Sunday, January 25, 2009

Double Standard at The Waterbury Observer, Part III

On May 1, 2008, I was an invited speaker at Hartford, Connecticut's annual Holocaust commemoration. I submitted the notes I used to the Waterbury Observer, a monthly newspaper.

The publisher, John Murray rejected it with the explanation:
"Hi Alan Thanks for sending me your notes from your speech May 1st for consideration in the Observer. I'm going to pass on publishing them because you have already strongly expressed these opinions in the Observer several times before and I'm not inclined to re-ignite the he said-she said-he said dialogue between Marilyn Aligata, Mr. Hajjar and yourself about Israel and the Palestinians. The Observer is not the forum to solve the dispute.

Thanks for thinking of the Observer.

peace, John."

Seven months later, the same John Murray published a hateful, error-filled anti-Israel screed.

Once again, a double standard is applied when it comes to Israel.

We urge letters be sent to both and to raise the probability it will be read … and then undoubtedly ignored.

The post containing my rejected commentary may be viewed by clicking here.

The post containing Hajjar's screed may be viewed by clicking here.

The following is my letter to The Observer in response. I do not yet know whether it will be published.

Dear Editor:

I was astounded to see the inflammatory, factually-challenged article by George Hajjar published in the January issue of The Waterbury Observer when John Murray had earlier refused to publish an article I had submitted, based on a speech I had given at Hartford's Holocaust Commemoration, on the grounds that "the Observer is not the forum to solve the dispute," referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that he was "not inclined to re-ignite the he said-she said-he said dialogue between Marilyn Aligata, Mr. Hajjar" and me.

One could write volumes analyzing all of George's factual errors and distortions. I will simply point out the absurdity of the central theme permeating George's screed and mentioning important context he totally ignored.

His theme is that Connecticut's junior senator is effectively guilty of treason by allegedly putting the interests of a foreign nation, Israel, above our own. George's prime evidence is Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq.

It's interesting that the same logic George uses to argue our junior senator favors Israel above America could be used in the same way to argue that another George, former President George Bush, also put Israel's interests above our own. Regardless of what one's opinion is about our former president, I don't know of anyone who has ever questioned his patriotism. On the other hand, critics of Israel have never shied away from applying double standards, just as The Observer applied a double standard in refusing to publish a commentary I submitted but then publishing George Hajjar's.

Waterbury's George, despite allegedly spending "several years in the Middle East studying and lecturing," appears unaware of the well-known fact that prior to the start of the war in Iraq, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was advising our president NOT to invade Iraq.

To argue, as George does, that Senator Joseph Lieberman was acting in the interest of Israel rather than America when he opposing the advice of the Israeli prime minister is patently absurd. One may reasonably question the judgement of both our former president and Senator Lieberman, but one certainly cannot reasonably question the patriotism of either.

But George's target wasn't really either Senator Lieberman or former President Bush; his real target was Israel.

Just as one can question the judgement of our own leaders, one can reasonably question the wisdom or efficacy of some of Israel's actions, On the other hand, one cannot reasonably do what George has done: question the free, democratic nature of Israel and it's desire for peace.

Consider, for just one example, the recent operation in Gaza.

Israel left most of Gaza way back in 1994, at the start of the Oslo Process. The process was referred to as "Gaza-Jericho First," the idea being that Israel would turn over Gaza (with which it had never wanted anything to do) and Jericho to the Palestinian Arabs and turn over more territory as they showed their willingness to live in peace.

Eleven years later, despairing of any hopes for peace five years after Yasser Arafat, on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs, had rejected the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state, Israel completely left Gaza. It even agreed to turn over control of the crossings between Egypt and Gaza to others. This was done under American pressure and turned out to be a disastrous move, as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Arab terror groups took advantage of the opportunity to transfer massive amounts of weaponry, including long range rockets, into Gaza.

One can question the wisdom of those Israeli moves, but one cannot reasonably question Israel's motivation. Israel simply wanted peace and it did not want to be involved in the lives of the Arabs living in Gaza.

Rather than take advantage of the de facto independent state handed over to them by Israel, the Palestinian Arabs turned Gaza into a large terrorist base, launching thousands of Kassam and Grad rockets at Israeli cities, while Israel was pressured by the rest of the world, including us, to act with a restraint one would demand of no other country in the world. Indeed, no nation in the world would tolerate the sort of rocket attacks Israel has endured with anything close to the restraint Israel has exhibited for nearly a decade.

Consider what just one family with which I'm very familiar has faced in just the last few weeks.

Arnold and Patriss celebrated the marriage of their daughter Karen a year and a half ago. They are my cousins and I helped celebrate Karen's wedding.

On December 30, Patriss was taking a walk with her sister when she heard a noise she described as "boom, boom." They immediately hit the ground and were later teased by Arnie, who said it must have been a car backfiring. He changed his tune when they heard the news and realized the "boom, boom" was from a Grad missile hitting nearby.

The next day, another Grad missile went through the roof of the school in which Karen teaches. Fortunately, the school was empty, with classes cancelled because of the rocket threats.

Three days later, Karen gave birth to a baby boy. Because of the rockets which were striking every day, she had actually left her home town and gave birth in a hospital in another city.

On January 7, Arnold heard a siren as he parked his car, ran for cover, and less than a minute later heard a rocket crash about 400 yards from his car.

On January 11, they had a bris for Karen's baby, but didn't invite nearly as many people as they had for her sister's baby a few months earlier, largely because they were constrained by the size of their bomb shelter.

On January 15, yet another Grad hit a car at a spot I've driven by many times, about a half mile from my cousins' home. It injured six people, seriously injuring a young child and mother.

My cousins consider the rockets raining on their city merely "an inconvenience," since they have almost a minute (45 seconds) to seek shelter after the sirens sound while the people in Sderot, which is much closer to the Gaza Strip, only have 15 seconds.

I disagree with my cousins. I consider having to always make sure you're within 45 seconds of a bomb shelter is intolerable. The situation faced by the people in Sderot for the last eight years is more than intolerable. It had to be rectified.

This is not to minimize the suffering of the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, which is clearly even worse than that of the Israelis. There is, however, a very significant difference: As Israel's critics so frequently point out, Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinian Arabs.

In other words, the Palestinian Arabs had and continue to have the choice between building a civil society and a terror campaign that hurts them even more than it hurts their targets. Unfortunately, thus far they have freely and knowingly chosen terror.

The Israelis have no such choice. As much as they want peace, as much as they are willing to compromise for peace, as much as they have already given up for peace, including turning over all of Gaza and most of the West Bank to the Palestinian Arabs, they cannot create peace as long as their Arab neighbors continue to reject peace at any price.

As it is said, if Israel's enemies had no guns, there would be no war, but if Israel had no guns, there would be no Israel.

As long as Israel continues, as it always has, to strive for peace, it deserves our support; indeed, to not support Israel in that quest would amount to a disgraceful repudiation of American values.

And as long as Israel's enemies reject peace in favor of war and terror, our support for Israel should be one-sided. While America should always be an honest broker, it should never give equal treatment to a free, democratic friend with whom we share most of our basic values and those whose values are alien to us and who are responsible for six decades of hostility, war and terror.

Ironically, strong American support for Israel is ultimately the best thing we can do to promote the welfare of the Palestinian Arabs, whose actions, like the words of George Hajjar, so often act against that welfare.

The Observer's publisher was correct in noting this paper is not the forum that will solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. I do hope that in the future The Observer does not continue to observe a double standard, using his observation to justify rejecting items which consider the efforts Israel has always made in pursuit of peace but still publishing inflammatory, error-filled anti-Israel screeds.

This double standard is not only unfair and certainly not helpful to the prospects for an Arab-Israeli peace, but also undermines the credibility of a newspaper which which has been a valuable resource for the community in many other areas.

Alan Stein

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