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|February 26, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 207
Kerry has limited vision on Israel issue
Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor
I guess I'm too na´ve about election years. I keep forgetting that politicians, particularly those who are aiming for residence in the White House, tell the people what they think the constituency wants to hear.
I had expected better from John Kerry. Kerry, the frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, has much going for him. But on one topic I was surprised to hear what sounded very much like an echo of the Bush administration, and that was unconditional support for Israel.
I certainly am not suggesting the United States end its support of Israel, but our legislators need to be more aggressive in making sure that Israel upholds its commitment to ending the unjust oppression of the Palestinian people, just as we likewise hold the Palestinians responsible for ending suicide bombings. Cynics will scoff and say it's not going to happen. The pro-Israeli lobby will insist all the fault is on the Palestinian side. Some pro-Palestinians will blame Israel for all the violence, which they see as reaction to occupation. More objective observers know that both sides bear responsibility for the current violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
That's why I was surprised that a recent essay by Kerry was so unequivocally supportive, at least in its broadest strokes, of Israel. In the Nov. 19, 2003, issue of Perspectives: An Israel Review, the official publication of the Brown [University] Students for Israel, Kerry wrote "A powerful journey, an essential dream." He speaks of his first experience of flying an air force jet into Israel, and seeing Israel's narrow borders -- and with that the realization of how Israel's security is threatened. "From that moment on, I felt as Israelis do: The promise of peace must be secure before the Promised Land is secure on a thin margin of land."
He then goes on to describe his feelings as he visited a kibbutz where Israeli children had been attacked, as he stood on the top of Masada remembering how 1st century C.E. Jews fought for survival against forces of the Roman Empire. He describes emotionally shouting across the chasm with the Jews in his party, "Am Yisrael Chai" ( "The state of Israel lives!" "The people of Israel live!")
No one who has been to Israel, that captivating biblical land of such tortured history and promise, can fault Kerry's fervor and visceral response to experiencing this powerful geography and history for the first time. I've been there. I believe the feeling is universal.
But Kerry's Israel experience seems to have been sadly lacking because it appears to have been one-sided. He never mentions meeting the other people who inhabit the land, the Palestinians. He doesn't mention the Palestinian children, Christian and Muslim, traumatized by Israeli military aggression and home demolitions. Or the people who have farmed the land for generations, who now see almost daily destruction of their olive trees, who are cut off from their fields by illegal settlements and an expanding "security" wall.
And his handlers would undoubtedly advise him not to make such a trip before the presidential election. Politicians who express even minimal support for Palestinian rights tend not to get elected.
Kerry ends his essay with a declaration of what appears to be unquestioning support for Israel: "In this difficult time we must again reaffirm we are enlisted for the duration -- and reaffirm our belief that the cause of Israel must be the cause of America -- and the cause of people of conscience everywhere."
If John Kerry goes on, as is predicted, to win more states as he moves toward the Democratic National Convention and probably the presidential ballot in November, I hope he remembers and reflects on another earlier statement in his essay: "As the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel has both the burden and the glory of a vigorous public square. We as Americans must be the truest and best kind of ally -- forthright enough to say what we think, and steadfast enough to stay the course in the hard passages as well as easy days."
True friendship is honest and calls for accountability. The current U.S. administration, and the next, both need to make clear to Israel that violations of agreements will not be tolerated or supported with further U.S. financial backing. Settlement expansion is wrong, the demolition of homes is wrong, the "security" wall carving into Palestinian territory is wrong.
Theodor Herzl's famous words, "If you will it, it is no dream," must be applied not only to Israeli nationhood, but also to justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel's good American friends, and good politicians, will keep affirming that truth.
Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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