Thursday, January 14, 2010


In light of a January 10 attack on Representative George Miller (D-CA) in the Vallejo Times-Herald by Larry Grossman (, an attack that echoes the strident propaganda of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), it's time for some plain talk about Israel, Palestine…and America.


Let me preface my remarks by saying something about myself, for I know what will come my way in the wake of what I have to say.


Sunday night, after reading Mr. Grossman's un-nuanced, one-sided diatribe, I happened to watch again Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."  It's a movie I can't watch without a shiver up my spine, for I know its cobble-stoned streets and bloody fields like the back of my hand.  I was the American Consul in Krakow, the first American Consul there.  I walked those streets and the fields of Plaszow.  I walked that railroad track in Birkenau with William Styron and represented America at memorial ceremonies in Auschwitz.  I also walked the Jewish cemetery in Krakow, alone with the community leader of the then-dying Jewish remnant of a thousand…a thousand from a pre-war community of 100,000.  I protested to the Polish authorities about the condition of that and other graveyards throughout Galicia.  And I prayed at services in the Rehmuh Synagogue, cantor-led services, because, in 1973, there wasn't a single rabbi in all of Poland.


And I can sleep better at night knowing that, thanks to such efforts begun forty years ago, there is, once again, a thriving Jewish community in Poland.  No, I don't need any lessons about the Holocaust.


Nor do I need any lessons about Israel, "the quintessential post-Holocaust response to centuries of powerlessness and discrimination."  For I have visited Israel twice, staying at kibbutzim on the Lebanese border and in the Huleh Valley and, standing on the Golan Heights, looking across that valley to Lebanon.  I understand the average Israeli's fear – a fear generated by geography and history.


But I have also visited Palestine – from Nablus in the north to Bedouin villages south of Hebron - and just a year ago experienced first-hand the powerlessness and discrimination visited upon Palestinians in a thousand daily humiliations.  And I recall with pain standing at the thirty-foot high wall surrounding Gaza, as a convoy of NGO vehicles tried to make its way through the Eretz Crossing to break the now two-year-long blockade that has penned 1.5 million people into an outdoor prison 20 miles long by 6 miles wide.


I recall also that cynical and callous onslaught against Gaza – "Cast Lead" - that began under cover of Christmas a year ago and continued until the last breath of the Bush Administration, killing over 1,300 men, women, and children.  No amount of vitriolic rhetoric from "Israel's traditional supporters" (read AIPAC) can erase the images of the dead and maimed children or the truth contained the Goldstone Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).


To call the Goldstone Report a "kangaroo court" and to accuse the UNHRC of anti-Semitism is a calumny of the worst sort.  Richard Goldstone, a Zionist Jew whose daughter lives in Israel, is a distinguished South African jurist, whose uncovering of the crimes of the apartheid regime formed the basis for that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.  Subsequently, he served as chief prosecutor of the war criminals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  His report on war crimes in Gaza was thorough, balanced, and well-documented.  For the sake, not only of its standing in the world, but of its national soul, Israel would be well advised to address the issues raised by the report and stop throwing stones at its author.    


Unfortunately, the United States voted against the adoption of the Goldstone report and pressured the Palestinian Authority to do so also – a move that led to an uproar among ordinary Palestinians and subsequently to the resignation of their moderate Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.


Indeed, we have stood virtually alone with Israel in vote after vote in the United Nations, the last such vote being against a December 18, 2009 UN General Assembly resolution "reaffirm[ing] the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine"…even though that reaffirmation reflects the two-state policy of the United States government.  That vote was 171-6.  With us – the six in Israel's corner – were the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau.  Palau?  Nauru?  Really?!  Increasingly, we – Israel and the United States – are standing out in our singularity and isolation vis-a-vis our allies and the settled body of international law. 


Israel, however, has been isolated not by Representative Miller, J Street, or the Obama Administration, all of whom wish Israel well, but by the Likud government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his racist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who have time and again undermined the two-state solution by the continued construction of illegal and provocative settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  In doing so they have, time and again, undercut moderate Palestinian leaders like Abbas and may soon find out that there are Palestinians even more extreme than Hamas.


Unlike Representative Steny Hoyer, who has made annual trips to Israel paid for by AIPAC's American Israel Education Foundation, George Miller has indeed demonstrated his independence, intelligence, and integrity by visiting Israel – and Palestine – with his eyes wide open and beholden to no one save the American people, especially the people of the 7th District.  He and J Street have stood with President Obama in seeking a two-state solution based on justice and mutual security and dignity for two long-suffering peoples.  They recognize that support for Israel is not synonymous with AIPAC's knee-jerk, "unequivocal" support for Likud's extremist and self-defeating policies.


Those policies can only lead to a one-state solution that would lead, in turn, to the demise of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.  Demography would force Israel to choose between its Jewishness and its democracy.  With a majority Palestinian population, an Israel that extended from the Mediterranean to the Jordan could only survive as an apartheid police state.  That is not, I think, the sort of state that the United States could support.  It certainly is not the sort of Israel I could support.


I urge all your readers to support Representative Miller, President Obama, and reasonable Israelis and Palestinians as they seek to head off such a disaster.  The time is short and, for Israelis and Palestinians, the success or failure of this effort will be existential.    





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