Continuing his intrusive intervention into the local and regional political environment, Israel’s Pacific NW consul general, Akiva Tor, strongly urged St. Mark’s Cathedral to allow him to speak at an event featuring Israeli new historian, Ilan Pappe and American Friends of Peace Now founder, Mark Rosenblum. They will speak on at Town Hall’s Great Hall in Seattle on Monday, September 19th at 7PM. Those of you following this blog know that Tor and Stand With Us were instrumental in ginning up a lawsuit against the Olympia food coop after it endorsed a boycott of Israeli food products. It seems Tor is continuing in his ways with this chutzpadik attempt to force his way into the St. Mark’s program.
In the e-mail below, which Tor and American Jewish Committee chair Wendy Rosen sent to a Church official, note how he describes Rosenblum’s political beliefs:
I wanted to request the opportunity to take part in the panel you are organizing on “Israel and Palestine’s Future: Why is Navigating a Two State Solution So Difficult?” The reasons I ask to take part are the following.
Firstly, the topic is an excellent one. It is indeed perplexing that 18 years after the Oslo Accords, an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty had not been concluded even though it is in the strong self-interest of both peoples. This is a topic that needs to be unpacked and analyzed by any group of people that wants to help and achieve peace between the two peoples.
Second, I think it is really necessary in such a conversation to hear the perspective of the Israeli mainstream. Professor Pappe is an important academic but represents a non-Zionist view on the far left of Israeli politics. Professor Rosenblum is an important proponent of the Zionist Israeli peace camp which is a valued viewpoint, but not presently at the helm of Israeli politics today, where the general position is more cautious and frankly, somewhat depressed, about the prospects for peace in the immediate future. Ideally, the panel would include a Palestinian Authority perspective as well, although Professor Pappe may approximate this position.
In any case, I just think it is very important that you hear and better understand the thinking from the main body of the Israeli body politic. I would present the positions of the Israeli government, but would also try to present to the best of my understanding the thinking of the majority of the Israeli public today. I know the Bishop’s Committee holds strong positions on the conflict, and wants to play a helpful role in its resolution – and I think hearing where Israel stands and how it understand the meaning of the Arab Spring and the current state of Israel-Palestinian relations would be helpful in your endeavor.
Thirdly, I happen to be in Seattle on September 19th and therefore hasten to embrace the chance to engage with you.
Now, can you imagine the U.S. ambassador to Israel going to an Israeli sponsor of a conference about American politics and demanding the right to be added to a panel which includes two Israelis discussing the issue? Why would he do this? Why wouldn’t he simply allow Israelis to discuss American politics and let it go at that? Note as well, how Tor distinguishes between the views of Rosenblum, a quite distinguished liberal Zionist supporter of Israel and his own views, supposedly representing the “majority of the Israeli public.”
Tor neglects to mention that on September 18th, the day before, and in the same venue, former Jerusalem Post military affairs correspondent, Hirsh Goodman will be speaking. If Goodman doesn’t represent a mainstream Israeli point of view then no one does. So, in essence Israel’s consul general is saying that it’s not enough to balance a program critical of Israel with one supportive of Israel on successive days, U.S. churches must actually balance every program they host with the voice of Israel’s hardline rightist government.
Not to mention that we’re supposed to accept the specious view that Israel’s current government represents the thinking of the majority of the Israeli public. That would be akin to claiming that George Bush’s policies represented the majority of Americans during his presidency. What is true is that Bibi Netanyahu managed to pull together a coalition in Knesset allowing him to form a government. It didn’t mean that the majority of Israelis support his pro-Occupation, anti-Palestinian policies (though certainly many do).
Surely, one of Tor’s most important purposes is combatting the (in his view) noxious propaganda offered by an anti-Zionist like Pappe (who he actually calls “an important academic” while biting his tongue), who was hounded from his academic appointment at the University of Haifa by right-wing campus inquisitors. The current Holy Grail concept for the Israeli far-right is “delegitimization,” and Pappe is a king of them all. They likely want to bird-dog him around the world at every speaking engagement he has, just as they bird-dogged Reps. Keith Ellison and Brian Baird before the traveled to Gaza in 2009.
I find Tor’s behavior in Seattle simply beyond chutzpah (sorry, Alan). By what right does an official of a foreign government get the right to say he should be heard whenever Israel fears the contents of a program sponsored in this country?
Thankfully, the local church committee organizing the event politely declined the consul’s offer of participation, but said it was willing to continue a dialogue with him on these issues.
In his response, Tor made clear that he was eager to inveigle his way into the local discourse on Israel-Palestine within the St. Mark’s church community:
I’m disappointed, as we view the Palestinian diplomatic effort at the United Nations as deeply counterproductive to a negotiated peace and it would probably be important for such a viewpoint to at least be presented at an open and meaningful discussion on the topic.
In any case, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Bishop’s Committee or with an audience constituted by you at a future, hopefully not too distant, time. Please let me know at your convenience when might be a good occasion and venue.
You do have to hand it to Tor. He’s a nervy sorta guy. It takes guts to want to butt your way into the Seattle progressive church community when hardly anyone in it has a good word to say about Israel’s current policies. But once a flack, always a flack. I have a feeling that Israeli diplomats earn points for the most unlikely venues to have done hasbara. Speaking from the altar of one of Seattle’s premier progressive churches would earn Tor big points back home at Hasbara Central (aka the Israeli foreign ministry).