faith discussion of a particular issue, his framing of the issue merely emboldens the more vitriolic anti-Israel and anti-Semitic crowd. So posts like Williamson's inevitably lead to comments and viewpoints like those set forth above which are becoming more and more prevalent and against which we are fighting. And, when I say "we" I don't intend to limit that to supporters of Israel. Instead, the "we" that I refer to includes all of those who believe in open, honest, reasoned debate, free of unsupported allegations, innuendo, and bigotry.

I'm happy to debate anyone on the issue of US support for Israel or Israel's right to exist and to defend itself, but I'm not interested in having that debate with someone who refuses to be intellectually honest, to support their position with facts, or to accept the legitimacy of facts that weaken their position (Jimmy Carter being the chief example...). And I'm certainly not willing to have that debate with someone who, in the absence of facts and logic, will resort to timeless anti-Semetic rants, whether in the form of modernized versions of the Blood Libel or the equally modernized reframings of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

As Alan Dershowitz has suggested:
So long as criticism is comparative, contextual, and fair, it should be encouraged, not disparaged. But when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.
(The Case For Israel, 2003, p.1.) So, by all means criticize Israel, but in doing so be sure that your criticism is reasoned and just, supported by facts, and that you don't hold Israel (or its supporters) to a standard higher than that to which the rest of the international community is held. When you confuse Israeli and Jew, when you question the motives of American Jews, when you resort to vague innuendo that hearkens back to the Blood Libel or Protocols or "Jews control the media/banks" themes, then you are no longer engaged in good faith criticism, but rather you have crossed over the line.

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6 Comments:

At Thursday, March 19, 2009 9:43:00 PM , Anonymous Scott Williamson said...

You are correct that I did not choose the title; in fact I experienced a bit of a sinking feeling when I saw it, as I did not intend the term "Israel Lobby" to become the main focus of the post. Instead I wanted to emphasize the fact that criticism of Israel is all to rare from within the government, and that the actions of specific groups and individuals help to shut down the debate.

In response I asked the editor to reword the post to move the emphasis from Israel lobby to supporters of the Israel right; in my opinion (and that is what blog posts are, after all) the conventional wisdom on Israel policy is very much in line with the positions of the Israeli right and has been for years (though after the recent elections that clearly encompasses a wide bloc of Israelis) and that therefore it is an accurate statement to classify those who lobby for Israel in America as supporters of the Israeli right.

I was a bit uneasy as well about the sentence containing the word "taboo," as I did not intend to suggest that the Israel lobby is the sole reason for this taboo. That being said the word limit on those posts is short (I was already fifty words over) and it is difficult to qualify, and certainly the willingness of certain "pro-Israel" writers to proclaim anti-semitism and the organizational/fundraising power of AIPAC has been used to encourage a very constrained vision of Israel policy.

As for the anti-Semitic comments below the post, I believe it is somewhat unfair to suggest that the wording of my post encourages such comments. If you look at different topics on the Star concerning Israel or Middle East policy there are numerous disgusting and racist comments made about Arabs and Islam. Is it appropriate to hold those authors accountable? In some cases certainly, but not in all cases.

As for your comment below the post...

Repeated attacks: It is disingenuous to suggest that the furor over Freeman was a "discussion of his previous statements and affiliations." As many of the people participating in the "discussion" about Freeman's record made clear, it was Freeman's comments about Israel that drew their ire. While it is certainly possible that supporters of an equitable solution would have criticized Freeman, it was these people who for the most part were defending him. Those attacking him tended to be neoconservatives favorable to the Israeli right, as well as AIPAC behind the scences and former AIPAC officials. Do you honestly believe that there would be such an outcry over Freeman's relatively minor appointment if he had not made those comments over Israel? If it was merely the pro-human rights groups upset over his statements on China (which I disagree with) would the campaign against him have gained nearly as much steam?

Taboo: As already stated, I do not believe that the Lobby has been solely responsible for "creating" a taboo. However, it is simply the way lobbies work that those who are organized and can afford to pay lobbyists will be better represented in Washington and in the media. Pro-Israel groups have had a massive advantage there since the beginning, and they have used that advantage to get their point of view across. Certainly you would not deny that this is partly responsible for the nature of the debate on Israel and the nature of our alliance with Israel; certainly I will not deny that Cold War strategic thinking and percieved convergence of values helped to cement the relationship as well. It is also true that the lobby (would you deny that a lobby exists?) has used its influence to apply pressure to those who do not agree with their positions (Cynthia Mckinney?), through fundraising etc..., just as any other lobby would attempt to do.

If you do not believe a taboo exists, review statements on the Gaza war. Even liberal Democrats who detest American actions in the Middle East support Israel's right to carry out very similar policies (Nancy Pelosi?). I do not deny that many Republicans/neoconservatives admire Israel's actions when it comes to its response to the Palestinains, but even when it comes to very liberal politicians who should be against Israeli policies, real criticism is extremely rare.

I'm happy to debate as well. If you really feel that my post was a "timeless anti-Semitic rant" then I believe my point about the closed nature of the debate on Israel policy has been proved. If my post was not worded as well as it could be, then I apologize; I am new to writing on the topic, and I understand how sensitive the debate can be because of the real existence of anti-Semitism as shown in the comment section. However, nowhere do I imply that Israel = Judaism, or that a cabal of Jews is controlling the government, banks and media for their own purposes. Nowhere do I criticize Israel for something that I would not criticize another country (in fact, in that post I do not criticize Israel at all).

So let's have real debate.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2009 1:02:00 PM , Anonymous Scott Williamson said...

To clarify the second paragraph, which I realize is poorly worded:

After seeing the title I wished to shift the focus off the term Israel Lobby, so I tried to qualify the term by inserting the "supporters of the Israeli right." Individuals such as Jonathon Chait and organizations such as AIPAC that have lobbied for Israel policy and attempted to control the debate have generally supported foreign/Palestinian policy that is favored by the Israeli right (look at Iran policy, or the Gaza War). Obviously this would include a wide spectrum of Israelis, including some who might be more to the left on domestic policy. However, as Stephen Walt points out, Freeman's "over the top" comments would not be that controversial in Israel itself; he would actually be quite moderate. Therefore I think it is generally accurate to say that the "Israel Lobby" is defined by its support for the Israeli right, just as the Cuba Lobby is defined by its support of the Cuba embargo.

To be honest, if I had to write the post again, I would take out Israel Lobby altogether; as I already mentioned, I wanted the post to be a debate on the openness of dialogue on Israel, not a debate over the merits of the term.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2009 1:51:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Scott:

Thanks for your rational and level-headed responses to my post. Unfortunately, I don't have time today to engage in the sort of detailed response that I'd like, but I do want to briefly note a few things.

First, I don't believe that your post was a "timeless anti-Semitic rant". That statement was levelled more broadly at those who "debate" the issues without recourse to facts and logic. The "you" was not you but the more general audience, such as some of those who responded to your initial post on the Star's website.

Second, while I still don't beieve you to be an anti-Semitic polemicist, your reference to Stephen Walt is not exactly comforting. Walt and Mearsheimer's book is so littered with fact, innuendo, twisted logic, and guilt by association, that it certainly borders on being just the sort of anti-Semitic rant that I'm wary of. I would direct you to an interesting analysis
of the entire Chas Freeman incident (and, in particular Stephen Walt's response) by David Rothkopf. I don't agree with everything Rothkopf has to say, but he does make some compelling points.

 
At Friday, March 20, 2009 11:48:00 PM , Anonymous Scott Williamson said...

I had read the Rothkopf piece; I agree with some of the points he makes, but I agree more with the article linked below (a response to Rothkopf from an academic critic of Walt's Israel Lobby thesis) that many of those points are erected against straw men.

http://www.philipweiss.org/mondoweiss/2009/03/in-the-year-and-a-half-since-the-publication-of-john-mearsheimers-and-stephen-walts-israel-lobby-the-at.html

 
At Saturday, March 21, 2009 10:19:00 PM , Blogger dhonig said...

The real problems with Williamson's post are (a) that it is simply wrong, and (b) that it ignores the truth to repeat an old and well-worn anti-Semitic slander, that the Jews control America.

Why is it wrong? Because Freeman had numerous problems. Sure, his position on Israel was one of them. However, his enthusiastic support for GREAT violence against the students in Tienanmis Square aised protests from Chinese dissidents, including several survivors of the massacre. His description of what is happening in Tibet as "a race riot" raised plenty of ire. Both of the former flow from his position on the advisory board of a Chinese Government energy company. Then, of course, there are his lies about not accepting any money from the Saudis, when the Saudi King provided all the support or his "foundation."

The China issue, by the way, was Nancy Pelosi's biggest problem with him. Mr. Williamson, have you heard of Ms. Pelosi? You might want to Google her, too, before you write another "evil Israel lobby" editorial.

Why does it repeat a well-worn anti-Semitic slander? Because it so willingly accepts the opinion of Freeman, when his lies could so easily be exposed with thirty seconds of Google, that it indicates blithe acceptance of the underlying canard, 'Jews run America.' What is it inside Mr. Williamson that allows him to so readily accept Freeman's self-serving explanation of his victimhood, rather than bothering to review the facts?

 
At Wednesday, June 09, 2010 9:23:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it, any thing Israel does is always based on their right to exist. Of course Israel has a right to exist, but so does its neighbors.

Israel is only interested in what is good for Israel - screw everyone else. They play the poor mistreated Jew card to the hilt.

 

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