Don’t let fear of partisanship stifle debate

Don’t let fear of partisanship stifle debate

Phil Horn’s comments decry the criticism by some Jewish organizations of President Obama’s Middle East policies in advance of the presidential elections. Phil supports the traditional view of the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris and others that Israel should not be used as a partisan wedge issue.

Let’s overlook for a moment the fact that many Democrats as well as Republicans are not comfortable with a community-wide pledge to leave Israel out of presidential politics. The sentiment itself is objectionable.

Phil properly points out that at least as to security interests, the Obama administration’s military support has been first rate and beyond that of prior administrations. But assume for a moment that unlike the current administration, an American president promoted policies that actually threatened the physical security of the Jewish state. Both Phil and I are veteran enough to remember how, prior to the Six-Day War in 1967, many in the government of the United States were actively hostile to Israel. If we saw such hostility today, would any of us pledge to keep our advocacy on behalf of Israel out of presidential politics?

It is only because we have been strong and successful advocates on behalf of Israel in Congress and the White House (and in innumerable state houses, including New Jersey’s) that some of our organizations feel secure enough to suggest that advocates lay off the politicians who disagree with them on Israel. Success does not equal timidity.

Some Jews actively and vocally disagree with the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel over the issue of housing initiatives in Jerusalem or its sharp criticism of those who advocate the release of Jonathan Pollard. Such disagreement is not a problem; it’s a strength.

The attempt to ban partisanship also runs the risk of stifling legitimate criticism of the policies of politicians or groups. Phil charges that groups like CAMERA focus only on liberal Jewish organizations and ignore the excesses of right-wing groups.

I also attended Alex Safian’s talk at the Step Up for Israel Summit on the Aidekman campus on Oct. 16. Safian and CAMERA take outlets like the BBC to task not because they are liberal, but because they deserve it. Some of the BBC’s reporting from Israel has been just awful. CAMERA’S formal complaint against a January 2010 BBC program about Jerusalem, A Walk in the Park, carefully documented the “inaccurate” and “one-sided” depiction of Israeli policies. CAMERA also holds right-wing news outlets to account, issuing critiques of reporting by Reena Ninan and Geraldo Rivera of Fox News Channel, and Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London for its coverage of the Gaza War.

Finally, we cannot stifle criticism of Jewish organizations with which some of us disagree, even vehemently, such as the New Israel Fund. While the NIF supports programs in Israel that virtually all Jewish and Zionist organizations would support, its former grants director in Israel was quoted in leaked Wikileaks cables saying that the “disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.” NIF asserts that the staffer left the organization because her views differed with the organization’s; either way, such sentiments by officers of a large Jewish fund-raising organization should not be above criticism out of a fear of “partisanship.”

A program that includes analysis and criticism of positions and policies in a community forum is far from “turning the guns on ourselves.” If anything, the points and counterpoints of debate only make us more resilient.

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