Thursday, May 14, 2009

AIPAC Policy Conference Observations: On Attempting to Delegitimize Israel

Over the last few years, my respect for AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr has risen dramatically.

My first impressions were not wonderful, coming at the time anti-semitic Israel-haters at the Justice Department were trying to lynch Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. I thought at that time AIPAC should have stood behind Rosen and Weissman, both for moral and strategic reasons. I still believe firing them was a serious mistake which has undermined the effectiveness of AIPAC and harmed both America and Israel.

Since then, I've found Kohr's speeches at AIPAC's Annual Policy Conferences extremely insightful.

The heart of his speech is always the focus of the key issues AIPAC members will be bringing up at their Congressional lobbying sessions on the last day of the conference, but he usually includes another theme.

His theme this year was the drive to delegitimize Israel, including the screeds by Walt, Meersheimer and Jimmy Carter and the "BDS" (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaigns.

The first words of his speech were "We all know Israel is a target. No nation --none --is the target of so many lies, so much contempt, smear, and double standard. But this is different. What we are experiencing today, the rhetorical war of words, is a concerted effort, a campaign, part of a larger strategy."

He pointed out that "in the United Nations Human Rights Council, of the 33 resolutions since its creation, 26 target Israel." Real human rights abuses, like the genocide in Darfur, abuse of women in Saudi Arabia, oppression of almost everyone in Iran and the constant rocket attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and other Arab terror groups are ignored.

He pointed out these attacks "are part of a broader campaign not to simply denigrate or defame Israel, but a campaign to de-legitimize Israel in the eyes of her allies. The epicenter of this campaign may be in the Middle East, but the campaign doesn't stop there. It echoes in the halls of the United Nations and the capitals of Europe. But the campaign doesn't stop there. It is voiced without shame and without sanction in meetings of the international organizations that claim peace and partnership as their mandate."

Kohr's observations have been greeted with glee by Israel-haters, who take them as evidence that they are making headway in their drive to destroy Israel. Most do no use those words and falsely claim they are interested in peace, but that is their thrust. They are trying to rally their storm troopers, claiming the supporters of the only democracy in the Middle East are on the defensive.

As usual, they are wrong. However, as Howard Kohr sagely explained:

I'm not saying that these allegations have become accepted. But they have become acceptable. More and more they are invading the mainstream discourse, becoming part of the constant and unrelenting drumbeat against Israel. These voices are laying the predicate for a abandonment. They're making the case for Israel's unworthiness to be allowed what is for any nation the first and most fundamental of rights: the right to self- defense.

It is critical for us to see what is happening, critical that we not allow ourselves to simply shrug and say we must be thick-skinned and that we've heard all this and worse before. When these voices take the very words and symbols that evoke the horrors done to Jews -- the name of Nazi, the charges of genocide and apartheid, the symbol of the swastika -- and turn them against Israel and her people, they're engaging in a process of dehumanization that we know all too well. They are preparing us for a world in which Israel stands alone, isolated, and at risk.

It's an interesting distinction: the lies, distortions and smears, motivated by hatred and in most cases anti-semitism, are not accepted but have become acceptable. That is an unacceptable situation.

Supporters of Israel have been very reluctant to point out the anti-semitism behind most of the criticisms of Israel, a situation which has been so taken advantage of that the Israel-haters often make hysterical claims about charges of anti-semitism when no such charges have been made - even though such charges generally would have been on target.

While it's important to not falsely voice accusations of anti-semitism (after all, one of the strongest weapons supporters of Israel have is our credibility), it's time to stop giving the anti-semites a free ride. It's time to stop being defensive and reactive and put forth the case for Israel proudly and vigorously.

The case for Israel has rested on two bases, Israel's value to America and the shared values between America and Israel. In other words, America has supported Israel because it's good for America and because it's the right thing to do.

Israel's value to America today is no less than it was during the Cold War, even if it cannot be explained in 30 second sound bites, and that case needs to be made.

More important, because America, like Israel, is committed to morality almost as much as to self-preservation, is the case that support for Israel is right. It's a relatively easy case to make to all but the hateful (who are hopeless anyway) and the ignorant.

The message brought by Howard Kohr had long been in the back of my mind, but I never before heard it clearly articulated.

Let the supporters of Israel, a state whose existence and legitimacy are under attack by states which, in a just world, would be under continual attack for human rights abuses and unable to justify their own existences, meet the challenge not by being defensive, but by repeating the truth, loudly and clearly.

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