If you want to feel really demoralized about justice in the Middle East, watch this video of a “National Conversation” about the US-Israel relationship hosted by an NPR reporter, Guy Raz, at the Wilson Center in Washington late in January. You will feel that you have no voice in the mainstream, that no one cares about historical injustices, that Islamophobia is alive and well in the establishment, and that holocaust denial—or the denial of ethnic cleansing– is a virtue in Washington.
Six people speak in this national conversation. I believe that five of them are Zionists (as I wrote ahead of time), that five of them are Jewish, and one or two are Israeli, and the most liberal is, hold on to your hat, Jane Harman, head of the Wilson Center, co-owner of the Daily Beast, and tireless supporter of Israel when she was in Congress– Jane Harman who says in introducing the evening, “P.S. From me, we desperately need a two state solution.”
No one here addresses the one state that exists in Israel and Palestine right now. No one speaks of the horrors of occupation and says that the U.S. should stand up for human rights. David Horovitz, the Israeli journalist, repeatedly says that Israelis can’t possibly think about a Palestinian state when there are Arabs who believe they will get eternal salvation by blowing up themselves and killing non-believing Muslims and Christians and Jews: “They actually believe that that is their path to paradise.”
And Obama naively doesn’t understand this: “The sense in Israel has never dissipated that this president doesn’t get it.” Because unlike John McCain who was tortured, Barack Obama doesn’t understand that some people are evil. No, the innocent went to Cairo first and showed that his heart was not with civilization but the barbarians.
All that he says without contradiction or demurral. Till Theodore Kattouf, a former diplomat, stands up in the Q-and-A and says that Netanyahu humiliated Obama.
Natan Sachs, who is at the Saban Center and seems to be Israeli, echoes Horovitz. He says that the status quo in the West Bank is not so bad, and the U.S. is guilty of naive solutionism when the situation does not lend itself to a solution. And the man who advised several presidents, Aaron David Miller, while holding out hope for hope about the two-state solution but nothing more, says Israel has a “dark past” and “is living in a dangerous neighborhood on a knife’s edge.” Like a bejeweled scimitar held to its throat.
Sam Lewis chuckles off-mike that if Dan Kurtzer were here – a liberal Zionist—he would be very dismayed by the dialogue.
What is the awareness here of the Palestinian experience of humiliation and the rest of the world’s perception of the injustice? Zero. The matter is considered only from the Israeli perspective. Horovitz describes Mahmoud Abbas’s statement to the U.N. that Israel was born with ethnic cleansing as hostile and absurd, and describes the right to return as “ridiculous” because it would “destroy” the Jewish democracy. Miller allows that this democracy is a “preferential” one because Palestinians are discriminated against. Yes and if that were going on here, American Jews would rise up in arms and denounce the euphemism “preferential” as galling and odious.
Is this right? If you believe that Palestinians have human rights, do you feel represented in this National Conversation? Those who believe that the special relationship is not in the interests of the U.S., do you feel represented? Should an NPR host be a party to this imbalanced marginalization? Should he maybe correct Horovitz when he dismisses ethnic cleansing and the right of return as fantasy? Should he ask how Jews would feel about preferential democracy? Raz goes with the flow.
When I watched this, I understood why people turn to violence, why violence changes a discourse. And I understood why the radicalism of a non-violent movement like BDS is also necessary. Because elites left to their own devices are going to tell lies to comfort themselves about the goodness of the status quo.
PS. The Forward has a piece this week on Israel’s harsh measures in the West Bank:
“Is ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ a Prelude to Annexation of Arab Land?” Even the Forward can talk about an Israeli policy of getting as much land as it can with as few Palestinians as possible on it; but Guy Raz does not dare to contradict an Israeli rightwinger in a National Conversation.
Update: This post originally stated that all the participants in the panel are Jewish. I am told I was wrong, that Sam Lewis is not. Apologies.