Asking for a healthy debate on Israel, without the slings and arrows

Asking for a healthy debate on Israel, without the slings and arrows

Illustrative image: Israelis celebrate the 71st Independence Day on Tel Aviv beach. Getty Images
Illustrative image: Israelis celebrate the 71st Independence Day on Tel Aviv beach. Getty Images

First, let me convey my profound sorrow and empathy, as a parent, to Stephen Flatow over the loss of his daughter Alisa, murdered by a suicide bomber in Israel almost 25 years ago. I also respect the important work he has done over the years in support of the Jewish community and Israel. Clearly, we both love and are committed to the survival and security of the one and only Jewish state. That said, he and I differ on how that love and commitment are best expressed.

I spent some 40 years working as a professional in the Jewish community, most of them devoted to combating the campaign against Israel’s legitimacy and reinforcing American government and public support for Israel. I’m aware, because of my immersion in community affairs, that there is a segment of American Jewry which believes that we do a disservice by offering critical opinions about Israel’s leadership because we don’t live there.

I disagree. I’m not “lecturing” Israeli voters as Flatow asserts in his column, “Dear Israeli voters: a counterpoint” (Sept. 12). I believe that respectfully and judiciously offering criticisms of some Israeli policies and actions fulfills several valuable functions: It sends a message of solidarity to those Israelis who disagree with their government’s policies that there also are American Jews who share that opposition. It lets U.S. public officials know that if they criticize Israeli policies, there are American Jews who won’t automatically challenge them as being anti-Israel. And it shows our young generations that you don’t have to unconditionally support everything the Israeli government does in order to be considered a good Zionist and pro-Israel advocate.

Martin J. Raffel

Flatow also makes the leap from my advocacy for a two-state solution to my promotion — “in practical terms,” as he says — of a return to the 1967 lines. Wrong. There is nothing in my column to suggest a position on permanent borders, which, of course, must be negotiated between the parties. Many experts believe that secure and defensible borders for Israel, on the one hand, and a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, on the other, are not mutually exclusive goals. There are skeptics, of course, and I understand them. But, as many Israeli and American Jews believe, this separation into two states for two peoples seems to be the only option that in the long term can sustain Israel’s dual identity as both Jewish and democratic.

Flatow asserts that the “occupation” of the Palestinian people ended a long time ago and sarcastically offers that the only thing Israel forbids them to do is “import tanks and Iranian troops.” The great N.Y. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” I don’t think there is any disagreement that Israel controls many basic aspects of Palestinian life in the West Bank and Gaza, starting with measures severely constraining the ability to enter and move freely about.

Israeli security forces routinely operate not only in areas B and C, where they are given authority under the Oslo agreements, but they also operate in area A, which is supposed to be under full administrative and security control of the Palestinian Authority. One can debate whether maintaining this tight control over the Palestinians is good or bad, but to deny that it exists is fantasy.

There was nothing in my column indicating any disrespect for the right of Israeli voters to choose their own leaders. I was just encouraging them to approach the important do-over election with renewed reflection. And I can assure Flatow that my opinions were not offered to impress “friends at the country club” — I don’t belong to one, by the way — or to demonstrate “progressive credentials.” These kinds of comments impugning my motivation, frankly, are insulting and contrary to the spirit of civil discourse we should strive to model in our community.

Martin J. Raffel of Long Branch is former senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

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