The NJDC sent me an announcement about Howard Dean’s upcoming tour (or as they call it, “Israel Mission”) of Israel in which he joined other national and state Party leaders. I was deeply disappointed by how their e mail described the trip and wrote a post about my disappointment.
Today, I had an interesting conversation about NJDC and learned about some of the political considerations that force them to carefully calibrate their Mideast politics. I understand, as I said in my earlier post, that NJDC must be careful in its statements about the Mideast because there are many American Jews who support a hawkish perspective on the conflict and because Republicans are gunning for Dean and the Democrats on this issue or any other.
That being said, I still find it incredible that NJDC’s blog of the Israel trip is so completely out of touch with Israeli reality. Or rather, it presents an entirely limited and narrow perspective on the real Israel. In fact, the blog makes me angry because it seems to come out of an Israeli Never-Never Land.
First, the word “Palestinian” is never used. The phrase “Israeli-Arab” is never used. You’d only know there was an Israeli-Palestinian conflict indirectly through comments in the blog about the separation barrier and the Gaza withdrawal. The word “settlement” or “settler” is never used. Israel is portrayed as one sunny, hopeful and optimistic proposition throughout the blog. There is no poverty, no unemployment, no divide between religious and secular, no discrimination against Israeli Arabs (in fact, as I said earlier, there are no Israeli-Arabs according to this blog). Though tour members met with Palestinians, this is not mentioned in the blog. What’s the big secret? Will American Jews hold it against the NJDC and Dean for meeting with Palestinians? That’s a preposterous assumption on its face.
In talking about NJDC’s overall agenda as I see it on their website and via their e mails, Israel (except for material about this tour) does not exist. The NJDC, which does an excellent job of pointing out Republican stumbling on many domestic and international issues–has virtually nothing to say about Israel. I’m guessing that this is because the leaders of NJDC don’t see anything politically to be gained by talking about Israel. They must believe that Jews will make up their mind about whom to vote for based on other issues than Israel. Perhaps they’re right. I don’t know.
But I do know that an NJDC and a national Democratic Party that sounds like AIPAC when it does bother to speak out about Israel is doing American Jews (who are much more dovish on Israel than AIPAC or the organized Jewish community’s national leadership) a disservice. What I see as so pernicious about what AIPAC does and what NJDC has done with their tour report is they are presenting an Israel that is a Potemkin village. Israel is strong. Israel is safe. Israel is thriving. The IDF is strong and wise. Business prospects are excellent. There are no Palestinians or Israeli-Arabs. Where is this fictional Israel they portray? It’s certainly little like the actual Israel that I and so many Israelis who believe in a negotiated end to this conflict see.
The tour blog is composed of letters from tour participants including Dean. What follows is my critique of specific passages within the blog which are either false (unintentionally so I am sure) or incomplete:
“I met with former Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom are key political actors today; and while they disagree vehemently on pressing issues, they do not challenge each other’s patriotism.”
This is a false statement. While the statement does hold true for Peres, it most certainly does NOT hold true for Netanyahu. Just as Rumsfeld, Cheney et al constantly question the patriotism of Democrats & Americans who oppose the Iraq war, so Netanyahu & Likud’s far right constantly disparage the patriotism of Labor. And they do so in a manner that is far more repulsive and cruel than the Bush bunch do here in America. For Dean to make such a statement only shows that the person making or writing it (who may not have been Dean) has absolutely no awareness of what Israeli political life is like.
“…We met with an amazing group of young people from the former Soviet Union who had moved to Israel only in the last two weeks. Their optimism, energy, and poise were remarkable, as is Israel’s enthusiastic embrace of multiculturalism.”
–Steve Grossman, Israel Mission Chair
The writer means to say “Israel’s embrace of Jewish diversity.” For Israelis to truly embrace multiculturalism they would have to embrace the Israeli Arabs among them & Israel most definitely does not do so. Again, this statement shows utter naiveté as far as understanding true Israeli reality.
“…We toured the security fence by Kalkilya, where the architect responsible for locating the fence demonstrated the difficult balance that Israel seeks to maintain: dramatically reducing the threat to Israeli civilians from terrorists while minimizing the impact on the Palestinian community.”
This statement is a real doozy. The Kalkilya portion of the barrier is one of the most contested of all the barrier sections. It’s original design would’ve fenced Kalkilya in on 3 sides & prevented almost all Palestinian farmers from accessing not only their own land but it would’ve prevented them from accessing the rest of the W. Bank. It would’ve been a virtual prison. I understand that some modifications have been made in the design for this section after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling, but no amount of modifications can rectify the terrible injustice that this barrier does to Palestinians. The injustice could’ve been rectified AND Israel’s security could’ve been protected by having the same fence run along the Green Line, the accepted international border. But Israel has refused to do this & I don’t think NJDC has any business saying anything positive about the current configuration of the fence unless it conforms to international law.
“I have observed that even though Israel has a draft, people accept their responsibility to serve their nation willingly and seriously.”
–Senator Harry Mitchell
State Chair, Arizona Democratic Party
This is an incomplete statement. Most Israelis accept their responsibility to serve their nation–except thousands of Orthodox young men who get an exemption from service through studying in yeshivas. Many Israelis find this phenomenon repugnant as do I. Of course, there are Orthodox who do serve & they’re to be commended. But those who don’t are not to be. The above statement completely overlooks this important issue.
“Our first event was a moving Shabbat dinner hosted by an inspirational rabbi, Daniel Gordis…”
I don’t have any quarrel with the group meeting Daniel Gordis (though I vehemently disagree with his politics regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). However, his views are so reductive and right-leaning that I wonder whether the group visited any Israelis at all who represent a different view? For example, did it meet with any leaders of the New Israel Fund or Peace Now? If it did, why doesn’t it say so in the blog? If it didn’t, then it got to see a limited picture of Israel and its political diversity.
I feel compelled to express my deep frustration with the narrowness of NJDC’s Israel politics. And that frustration increased 10-fold after reading the blog.
Richard, I’m very glad to have found your blog. Like you, I’m concerned about the rigidity of the Demo. Party’s position on Israel-Palestine issues, and on the war in Iraq. I’m not expecting much to change soon in that respect, but very glad to encounter criticism that’s strong but sane, friendly, and free of bigotry. Bookmarking!