Ah, to Be an Ideologue!

Ah, to Be an Ideologue!

David Harris, AJC Executive Director
May 17, 2010

It's all so simple, so black-and-white. Everything fits neatly into a precooked view of the world. And those pesky things that don't, simply get ignored or dismissed.

Everything is crystal-clear. Either you're with us or against us, friend or foe, ally or adversary. There's no third way.

And the debating technique is so alluring. No need to respect the norms of civility. No requirement to pay heed to other points of view.

After all, the other side has been declared the enemy -- and that means anything goes. Get personal. Question motives. Use name-calling. Demonize. Twist the truth. Go for the jugular. Remember that all's fair in love and war.

This is the situation we're increasingly facing on Israel policy today. Two narratives have taken hold and, especially thanks to cyberspace, have a very long reach.

One narrative has it that the Jewish world is divided in two -- those for peace and those against it.

Those for peace, enlightened souls all, think it's actually quite simple: The main obstacle today is posed by Israel and its blind supporters. If only that country weren't so obsessed with security, history, faith, and identity, and saw the light, peace would magically dawn.

But no, the narrative continues, the warmongers, neocons, and peace-resisters just can't seem to get the Holocaust, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran out of their minds. How unfortunate! And how retrograde to be obsessed with land in our post-modern world. Why do they keep raising the straw-man arguments about Israel's narrow borders, the vulnerability of Israel's one international airport, or Palestinian incitement?

For these virtuous individuals who believe that they aspire to peace more than the people of Israel -- who, by contrast, presumably would much prefer another 60 years of conflict and bloodshed -- it's all so simple: The Arab world wants peace, Israel is fearful of it, and only the United States can deliver it, if need be by cajoling or arm-twisting Jerusalem.

There is a mirror image of this view among right-wing ideologues, who have their own airtight, smug, and self-satisfying view of the world.

Not only is Israel surrounded by implacable enemies, they say, who have no interest in peace and will never recognize Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state, but also there's a new enemy in town -- the Obama administration.

From this perspective, the President himself is, variously, a closet Muslim, a foreign-born citizen who has no right to sit in the Oval Office, an anti-Semite, and a disciple of Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi. His goal is to end the special link between the United States and Israel, kowtow to the Muslim world, and feed Israel to the wolves. In doing all this, he allegedly counts on the blind allegiance of a majority of American Jews to the Democratic Party, who will vote for the ticket come what may because their self-styled liberalism trumps any other consideration.

For this group, anyone who dares suggest that the Arab world today is a bit more complicated, and the picture in Washington not quite as cut-and-dried, runs the risk of being labeled traitorous, appeasing, and sycophantic.

What's deliciously ironic is how both sides in this polarized debate use precisely the same tactics. They don't allow for doubt; they demonize anyone who disagrees with them; and they're fast and loose when it comes to the facts. Protest though they might, they're actually two sides of the same coin.

I know. AJC, which adamantly refuses to join either ideological camp, has been targeted by both sides, especially since the advent of the Obama administration 16 months ago.

The right first went after us with a two-by-four for daring to cooperate with the new Washington team in determining the U.S. position on the Durban Review Conference, otherwise known as Durban II. The language used against us was quite grotesque.

We were accused of being Obama's lackeys and selling Israel's birthright down the river in the process. In reality, of course, we did nothing of the sort.

After the five-person review process in which we were involved completed its work, the Obama administration made the right decision and skipped Durban II. But ideologues being ideologues, they couldn't bring themselves to acknowledge the American step, much less, heaven forbid, apologize to us for their out-of-place language.

Then the left went after us with equal vehemence. Our sins included daring to stand up for Israel's right to defend itself and for impugning the motives of those, like Justice Richard Goldstone and the UN Human Rights Council, whose approach was totally one-sided, even libelous; and, to boot, for voicing concern about the U.S. decision to go public in its spat with an ally, Israel.

Meanwhile, doctrinal party hacks find it irrelevant that we support a two-state solution and have for years, that we have more extensive ties in the Arab world than any other Jewish group, that we helped pioneer Muslim-Jewish dialogue, and that we have expressed concern about settlement activity in the West Bank. But it's all-or-nothing for the ideologues, who consider nuance on our part not an asset, but a liability, a means to confuse and distract.

Yes, in a way I envy those who live in their self-constructed bubble for the simplicity of their lives. No agonizing for them, no weighing of alternatives. But envy sure doesn't translate into admiration. The real world of public policy is usually about complexity, difficult choices, and more than a dose of uncertainty.

In other words, it lends itself to humility -- a word that's strikingly absent from the ideologues' lexicon -- not hubris. After all, the fate of more than seven million Israelis hangs in the balance.


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