Talking About Palestine and Israel, in America
A few interesting articles caught my attention over the past few days, all related to the way Americans talk about the "Israel Palestine issue". That's about the only similarity between these articles; one about pro-Israeli evangelicals, another about a former president's view of Israel, and the last about college students bickering about the conflict.
David D. Kirkpatrick writes in the New York Times today with a provocative headline, "For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel is 'God's Foreign Policy' ". Kirkpatrick discusses the rise of popularity of pro-Israeli evangelical Christian groups recently, especially during the war on Lebanon this past July. One such group--the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews-- ran commercials on Fox News network asking viewers to donate to help Israelis hurt by the war.
The response, mainly from evangelicals, “burned out the call centers,” Mr. Eckstein said. During the five-week war, his group added 30,000 new donors. Thanks to the influx of money, he said his organization has exceeded its income from the first 10 months of last year by 60 percent, putting it on track to pull in $80 million this year. “The war really generated a momentum,” Mr. Eckstein said.On the other side of the spectrum, former president Jimmy Carter is feeling the heat even before his new book-- entitled "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid"-- was released today. Pro-Israeli groups pounced on the opportunity to start a smear campaign against anyone daring to question Israel's apartheid-like occupation of the Palestine territories. American politicians didn't hesitate to make statements criticizing the book (before reading it) and its author for such a characterization of the Jewish state.
(Side note: If you just now realized that Nancy Pelosi's position as the new Speaker of the House won't do the Palestine issue any good, feel free to go cry in the corner). The politicians do not even attempt to give the book a chance and wait to read it then refute its arguments. Even this Israeli reporter notes the futility in arguing against characterizing Israel as an apartheid regime (although he goes on to criticize Carter's use of the word in terms of "the context and bigger picture").
Two key party leaders — Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, party chairman, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — and several congressmen issued statements Monday saying that the book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” does not represent their views on the Jewish state.
“It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously,” Pelosi wrote in a statement. “With all due respect to former President Carter, he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.” [h/t www4report]
Apartheid is the worst word one can use against Israel and stay within the boundaries of legitimacy. Using analogies to Nazi Germany - as some anti-Israel activists have done in the past - is unacceptable. Using words like Occupation is not strong enough to earn any attention. Carter pushed the envelope just a little bit futher, but got the effect he wished to have: Anger, controversy, political turmoil, hurt feelings. Arguing about Apartheid is pointless. There is enough material evidence to prove that apartheid exists in the occupied territories in one form or another. If you argue about the use of this word, you lose. If you argue that Israel is blameless you also lose.Finally, a lengthy article in the Boston Globe today looks at the dynamics of discussions on this conflict across college campuses in the US. Jake Halpern writes that the issue of Palestine and Israel is simply "Too Hot to Handle", even though more controversial issues such as race and homosexuality are more openly broached without the same intensity among college students.
This is indeed true that many American students are more aware and engaged in what is going on in the region, and have put their energy into organizations that support their views and allow them to express their opinions on the conflict. It is also the case that pro-Israeli student groups receive a lot of funding and training from national organizations such as AIPAC and ADL, in addition to having Hillel's resources at their disposal, despite the fact that the latter is predominantly a religious organization and ideally should not engage in all this politics. The work of pro-Israeli groups is thus more organized and much better funded than that of pro-Palestinian groups which nonetheless are generating a lot of discussion about the occupation and American support for it despite the intimidation they face from some hard-line pro-Israel groups and university administrators.
The question for students and administrators at Brandeis, UC Irvine, Penn State, and other schools is this: Why is it so hard to talk about Israel in an open, civil, and constructive manner? After all, our college campuses have long provided a forum for discussing the nation's most divisive and controversial issues - including date rape, racism, abortion, and gay rights. So why, exactly, is the subject of Israel so difficult to discuss?
The Holy Land has never been an easy topic of conversation. The fact that three of the world's major religions all have a large spiritual stake in the city of Jerusalem, Israel's capital, guarantees that virtually every young person with an opinion has something to say on the fate of this place. But why is the topic especially contentious right now?The answer in part is that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim college students are more organized than they ever have been - and more outspoken, especially when it comes to Israel.
[photo courtesy: Amazon]
[technorati tags: evangelical, Palestine, Israel, Jimmy Carter, apartheid, college, Hillel, AIPAC]