Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Pro-Israel Lobby: Defending Israel or Stifling Debate including of the Saudi Peace Initiative--The Doha Debates Chez Chiara


As indicated by the photo, this Doha Debate, on the impact of the pro-Israeli lobby on US and Western policy and debate, was held at the Oxford Union debating chamber at Oxford University, UK, on  May 1, 2007. 15 Qatari high school and university students were invited to travel to Oxford to be part of the audience. Their travels and activities are the subject of a photojournal here.

As indicated in the post, Israel Apartheid Week: 1-4 weeks focused on Palestine, I am proposing this Israel themed Doha Debate, along with the previous one, Calling on Obama: Get Tough on Israel, for readers to participate in here. Recent events in Israel and in the US--including regarding their relationship--make these debates current. This debate rounds out those included because of  Israel Apartheid Week, and focused on the Israeli aspect, though the Palestinian situation will come up again from other perspectives.

Recent events have made this topic more urgent than it constantly is: Fear and foreboding in the Middle East, Mayor backs Netanyahu over ongoing East Jerusalem Construction, US Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Plan, Netanyahu Ends US Visit Without Resolving Settlement Dispute, More than 250 Congress members declare commitment to 'unbreakable' U.S.-Israel bond. These articles also suggest that when the US does disagree with Israel or direct its policy against Israel's wishes, the friendship carries little weight. On the contrary, Israel has escalated its behaviour, Israel tanks 'enter Gaza' after deadly clashes.

For more information on The Doha Debates generally, which follow Oxford Union debating rules, see the website of  The Doha Debates; for more information on The Doha Debates and the Doha Debates Chez Chiara see the introductory post;, and the blog Category Doha Debates (DohaDebates) on the sidebar. The following includes excerpts from the panelists' biographies, the debate transcript, and the final result. A summary statement precedes each of the dialogues with a particular audience member whose photo is included. Full information for this debate is here. The full transcript may be read here. The full debate may be listened to on podcast here. The video of the full debate is here.


The Motion
This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions

TIM SEBASTIAN
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening to you and welcome to a very special session of the Doha Debates sponsored by the Qatar Foundation. As you can see, we've left behind our regular venue in the Gulf and we're here in Britain as guests of the Oxford Union - the most famous debating chamber in the world and the inspiration for the Doha Debates. The Union has a proud record of hosting controversial figures and discussing sensitive subjects. Malcolm X spoke here, so did Yasser Arafat and Richard Nixon. Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan called the Union 'the last bastion of free speech in the Western world,' and for that and many other reasons, we're delighted to be here. Our debate tonight is also concerned with free speech, especially as it relates to criticism of the state of Israel. How far do Israel's friends go in seeking to protect its reputation? Why did former US President Jimmy Carter claim it was now impossible to have a rational debate about Israel in the United States? Our motion reads 'This House believes the pro-Israel lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions' and we have a panel well-equipped to debate it.

Speaking for the motion


Norman Finkelstein is an author and professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago and is the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors. He is known as a strong critic of Israel and US foreign policy and has written five books including the most recent 'Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History'.

His other books include 'The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering' and 'Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict'. In April 2005, the UK's Channel 4 broadcast an hour-long documentary called 'The Final Insult' which was based on his Holocaust Industry book. [The documentary on how Holocaust survivors were cheated by the World Jewish Congress can be viewed in full here.]

He received his doctorate in 1988 from Princeton University for a thesis on the theory of Zionism.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Thank you. I've devoted most of my adult life, a large part of it, to studying the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the most striking thing when you look at the actual record on the conflict - the historical record, the human rights record, the diplomatic record - the most striking thing is when you look at the actual record, how little controversy, how little dispute, how little disagreement there is among the experts and authorities, yet when you enter the arena of public debate, public discussion, the media - all of a sudden the Israel/Palestine conflict becomes so controversial. It's as if nobody agrees on anything. It's my view that the vast preponderance of this alleged controversy is fabricated, it's conjured up, it's contrived by the pro-Israel lobby in order to sow confusion, deflect attention from and stifle discussion about the actual record which is so damning of Israel. The main means used are first of all to mystify the conflict, to claim that it's so complicated that it requires a knowledge the equivalent of rocket science to penetrate its mysteries. Secondly, the dragging in of extraneous issues like the so-called new anti-Semitism, and finally the vast proliferation of misinformation, disinformation and sheer fraud which masquerades as scholarship and which is then validated and even acclaimed by the mainstream media. That's the problem.


Andrew Cockburn is a full-time writer, lecturer on defense and international affairs and award winning documentary maker. His latest book 'Rumsfeld, An American Disaster' which was published in the US as 'Rumsfeld, His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy' was released this year.

Mr. Cockburn grew up in Ireland and after graduating from Oxford University, went to work on Fleet Street, first for the Evening Standard, then the Daily Mail. After working on 'World in Action,' a British TV investigative documentary programme, Mr. Cockburn moved to New York, where he worked as a producer for ABC News before joining WGBH 'World'. There he produced 'The Red Army," which won the George Foster Peabody award in 1982, and, later, 'Frontline,' for which he made hour-long documentaries on topics ranging from the Colombian cocaine cartels ('Inside the Cartels') to the aftermath of the first Gulf War ('The War We Left Behind'). In 1997 he co-produced 'The Peacemaker' starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

He has also written for numerous newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian and National Geographic. His books include 'The Threat; Inside the Soviet Military Machine' and 'Dangerous Liaison,' co-authored with Leslie Cockburn, on the US-Israeli defense and intelligence relationship.

He now lives in Washington DC.

ANDREW COCKBURN
Debate on this issue is stifled or restrained in the Western world, more so in some places than others. Where I live and work in the United States it's particularly egregious. In fact to have this debate or to raise the issue of this motion would be or can be considered anti-Semitic in and of itself. I mean, Walt and Mearsheimer who have just been under discussion, these two serious professors, they had been accused of being anti-Semitic for suggesting that the Israeli lobby has a deleterious effect on US foreign policy. It's true that in other parts, in some countries such as this one, there is a little more room for manoeuvre but that may be a measure of Britain's importance or lack of it. It slightly reminds me of the debate that takes place every year in the UN when the vast majority or the UN General Assembly votes to condemn or call for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, or voting against the US/Israel Nauru and Micronesia, maybe a few other great powers like that, and the no's have it, so it's one of those irrelevant debates. I think what we're concerned about here is the relevant debate, the real political arena which, given the attitude of the British government and European governments indeed to US policy on the matter really is made in the United States, and there it's very clear, that there are, you know, red lines, that you really as a politician or journalist dare not cross. If you know what's good for you, you will refer to, for instance, the 'wall', this obscene creation across the Occupied Territory in the West Bank, as a 'fence'. The New York Times did so. Last week The New York Times had a piece on security walls and they talked about the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, described as walls, the wall that's presently being built in Baghdad to divide the Sunni and Shia communities, that was a 'wall', and then the picture of this enormous thing in the West Bank and that was called a 'border barrier' even though in fact it's not on the border. So, you know, it goes across the board and you defy that at your peril. I mean, there's an occasional sort of example like the professors, and I'm very glad they got their money. There was no debate about Jimmy Carter until he got attacked, until in fact he wasn't really mentioned in The New York Times for example, our sort of Pravda we live with, until a rather obscure member, an obscure board, attached to an obscure academic attached to the Carter Center resigned, whereupon suddenly there was a huge piece in The New York Times saying, not saying obscure academic but saying, you know, making him sound very important, resigned in disgust at Carter's tract. All the discussion about Carter's book was not about what was in it, which is actually fairly ordinary, but about this horrific fact that he'd used the word 'apartheid' and then you know, the showers of abuse that Norman mentioned, so I mean, a more recent example, you know, you can't refer to, Barak Obama, presidential candidate, tried to refer to the sufferings of the Palestinian people, had to apologise. It's something every journalist and politician lives with in America and it's just a fact of life.

Speaking against the motion


Dr. Martin Indyk is a Middle East expert, former US Ambassador to Israel and Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. He is also the former Director of Research for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Ambassador Indyk served two tours in Israel, the first during the Rabin years (1995-97), and the second (2000-June 2001) during efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace and stem the violence of the intifada. Prior to his first assignment in Israel, Dr. Indyk served as special assistant to President Clinton and as senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC). He was a senior member of Secretary Warren Christopher's Middle East peace team and in the second Clinton Administration he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, responsible for Middle East policy, under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Dr. Indyk has published widely on US policy towards the Arab-Israeli peace process and the complex challenges of the Middle East. Before entering government service, Dr. Indyk served for eight years as founding executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is Chairman of the International Council of the New Israel Fund, Vice-President of the American Friends of the Rabin Center and serves on the boards of several organisations including Freedom from Hunger.

He received a bachelor of Economics degree from Sydney University and a doctorate in International Relations from the Australian National University.

MARTIN INDYK
Thank you, Tim. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I think the fact that the Doha Debates has come to the Oxford Union, the home of debating, is an indication that there's no stifling of the debate. But let me just pick up on the Jimmy Carter example. He has written three books highly critical of Israel, the last one, 'Palestine Peace Not Apartheid', was numbe r four on The New York Times bookseller list. By his own account, as he went on a book tour around the United States, he was greeted by thousands of people who turned out to hear his anti-Israel message. He was hosted, unlike Norman, on all the major network TV talk shows, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio, the Lehrer News Hour, Wolf Blitzer, even Larry King. He had pieces published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe summarising his argument. Of course Carter managed to generate a fire-storm of criticism, not just from defenders of Israel but from people who had worked with him and considered that this particular account was biased and cavalier with the facts, but that's the best evidence that there's no stifling of the debate, on the contrary, in fact the debate has been very intense. The second case of course is the even more famous one that you'll be aware of, of Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer. These two American academics from established universities, Chicago and Harvard, wrote a very lengthy paper on the Israel lobby that was first published here by The London Review of Books. It claimed that there was a vast cabal of pro-Israel supporters who constitute a powerful machine that was distorting the American national interest in Israel's favour. Not surprisingly, it too set off a fire-storm of debate, including a symposium in the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine, an unprecedented two-day debate on national public radio, several articles in The New York Review of Books, a debate at New York's famous Cooper Union, pieces in The Washington Post and New York Times, and articles in Commentary, US News and World Report, The American Prospect, New York Sun, etc. Etc. I checked on Google tonight. There are 220,000 hits when you put Walt and Mearsheimer together. There's clearly no stifling of the debate here, but even if you don't accept all of that, Walt and Mearsheimer have just landed a book contract from Farrar Straus Giroux, the publishers of Tom Friedman's books, for $750,000 advance. That kind of lucrative response to their charges of anti-Israelism gives you a sense that perhaps there's another reason that Norman isn't on television or isn't getting such lucrative contracts even though he is published by the University of California Press. One thing that all of these people have in common, and there are many more of them who've been published in the United States, the list is endless of people who make this argument about Israel's sins and the power of the Israel lobby, and what they all have in common is that they all claim that they're being stifled.


David Aaronovitch is a British journalist, broadcaster and author and is a regular columnist for The Times. He won the George Orwell prize for political journalism in 2000 and was the 'What the Papers Say Columnist of the Year' for 2003. He is the author of 'Paddling to Jerusalem: An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country' (2000) and he is currently completing a book about conspiracy theories which will be published in Spring 2008.

A former BBC programme editor and executive, Mr. Aaronovitch joined The Independent in 1995 and soon became a columnist, sketch-writer and for two years TV reviewer on The Independent on Sunday. At the beginning of 2003, he switched to The Guardian and Observer becoming only one of two writers working on both titles. In June 2005, he moved to The Times.

Mr. Aaronovitch has presented and appeared in numerous television programmes. He has presented Newsnight, Parkinson's Radio 2 programme as well as being a guest on Question Time.

DAVID AARONOVITCH
I suppose I stand as the sole representative of Western debate outside the United States, since all previous references have actually been to events inside the United States. There was an attempt that Andrew made to suggest that somehow or other - I think your phrase, Andrew, was, 'There's a little more room here in Britain, but that's probably a measure of the country's lack of importance.' I took that to mean that it wasn't sufficiently important for the pro-Israel lobby to start lobbying hard in Britain, because it wasn't considered to be significant enough. That is, you know, that's a kind of gratuitous insult to this country. However, because we have an ability to debate everything openly, one of the things that you will discover if you stay here for any length of time is that there is a vigorous debate about Israel in Britain, and I would hazard a guess that in France, in Italy and in Germany you could not also possibly say that any Israel lobby controls the terms of the debate or seeks to stifle it, so what I'm going to suggest to do first just as we begin is that what may be arguably true of the United States is simply not true of Europe and therefore you couldn't actually pass this motion on the basis that it was put in any case. It simply isn't true of Britain, that there is an attempt or a big attempt to stifle debate in this country by any so-called Israel lobby. There isn't a big Israel lobby in this country and it doesn't stifle debate. If debate is stifled in this country and in Europe, then as some Danish cartoonists found out to their cost, it isn't coming from any Israel lobby. It comes from a completely different series of sources and a completely different series of sensitivities, and that is a debate probably for another time. As to what you can call things here in Britain, in The Jewish Chronicle, I wrote an article calling what you said is called the fence, a wall, called it a wall. Do you know what, Andrew? I didn't get a single letter of objection from anybody to my doing that in The Jewish Chronicle, so I think what we're really talking about here is something slightly different. Now, everybody here has made a decision tonight, they've made a decision not to watch Chelsea versus Liverpool on the television tonight. One of the conceivable reasons why some of you might not, apart from an abiding dislike of football, is to watch Jose Mourinho do one of his operations at the end where he says that he should have got a penalty but his side was uniquely deprived of the right to a penalty or a bad decision because referees have simply got it in for them, or in the case of Manchester United, he usually argues that referees love Manchester United better because the Manchester United players put pressure on them, and this is known in England commonly, and in Scotland too, as 'we was robbed.' It's the 'we was robbed' defence. The Israel lobby is the great 'we was robbed' attack of those people who believe that history has unjustifiably gone against them, and I submit to you that the problem with this is that it actually constructs not a proper argument, it evades a proper argument while giving you two racial stereotypes for the price of one: the manipulative Jew on the one hand, and the childish Muslim who can't get an argument together on the other, and that's a good reason for rejecting the motion.



Audience Input


The ongoing, daily, media misrepresentation of the Israel/Palestine conflict that obscures occupation and racial discrimination in Iraeli law
AUDIENCE Q (M)
I have questions for Martin Indyk and for David Aaronovitch. Both of you focused on exceptions, citing cases where people have succeeded to publish books and so on, but the fact of the matter is that in daily policy, in daily news coverage, we have an ongoing situation where the conflict is misrepresented. In America you'd never see any argument for Palestine on Fox News. You'd never think that Palestine is occupied by watching CNN and that there are severe racial discrimination laws within Israeli society...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, and your question please. Can we have your question now please?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Here in Oxford as a student organiser, I would like to mention that here in Oxford we were denied rooms to speak about Palestine, so how can you claim that debate isn't stifled in England? Thank you.
MARTIN INDYK
Well, I'll leave David to talk about what happens here, but in the United States, it's true that Fox News is hardly fair and balanced in its approach to any subject. I think CNN does a much better job, but on the question of the Palestinians getting their story out, I just think that that's another myth. I think the Palestinians' story is out there day in and day out, and it's reported from all sides, and it's reported in all of the major newspapers as well as the mainstream television networks, and you know, the same argument is made about the BBC, that the BBC is somehow pro-Arab and anti-Israel, and I think that this is simply a manifestation of people not liking what they see because they happen to have a different point of view, but the notion that the Palestinian cause is not getting covered in the United States is simply flat out wrong. It gets huge coverage.
ANDREW COCKBURN
That's not entirely true, Martin. I mean, it gets a lot of coverage but it's not exactly an accurate coverage. I mean, we can look at a lot of examples but like Camp David, it's been repeated endlessly, I think by yourself included, that following the negotiations at Camp David in the summer of 2000, or during those negotiations, the Palestinians led by Yasser Arafat rejected an offer by Israel to give them practically everything they'd ever wanted. That is flat out not true, as has been actually explained by some of the US officials who were there.
TIM SEBASTIAN
But it's not the Clinton view and he was there.
ANDREW COCKBURN
Well, it's Robert Malley's view, it's also Shlomo Ben-Ami's explanation.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So Clinton's wrong?
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Let's take that specific example and let's see whether we're getting an accurate picture of what's happening, in particular let's see if Martin Indyk is rendering an accurate picture of what happened. Very quickly let's go through the record. It'll take a half-minute.
MARTIN INDYK
I don't think you've seen my book.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
I've read your accounts, Mr. Indyk.
MARTIN INDYK
No you haven't, they haven't come out yet.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
I've read your account before the Congress. In July 2000, there are negotiations. They ended in impasse. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's own Foreign Minister and a main negotiator, he himself said, 'If I were a Palestinian, I would have rejected the offer at Camp David in July 2000.' There are new negotiations. They continued till December. In December, President Clinton presents his famous parameters. Both sides, both sides accepted the parameters with reservations. How does Martin Indyk report it to Congress? He says, 'Only Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters'.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, let's have Martin Indyk reply to that.
MARTIN INDYK
Thanks. Look, I agree with what Norman just defined in terms of what happened in July at Camp David. He doesn't know what my view of that is. Barak did make a generous offer there, but I don't think it was an offer that Arafat could possibly have accepted. In December of 2000 it was a very different story. Notwithstanding the violence and terrorism that had taken place from October on, the Clinton administration, President Clinton put down a very clear offer of a Palestinian independent state in all of Gaza and 95-97% of the West Bank, with territorial compensation for the 3-5% that might be absorbed into Israel; East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State including sovereignty for the Palestinians on the Haram Al-Sharif where the two holy mosques are, and all of the Palestinian Arab suburbs of Jerusalem would be under Arab Palestinian sovereignty, and a just solution for the refugees. What happened? I was ambassador in Israel, I received the cabinet decision that was taken by the government of Israel and conveyed it to President Clinton, accepting the parameters and then going through what the history had been of Israeli concessions up to that point. Yasser Arafat said to the President that he had a problem with four issues, I'll be glad to go into them. He did not accept them and he went away and as a result of that ...
TIM SEBASTIAN
Excuse me, we're going to move this on, there are a lot of people waiting.
MARTIN INDYK
... the process failed.


The valorization of Israel as a democracy, yet the failure to recognize Hamas as democratically elected
AUDIENCE Q (M)
I have a question for Dr. Aaronovitch.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
You dignify me. I'm no doctor.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Excuse me, I was being polite.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
In that case, may I say, 'Thank you, Professor.' (laughter)
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Thank you very much. You mentioned that one of the strongest aspects of the Israeli lobby and the reason why it's so strong is that Israel is a democracy. My question to you is that Hamas was democratically elected and although it does not have the means or the financial support to create such a strong government as that of the Israelis, why has it not been accepted by the United States, and isn't that a sign that the Israeli lobby has stifled in fact the acceptance of this democratically elected state?
DAVID AARONOVITCH
It's a very good question but note what you've left out. You've left out that it was also rejected by the European Union. No, hold on, even Andrew has not until now, if he wants to, can now suggest that the EU is also in the pocket of the Americans, in which case your line of demonology works like this: The Americans are in the pocket of the Israel lobby, Britain is in the pocket of the Americans, the EU is somehow despite Iraq in the pocket of the Americans as well, therefore ergo the West is in the pocket of the Israel lobby. And anybody who believes that the question of the right of return of Palestinians is not a complicated question must indeed answer that the answer to everything is that the Israel lobby is behind everything.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
You haven't really answered my question.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
No, to be honest, to be absolutely honest, I've forgotten your question.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
I asked you and I'm not sure if you've had difficulty answering the question or understanding it, but my question to you is, why hasn't the United States accepted Hamas as a ...
DAVID AARONOVITCH
Oh yes, and it is a good question, and it's not just the United States. Why has the EU ...
AUDIENCE Q (M)
I don't want to know about Europe, I want to know about the United States.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
No, no, I want to talk about Europe. I want to answer in my own way.
AUDIENCE Q (M)
But you haven't answered my question.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
Maybe there are dangers in my answering in my own way but I'm still going to do it. Why have the EU and America not recognised the Hamas government? They have not recognised the Hamas government because Hamas refuses to recognise the right of Israel to exist, and also has not rejected terrorism. That's the formal reason. Now, I personally believe that was an error. I can see why the error was made, and there are very good reasons in Europe in particular, there are very particular sensitivities about toleration of terror and so on. I think it was a strategic error. The strategic error permitted people to say exactly the thing that you're saying, 'You're inconsistent' and so on, so I think it was an error, but I think it was an error that was made in good and not in bad faith.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
May I quickly address that? Let's agree everything Mr. Aaronovitch just said is true, for argument's sake. There's an elementary principle of international law, it's called reciprocity. If you apply a law to one side, it's called hypocrisy. If you apply it to both sides, then it's called a moral statement, so let's look at this. He says Hamas is not recognised by the EU and the United States because Hamas won't recognise Israel. Now, the logical question is, can you name a single Israeli government official, political party, which has ever recognised a Palestinian state within its internationally legal borders, namely the whole of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as its capital? That's the law, that's what the World Court said. The question of terrorism, yes, Hamas should renounce the use of terrorism. Well, what about Israel? According to the most recent reports, human rights reports from B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights, 4,000 Palestinians have been killed against 1,000 Israelis. On both sides the vast majority have been civilians.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
What has that got to do with it?


The USA's adherence to a pro-Israel stance, as proned by the pro-Israel lobby has made it enemies
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Would you not agree that instead of the defensive argument that America helps Israel because they have common enemies, the US has actually made enemies as a result of this pro-Israeli lobby, therefore stifling debate, as it gives the US a bad image?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Martin Indyk, do you want to pick up on that?
MARTIN INDYK
Well, I'm not sure of the connection between the reputation the United States gets and the issue of stifling debate. I don't know if you want to clarify that, but if you're saying that the United States' support for Israel costs it internationally, I think that that is probably correct if you're talking about the Arab world and the Muslim world, and that's a large part of the rest of the world, for sure, but the United States supports Israel for a whole host of reasons that don't include an applause meter in the Arab world. But pursuing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and the Arabs is the best way to resolve that problem, and that's where I agree with David that the Bush administration fell down, did something that was damaging to American interests. But they didn't do it because of the Israel lobby, because there were people on the Israel lobby who wanted the United States to be actively engaged in providing peace in the Middle East because that serves Israel's as well as America's interest because Israel's highest interest is to achieve peace with its neighbours.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Mr. Indyk says the United States versus the Arab world or the United States versus the Arab world and some other countries. Well, what is the reality - not the image projected - what's the reality? You go to the United Nations General Assembly, every year they vote on what's called the peaceful settlement of the Palestine question. There's the whole world on one side, literally, the whole world on one side and the other side you have the United States, Israel, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. That's it. It's not a question of the United States versus the Arab world, the Arabs versus the Israelis. It's exactly what President Bush said in 1990, you remember President Bush Senior, he said, 'It's not Saddam versus the United States, it's Saddam versus the world,' and exactly the same way the problem here is not Israel versus the Palestinians, the United States and Israel versus the Arab World. It's the whole world on one side and the United States and Israel on the other, and that you will never know from reading the mainstream media.


The stifling of debate by the pro-Israel lobby in the West is matched in the East by a pro-Palestinian lobby
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Let us just say at the moment that the debate is successfully stifled in the West. I think in that case it is also fair to say that the debate is successfully stifled in the East and Middle Eastern states. Would you say there is a very strong pro-Palestinian lobby in those states that makes them wholeheartedly side and stifle debate there on the Palestinian side? Because if not obviously your inductive logic does not follow.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Well, nobody's going to make the argument that there's free debate and discussion in the Arab world, but the key question to my thinking is, who or what entities are the obstacles to resolving the conflict? That's why we're all here. If you look at the Arab world, the Arab initiative April 2002, Martin Indyk in his congressional testimony, he portrayed it accurately. He said the Arab League, all 15 members, were offering full peace and normalisation with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal. That's the opinion of the whole international community. That's the basis to settle the conflict. The Arab World, however stifling, there is discussion there and I won't dispute it, on the key question of resolving the conflict, the Arab World is with the entire international community, a two-state settlement based on the June 1967 borders. It is Israel and the United States which are out of step with the whole world and it's because of the lobby, they're the problem.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
Not withdrawal to the 1967 borders though, Martin. Israel has not proposed that I don't think.
MARTIN INDYK
Listen, as a matter of fact, whenever Israel has had an Arab partner sitting down and negotiating with it, the consequence of that negotiation is for Israel to offer withdrawal, full withdrawal, to the 1967 borders. It happened with Egypt, it happened with Jordan, four Israeli Prime Ministers offered it to the Syrian President, and he didn't take the offer, it happened with Lebanon, and in the case of the Palestinians, we have had an Israeli government, the Barak government, as I said, that was prepared to offer a two-state solution on the basis of 100%, that is, 95-97% plus territorial compensation for 100%, and so if we could ever get back to the table, that is not going to be the problem.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Andrew Cockburn, you want to come back just briefly and then we're going to move on.
ANDREW COCKBURN
The famous Israel offers of 2000 at Camp David was to offer basically a series of Bantustans.
MARTIN INDYK
Well, that's not true.
ANDREW COCKBURN
It is.
MARTIN INDYK
That is the propaganda line put forward by people who have to find a way of explaining why Arafat rejected the offer.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Okay, we're going to move on now.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Martin Indyk went before Congress and he said that Ariel Sharon accepted the two-state settlement as depicted in the road map. That's what you wrote. Now, you take The Economist magazine. It described the two-state settlement offered by Ariel Sharon as withdrawal from 40-50% of the West Bank, so I ask you, Martin Indyk, 40-50% withdrawal, is that the road map? Is that the road map, Martin? Or was that a lie, misinformation?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let him just answer that very briefly.
MARTIN INDYK
Last time I checked, Ariel Sharon is not the Prime Minister of Israel. The person who is now the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, was elected with a mandate to withdraw from the West Bank.
NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
The West Bank or parts of the West Bank? You know, it's a big difference, Martin.
MARTIN INDYK
Oh, it's a big difference, for heaven's sake. Everybody knows, Norman, and you know it as well, what the outline of the deal is going to look like, you know. The Israelis put up a wall, you want to call it a wall, we'll call it a wall. They put up a wall that incorporated 8.5% of the West Bank.


Stifling debate,  including adequate discussion of the Saudi initiative
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Thank you. A number of times during this debate, Barak Obama's remarks have come up and unlike Mr. Cockburn, the gentleman to my left quoted him correctly saying that no-one is suffering as much as the Palestinians, and the main thing about that statement is it's demonstrably false, because it doesn't matter if you take violent death, GDP per head, infant mortality, average life expectancy, there are huge amounts of people suffering more than the Palestinians. Nevertheless I think most people would agree that the Israeli/Palestinian situation receives more air time in the Western media than any other foreign problem, except possibly American elections and things.
TIM SEBASTIAN
So what is your point?
AUDIENCE Q (M)
Now, given this it's true that there is a debate about Israel and that your problem is not that it's been stifled, because it's not, because it's out of all proportion to its genuine importance, your problem is that you haven't got the hegemony over the debate that you think you deserve, and that frankly you can't hack it.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Andrew Cockburn.
ANDREW COCKBURN
First of all, Obama was clearly talking in the context of Israel/ Palestine, so it's really your point is kind of beside the point. No-one's demanding hegemony, well, no-one on this side is demanding hegemony over the debate. We're just pointing out that the debate is very one-sided, that for example Martin may have told the Congress that the Saudi initiative offers a full withdrawal, but we don't read that in the papers.
DAVID AARONOVITCH
What, he stifled himself? How did you manage that, Martin?
ANDREW COCKBURN
No, Martin didn't stifle, I think he may have said in full expectation it wouldn't be a headline in The New York Times the next day.
MARTIN INDYK
I'm a great advocate of the Saudi initiative because I'd like to see this problem solved.
TIM SEBASTIAN
Let him finish his point.
ANDREW COCKBURN
It's frequently said, I think I've heard it from the hall here tonight, that Hamas, David was saying that the European governments imposed the sanctions on Hamas because they refused to recognise Israel's right to exist. They, Hamas, have accepted the Arab initiative of 2002. You know, there's lots of rhetoric on all sides.
MARTIN INDYK
That's simply not true. That's simply not true. They did not accept it.


Could an Islamic lobby ever have as much power in the USA as the Israeli lobby does
AUDIENCE Q (F)
The argument is that the lobby can stifle debate as it's very powerful. Well, do you believe that an Islamic lobby in the US could ever have as much power as the Israeli lobby does?
TIM SEBASTIAN
David Aaronovitch, what do you think?
DAVID AARONOVITCH
It is absolutely obvious. I can't speak about the United States because I don't have the figures for there and also I don't know the distribution of the various voters, and I don't know the predisposition of Muslim voters from different countries to vote together and en bloc in the United States, I simply don't have any idea what it is. Traditionally, as I understand the American Jewish vote, it's been liberal, it's been in certain states rather than others, although it's not been clever enough to distribute itself into places like Texas which would have made it ... But it has been clever enough to go to places like Florida where things have been very close. But certainly in Europe there is the beginning of what seems to be an engagement by Muslim communities, various Muslim communities, you notice I'm being very careful here because peoples come from very, very different countries and from very different cultures and tradition, but they do have a series of common attitudes it seems to me about aspects of foreign policy, and their attitudes will become increasingly important to democratic politicians, certainly in Europe. I don't think that's any doubt, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that, by the way, so I think there will be some form of pressure upon politicians when it comes to some foreign policy decisions as a consequence of that, but in America I just can't say.
MARTIN INDYK
Can I just jump in on that?
TIM SEBASTIAN
Very briefly because we're running out of time now.
MARTIN INDYK
There are more American Muslims than there are American Jews, but they're not organised as a monolithic community. You know, there are Pakistani Muslims, there are Arab Muslims, there are Black Muslims, and on the other hand, the Jewish community, you know, if you have two Jews, you have three organisations. They're probably the most highly organised people in the world.
TIM SEBASTIAN
You just wanted to come back for a moment. What did you want to say?
AUDIENCE Q (F)
Do you believe that this division is what makes it difficult for the Islamic people to actually gain as much power?
MARTIN INDYK
Well, I think it's just a reality that Muslims in America have one common interest which is how they are treated in the United States and they're treated as American citizens. There have been problems after 9/11 which they have managed to organise to lobby about and get their interests protected, but they don't have Palestine as their number one interest. Some of them do but most of them don't.


The Result

The vote is 65.6% for the motion, 34.4% against.
The motion has been resoundingly carried.


What is your opinion of the motion?
Do you have anything to add on the themes raised here?
Are there other themes you would have introduced?
What is your impression of the diversity of the audience members?
How do you view the positions of the panelists?
How would you vote: for or against the motion? Why?
Is the pro-Israeli lobby just a fact of life to be accepted? As even Palestinian journalists acknowledge about attitudes in the USA?
Is there, could there be, should there be an Islamic lobby in the US? How would it be different than a pro-Israeli lobby?
This debate occurred before Obama was elected. How did the final campaigning and his time in office change his relationship with the pro-Israeli lobby? Or did they?
What does the current US-Israel disagreement/stalemate say about the role of the Israeli lobby?
What is your impression of  the Saudi initiative? About the Western response to it?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

12 comments:

Susanne said...

I suppose we must give reluctant props to the Jewish lobby for being united in accomplishing its goals.

Another perhaps unofficial pro-Israel "lobby" are the Christian Zionists. I read a book by a Jewish man a year or so ago. He was urging his fellow American Jews to recognize how Israel-friendly these people were. He counted them among Israel's most fervent allies in the US and wanted the more liberal American Jews to embrace them as friends working for a common cause.

I can go to a website right now (I keep tabs on the blog for information sake) where people are urged to call their representatives and encourage them to vote for pro-Israeli policies. The author has been alarmed recently at the Obama Administration's audacity of telling Israel it cannot build settlements in its own capital. *sigh*

Khalid said...

Mr. Martin Indyk says "Israel's highest interest is to achieve peace with its neighbours." I totally agree. Due to being overly exhausted after a hectic day, I couldn't come up with strong premises to support this argument. Could someone please help me here. Thanks in advance.

Thanks Chiara for this post, the synopsis you put has whetted my appetite; I shall download the podcast. It's a decent meal for discourse analysis.

Jay Kactuz said...

Suzanne, What is wrong with people calling Congress? Actually, The Christian fundamentalists, along with an unknown percentage of the jews, will be the last Americans supporting Israel in a few years.

In case you haven't noticed, the US under Obama is rapidly turning away from the Jewish state, thinking this will endure him or us to the Muslim world. Dream on.
Personally I think they are wasting their time. This right-wing Chriatian support, along with the red heifer thing, the temple building fund, and etc is silly. If Israel's existance depends on these people, they are doomed.

There is no doubt that the Palestianians / Arabs / Muslims are winning the propaganda war. The Jews are being pushed in a corner by forces they can't control. I know that they know that they can't trust any goy to save them, their lives and families. In case you haven't notices, Islam, especially in in current form, sees the final solution as the only solution for the jews. Any jew that thinks otherwise lives in lala land.

Try this: "Israel's only interest is to survive."

Oh by the way, don't blame the Christians for their "end of days apocalyptic" ideas. Muslims are doing a much better job of making Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the Book of Revelation come true. The Evangelicals should actually be thanking Muslims for their good work in this aspect. It is an interesting situation.

oby said...

Chiara...

I am trying to access the video of te debate but it is only showing a photo when I click on it. The podcast is coming through fine but I really prefer to watch it if possible.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

Chiara said...

Thanks to all for your comments. Just a quick note,the video link is now fixed. In future if the linking jinn messes up, the first link in the series, that shows the information page for the particular debate has the links to the transcript, podcast, speakers' bios and the videos.

My apologies, and I look forward to more comments and will comment myself shortly.

Chiara said...

PS My apologies to anyone who is having trouble commenting. Blogger seems to be misbehaving the last 24 hours during which time it has tried to eat my new post twice. Fortunately I snatch it from the jaws of death each time, but I can hear the lip smacking demands for more!

If you can't get your comment to go through please email it to me at chiaraazlinquestion AT yahoo.com and I will post it under your name.

Thanks!

Susanne said...

Jay, I have no problem with people contacting Congress. Sorry I was unclear about that. My *sigh* was more the rhetoric that Israel should be able to build in its own capital. Generally I would agree that a country should be able to build in its own capital, but given the way things are in Israel, it's an exception for me at this time.

I'd consider most of my family and friends among the Christian Zionists - and even myself not so long ago (though I never used that term - "Christian Zionists" - or even heard it until the last couple of years.)

Hope I cleared that up a bit. Thanks for your reply to me. I do enjoy your comments even if I don't always agree with them. :)

Jay Kactuz said...

Suzanne, Sorry if I misunderstood you. I tell you that I am getting semi-paranoid in my old age, looking for anything to jump on people over.

Well, that makes two of us. Most of my family are very much on the conservative, evangelical, pro-israel side of the fence. I am very cynical about it all and would like to the see Muslims and jews take their differences to another planet -- or maybe galaxy. Since that hasn't happened I have decided to join the jews, even if their women are weird. I don't known much about Muslim women except the few that have been very mad at me for reasons unknown.

If you ever find yourself agreeing with me more than 50% of the time, get help!

I do have a very good knowledge of biblical texts and fundamentalist doctrine, something I will never forgive my dad for (years in Sunday school in the 1950s!), so I find the current situation interesting from a escatological perspective. I tell you if the Dome of the Rock ever is destroyed and the Jews start rebuilding their temple, I will be moving to Idaho to join the other nuts.

Susanne said...

Jay, I'm laughing at your reply to me. :) Hey, I really understand where you're coming from. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church and went to a Christian school! :)

I truly do understand why you've chosen to side with the Jews. I was there all my life until about 2 years ago. I'm not against them by any means - I don't want anyone to think I want to curse the Jews. I just have now heard more of the other side and realize I cannot support the current State of Israel 100% like I used to.

Honestly, Jay, it wasn't meeting Muslims that changed me although hearing Samer's side DID start the process. Still I was skeptical that he was wrong because, well, he was a Muslim so of course he would say such things. I was hesitant to 100% believe his version. How could someone such as I side with a Muslim Arab over the Jewish nation?!

It wasn't until I started reading "The Crescent Through the Eyes of the Cross" and became e-mail friends with the author - a Bible-believing, Christian Arab who now lives in Colorado - that I felt it was OK to change. And since then I've met others that has only confirmed this decision.

I wouldn't put myself wholeheartedly in either camp. I'm not pro-Israel to the damnation of the Arabs nor am I pro-Arab to the damnation of the Israelis. I just see "blessing Israel" (Gen. 12) differently than before. Whereas many believe in order to bless Israel, you have to support whatever she does 100%, I disagree. Blessing others sometimes means stopping them from doing wrong against others. And I happen to believe ALL people have worth and should be treated as people created by God. (I really wish you could meet some of my Muslim friends. I truly believe you'd be impressed by how *normal* they are!)

Whether or not the Dome of the Rock is ever destroyed and the Jews start building their temple, I don't think it's wrong of me to simply desire the Israelis to treat the Palestinians with decency and justness. If you read through the OT books you will see how often Israel was scolded for their evil ways. Read Isaiah 1 as an example.

I'll be sure to seek help if I start agreeing with you more than 50% of the time. Thanks for the kind advice. :)

Chiara said...

Susanne and Jay--thank you for this interesting discussion from 2 people steeped in conservative Protestant Christian teachings, and who have evolved toward different positions on the Israel/Palestine situation. I do think that the Israeli lobby works to make sure not only to influence politicians directly but public perception as well. I think small gains in a more sympathetic portrayal of Palestinians were inevitable after the Gaza Offensive which even the IRC and UN commented on as including unprecedented levels of disregard for civilians (naphtalene used in high density residential areas, against the Geneva Convention; bombing UN hopitals and supply trucks, and IRC ambulances).

Khalid--thank you for your insightful comment and for your persistence against the commenting jinn. I hope someone elaborates on an answer to your question. Yes this debate more than some others lends itself well to the multiple facets of discourse analysis. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

Oby--thanks for bringing this to my attention. My apologies. I hope you will watch the video (which I always enjoy too) and comment here soon.

THE HOLY SINNER said...

I will also suggest the respected bloggers here to read Robert Fisk and his accounts of how the censorship works, in a democracy we know as Israel, one revered democracy in the ME.

Hamas was elected in elections where UN was present to observe. Ofcourse the bet was or the hope was for Hamas to not win. And when it won, the democracies, Israel, Europe, US and other allies, refused to recognise it as a legitimate representative government. Instead, the threat of rockets which are nothing more than fireworks is hyped by US President down to a street hawker, making the strangling of Gaza a legitimate counter measure. I am not in favour of Hamas firing even those rockets. But the point is, if there has to be reporting, then why is it not just. And what has engulfed the minds of the people around the globe to let incidents like Ms. Corrie's sad murder pass like a ship in the night? We still keep looking at the same pictures of the second world war, but do not get access to the picture now in Gaza? Do not question our government(s) on the end use of the unending supply of weapons to israel? We go after Osama and Ramzi but do not want the driver of the caterpillar dozer that purposely drove over Ms. Corrie once and then came back to "finish the job?"

It is indeed sad, how skewed our thoughts have become and how full of hatred our responses are towards our fellow human beings. All for an economic end?

Israel is indeed a good neighbour. It is because of being a good neighbour that the opening salvo against Hezbollah was Beirut airport!?! That israel bombed a "suspected" nuclear sight in Syria. That everyday israeli warplanes violate the airspace of Lebanon. That israel is insisting on usurping the land the US is now talking against. That israel is targeting tunnels being used to smuggle medicines in the strangled Gaza. That out of the three ambulances, two became intentional targets for the Hellfire-II fired from patrolling Apaches...

Chiara said...

THE HOLY SINNER--thank you for your comment, which was both thoughtful and impassioned--much like Robert Fisk. I am a great fan of his, and as you know he is not much appreciated by the US, or at the very least was not by the Bush Administration. He is well informed and makes it clear he is reading current conflicts through a historical lens, as well as delivering his point of view.

A great recommendation, thanks again! :)

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