Sunday, October 7, 2007

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A first-person account of being lobbied by the Israel lobby

In the Boston Globe, journalist Elaine McArdle describes an AIPAC-funded junket to Israel and the effect it had on her:

I've found myself picking over the question: how much has my opinion on Israel been moved?

It's not hard for me to acknowledge that I'm much more sympathetic to the predicament of Israel than I was before I saw the place so extensively with my own eyes. Traveling the countryside has given me a much clearer picture of its precarious state, with a mere 9 miles separating the West Bank from Tel Aviv - less than from Boston to Concord, and easy distance for rockets. You can certainly see why Israel wouldn't give up the West Bank until it has a partner it can trust. Its existence - and the lives of the people we met - are at risk.

Before the junket, I would have described myself as admiring of Israel but increasingly disturbed by its human rights violations.

Now I would say I find myself aligned with a growing group of former Israeli leftists, those who once believed a peaceful solution was imminent but after the debacle of Gaza have, with heavy hearts, lost their bearings and moved toward the center.

Is this a seismic shift? No. But I also have no way of knowing where I would stand had I paid for the trip with my own money, organized my own interviews, and gotten equal access to the Palestinian point of view.

Our guides, to their credit, showed us the separation wall at its most formidable and depressing. But what life is like on the other side of that wall - whether families are eating olives and grilled fish, what their hopes and dreams for the future are, whether they dream of a nonviolent resolution to the conflict - of this, I have no personal experience.

posted by Dan on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM


"equal access to the Palestinian point of view."

That is, of course, the most important point. If Ms. McArdle would have seen the suffering in Gaza or the camps in the West Bank, or gone to families who have been displaced for 60 years in Lebanon... I wonder how sympathetic she would be to Israel. The simple fact is that Israel is an illegitimate colonial state, born of ethnic cleansing and war crimes, and with one of the most brutal records of the 20th century. It is a racist and not be supported. What Ms. McArdle did is the equivalent of seeing the trees without seeing the forest. During their Algerian war, the French could have easily taken people on tours and shows the brutality of the Algerian resistance, similarly white South Africans could have given tours that would have made people sympathetic to their domination of the local population. But these things would only be effective given a complete lack of understanding of the situation as a whole. If you understood Apartheid, you would never be sympathetic of the Apartheid South African government, regardless of how many tours they gave and how many crimes they attributed to the ANC, just as there would be no sympathy for the French if their colonial history was understood in Algeria. The Zionist history can not simply be viewed through their own prism, it must be seen as an entirety. And it's brutality and illegitimacy vastly outweighs it's value. Unfortunately, people who go on AIPAC tours will never see that.

posted by: Joe M. on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

There are some troubling aspects in the creation of the Israeli nation state which clearly cannot be overlooked. How ever your comments are pretty one sided and your comparisions to Algeria or South Africa is out of place.

Isreali's had historical ties to the land that they wanted to settle in.Jerusalem was the site of their temples and they do have ties to the land extending all the way back to their earliest ancestors. What the French and the Dutch cannot claim with a straight face is that they have historical claim to Algeria or South Africa. And no one in their right mind would have been sympathetic to African apartheid or French imperialism.

Israel has constantly been under siege ever since its creation - it would be laughable to say that about the French Imperialists or the South african colonists.

Also, when ever i hear about the plight of the Palestenian refugees, i dont get one thing. Are these the only people who have lost their homes ? Human history is replete with such terrible losses. I dont mean to be little the palestenian situation but there are millions of people all over the world who have suffered the same fate. Unlike the Palestenians they have not fallen into despair that they could not recover from.

Case in point - consider the creation of Pakistan in 1947 - pretty much around the same time as Israel was created. The Muslims in the northwestern portions of India did not exactly drop down from heaven. Islamic invasion and conquest of India that happened over the course of 800 years contributed to the Muslims being a majority in NW India. Those invasions were bloody as hell - infact there is a mountain range in northwestern India called HinduKush which literally means Hindu massacre. No prizes for guessing how that name came into place.

The Partition itself was one of the biggest human tragedies to have ever happened. Millions and millions of Hindus were forced to flee their homes when it became clear that the creation of Pakistan would involve Muslims coming over to the areas in which Hindus currently lived. The number of people who were killed, maimed, raped went into the hundreds of thousands.

Refugees from Pakistan who came to India had to pick up the pieces from scratch - they lost their homes, money, family members etc. But they did not organize themselves into terrorist forces that bombed pakistani civilians. They had every right to make a claim to their homes from which they were forced out of. Instead they went about the business of getting their lives back with very little help from the Indian govt. Today they are among the most prosperous citizens in India.

They did not clamor for their right to return, their homes and their personal property nor did they start a terrorist campaign that tried to destroy pakistan.

Israel's creation involved a lot of blood spilling as well. But the Palestenians would have atleast got most of their homeland back but for the incessant terrorism against Israeli civilians and the downright terrible leadership of Arafat.

Heck, even this country came into existence only after the native people who fought a bloody struggle with European settlers were subjugated.
Again, at the very least the US Govt has tried to do something to improve the plight of the native Americans. But Joe, can you realistically ask the US govt to give its land back to the natives ?

Israel has a historical claim to its lands and a right to defend itself. When you are sorrounded on all sides hell bent on destroying you especially after you survived the Holocaust, you will do every little thing to protect yourself.

The solution to the vexing problem is creating a Palestine right next to Israel with no adjustment to Jerusalem's status. and a Palestine that does not threaten the Jewish nation every day.

It hasnt happened in the last 60 years but i will blame militant islam and islamic terrorism for this problem more than any thing else

posted by: NS on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

Wow, NS paints indeed very glowing picture of 1947 refugees from Pakistan. The fact is NS is largely right and contributions of these partition era ‘nirvasit’ (the ones without home) to Indian society have been amazing. Indeed it is a ‘story of courage & grit’ from modern India.

Palestinians were unfortunate to get leaders like Arafat and now Hamas. There is no other logical end than blood shed, violence and bitter separation for such an approach. Any sane person who expects anything other than that is simply wrong. Palestinian problem will not solve unless they give up ‘mad violence’ and ‘terrorism’. That is not something what Israel can do for them.

Apart from that as NS pointed, not only Israel has some historical justification for the land, the very UN (which Palestinians are desperate to involve) has a resolution to create Israel. So how come Israel is then ‘illegal colonial state’? If Joe M. does not want to get historical facts right, he better stop writing out rightly wrong and inflammatory blog post.

Joe M. also tries to paint a picture as if it is the Palestine only who have suffered. What about Holocaust? Didn’t Jews suffer at catastrophic proportion? True, that is not the problem of Palestinians and that in itself can not be a reason to set claim for Palestinian land. But Israel story is more than that – it has both historical justification as well as the UN sanction.

Finally, why is Israel racist? Just because Joe M. wants to abuse Israel, does it mean mindlessly keep on hurling such derogative descriptions without any relation to reality?

All said and done, Joe M. post is totally thoughtless and one of the poorer posts on this blog.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

The simple fact is that Israel is an illegitimate colonial state, born of ethnic cleansing and war crimes, and with one of the most brutal records of the 20th century. It is a racist and not be supported.

That's presumably a "simple fact" in the same way that it's a "simple fact" that there's no such thing as a Palestinian at all, that the concept is a mid-20th century invention by Arabs trying to continue their Jew-killing ways of the early part of the 20th century; that all suffering of Arabs is of their own making and that of their fellow Arabs; that the supposed "displaced families" have no more ties to Israel than the Jews there do.

posted by: David Nieporent on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

I don't mean to interrupt the predictable back-and-forth about the Israelis and Palestinians that erupts here every time Dan posts something even remotely related to the subject. McArdle's piece was interesting to me as an essay on the kind of trip I've experienced several times myself.

In a former life I worked on Capitol Hill, along with thousands of other Congressional staff who are seem by a plethora of organizations as potential junketeers. In the space of a few years I managed to get myself on trips sponsored by the timber industry (in the Upper Midwest), the tobacco industry, the wheat growers, the sugar growers, regional banks, the Bolivian government and the government of Taiwan. And I wasn't even close to being a champion Congressional traveler.

I enjoyed every one of these trips, and would insist that anyone in the position I held then would be foolish not to seek them out. It helps not be vain about what one doesn't know, of course, but McArdle's inquiry after the persuasive powers of this kind of travel actually tracked some of my own thinking at the time. If I was exposed to a subject for the first time on a paid and fairly pleasant junket, how much would the experience influence my thinking thereafter? Could I distinguish between warm personal feelings for my hosts and the merits of policy arguments that might involve their interests? Was my thinking being, in any sense, compromised?

It is possible these questions are less difficult for me than they would be for most people. Also, the matter of exerting influence is not as simple as it looks, from the hosts point of view (for example, don't expect to guide the thinking of people new to the intricacies of banking regulation very effectively if you've had them out pub-crawling in Chicago until past 3:00 the night before. Persuasion can work on the subconscious, not the unconscious). I do know that the most effective job of subtle persuasion was done by the hosts of the Taiwan trip.

At the time I went junketing to Taiwan (the late 1980s), the government's message was vaguer and less focused than it must have been in the past. People who took the trip before I did told of obligatory stops on Quemoy and Matsu, which I was glad to be spared. There was no overt propagandizing, unless you counted visits to museums that were explicitly Chinese (not Taiwanese) and souveniers that featured Chiang Kai-shek's portrait. But the central message was clear enough: in this part of the world, Taiwan was where America's friends were.

I pretty much believed that already. And some of the specific issues discussed (relating to trade, mostly) weren't always directly relevant to the central message -- since even friendly nations have arguments about trade all the time. But did the direct exposure, over the course of a week, to a country I had never seen before and imparted by intelligent and considerate hosts, make an impression? It sure did.

posted by: Zathras on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

joe m: suggests:

Israel is a state "... with one of the most brutal records of the 20th century"

You are kidding aren't you?

Russia/Soviet Union
North Vietnam
North Korea
United Kingdom

all have been at least an order of magnitude more "brutal" to both their enemies and own citizens than Israel has. Of course Joe M. would be the first to point out that only Israel has a Jewish majority population. Which, to his amazingly uninformed mind, is crime enough to justify its destruction.

Joe M. have you signed up with any military or terror organization with the goal of eliminating Israel? If not, you are just a puss filled wanker who will void in your undies the first time you try to take on even a female member of the IDF.

What a mewling coward Joe M. is. Urging others to destroy Israel but too afraid to do anything other than post lies. A true example of a ChickenSh*t.

posted by: anon on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

Umesh Patil,
I did not say that Israel was "illegal" but that it was "illegitimate". During the colonial period in India, there were thousands of laws that the British forced on the Indian population. As they were the authority there (whether accepted or not) those laws formed what was legal and what was illegal for the local population to do. Whether i argue that Israel is "illegal" or not is a matter for a different time, but there is no doubt in my mind it is an illegitimate state.

To NS and Umesh Patil more generally,
If you want to use an Indian analogy, what if today the accumulated British, Dutch, Mongolian and other people's who at one time or another colonized India decided that they have a historic right to the sub-continent on the basis of having ties to it dating back hundreds of years? Now, on that basis, they didn't simply want to move to India or Pakistan, but they decided that they had exclusive rights to the entire place. THIS IS THE CORE ISSUE! It is not simply a matter of people being unable to live together. It is a matter of a settler population creating a state upon a local population and excluding them from it. The Jews have stolen Palestine from the Palestinian people and have systematically excluded and destroyed them as a result.

Whether the French or the White South Africans claimed historical ties to the countries they colonized makes no difference whatsoever. The means of colonial control is what matters. And Israel is actually more destructive and more violent and more extreme then either of those two examples were. At no time in either of those cases were entire populations of 1.6 million placed on under the world's most potent sanctions to accomplish political ends, a proverbial "diet" as a leading Israeli official called it.

If either of you understood the history of the situation, you would understand that this is the case. One clear point is that the Palestinian leadership was calling for a 1-state solution to the conflict (Palestinians and Jews sharing basic institutions, and more or less living together) until the Algiers declaration in 1988. Why then, for 40 years was Israel unwilling to agree to such a reasonable position? Because Zionism leaves no room for sharing the land, Zionism is by definition exclusionary in it's nature. If the Zionists wanted to colonize an unpopulated plot of land, presumably the moon or such, this would not create problems. But as they lay claim to an already populated land, obvious problems arise. Even today, it is not the Palestinians who are holding up peace, it is the Jews who are. If we wanted to talk about international law and legality, the Palestinians are entitled to all the land accorded to them via the Partition Plan of 1947 (Resolution 181), as this is what demarcated Israel's boundaries and gave them international viability. But instead the Palestinians have mad countless concessions to their rights, with many in their "leadership" now willing to accept a "solution" that leaves them with less then 20% of their original land. These "leaders" concede their rights because they are subject to immense brutality and have no power to dictate terms to Israel, not because they believe this is right or just or honorable.

Now, you both make reference to Palestinian leadership (Arafat and Hamas) being the cause of the continued conflict. This is a flatly ridiculous idea. In respect to Hamas, their position is so obviously and clearly a response to Israeli brutality and colonialism that i hardly need to go further. As Israel became increasingly brutal and determined to deny Palestinians of their rights, Hamas has become increasingly popular among Palestinians. This is a simple fact of people wanting human dignity. As African-Americans gained greater awareness of their situation in the 40s and 50s, their leaders became increasingly radical (such as the Nation Of Islam and Malcolm X, The Black Panthers and those like Stokley Carmichael). Fatah has been in power for decades now and produced absolutely no results (in fact, it can easily be argued that this are the worst they have ever been), so the Palestinians have turned to Hamas. This is a natural and obvious reaction. As for Arafat, for most of his career, he was extremely pragmatic and accommodating to the Jews. To call his radical is simply a joke.

But what is more important is that all of this discussion obscures the most important fact that the real radicals, the real extremists in the conflict are the Jews. We can use any metric possible, in absolutely every way, it is the Jews who have used the most violence, the most racist policies, the most vicious rhetoric, the most practically powerful means to get their way. Extremism must not measured simply by objection to the establishment powers, but by use of extreme measures. I readily admit that Palestinians have used violence against the Jews, but so does a lion against a lamb. Who is the extremist in such a fight, the helpless lamb or the ferocious lion? The ANC was called a "terrorist" organization endlessly, but were it's acts more violent that the total subjugation of the entire native population of South Africa? Similarly, you can bandy about terms like "terrorist" against the Palestinians, but compared to the violence used against them, the F16s, the crippling economic warfare that is literally leaving the majority of Palestinian children malnourished, the vicious control of Palestinian access to the outside world... compared to this, Palestinian violence is a mere pin prick. I don't condone it, but i will never condemn it (even if i think it is tactically inferior at times).

Politically, just let me be clear, I prefer a one-state solution to the conflict and I will never accept a "solution" that allows one side the right to dominate the other. I think the one-state solution is in the best interests of both the Palestinians and the Jews (and is by far the best solution for everyone). What's more, the Jews are putting themselves in a very precarious situation by continuing to obstruct peace efforts. While most of their talk about an "existential" threat against them is mere rhetoric, I do believe that a time will come when they face a choice. That choice will be to make a legitimate peace with the Palestinians via equality, or they will be left to die or go back to Europe (or wherever they personally came). They are placing themselves in an unsustainable position, and Ahmadinejad is correct that they will "vanish from the pages of time" unless they come to terms with this fact.

posted by: Joe M. on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

Excuse my error, I meant to say that the lamb uses violence against the lion when it is attacked, but that does not make the lamb's actions extreme. I think the intent above was obvious, but just wanted to make that clarification.

posted by: Joe M. on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

To Joe M.

I think the illegitimacy or legitimacy of states is of interest academics only. By your analyses not only is Israel illegitimate but so are all other settler states (US, NZ, Australia). A state is legitimate if it can defend itself and look after the needs of its citizens. Do you really expect Israel to say "O, yes your absolutely right, we are going to move out of here and go back to wherever." Ahmadinejad may be correct that Israel may "vanish from the pages of time" but I doubt very much that Palestinians in particular or Arabs and Persians generally will be the beneficiaries.

Great series of comments.

All the best

posted by: bob abrams on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

I'm actually more interested in McArdle's reactions, and the ethical questions her article raises, than in the specifics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If I understand her conclusion it is "Yes, my views were changed by my time in Israel, and that's fine, because the change came because of facts and logic and values which are all legitimate."

But why does she claim that she wasn't "swayed by AIPAC"? Why is admitting to being swayed by AIPAC such a bad thing?

Another question is how to be aware of...well, things we are unconscious of. I've done some "consciousness work" with various groups and learned some techniques; perhaps Ms. McArdle could try some of them herself.

posted by: VentrueCapital on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

Joe M.

Well if we go by your logic then historical Palestine (including Israel and Palestinean territories) should be given back to Turks..after all they rule the area more than any other modern power, right?

posted by: Ottoman on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

With friend like that you don't need ennemy.

posted by: JLS on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

For a total smackdown of Mearshimer and Walt, go to this article in The New Republic:

posted by: WA on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

As a Zionist and an Israeli, it would be stupid for me to comment anything remotely negative on friendly Elaine McArdle impression of Israel. But I cannot take hold of myself. 20% of Israel's population is Palestinian Arab, so being in Israel she could not avoided daily, intimate contact with them. May be she imagined Palestinians lived a daily drama of terror - as terrorists or victims of terrorism -, apartheided into the back of the bus, a prejudice that turned invisible her Arab autobus driver, the tourist guide, the journalist, the policeman or the soldier (yes, some 15% of the IDF is, to my count, Arabs). It is most probable that the soldiers manning a barrier, male and female, included about 5% Ethiopians and 10 - 20% Israeli Arabs. I cannot imagine anyone preventing her to talk with anybody, so a little bit of initiative on her part could allowed her to form a first hand opinion of the Palestinian viewpoint. Moreover, although the formidable concrete wall looks impermeable, Palestinians can be met everywhere in Israel. I specially love the Nakba (catastrophe) ceremonies in the universities, although most of the protesters are not in fact Arabs but Jews. There is no wall at all in Jerusalem and half of Jerusalem is peopled by Arabs that consider themselves Palestinian and have daily contact with the university or the mosque in Ramallah (which is in fact a neighborhood of Jerusalem). She could have used a free afternoon to a take the bus to Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron or Jenin (the ticket costs less than a dollar and the trip takes less than half an hour, no visa nor passport needed) and see what is going on there by herself. Gaza is an Islamic statelet, she did wisely to avoid it as foreigners tend to disappear there.

posted by: jaim klein on 10.07.07 at 08:43 AM [permalink]

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