As a candidate for state office, I should probably stay far, far away from anything relating to the Middle East -- but this time I can't. Our local Congressman (new to most of his new district), Ed Royce, wrote me (and I'm guessing a lot of other Jews, maybe only Jewish Democrats) yesterday. He wanted to impress on me how completely one-sided he is, and will continue to be, on Middle East issues.
(I just love it when a politician panders to me as a Jew by promising to be absolutely uncritical of Israeli policies no matter what and completely negative towards Israel's enemies at every opportunity, because of course that's the SURE way to achieve peace in the region.)
I am neither anti-Israel nor anti-Palestinian; I see moral interests on both sides and (given my ethnic affiliation to the existence of a Jewish state) I approach the conflict in the spirit of Hillel's famous statement: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what am I, and if not now when?"
My message to people on both sides of the Middle East conflict is that it's a hard series of issues that will take serious and expert diplomacy on all sides to bring people of good faith together for a reasonable -- not perfect, but reasonable -- resolution. The fact that Ed Royce thinks that his job is to be as biased as possible, rather than a fair broker, and to strafe at anyone who strays from this orthodoxy, is not helping to move us towards peace. He may think that it helps him politically, though, and that seems to be his main consideration in writing me, a Jewish Democrat who is running for office in his district, to crow about how much he despises Palestinians. I wish that he would stop "helping" quite so much.
Below the gnocchi is a cross-post of a column I published this morning in the local blog I co-produce, The Orange Juice Blog. It contains his "Letter to the Jews" and my response. Some of you will think that I'm too dovish on this issue; so be it. I'm not here to argue the merits. However, when someone comes to me as a Jew thinking that he or she can appeal to the prejudices I'm expected to have, it burns me up -- especially when it comes from someone who chairs a major subcommittee that is supposed to be helping to bring peace to the region.
Ed's opponent is a wonderful candidate named Jay Chen, who you can learn about here and to whom you can donate here. (He did not see my response before I posted it.) Because my advisors give me nasty looks if I don't do it, I'll include a way to get to my own campaign info, but I'll put it way at the bottom.
Don't worry, Ed Royce's "List of Jews" is nothing sinister -- at least not in the Nixonian "have an aide count the Jews in the Deparment of Labor" or "Enemies List" sense. It's a list that he probably purchased, not one that he himself compiled. I don't know why else he'd be writing me, if not to let me know (because I am Jewish) that he really really doesn't like Palestinians. This is supposed to impress me, I guess.
I don't see a copyright notice here, so I'm publishing the whole damned letter. If it's good enough for a list of Jews to read, it must be good enough for everyone, right? I've added some annotations in Israeli-flag blue.
Israel is threatened perhaps as never before. [Perhaps not. 1967, 1973 ...] While the Jewish state has been under siege for much of its history, it now faces Iran's relentless nuclear drive [verified how? I hear conflicting reports about it, if it matters -- are you confirming top secret information here for political gain?], growing militancy through its region, and arguably less displomatic support globally. [Indeed ... and why do you think that is happening now?] As a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I will continue to be a staunch backer of a close relationship with our ally, Israel. [Oh, it's going to be one of these letters, is it? "Hey, Jews! I'll hate whoever you want me to hate!" Feh.]Just imagine how much more effective an advocate for peace -- and counterterrorism and non-proliferation -- Rep. Royce could be if he were not simply out to score political points by putting on a tough-guy pose, but instead embraced tried and true methods of international negotiation, the way that the grown-ups in our government do.
I serve as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee tasked with overseeing counter-terrorism and non-proliferation policy. [Suddenly ... I feel less safe.] I was selected to help negotiate the latest Iran sanctions legislation with the Senate. I am one of a few original co-sponsors of the latest Iran sanctions legislation, regrettably bottled-up in the Senate. [OK, why is it bottled up in the Senate? What are the arguments being made against it? Is it, perhaps, reckless and counterproductive cowboy diplomacy? Are you just going to appeal to prejudice here or will you let me know the objections?] I understand the disastrous consequences of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. [I'm more interested in whether you understand the need for diplomacy, the prospects for Iran shutting down shipping in the Persian Gulf, and most of all the expensive disastrous consequences of yet another war in the Middle East, because you don't see like you learned much from Iraq.]
Very troubling is the unwillingmess by some [Yiddish syntax you are using now? The object of the sentence you put before the verb and subject? You write this way usually?] to distinguish Israel as a democratic society committed to individual freedom and human rights, making it unique in its region. [Yeah -- thanks again for screwing up in Iraq. But what is this thing that you call "human rights"? Does it mean more than "this country is our ally so anything it does is OK"? Because if that's what you mean, the rest of the world has figured it out.] While we should always work for peace [how do you define this? Is it something other than "working for the opponent's surrender"? Can you give me any indication that you understand what diplomacy involves?] unfortunately there are elements implacably committed to destroying these values. [Let me guess, they are all on the other side and none of them on are on side, right?] For making these distinctions, and passing judgment on them, I have been criticized. ["Criticized"? Gevalt! Wait, what did you say? You didn't say something to indicate that you only see one side of the situation and so can't possibly serve in a "fair broker" role, did you?] I vigorously back helping Israel maintain its qualitative military edge. [Meaning that you rule out ... what, exactly? Anything? Are their consequences to your choice? You know, many smart people have studied this delicate problem for a long time and ... I'm sorry, did you just start snoring?]
I have stood up for Israel at the always hostile United Nations. [What's that subcommittee you said you were Chair of? Was it the "Subcommittee on Fighting Terrorism and Nuclear Proliferation While Gratuitously Insulting the Rest of the World, Because That's the Best Way to Gain Their Cooperation"? I'd love to see your letterhead.] I co-sponsored legislation calling on the president to defund the Durban Review Conference and write an op-ed pointing out the anti-Israel, anti-West hostility of it. [It's also known as the UN's "World Conference Against Racism." Yeah, some people were going to criticize Israel there, but that's not all that was going to happen -- and 141 countries showed up while 10 boycotted. This is the world as we find it now -- we can engage it and try to change it, or we can just avoid international conferences, say that Israel is entirely right in all things and everyone else in the region is terrible, and let other countries take the lead in diplomacy -- which here dealt with much more than Israel. Other than in domestic politics, what was the victory gained by boycott?]
I was in Haifa in 2006 as Hezbollah rockets rained into that city [well, then I'm really interested in your perspective on people being targeted by drones, because you must be extremely empathetic? Right? Hello?], Israel's main port carrying trade to the rest of the world. I visited victims in Rambam Hospital, and appeared on CNN after to explain that only one side of this conflict was targeting civilians. [As much as I'd like to thank you for scoring political points over the killing and maiming of Jews, this does make me want to ask you again about our current use of drones...] I called a congressional hearing to highlight Hezbollah's danger to the word. [Yes, very politically brave of you, and I'm sure that this was shocking news to everyone, but, again -- DRONES? BEING USED? NOW?? Do you even see the irony here?]
I recently joined with my southern California colleague, Representative Howard Berman, to introduce legislation that says enough to Palestinian Authority-supported incitement against Israel and the Jewish people. [Stop right there, shmendrick. Sure, Rep. Berman is going to do that -- he represents a heavily Jewish district -- but your district is spare enough in Jews that you're actually pandering to one of the Democratic candidates in your district. Let me tell you what I, and according to surveys the majority of American Jews, actually want out of the U.S. government. It is NOT someone who will just go along unquestioningly with whatever saber-rattling politician might take control of the Israeli government. It is someone who can tell them NO sometimes and move them towards peace rather than disaster. (You do not sound like someone I'd want to depend on to tell the truth to a nut like Avigdor Lieberman.) We want representatives who can use the power and influence of the U.S. to reach a just and honorable regional settlement; we want peace, not chest thumping domination. That will be hard as hell to achieve in the best of circumstances -- and crowing "our allies are always entirely right and everyone else is evil and they shouldn't even argue for what they see as their own interests" does not help. Jews want the U.S. to work towards Israel's security, but being a yammering ass who rejects all actual diplomacy is not helping. We Jews continually run into people like you, trying to make political hay out of our suffering and the suffering of those with whom Israel faces conflict, and most of us don't like it one bit. Here, read this from 2008, Rep. bubbeleh:[That's where we actually are -- but thanks for treating us like a tribe of Republicans celebrating the likes of John Hagee!]
NEW POLL: American Jews Defy Conventional Wisdom On Israel and the Middle East
Overwhelmingly Support Aggressive U.S. Leadership to Resolve Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as well as Diplomacy with Iran
Strongly Oppose Alliance with Pastor Hagee
WASHINGTON— Days before Senator Barack Obama travels to Israel and Pastor John Hagee convenes the largest Christian Zionist conference in Washington, a new J Street poll reveals a remarkable gap between the attitudes of American Jews and the conventional wisdom about how Jews view America’s role in the Middle East.
The in-depth survey -- commissioned by J Street, the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement and conducted by Jim Gerstein, principal of Gerstein/Agne -- gauges the pulse of the American Jewish community on issues and dynamics central to the debate over America’s Middle East policy.
“The survey results are very eye opening. When presented with both sides of the debate over U.S policy in the Middle East, American Jews strongly favor the United States using its leverage to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Gerstein.
Instead of holding the hawkish, hard-line positions often expressed by many established Jewish organizations and leaders, American Jews actually overwhelmingly support assertive peace efforts and an active U.S. role in helping Israelis and Arabs to resolve their conflict.
“American elected officials and politicians have for years fundamentally misread the American Jewish community," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s executive director.
"Not only in setting American policy but in charting their political approach to the Jewish community, America's political leaders need to look beyond the loudest voices from the community to the opinions actually held by the broad majority of American Jews. Understanding this dynamic could help shift not only American policy, but dramatically affect the chances for peace and security for Israel and the Middle East."
Our bipartisan bill requires the president to certify that anti-Israel, anti-Semitic indoctrination is over if the PA is to receive U.S. aid. [OK, this is a test: do you think that setting these sorts of preconditions usually works in Middle East diplomacy? Does actually accomplishing something beyond posturing even matter to you?] There cannot be peace as long as Palestinians are taught to reject peace. [Hey, Rep. Smarty, the Obama Administration just brokered peace in freaking Burma! Do you think that they made Burma fix its educational system first? As Jews know, you make peace with your enemies; you don't expect them to stop being enemies as a precondition to negotiations.]
Thank you for taking the time to review my thoughts and accomplishments building stronger ties with Israel. [I'd love to actually discuss some of these issues with you sometime, but I expect that you'd demand as controlled an environment as you had at your bogus "Women's Conference." We don't need your kind of help and we don't want your kind of pandering. You want to help? Don't try to score political points by slamming all Muslims, the way you did last year, lumping people with understandable political concerns in with those who actually do support violence, because we don't want to send the message that violence is the only path that they might have that might work. We want to build bridges between our cultures in the interests of peace among people of goodwill. If you can't or won't help -- at least get the hell out of the way.]
You'll have to be the one to imagine his doing it -- because evidently he can't.
You'll find more information on my campaign, including a reasonably funny video and links to my website and donation page, in this much more light-hearted diary from the weekend. My intention is not to stoke an I/P war here, and I certainly don't expect that speaking out for moderation and negotiation on this heated of an issue is the way to bolster my own campaign, but I just hate this sort of pandering -- and having been singled out as a target of it I feel the need to speak up.