In 2006 I signed up to Daily Kos for one major reason: to talk about Israel-Palestine with a large audience of American progressives. I had visited the site previously, and sensed that my world-view lies pretty much in the center of the spectrum here; this is still true.
I saw many informative and valuable diaries about healthcare, economy, history, etc., and thought that with my knowledge - much of it first-hand, first as former Israeli Occupation soldier and as a human-rights activist - I could write whole series of I-P diaries like these (note to insiders: it's I-P, not I/P, and the distinction matters). Moreover, my connections with grassroots progressive groups in Israel would be good assets to bring here, and forge alliances across the ocean.
To date, I have not followed through on this goal. Much of it is related to my personal life: there was too much on my plate to consistently devote the required energies. But I was also disheartened to discover how acrimonious and below-par the DailyKos Israel-Palestine "section" is. Other Kossacks refer to it as the "I"s fighting the "P"s, but here's a secret: it's mostly Jews fighting each other over the subject. All the rest - tens of thousands of excellent, thoughtful progressive activists - avoid the subject like the Plague.
(more below the fold)
Beside a natural wish to avoid getting into a mudfight, there is also political calculus at play in Kossacks disengagement from I-P, as articulated repeatedly by the site's leaders: "this issue divides Democrats and unites Republicans, so let's leave it alone."
Well let me tell you something: Israel-Palestine does not like being left alone. And it knows how to draw attention back to itself - whether you like it or not. I've been meaning to write this message for a while; well now we all know how I-P got attention this time :( It's been the top item on NPR news for a week now. And it ain't going away anytime soon.
If Democrats continue hiding their heads in the sand about this, there is little chance to fix America's standing in the Middle East. You can mumble about this being "someone else's business", or perhaps pay lip service to a general need of America to become "more engaged" in this.
I've got news for you again: America is already engaged. In fact, as Hussein Agha and Robert Malley easily point out, the Bush administration has been the most engaged in I-P in living memory:
[the term "Bush is disengaged"] suggests a passive, flaccid, laissez-faire attitude that could hardly be further from the historical truth and that would have been far preferable to it. Bush's policies did not reflect disengagement; they were the outcome of a uniquely ambitious, often brutal, and always intensely engaged effort to reshape the Middle East. At its core, Bush's Middle East strategy was as intrusive and interventionist as one could imagine.
Almost from the outset, the administration clumsily intervened in Palestinian politics, helped rewrite the Palestinian Basic Law, proclaimed Arafat a pariah, anointed its own favorite substitute leaders, insisted on Palestinian internal reform as a precondition for peace, took positions on a final agreement in a 2004 letter from Bush to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that tilted the playing field, encouraged confrontation between the nationalist Fatah and Islamist Hamas, imposed sanctions on Syria, and discouraged the resumption of Israeli–Syrian talks.
On a related note, you can complain all you want about America being "unfairly" blamed for a foreign government's action. Whether you like it or not, what most of the Middle East sees is not "Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza". It sees, as Noam Chomsky aptly put it, American warplanes with Israeli pilots, dropping American bombs on Gaza.
And in case you're wondering, it is you who are the wrong one here: these are not American planes bought by Israel, these are American planes bought by the US government, given to Israel - and their pilots (besides undergoing routine training visits in America) are provided the diplomatic vacuum in which to drop the bombs, courtesy of the White House.
America is heavily engaged. More precisely, certain parts of America are engaged: the military-industrial lobby, neocons from Henry Jackson (D-WA) to Dick Cheney (R-Hell), end-of-days Christian wingnuts, and Jewish nationalists on a spectrum from Kahane's mobs to Aging Jewish Boomers with an Identity Complex (a.k.a. AJBIC or AIPAC). The Americans whose voice is not heard on the matter: YOU, who (just like on other subjects) much more closely reflect the American mainstream.
In this sense, I-P is no different from a host of other issues on which the US runs a hefty democratic deficit: healthcare, the environment, the economy, even Iraq - to name a few. But unlike the other issues, here the progressive part of the map - which has become increasingly vocal and influential, thanks also to sites like this one - has placed itself under a gag order.
Here's another secret: what Israel-Palestine needs from America is not much more than a straightforward application of progressive-realist foreign policy. An informed application, needless to say. But really, unlike its image (which is bolstered by those monopolizing the issue), Israel-Palestine is not nearly as intractable as it seems.
The knowledge gaps can be closed fairly quickly. It's the motivation gap we need to work on.
And if it's only electing Democrats you care about, then by deserting Israel-Palestine you have given Republicans a free stick with which to beat you in debates and/or present you as inconsistent fools - whatever fits the occasion. I still remember how Cheney (Cheney!) succeeded in sounding more reasonable on I-P than John Edwards during the 2004 VP debate. Moreover, this desertion has provided Republicans with an important predominantly-Democratic constituency (Jews) to gain ground with. Most Jews already know better; as proof see their overwhelming support for Obama in spite the persistent myth of Bush being "great for Israel" (and McCain promising to continue his policies), and the incessant smear campaign waged against Obama from the Jewish-wingnut corner. Now, the silent majority of American Jews actually needs you, the non-Jewish progressives, to take charge of this issue: they cannot handle the guilt associated with confronting the Israeli government on their own.
Finally, if nothing else convinces you, then consider this: as long as only short-term political calculus dictates our debates and actions here, we will never be agents of real change. If healthcare, the economy, Iraq, etc., could be fixed from short-term considerations, the political system would have fixed them already. To do the right thing one must look farther ahead and make the leap. In that sense, again, Israel-Palestine is no different - and it will ultimately welcome your help.
- - - 14:27 PDT Mandatory "wow, the Rec list?" Update:
(yes, it is a first for me)
Thanks to all who expressed interest and support. I was away for a few hours - need to get offline again now - and it's great to see this response. It will be an encouragement to proceed with what I wanted to call an "Israel-Palestine 101" series. I have given talks like this to various crowds in Western Washington. I made some vague promises to do a series here in the past, but procrastinated again and again... so now you have earned the right to hold me to my word :)
I will label the series with the tag "IP101", so you can look them up anytime. Feel free to email me with ideas for series topics, I think my email appears on my diary page.
Let us hope that the new year brings a truly new wind to Washington on this and other matters, and also some sanity to Middle Eastern leaders - on all sides.
Last (?) Update - 19:21 PDT
Off the rec so soon? Well it was good while it lasted.
About IP101 plans: first, I will use a shorter IP101 tag. Second, as far as I am concerned it can be a collaborative project. This is a community. Just don't go poaching the tag and labeling every "look what I found on the Israeli news today" diary with it.
As to I-P vs. I/P: weird, I thought it was obvious. But so many people are frustrated by what seems like a strange semantic difference. So here's the why: a slash means either/or, exclusivity, all or nothing. My guess is that the slash took root here because DKos was born into the post-2000 reality of take-no-prisoners propaganda war between the nations.
A dash connects, joins and shares. I think the land of Israel-Palestine, even in its current sorry state, still befits the dash description more. Moreover, my aspirations for its future are certainly I-P and not I/P.
Last PS but not least: If someone looks for "things do do" (beyond immediate action against the war, which is taking place all over the country - in Seattle, a rally at Westlake Center tomorrow Sat Jan. 3, 12-2) - you can look up my blogroll for a list of great (mostly Israeli) grassroots groups working on various issues.