In my last column I discussed the virtues politicizing issues, stating that differing political thought and political debate were very much a part of the American culture. A good friend asked me to distinguish politicization — having to do with philosophy — and partisanship — having to do with political parties. I understand his point, but sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between them because they do overlap. Consider the use of the word partisan during the Spanish Civil War and World War II.
I wrote about two pro-Israel lobbies, AIPAC and J Street, as an example of politicization of Jewish American support of Israel. Little did I know that my example would come to the fore the following week.
On Jan. 20, 54 members of Congress, Democrats all, wrote a letter urging President Obama to pressure Israel to loosen security measures implemented to counter the threat from terrorism originating from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In that letter, the petitioners, in some circles called the “Gaza 54,” stated:
The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your brokered Middle East peace efforts.
The letter includes a litany of areas where the signers believe the Israeli “blockade” has negatively impacted the life of Gazan civilians.
Logically, you might ask, “What about Hamas?” The letter has two references to Hamas, including, “The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel following Hamas’ coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead.” There is no mention of the ramifications of the Hamas coup to either the people of Gaza, nor of the damage to Israel and its civilians wrought by Hamas rockets.
The second reference is this: “Easing the blockade on Gaza will not only improve conditions on the ground for Gaza’s civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas.” Is it purposeful, or mere inadvertence, that the Gaza 54 ignore that the tunnels came into being not to bring in civilian goods, but to smuggle arms to be used against Israel? Opening the borders will not stop the flow of arms to Hamas.
Who are these petitioners? Three of them — Donald Payne, Rush Holt, and Bill Pascrell — represent districts in New Jersey, and of these three, two — Pascrell and Payne — represent portions of MetroWest. One congressman, James Moran (D-Va.) has gotten into trouble for remarks about the “Jewish Lobby” and was chastised by the National Jewish Democratic Council. One of the sponsors, Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), is the only Muslim in Congress.
Almost a third of the congressional petitioners, 17, received 2010 endorsements by the JStreetPAC. In making the endorsements, JStreetPAC asked its supporters, “Please help us change the face of Congress by electing more pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates.”
Only one of JStreetPAC’s endorsements went to a Republican. So is this a political or a partisan issue?
Let’s cross the aisle. The election of Republican Scott Brown to fill the vacant seat of the late Ted Kennedy has been called everything from the “second shot heard around the world” to the “Massachusetts Massacre.” It had immediate repercussions in Washington, and elsewhere.
In the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn proclaimed Brown’s victory a “victory for Netanyahu.” Benn’s reasoning is that Netanyahu has managed to curb pressure from Obama, waiting for the time “his right-wing supporters recapture a position of power on Capitol Hill and work to rein in the White House’s political activities.” Benn says further Republican victories in 2010 will add more support to Netanyahu’s positions.
Brown’s campaign website listed only two issues which related to foreign affairs — Israel and Iran.
Brown, a supporter of the two-state solution, states:
As our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel lives every day under the threat of terror yet shares with America a dedication to democratic ideals, a respect for faith, and a commitment to peace in the region. Until a lasting peace is achieved, I support the security barrier erected by Israel which has proven successful in protecting Israeli civilians from terrorist attacks.
Iran, Brown’s other foreign affairs issue, is also the number one issue for Israel. He writes:
I support the bi-partisan Iran sanctions bill and believe that until Ahmadinejad gives up his nuclear ambitions he should be isolated from the rest of the world. With its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran represents the biggest threat to Israel. Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier who has threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Meeting with him confers legitimacy when the only correct response is to treat him as an outcast.
Brown’s position on the security barrier puts him in direct conflict with the Gaza 54. His position on Iran conflicts with those who advocate engagement.
Are these conflicts philosophical, political, or partisan?