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American Jews Are Called Upon To Show “Civil Courage” In Promoting Mideast Peace

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 2003

Writing in the British magazine Prospect (March 2003), Anatol Lieven, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., calls upon American Jews to show “civil courage” in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians,  

He writes: “Tony Blair declared that ‘There is no other issue with the same power to reunite the world community than progress on the issue of Israel and Palestine.’ He is right; and these words, coming from America’s only serious ally in this present war, pose a moral challenge to all Americans. Above all, however, they are a challenge to members of the Jewish liberal tradition, both in the U.S. and Britain. This challenge is not only to live up to the internationalist strain of that tradition. Equally importantly, it is to support what any enlightened person, not blinded by nationalism, must surely see as the real long-term interests of Israel itself.”  

The “crucial weakness” of U.S. officials who have previously tried to achieve Middle East peace, declares Lieven, “has been their lack of mobilized support in Congress, the media and the U.S. public at large. Meanwhile the opponents of any serious concessions to the Palestinians have immensely strong and passionate political support. They ... are backed by the most formidable lobby in the U.S., with an immense capacity to influence public opinion, shape the media debate and put pressure on the administration and Congress ... Any U.S. pressure on Israel would therefore require a major domestic political impulse from within America. And this would have to mean first and foremost active support ... by Jewish Americans. Only they are in a position to fight the nationalist right in the Israeli lobby. ... Only they can initiate a truly frank, open and widespread debate in the U.S. concerning Israel’s real security needs and the proper goals and tools of U.S. policy toward Israel. Above all, only they can finally get U.S. policymakers to focus on the disastrous role of the Jewish settlements in driving ordinary Palestinians towards despair and radicalism.”  

Lieven laments that, “Again and again in both public discussions and private conversations, all too many Jewish friends of mine who have accepted the illegitimacy of the settlements, and the need to withdraw many of them and establish a state border roughly along the ‘Green Line’ of pre-1967, have drawn no connection between these beliefs and any duty on their part to express them politically. Central to this failure is a deep unwillingness to contemplate the consequences of such a stance, which would be support for the employment of U.S. pressure on Israel to change Israeli policies...”  

In Lieven’s view, “Silence on these issues by Jewish liberals is culpable, not only from the point of view of liberal values and American patriotism but from that of Israel itself. ... Unconditional support for Israeli policies also threatens the American liberal tradition from within ... If no legitimacy whatsoever is to be accorded to the Palestinian cause ... then it follows naturally that all who express any sympathy whatsoever for that cause, must be at best utterly misguided, at worst wicked - and therefore beyond discussion. This tendency contributes significantly to the demonization of Arabs. In one striking but by no means typical example, an American conference that I attended on U.S. relations with the Muslim world included not a single Muslim ...”  

Lieven is critical of those who use the Holocaust as a means of defending Israel’s actions concerning the Palestinians: “There should be no place in mainstream politics for those who question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state ... But in this context ... while the Holocaust is the moral foundation of a special attitude to the circumstances of Israel’s creation, it is logically, morally, historically and politically irrelevant to the issue of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The moral justification for Israel’s right to exist does not detract from the extent of the Palestinian tragedy which resulted. Any morally serious person is obliged to seek a balance between these two moral imperatives.”  

Beyond this, he declares, “the use of the charge of anti-semitism as a means of intimidating critics of Israeli politics into silence ... should be publicly rejected ... Its overuse ... runs the risk of producing a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  

Lieven calls for American Jews to maintain “a loyalty to intellectual principles which is capable of rising to some degree at least above national allegiance,” and argues that blind support for mistaken Israeli policies is particularly harmful to Israel’s own future.  

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