WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Meyerson’s Column is Evasive, Prejudiced and Wrong

If Pat Buchanan were a left-winger, he might have written “Netanyahu Feels the Heat.” Evasions and omissions in service of a slander — that describes Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson’s June 17th commentary. Ignorant of or dishonest with facts, the Op-Ed smears not only Israel but also its Diaspora Jewish supporters. It uses a unreliable poll from a fringe source to argue that American Jews favor U.S. pressure on Israel.

Meyerson sounds like an anti-Zionist polemicist. He states that “American Jews remain intensely committed to liberalism and to universal and minority rights,” then alleges that “as a democratic state rising on the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel once embodied those values to its supporters, but 42 years of occupation have rendered Israel a state that tests those values more than it affirms them.”

This tars the one Middle Eastern country that upholds universal and minority rights. It insinuates that Israel, in defending itself against murderous Arab-Islamic anti-Jewish bigotry, betrays the memory of six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The column insults Post readers and stains the newspaper’s reputation.

* Meyerson relies misleadingly on a far-left U.S. Jewish group called “J Street” to claim that a poll shows “72 percent support among Jewish Americans for U.S. pressure on Israel and its Arab neighbors to reach an accord, and, remarkably, 57 percent support for U.S. pressure just on Israel.”

What’s remarkable is Meyerson’s dissimulation regarding J Street and its survey. He calls J Street “an organization of American Jews that favors a territorial accord ….” That could be said of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the registered pro-Israel lobby), whose leaders since the 1993 Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Oslo accords have supported negotiations over a “two-state solution.” But J Street casts itself as the anti-AIPAC, ludicrously claiming that the much larger organization suppresses the long-standing, sometimes heated debate among American Jews about Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

Unmentioned by Meyerson, who column rests on a strawman depiction of AIPAC as hawkish and J Street as more centrist, is the latter’s pedigree.  The New Republic, among others, has reported: that:

J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami favors negotiations with Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel; 

J Street advisory council members include Robert Malley — a Clinton administration National Security Council staffer who has  written that Yasser Arafat was right in refusing the Israeli-U.S. offers of a West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine” with eastern Jerusalem as its capital at Camp David in 2000 — and Eli Parisier, another former Clinton administration member who subsequently founded MoveOn.org to help push the Democratic Party from liberal to leftist; 

J Street receives backing from, among others, Henry Siegman, a former senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has written that Arafat was not dedicated to Israel’s destruction, equated Israel to apartheid South Africa, and also favors negotiations with Hamas.

J Street is so far from representing the pro-Israel mainstream of American Jewry that it supported the staged reading of Caryl Churchill’s anti-Israel playlet, “Seven Jewish Children” at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center and called for a cease-fire by both sides the first day of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” against Hams in the Gaza Strip last December..

* Meyerson gives readers no hint that J Street’s poll was highly dubious. An ADL survey released in April (“ADL poll shows higher support for Israel than did survey by dovish J Street,” Jerusalem Post, April 20) showed 55 percent of U.S. Jews backing President Barack Obama’s Arab-Israeli policies (before the president’s “Muslim world outreach” speech in Cairo and public criticism of continued growth in Jewish settlements); J Street claimed 72 percent support.

The ADL poll indicated that 61 percent of American Jews favored an Israeli-Palestinian “two-state solution.” J Street claimed its survey suggested approximately 75 percent support.

The ADL poll found 55 percent support for American “destruction” of Iran’s nuclear facilities, with 27 percent opposed; J Street claimed 40 percent were in favor, 41 percent opposed.

Meyerson’s readers would not learn that ADL’s more recent survey rested on telephone queries of 1,200 American Jews, with a plus or minus margin of error of 2.8 percent, while J Street’s poll used a potentially unrepresentative e-mail invitation to 800 Jews to a Web-based pool, with a 3.5 percent error margin.

* Meyerson blames religious Jews for the impasse, casting them as unenlightened and parochial. According to him, Israel’s “most fervent American Jewish backers, to be found disproportionately among the Orthodox, identify with it for reasons that are more tribal than universal.”

For more than a century Jews and non-Jews uncomfortable with the concept of the Jewish people, with the idea of Jews as not only members of a religion but also of a nation upholding that religion – a central concept of the Hebrew Bible – have criticized as “tribal” Jews who insisted on their right to a state and that state’s right to defend itself. Early anti-Zionists did it, it was a staple of Soviet propaganda, and it’s still heard from fringes of the assimilationist left and antisemitic right. Contrary to Meyerson, American Jewish support for Israel among self-identifying Jews is still widespread.

* The columnist alleges “the Palestine that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu envisions must steadily shrink to accommodate the growing number of Israeli settlers in its midst, It would be a collection of barely contiguous cantons.” This parrots Palestinian talking-points. The facts:

a) Settlements comprise about three percent of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). All the territory between the 1949 armistice line and the security barrier constitutes less than eight percent of the West Bank. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, having dismantled its settlements and military facilities, and got a terrorist “Hamastan” in return, about which Meyerson is silent.
b) A West Bank and Gaza Strip state excluding the land west of the security barrier would still encompass more than 95 percent of the territories. Palestinian leadership rejected this “two-state solution” Meyerson says Netanyahu imperils. It did so violently in 2000 and 2001, and earlier this year when PA President Mahmoud Abbas refused then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer. Again Meyerson is silent on pertinent facts.
c) As for “barely contiguous cantons,” the West Bank at its narrowest point would be about 11 miles wide; Israel inside the pre-1967 lines is four miles wide just west of Jerusalem, nine miles wide between Netanya and Tulkarm. If Meyerson’s aware of the geography, he hides it.

* Further blaming Netanyahu because “he demands a Palest ine with no army, yet also demands that the Palestinian Authority suppress Hamas as a precondition for negotiations with Israel ….” Meyerson continues to distort and omit. The facts:

a) Netanyahu has made clear he’s willing to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without preconditions.
b) The Israeli demand than any eventual West Bank and Gaza Strip state not have an army hardly originated with Netanyahu. It was an Israeli expectation for decades and became part of both the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty’s Palestinian autonomy provisions and the 1990s’ Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization Oslo accords, which envisioned only a small Palestinian police force. Unlike Meyerson, Israel has to worry about Palestinian rockets in the hills overlooking Ben Gurion International Airport, a worry Hamas’ behavior in Gaza has validated.
c) The demand that the Palestinian Authority suppress Hamas and other terrorists also did not originate with Netanyahu. It’s part of the 2003 diplomatic “road map.” The Oslo I accords included the Palestinian pledge to eradicate anti-Israel terrorism; the PA was not expected to need an army to do so. Rather it was supposed to end anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish incitement and to teach peaceful coexistence, which it has not.

* Meyerson reiterates the “Israelis cause Palestinian suffering” revisionism. He claims there has been a “waning of American Jewish identification with Israel over the past few decades” and blames this on “the Israeli role in the Palestinian disaster.”

Over the past few decades (and more) non-Orthodox American Jewry has experienced, among other things, relatively high rates of out-marriage, lower-than-replacement birth rates, and decreased participation in religious and other organized communal life. Any lessened identification with Israel may be more a result of those trends than reaction against Jewish communities in the West Bank.

Informed Jews and non-Jews are well aware that “the Palestinian disaster” is largely self-inflicted, a consequence of Palestinian Arab choices. Meyerson to the contrary, West Bank and Gaza Strip Arabs were making significant material progress, in cooperation with Israel – until they launched the “al-Aqsa intifada”in 2000.

Again, regardless of Meyerson’s opinion, Israeli Jews are not responsible for Palestinian Arabs’ statelessness. Most Palestinian Arabs are citizens of Jordan, an Arab state on three-fourths of the original British Mandate for Palestine. Stateless Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria and other Arab countries are so because those nations refuse to integrate them like Israel integrated Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Stateless Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are such because of their leadership’s often violent, nearly 90-year-old refusal to accept the idea or reality of a Jewish state of any size, with or without settlements.

The Jewish state, because it is still intensely committed to universal and minority rights – rights that made their first appearance in the Hebrew Bible – is the one country in the Middle East Meyerson, and those he paints as Israel’s disappointed critics, could live in comfortably. His attack on it and its American Jewish supporters, thinly disguised as a critique of its prime minister, is hypocritical and erroneous.

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