Believe it or not, there seems to be some movement, slight and certainly not earth-shaking, within the American Jewish community and outside it vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But whether this will bring about more rational thinking in the United States and help in paving the way for a final settlement to this chronic conflict on the lines of a two-state solution or a unitary state only time and serious work will tell.
I must confess that by nature I am an optimist and what I witnessed last weekend is something that gives me more hope than wishful thinking.
My feeling was triggered by an Israeli play at the Theatre J(ewish) in downtown Washington. An updated version of the 20-year-old Israeli play, set in the near future and now called “Pangs of the Messiah,” revolves around an extremist Israeli colonial family in the occupied West Bank which has to evacuate their colony now that a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement has been signed (in 2012).
The playwright, Motti Lerner, told The Washington Post that he meant to explore the “very deep Messianic urge” among leaders of the Israeli colonies that “motivates them to continue their struggle over the land, in spite of the fact that many Israelis have given up the idea of continuing the occupation.” This urge, he explained, “contains a self-destructive element, which if Israeli society is not going to deal with it, will destroy it completely.” American Jews, he noted, were not aware of this “danger … it is a warning play.”
Since it was well received earlier this summer, the theatre is at present showing it for a second time.
Another warning shot came in the impressive three-part CNN program on religious extremists titled “God’s Warriors” by the network’s articulate chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. The first episode focused on Jewish colonists in the West Bank, much to the chagrin of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represents more than 50 national Jewish organizations. According to the Jewish daily, Forward, the groups were urged by the Conference “to take up the issue with companies that have bought advertising slots during the show.”
The viewers of that first CNN trilogy, titled “God’s Jewish Warriors,” were said by another Jewish activist to have been “left with the view that Israel doesn’t want peace and that Israel’s friends in the United States don’t want peace.”
Consequently, CNN was asked, Forward reported, to avoid rerunning the show before Jewish “concerns about factual errors and bias are addressed and corrected.” But it was apparent that the network did not heed their protests. The three episodes were repeated for several days and they can still be accessed on the network’s web site.
Adding oil to the fire for Israel’s hardline supporters was the near simultaneous release of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” written by two prominent American scholars, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, who challenge the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel, nurtured by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. What may have surprised many here was that within a few days of its release, the book has ranked very high on the best seller list.
Despite their high academic background, Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Walt, professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, have been shunned by some organizations and a few former officials such as George Schultz, the former secretary of state. Yet, at Politics and Prose, a “much-cherished two-story” bookstore in Washington, there were about 200 people present, about half of them standing to give the authors loud applause.
Walt noted that the United States “almost always takes (Israel’s) side in regional disputes,” adding, “Israel is rarely, if ever, criticised by U.S. officials and almost certainly not by anyone who is aspiring to high office in the country.”
He continued: “As some of you will have noticed, the people who are now running for president in the United States are going to disagree on lots of issues, foreign and domestic, but on one issue they are not going to disagree at all, that is that the U.S. should continue to maintain just about the same special relationship it has with Israel today.”
In turn, Mearsheimer maintained that the Israel lobby “has pushed U.S. Middle East policy in ways that are not in American national interest … and not in Israel’s interest either.”
To top it all off, former president Jimmy Carter appeared this week with the popular Amy Goodman, anchor of Democracy Now radio station which is beamed to 600 other radio stations. At one point he described the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories as “a terrible human rights persecution that far transcends what any outsider would imagine.”
The former president also that “there are powerful forces in America that prevent any objective analysis of the problem in the Holy Land” — an obvious reference to the Israel lobby. “I think it’s accurate to say that not a single member of Congress with whom I’m familiar would possibly speak out and call for Israel to withdraw to their legal boundaries or publicize the plight of the Palestinians or even call publicly and repeatedly for good faith peace talks.”
What’s significant about all this is that these views are slowly becoming common knowledge.
George Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org