Saturday, 1 September 2007

There's no correct way to be pro-Israel

By Jeff Halper*

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 28 August 2007

A funny thing happened to me on my way from Tel Aviv to New York a couple months ago. I was sitting in my aisle seat reading a book, when all of a sudden I became aware of the tall figure of a man looming over me.

I looked up and saw a guy with a mustache and kippa whom I had never met before.

"I am Gerald Steinberg," he trumpeted. "I am the person who will put you out of business."

Then he abruptly lurched off. But he apparently had one more thought he wanted to share with me. Suddenly he turned around, pointed at me and bellowed: "You are a Jewish anti-Semite!"

Now accosting me in the street is one thing, but accusing me of anti-Semitism in a voice everyone could hear on a planeload of Jewish passengers was virtual incitement to a lynching. Fortunately, my fellow passengers had their seat-belts on, and the incident passed peacefully.

Later, in the passport line at Kennedy, we passed each other. "Why don't we get a cup ofcoffee sometime and talk?" I offered.

"You're not important enough," he snapped back as he disappeared into the Goldene Medine.

THE ACCOSTING has now moved to the pages of The Jerusalem Post ("Europe to host NGO attack on Israel," August 23) where, not for the first time, Steinberg refers to me as, in general, anti-Israel - although here I only "appear" with anti-Semites.

All this is silly stuff, of course. But the kind of rhetoric Steinberg employs is significant because it is often used by self-proclaimed "pro-Israel" advocates to obfuscate the very important debate that must take place if we are to overcome conflict and usher Israel into the state of peace, security and reconciliation most Israelis seem to desire.

In his article, Steinberg employs epithets, simplistic and accusatory terms as if they were"objective," the very technique of "radical propaganda" of which he accuses me and others.

In the Brussels meetings - to which I wasn't invited, despite Steinberg's insinuation that I was - he refers to "radical" Palestinian NGOs (whatever that means); "anti-Israel" NGOs (including a number of Israeli ones), "radicals" in general (although as an old '60s person that doesn't sound bad to me), "liberation theology" (apparently a bad thing in Steinberg's world), "anti-Semitic themes," and so on.

THE UNSPOKEN and misleading assumption underlying all this is that there exists a normal, acceptable, correct "pro-Israel" position from which no one should be permitted to deviate. And I'll bet that position conforms precisely to Steinberg's.

There is no such position, of course. Twenty years ago, to support a two-state solution - which Steinberg today touts as the epitome of being "pro-Israel" - would have gotten you thrown out of town. Things change, but they cannot change for the better if open, honest and occasionally heated debate is not allowed.

Steinberg urges that the UN/European Parliament meeting in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace be cancelled. This seems to contradict the motto on the banner of his own NGO Monitor: "Promoting critical debate" on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Promoting civil debate would be enough.


*Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He was a nominee for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

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