Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Myth: Busting smears won’t affect Obama's success in the Middle East and or help a Democratic victory in next year's midterm election.

The Facts: To take the bold steps needed to help Israelis and Palestinians break the impasse and move towards a real and secure peace, President Obama needs strong and continued backing from the American Jewish community and the American public. In the end, he’ll also need the support of the Israeli and Palestinian publics as well.

“The way to win the domestic politics on the two-state solution is to fight the smears against Obama. These vicious smears have largely gone unanswered.”

“Obama's credibility with Israelis is critically important when he will want to seal an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Both before and after Obama goes to Israel to build support for his peace efforts, we cannot allow a political vacuum in which these outrageous smears go unanswered. We should fight the smears today, tomorrow and every day until Obama helps bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace."

- Former Congressman Mel Levine (D-CA)

The Republican right is slandering Obama and trying to mislead the American public and the Jewish community about Obama's Mideast peace efforts and his larger foreign policy agenda.

They're trying not only to undermine support for Obama, but to use the lies and smears to help defeat Democratic candidates and roll back the Democratic Congressional majority in next year's mid-term elections.
  • After Obama’s speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly, former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton went on Glenn Beck's Fox TV News show, which reaches over 3 million viewers. He and a slew of neoconservative critics have been accusing Obama in a wide variety of media of “selling out” Israel at the U.N. and “putting it on the chopping block” by supposedly having called on Israel “to retreat to the indefensible 1967 borders.” But Obama said nothing of the kind, as we’ve shown here.

  • Congressman Gresham Barrett, who is running for governor of South Carolina, mocked Obama's wininng of the Nobel Peace Prize in a smear-filled statement claiming that “Obama has sided with the Palestinians against Israel” that was widely carried in the media – and rebutted here.

The Republicans hope that by inventing and repeating lies over and over and planting seeds of doubt about Obama's foreign policies, they can sway voters against Democrats allied with the President. We won't let them get away with it!

Help us help President Obama fight back and get the truth out to the American Jewish community and the wider American public.

Please click here to chip in with $36, $72, $108, $250, $500, $1,000 or whatever you can, to support the Jewish Alliance for Change's Obama Smear Busting campaign.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Myth: Israelis and Palestinians have not felt enough pain to do anything hard for peace. Obama should walk away from Mideast peace efforts

until Israelis and Palestinians are really hurting, and begging for US help to settle the conflict. (Thomas L. Friedman, "Call White House, Ask for Barack," The New York Times).

The Facts:

1. Not enough pain?
Over the last eight years, Israelis have suffered hundreds of suicide bombings from the West Bank and Gaza, thousands of rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza on their civilian population centers in the north and south, and mounting fears about a nuclear-armed Iran; Palestinians have suffered Israeli invasions and counter-attacks, a deepening occupation and ongoing settlement expansion. In the last few years, they’ve endured Intifada II, Lebanon War II, and the Gaza War.

2. What would likely happen if we walked away? Friedman counsels the president to leave the parties to “enjoy the status quo.” “If and when they get serious, they’ll find us.” But the status quo is a tinderbox. Friedman would have Obama wait until Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran and Israel are swallowed in the maw of a new regional war, the Palestinians radicalized and shorn of hope, the Israelis despairing and fearful. He would let extremists set the entire region aflame, and then send in the American fire brigade armed with water hoses and a two-state rescue plan—if the bloodied and embittered combatants dialed the White House 911. But who's to say there'd be anything left to salvage? By then, the two-state solution might no longer be an option, and the region might have reached an irreversible crisis, a critical tipping point.

President Obama would do well to reject Friedman’s “burn down the village to save it” strategy, built as it is on a tortured misreading of modern Middle East history – both past and future.

3. Friedman’s op-ed is best understood as a shot across the bow. Abbas could carry out his threat to resign and dissolve the Palestinian Authority, leaving Israel without a Palestinian leadership with which to negotiate a two-state deal, and an ongoing occupation of millions of West Bank Palestinians for whom Israel would now be directly responsible.

By the same token, Friedman is threatening that if Israeli and Palestinian leaders don’t do more to promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations, the US could give up on peace efforts and leave Israelis and Palestinians to face the conflict on their own. In other words, Obama would start acting more like George W. Bush, but without the disingenuous rhetoric - a kind of uber-Bush.

The problem, however, is that it’s an empty threat. The U.S., as Israel’s closest ally, would be viewed throughout the world as enabling whatever steps Israel might take in an increasingly toxic environment. The threat is not credible; the warning shot is an empty shell. And Obama will never succumb to the do-nothing (but bomb), laissez-faire approach to foreign policy.

4. As Israel's best friend and ally, it would be supremely irresponsible for the US to abandon Mideast peace efforts - irresponsible to Israel, and to our own national security interests.

"In making the case for US leadership of Israeli-Arab peace efforts, there are two basic truths," writes Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now. " The first is that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts is vital to Israel's security, stability, prosperity, and very survival as a Jewish, democratic state. Thus, if the US cares about Israel, it cannot step back from this effort.

Second, “Middle East peace should be viewed through the lens of American national security interests, and [viewed] this way, the US can and indeed perhaps should 'want it' - want an end to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts - more than the parties. Looking at it through this lens, the US dare not step back from the effort to achieve peace.”

5. Here’s a better idea: the US should propose a detailed two-state framework to the parties now, with a deadline to work out a mutually acceptable formula with intensive American, Arab and international help. After a decade of growing Israeli and Palestinian insecurity, thanks to the benign neglect now championed by Friedman and practiced by Bush, Obama's new Mideast peace initiative must come not after, but before the next even more catastrophic clash of arms.

(See the related "Myth: Obama's Mideast peace policy has failed," and "Myth: American Jews disrespect Israeli democracy when they suggest Obama should press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to accept a US peace plan.")

For more insight, read the following:

1. Lara Friedman, "Tom Friedman: so wrong (and so glib)," Americans for Peace Now

2. David Halperin, “To Do Nothing is an Insane Policy,” Israel Policy Forum

3. Richard Silverstein, "Friedman Advises Obama to Wash His Hands of Israel-Palestine," Tikun Olam

4. Letters to the New York Times: "Mideast Path: Step Up or Step Back?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Myth: Obama’s Mideast peace policy has failed.

The Facts: “Those who are writing off the administration's peace efforts, friend and foe alike, are being premature in the extreme. This is a benefit of starting on day one--you can acknowledge the need for a course correction in month ten. In fact, it is not the new approach of the Obama administration that has failed, but rather, this is a moment of clarity regarding the bankruptcy of the old approach that has guided policy for over a decade and that the Obama team had inherited and embraced.

"As Rob Malley and others have argued, what is needed now is a review (as has been conducted in other foreign policy areas) and a testing and likely abandonment of many of the prevailing policy assumptions. These might include

[1] the notion that one can incrementally build confidence between the sides when the prevailing reality is one of occupation,

[2] that bilateral negotiations between representatives of an occupied people and the occupying party can deliver de-occupation,

[3] that Palestinian political division should be encouraged (not overcome),

[4] or that proven self governance capacity under occupation is a precondition for freedom and independence.

"If the goal still is Israel's security, recognition, and a guaranteed future as a democracy and a Jewish national home, alongside a secure, viable, and post-occupation Palestine and advancing America's national interest, and this should be the goal, then a new path is needed for reaching that destination. It will certainly require more international and U.S. lifting.

"The Obama team is perfectly capable of charting a course from a bad week to a game-changing success, but more of the same won't get them there."

Daniel Levy, "On US Middle East Policy and Amateurism," The Washington Note

Monday, November 9, 2009

Myth: American Jews disrespect Israeli democracy when they suggest Obama should press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to accept a US peace plan.

We often hear that American Jews may have a right to an opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict, but no right to tell Israelis and Palestinians what they should do in matters of peace or war. If they go so far as to suggest that President Obama propose a peace plan and press the parties to accept it, or to negotiate within its parameters, they are being disrespectful of the wishes of the Israeli electorate and the government that represents them.

The facts:

1. This argument ignores that American Jews are American citizens too, and as full participants in American democratic process, we have a right and a duty to express our views to our elected officials over US policy towards the Middle East, including Israel. As American citizens, we are under no obligation to subordinate our judgments about US Middle East policy to those of Israel’s electorate, or its government. That would be tantamount to allowing Israel to dictate to us, and to our own government, what US policy should be. In fact, it disrespects American democracy to tell American Jews that they must urge American leaders to act as Israeli voters wish, not as American, including American Jewish voters, choose.

We “are American citizens who back American policies that we believe are in our own country’s interests, as well as the interests of Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the world….I think the Obama administration is helping America and Israel when it tries to stop actions that, if left unchecked, will preclude a two-state solution, including Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian violence and incitement,” notes Dan Fleshler.

It goes without saying that the President of the United States is under no obligation to subordinate his views on US Middle East policy to those of the Israeli government. He must consider the full range of US values and interests, among which our friendship and alliance with Israel is unquestionably a top priority. But the Israeli government’s views as to how the US should pursue our interests in the region, or our relationship with Israel, should not, by themselves, determine how the US should act. As others have noted, US policy towards the Middle East must be made in Washington, not in Jerusalem.

2. America’s alliance with Israel has a wide range of consequences for US national security. An Israeli decision to mount a preemptive strike against Iran will embroil the US in a protracted war with Iran, and expose hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf to counter-attack. Our alliance with an Israel in conflict with the Palestinians and Arab nations breeds animosity towards the U.S. among Arabs and Muslims. Dan Fleshler observes: “As long as Israel and America are seen in much of the Muslim world as steadfast allies in a war between civilizations, what Israel does in the occupied territories is my problem, too. The Israel-Palestinian conflict fuels global instability and extremism and provides a valuable mobilizing tool for terrorist groups that would just as soon attack the New York City subway system as Sderot.”

Americans, and not only American Jews, are willing to bear the consequences of our alliance with Israel, for good or for ill. We must and will stand by our bond with the Jewish state, no matter the consequences. But the fact that our own security is impacted by Israeli actions means that we do and must have a weighty voice when it comes to what steps Israel should take in the region to promote peace and in matters of war.

3. As important as the US-Israel relationship is to us as American Jews and to the President, the US has its own set of global interests which aren’t necessarily identical to those of Israel, even if there is considerable overlap. When some Israelis or other American Jews tell us that all American Jews must subordinate their opinions to those of the Israeli voter – or to however Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s arcane electoral/coalition system translates the will of the Israeli electorate – they are playing on our identity as Jews, and demanding that we subordinate our American-ness to our Jewishness.

4. Even if we placed our Jewishness before our American identity, it does not follow that American Jews must encourage their elected officials to pursue an American policy that is made in Jerusalem by the Israeli electorate or its government. If our moral compass, our sense of responsibility for our fellow Jews, or our judgment as autonomous American Jews actively committed to Israel’s well-being, leads us to different conclusions than the Israeli government, we are obligated to urge our elected officials – and Jewish leaders who we feel represent us - to adopt our chosen policies.

5. An Israel – or an American Jewish leadership – that demands of American Jews obeisance to the policies of whichever Israeli government is in power, alienates a growing number of American Jews from active engagement with Israel. That translates into less, not more, support for Israel. If the only kind of pro-Israel support that is kosher is a slavish, unreflective following of the Israeli government’s tune, that amounts to a one-dimensional Jewishness that is at odds with the core Jewish tradition of argument, debate and reflection. A narrow concept of what it means to be pro-Israel is bad for Israel and bad for American Jews as Jews and as Americans.

6. If Israeli and Palestinian politics are too dysfunctional to enable their leaders to take the necessary steps to move the conflict towards resolution, leading to growing regional insecurity and renewed war and violence, it is incumbent on the U.S. to play a leadership role to help the parties move forward. This may entail proposing a US peace plan or framework for negotiations, and providing incentives and disincentives to both sides to reach an agreement within a specified time-frame. That's pro-American, pro-Israel, and decidedly the right, and responsible, thing for President Obama to do.

For more insight, read:

Dan Fleshler, "The Pro-Israel Camp Cares About America Too," Realistic Dove