Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Letters: Finding Obama guilty of insufficient devotion to Israel - Salon

Salon: Nonsensical stereotypes

I have a mixed, and not particularly admiring, opinion of Glenn Greenwald on Salon. I often find him guilty of simplistic, stereotypic characterizations of more complex realities; rarely do I learn much new (or hear much surprising) from his column, even when we share adversaries.

Here is a response to his recent piece on Israel and the American Jewish community, as well as to some of the commentators on his column:

Nonsensical stereotypes

I am a strong "friend of Israel" who also strongly supports Obama for the Presidency.

The long-term safety and flourishing of Israel is, for me, a significant issue, but one among others. Most American Jews have long favored a progressive domestic agenda, including civil liberties and civil rights, religious freedom and separation of church and state, a strong social safety net--policies compatible with Jewish tradition (and, perhaps not incidentally, compatible with the success Jews have achieved in American life), and strongly reflected in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Senator Obama is excellent on these issues, and offers the best prospect of advancing them in American life after years of political division.

Anyone knowledgable about Israeli life understands the vigorous, lively debate about politics and policy that is a constant feature of Israeli discourse. There is an Israeli right wing, to be sure, but its views capture the support of only a minority of Israelis (or of Israeli Jews). The tendency of some American supporters of Israel (often self-appointed, or appointed by virtue of their financial status rrather than any representational legitimacy) to insist on American support of Likud/right-wing (or American neoconservative) opinions misrepresents the center of gravity in both Israel and the American Jewish community. Many of us believe in the necessity of a strong American role in encouraging steps toward a peaceful two state solution, not least to cut through the clog of domestic Israeli (and Palestinian) political cultures.

In precisely that sense, a President Obama is likely to prove a far better, and more far-sighted "friend of Israel" than has been President Bush, or would likely be a President McCain.

Jews with knowledge, or personal memories, of the world's willingness to tolerate Hitler's "final solution" are rightly apprehensive of potential threats, such as that now posed by Iran, to the security of Israel and of Jews everywhere. It does not follow that an unremittingly bellicose and aggressive response from an American leader is necessarily the wisest policy. Once again, a President Obama may prove more adroit in meeting this challenge to both American and Israeli interests, and in recreating international respect for America's good offices on the international scene.

We would all be better off with less stereotyping and a broader, as well as better informed, discussion of these issues.

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