Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Letter the IHT Didn't Publish

Eric Alterman assaults American Jewry's presumed neocon agenda ("Their spokesmen are bad for the Jews", Dec. 22-23), but glides over a significant statistical connundrum. He should have asked why is it that if 80% of those in the poll he quotes believe Muslim states wish to destroy Israel and that over 60% think peace is a distant achievement, why do almost 50% desire the establishment of a Palestinian state. Would not that entity join the rest in the Arab world in seeking Israel's destruction and further distance peace? Could it be that being a professor of English doesn't help in reading the numbers?

But this letter did get published:-

Islam and its 'moderates'

American Jewish opinion

Eric Alterman's opinion column, "Their spokesmen are bad for the Jews" (Views, Dec. 22) is bad for objectivity. He uses results from our annual survey to assert that American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, as he is, and then lambasts several major groups, including the American Jewish Committee, for opposing the prevailing views of their brethren. In doing so, he ignores three things.

First, no one can accuse American Jewry of having a shortage of organizations. "Two Jews, three synagogues," the quip goes. There are agencies reflecting every point of view along the political spectrum. Alterman's frustration is that those reflecting his stance have not achieved the success he believes they deserve. If so, the answer lies within, not outside, as he suggests.

Second, as an ideologue, he makes the same mistake as his mirror images on the right. He refuses to recognize the nuance of those in the center, including the American Jewish Committee. In effect, he declares, either you're with us or against us. But the American Jewish Committee defies such wrong-headed characterization. An agency that opposes waterboarding, supports a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, defends church-state separation, and is in the front ranks on civil rights and social justice issues can hardly be classified as right wing.

Finally, Alterman glosses over the survey data that does not bolster his case. In reality, American Jews are schizophrenic on Arab-Israeli issues. Many would be prepared to see Israel make painful compromises for peace, yet, at the same time, have little confidence in most Arab leaders and their long-term intentions regarding the Jewish state. It's precisely that kind of anguished nuance that is missing from his analysis.

David A. Harris, Executive director, American Jewish Committee, New York

And these, too:-

Jewish public opinion

I agree with Eric Alterman that the major American Jewish political organizations have misrepresented Jewish opinion for their own hawkish, neo-conservative agenda. ("Their spokesmen are bad for the Jews," Views, Dec. 22)

As an American Jew myself, I am particularly dismayed that these political organizations, in addition to the religious institutions representing Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, have consistently supported almost every Israeli policy in the name of "unity." This Jewish support, together with U.S. acquiescence, has allowed Israel's harsh occupation of Palestinian life (with its vast illegal settlements, its home demolitions, its targeted assassinations and its economic strangulation) to continue unabated.

As Alterman suggests, this shameful record of support for Israel's unethical policies is in sharp contrast to the liberal humanistic values of the majority of American Jews.

Jacob Bender, New York

Eric Alterman himself engages in the very distortion and demonization which he so decries in his blanket condemnation and mischaracterization of major American Jewish organizations and their policy agendas.

Contrary to Alterman's assertions, the American Jewish Committee, for example, advocates public policies that are closely aligned with the political and moral convictions of the overwhelming majority of American Jews and that reflect Jewish humanistic values.

These include: a strict separation of religion and state, energy conservation and sustainable environmental practices, strong public schools and increased funding for education, support for same-sex unions, affirmative action, opposition to capital punishment, and robust funding to combat poverty and increase access to healthcare, early childhood care, and after-school programming.

Just as most individual Jewish Americans are faithful to the values of liberal humanism so are the majority of Jewish organizations who, contrary to Alterman's tendentious article, faithfully represent the values of American Jews.

Noam Schimmel, Jerusalem

It is heartening to know that the majority of American Jews do not agree with the Israeli lobby right-wingers who pretend to speak in the name of Jews everywhere. It is unfortunate, though, that those same liberal-thinking Jews in the majority do nothing to refute such organizations as AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and others of their ilk, who have so much influence over the institutions of the U.S. government.

I agree with Alterman that it is the apathy of most Jews, and the American public in general, that allows such well-funded organizations, though in the minority, to control the debate.

Eugene Schulman, Geneva

And Alterman gets in the last word:-


In response to my opinion article, "Their spokesmen are bad for the Jews," (Views, Dec. 22), David Harris of the American Jewish Committee casts many aspersions, calling me an "ideologue" and comparing me to my (nameless) "mirror images on the right."

What he fails to do, however, is to dispute a single fact I presented in my column.

Nothing in my article suggests that "you are with us or against us," as Harris falsely claims. His primary argument appears to be over the fact that I included his organization among those who have "historically associated itself with the hawkish side of the debate." But here, again, Harris fails to cite a single instance in which his organization has associated itself with the dovish side of the foreign policy debate, save the AJC's rhetorical support for a "two-state solution," a position shared by both George W. Bush and the late Ariel Sharon, and hence, not so dovish.

What Harris also fails to mention - and I don't blame him - are the decades in which the AJC underwrote Commentary, a magazine filled with extremely vicious and vituperative attacks on anyone - particularly Jews - who deviated even slightly from the hard-line neoconservative agenda. Indeed, Commentary rightly considers itself to be the birthplace of neoconservatism itself, something that would have been impossible without the AJC's loyal support.

Alas, Harris's protestations notwithstanding, these decades underwriting the hard-right wing among American Jews speaks rather more powerfully than a single letter to the editor.

Eric Alterman, New York

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