Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach and I have, within the last few days in these pages, taken exception to each others' positions regarding Israel's military operation in Gaza. Now, in the spirit of open debate and democratic discourse, this is something which normally should be celebrated. After all, here is an elected official engaging with a concerned citizen openly and publicly.
This post is not a solipsistic treatise on hurt feelings. Instead, it's a brief exploration on what it contextually means for a progressive State Senator, called "The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania," to smear someone like myself as a Hamas defender in political discourse.
It's a democratic dream.
Unfortunately, what could have been an exemplary example of such democratic discourse quickly devolved into something else: another episode of a 'pro-Israel' defender casting critical voices as pro-Hamas, which is just one-off from the anti-Semite smear.
My question is this: how could such a thing occur with a progressive state senator, perhaps one of the most progressive senators my state has currently produced? It's a question I'll soon answer. However, first the question I sense some may be asking is this:
Why is this democratic debate taking place between you and a state senator on the topic of Israel's actions, as opposed to domestic politics?Mr. Leach, unprompted, wrote an op-ed in these pages on his support for Israel's Gaza war, doing so under the banner of progressive politics and Zionist ideals. As a progressive and two-state Jew who takes the opposite view on Israel's Gaza assault, I wrote a critique of his op-ed. It was a pointed and respectful piece which Leach fairly took exception to, pointing out that he felt I had misinterpreted some of his positions.
From my perspective, being on the receiving end of his pushback, Leach's response was an idyllic vision of open discourse. I loved it, as should anyone who cherishes the democratic ideal.
And then it happened. He inexplicably resorted, as so many 'pro-Israel' individuals have done, to buttressing his support by tarring me as a "Hamas defender." Leach spends several paragraphs doing so, with this his concluding one:
Mr. Gershon’s reply to my original post is nothing more than a poorly constructed defense of the indefensible. The folks in Hamas are not nice people. They are not the sort of people that progressives have any business defending. And it’s sad that some people still feel compelled to contort themselves in order to apologize for evil.Leach's smear is puzzling on many counts, as is his seeming refusal to apologize for it after learning my personal experience with Hamas and calls from many others to do so.
Most puzzling is this: how could a truly progressive elected official turn to such tactics, used by the most hawkish, right-wing Israel supporters? And let's be clear: Leach is truly progressive. His stance on domestic issues in Pennsylvania are top-notch in most cases.
The answer reflects how, in 2014, our politicians – even the most progressive – continue to demonstrate incongruity when it comes to foreign policy matters as they relate to Israel. It's a reflection of how our military, financial and diplomatic investment in the region and in Israel color our ability to be fair arbiters of peace in that region. And it's a reflection of how U.S. officials still find it politically dangerous to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not as a zero-sum game, but as a situation in which both sides deserve to win self-determination and full human rights. Immediately.
On this last point, things are changing. Not only are young Jews willing to critique Israel more than their elders while still feeling supportive and engaged, but young Americans at large more readily critique Israel than their elders.
Things are shifting. My hope is that they shift quickly enough for the U.S. to play a positive role in securing peace not just for Israel, but for Palestine as well.
It's principally the purpose of this post, and most of my writing on Israel, including my initial response to Leach. It would be instructive to know what his initial motivation was when he penned his op-ed.
More than that, it would be instructive to know how he, and other progressive politicians, plan to do more than just maintain a horrible status quo in the region.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.