Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Peace isn't Worth it if it Means Agreeing with Arabs

In a PJ Media questionnaire that exemplifies the worst in fusing baseless speculation with raging demagoguery, Lenny Ben-David wanted to ask, among others, the following questions about J Street to its leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami:
You were recently asked in an interview about funds J Street received from Palestinians, Arab-Americans, and Iranian-Americans, to which you answered: “J Street does have some Arab and Muslim donors — about five. These are individuals, not organizations, corporations or foreign countries. Well over 90 percent of our money comes from Jewish Americans and Christians.”

Did you really say J Street has only five Arab and Muslim donors? A partial listing quickly extracted from the U.S. Federal Election Commission shows more than 30 contributors, many with ties to Arab-American organizations.

So far, only J Street’s Political Action Committee has disclosed its contributors, as mandated by federal law. But who are the donors to the main J Street organization? Make that list public, and these pesky inquiries will probably go away.

When asked about J Street’s funding by the Jerusalem Post — the newspaper that ran the original exposé — you responded “at most 3 percent” of contributors were Muslim or Arab. Now you state that the figure may be closer to 10 percent. One tenth of J Street’s budget of $3 million, or $300,000, is a substantial sum. Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be “pro-Israel?”
Take for example, the case of Rebecca Abou-Chedid. She appears in the federal elections records as contributing to J Street’s PAC. Her occupation is listed as “consultant” for “USUS LLC.” But until recently, she was also the national political director at the Arab American Institute where she “was responsible for formulating AAI’s positions on foreign policy … and represented the Arab American community with Congress as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State.” Today, Abou-Chedid is the director of outreach at the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

What kind of question is that?

"Why do so many Arabs contribute to an organization that purports to be 'pro-Israel?'"

Spencer Ackerman adequately dispenses with baseless slander against Ms. Abou-Chedid. He notes that Ms. Abou-Chedid is having suspicion and aspiration cast upon her for no other reason than the fact that she is an Arab-American, with an Arab last name who has worked with Arab-American organizations. And lest we make any mistake, Mr. Ben-David is clear on what raises red flags to him -- the fact that some Arab-Americans or Muslims, like Ms. Abou-Chedid (who is Arab -- I don't know if she's Muslim or not) contribute to J Street. No matter their position, no matter if their life is motivated by a desire for peace and reconciliation. They're Arabs. So they can't be trusted.

There's a word for this sort of question. It's called racism. Look, I don't even care if you like J Street or not -- telling me that an organization is dangerous simply because Arabs support it, with no indication that their personal positions are at all adverse to peace and equality, is racist. Full stop, point blank. There's no excuse -- none -- and anybody who makes an excuse forfeits the right to talk about any sort of institutional bigotry, prejudice, racism, or anti-Semitism, by anyone anywhere. I don't want to hear it, because it's clearly just parochialism.

Ackerman says that Jews who demand that Arab groups denounce the anti-Semites in their midst have an equivalent obligation to denounce this twisted excuse for a human being. I, personally, don't think either Jews or Arabs have particular obligations vis-a-vis the despicable words and actions of their coreligionists. I think the obligation to denounce Mr. Ben-David comes from my position as a human being. It's not my Judaism that's at issue here. The stakes are higher than that.

At the height of Cast Lead, a plurality of Jews supported establishing a Palestinian state, right then, in those conditions. An even stronger majority, however, did not believe that said establishment actually would appease the Arabs or Palestinians -- that their true motives were and would remain the destruction of Israel.

And yet, here we have someone who has dedicated a substantial portion of her professional life to fostering a two-state solution and an end to the conflict between Arabs and Jews. And she's slandered for it. Not on the basis of any position she's taken. Literally because Mr. Ben-David thinks, point blank, that any institution supported by Arabs must be tainted.

I've got news for Mr. Ben-David. Peace, between Israel and Palestine, between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Muslims -- it's going to involve working with Arabs. Agreeing with them. Partnering with them, even. That's what peace means.

I saw the protest at the University of Chicago the other day when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to speak. The focus of Prime Minister Olmert's speech was on his vision for peaceful co-existance between and Israeli and Arab state, calling "for Israel to give the Palestinians land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that it occupied after the 1967 war, and for Jerusalem to be split into an eastern Palestinian portion and a western Israeli portion. Further, he advocated that the ancient religious sites in the Old City area of Jerusalem be administered by an international coalition, and Palestinian refugees be provided with resources to start new lives in Palestine." And he was met with resounding boos from pro-Palestinian hecklers. I was reflecting upon this -- what is it that they're booing? They're booing a Palestinian state! They're booing ending the occupation!

And it occurred to me -- they're booing the thing they loathe most in the world. And it isn't the occupation, and it isn't the suffering of the Palestinians. They're booing the prospect of the conflict ending. Of having no more excuse to hate, and rage, and fight. They're booing the prospect of actually having to agree with a Zionist.

One gets the distinct feeling that Mr. Ben-David feels the same way -- the most terrifying thing to him is the prospect of this conflict being over -- of not being able to draw a black line down the demographic chart and mark off the bad people. I am thrilled that Arabs are supporting J Street. I wish more of them would join. Every Arab person that joins J Street (just like every Jewish person who joins J Street) is a person who is signing their name to the principle of a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians live side-by-side in peace. Isn't that what we want? Isn't that what we're fighting for?

Some of us, apparently. And some of us simply are fighting to hate other people.

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