Monday, November 8, 2010

An Open Letter to David Good, Organizer of the Tree of Life Conference

Each year, David Good organizes an anti-Israel hate-fest he mislabels as a "Tree of Life Conference" at his First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut. I have gone to five of them; I generally felt  how I imagine a Black might have felt attending a meeting of the Klu Klux Klan. There was an evaluation form included in the registration packet; in lieu of handing it in at the end of the conference, I sent the following email to Rev. Good.

Dear Rev. Good:

I had far too much to say to be able to submit the evaluation form regarding your "2010 Tree of Life Conference on Israel and Palestine" at the end of the event, so I decided to answer the questions via an email which I will be sharing with others.

1. How did you hear about the Conference?
I read about it in the newspaper, on the web, via email and through some activist organizations.

2. Have you attended any of the preceding Tree of Life Conferences?
Yes. I previously attended four of them.

3. Which Conference event(s) did you/are you planning to attend this weekend?
Sunday afternoon speaker program.

4. The Conference strives to spotlight human rights abuses inherent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not routinely covered by U.S. media, and to celebrate the efforts of remarkable people working to bring about a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. How did we do?
(The scale in the form goes from 0, representing "not at all," to 5, representing "very well." I find that scale somewhat inappropriate, so I'll give more descriptive answers as necessary.)

a. I learned about aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I hadn't known, or didn't understand fully, before I came to the Conference.
Not at all

b. I was impressed by the courage and non-violent work of dissidents in the conflict.
Not at all

c. I'm thinking differently about the role of the United States as a broker of peace in this conflict.
It made me think of how fortunate the entire world is that the extremist, hateful perspective projected in the conference is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the American people.

d. I'm curious to learn more about the issues examined today.
I've been curious about all the issues for many years, particularly the key issues, which were totally ignored during the conference.

e. I'm interested in traveling to the region to see the situation for myself.
I've been to the region many times and will be traveling there again shortly.

f. I'm thinking of taking some actions that expresses my concerns about issues examined in the Conference (e.g. joining a group, writing elected officials, supporting an activist organization, speaking out on websites or in letters to the editor, etc.)
I already do all that.

5. Your age bracket: 50-64.

6. Here's an opportunity to add - and answer - a question we didn't ask, or to comment further on the Conference program:

First, I will make the comment and ask the question which I had intended to ask during the "Audience Discussion with All Participants" portion which ended so abruptly.

(I had my hand up to ask a question during the entire portion, except, of course, while others were actually asking questions. After just about everyone else who had wanted to participate had gotten their chance, Mr. Olsen had finally indicated I would be next when the person handling the microphone walked over to him, whispered in his ear, and then announced there was no time for further questions. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but I have never witnessed a question and answer session ending so abruptly, with absolutely no prior indication the end was near; invariably, the moderator will publicly announce when there is time for only one or two more questions. I can't help but wonder whether the session was ended simply in order to prevent me from saying anything.)

It may be comfortable and even exhilarating to participate in a weekend long exercise in Israel-bashing, but it does nothing to promote either peace or reconciliation. Israel is not evil incarnate, as portrayed by all your speakers; the Palestinian Arabs are not angelic, innocent victims.

Any reasonable person realizes that peace will require good faith negotiations involving compromises by all parties. During the last few months, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Arabs, has repeatedly insisted that he will not make any compromises regarding any of the core issues. If you think I'm just repeating pro-Israel propaganda, you can read reports of his insistence in the Kuwaiti Times. Or read on the Lebanese Al-Manar website how he said "If we showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago."

Do you agree with Abbas' total inflexibility? Do you see that as an impediment to peace, or do you agree with him that all the compromises have to be made by Israel?

Some additional comments I had not planned to make during the aborted discussion period:

In two ways there was a slight improvement over some of the previous conferences:

1. This time, nobody explicitly said that Israel was reestablished in sin and would best be destroyed, although that point was certainly repeatedly made in subtle ways. After all, the major purpose of the despicable BDS movement is to delegitimize Israel to ease the path to its destruction.

2. This time, there was no even a pretense of not being totally biased against Israel.

Personally, I find it hypocritical for a group of people to complain (falsely, but that's besides the point) that only the Israeli perspective is given to the American people and then exclusively present only a totally anti-Israel perspective. (That so much of the information presented was not only biased, but misleading and even blatantly factually incorrect is also besides the point.) I've been to many pro-Israel meetings and events and have never been to any which were anywhere close to as one-sided or downright hateful as the Tree of Life Conferences.

Indeed, I feel compelled to ask you the question Joseph Welch asked Senator Joseph McCarthy: At long last, sir, have you no shame?

If you have any shame, or any interest in actually promoting peace rather than just hatred of Israel, I suggest you start educating yourself and begin telling the whole truth to your congregants. I have a few places to start.

One good place is "The Daily Alert," a digest of important news stories produced each day for the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. It may be viewed at . I recommend you get on their mailing list, so that you can receive it by email each day.

The Council of Presidents, unlike the fringe elements you invite each year to speak at your conference, truly represents the mainstream of the American Jewish community. Their selection is quite diverse and even often includes articles by people, such as Jimmy Carter, who are anti-Israel. There are some insightful items almost every day. For example, there were at least two included today which clearly demonstrate important issues neglected:

An article, which may be found in full at , reporting that "Six foreign nationals and Palestinians set fires alight near the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin in the Gush Etzion bloc." This is apparently not uncommon. The Jews living in the disputed territories are themselves not always angels, but so often Arabs are guilty of the very sort of provocations of which they accuse Jews.

A bulletin from Palestinian Media Watch entitled "Is the Palestinian Authority preparing its people for peace?" It may be found at . (Indeed, I recommend visiting the PMW website often and subscribing to their email list.)

Palestinian Media Watch does what its name implies: it actually reads and analyzes the Palestinian media. When one is aware of what is published in that media, which unlike the Israeli media exists at the mercy of its government, it becomes obvious that the Palestinian Authority is blatantly violating its commitments to end incitement and is educating the people for continued conflict with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel.

Conveniently, Itamar Marcus, the Director of PMW, will be speaking in Hartford on Wednesday afternoon, the very same day you will be presenting another Tree of Life program in that city. I'm not sure whether outsiders are invited, but I suggest you contact Avi Posnick and see whether you can either go to listen or meet privately with Marcus before or after. (He is speaking at a public meeting in the evening; if you can't meet with him in Hartford, perhaps you can find someone else to moderate your program in the evening?)

Finally, some general observations not directly related to you conference:

I am involved in a number of pro-Israel organizations; in sharp contrast to the organizations you bring to the Tree of Life Conference each year, every one of them is pro-peace and none of them are anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian. Being pro-peace is taken for granted, with the arguments between those considered doves and hawks, and between those considered left-wing or right-wing, is over what policies are more likely to induce the Arabs to give up their genocidal war (yes, at its heart it is a genocidal war) and agree to live in peace. Just about anyone, from virtually any part of the spectrum, would agree to just about anything if it would bring peace.

Unfortunately, the picture in the anti-Israel camp is quite different. (I view it as anti-Israel, rather than pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian, because its priority is almost always harming Israel rather than supporting what's best for the Arabs.) Even Mahmoud Abbas, who in the Palestinian Arab spectrum is a "moderate," is unwilling to compromise on any of his outlandish demands designed to lead to the destruction of Israel. He even, extremely hypocritically, refuses and insists he will always refuse to recognize the reality of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people even as he insists that the Israelis accept the existence of a separate state as the nation-state of the Palestinian people.

And, even if Abbas was willing to negotiate (he's now spent two years refusing to even pretend to negotiate, with the exception of a single month of nominal negotiations, which he preceded with an announcement that he would be walking out after a month) and come to a peace agreement, it would be virtually worthless since he barely controls the West Bank (he'd be instantly overthrown if Israel gave into his demands turn over all security to the Palestinian Authority) and has no influence in Gaza.

And, that doesn't even start to address the basic conflict which gave rise to the conflict between the Israelis and the people who now call themselves Palestinians: the genocidal Arab and Muslim war against Israel.

Those are the real problems; those are the core; those need to be addressed.

People who wish to be peacemakers cannot ignore the real issues. Events like your Tree of Life Conferences are analogous to giving free crack to addicts: they simply reward and reinforce the Arab refusal to live in peace.

I have a young cousin, Doron, living in Beersheva. I feel sick to my stomach whenever I think about the fact that he is serving in the Israeli army, but as the Israelis realize, אין ברירה, there's no alternative.

He has two even younger nephews, Dror and Ta'or, the older of whom just celebrated his second birthday, also my cousins. I feel sick at the realization that they will also have to serve, אין ברירה. I long for real peacemakers, who will promote peace rather than spread hated and prolong the war.

I'm basically an optimist, but after the disastrous results of the failed Oslo experiment, I see no hope for peace before the time Dror and Ta'or have to serve. But, if enough people begin to act wisely, I do have some hope that their children can live in an Israel at peace.

You obviously have influence over many people in your congregation and are working hard to spread your influence.

I beg you to change your course, to become a true peacemaker, to make future Tree of Life Conferences live up to their name, and to help create a world where the children of Dror and Ta'or, and their Arab neighbors, may be able to live in peace.

שלום.Salaam‪.‬ Peace

Alan Stein

1 comment:

There is NO Santa Claus said...

Dear Primerprez:

I see you have been busy! I thank you for writing that response to the clergyman who sponsored the "Tree of Life" conference.

The notion that Evangelical Christians automatically support Israel is, unfortunately, a stereotypical generalization. While it's true that a majority (5 in 9) of American Evangelical Christians support Israel quite unconditionally, the other 4 in 9 are like Jimmy Carter.

It sounds to me like you found the 4-in-9 group. What a shame.

When you sit through a conference of Christians where the basic thesis is: "The Jewish State is evil. Let us count the ways.", you are well within your right to ask: "Have you no shame!" Apparently, we're supposed to ignore 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism; inquisitions, pogroms, ghettoization, all leading up to the Holocaust.

Along side this depressing barrage of overt anti-Semitism, I was happy to hear some genuine words of comfort from Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. I hope you had an opportunity to review his comments. After sitting through a KKK meeting like that, you deserve to know that there's still somebody who understands what that "Tree of Life" conference was really about.