Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Encountering Peace Skeptics of 'The Israel Project'

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by The Israel Project (TIP), what we might call a center-right pro-Israel group, based in Washington, DC.  It sponsors a new Web magazine called The Tower.  The panel was moderated by David Hazony, a conservative writer and veteran think-tank intellectual formerly associated with the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. Today, he resides in the DC area where he consults for TIP and edits The Tower.

David Hazony
The panelists included two writers for The Tower: Dahlia Lithwick, a legal affairs correspondent for Slate and Gabriel Scheinmann, a strategic affairs analyst, plus Josh Block, the CEO of TIP.  Lithwick spoke about her article on the safety of children in Israel versus in the US, inspired by her recent sabbatical in Jerusalem, where she has family; being generally a liberal, she included a brief for gun regulation in her piece, such as implemented in Israel, despite the prevalence of firearms in that society.  (She's just written this well-balanced NY Times review of Alan Dershowitz's new autobiography.)

Scheinmann's article, which informed his presentation, cast Israel's strategic situation very positively in the wake of the violent debacles that have shredded our hopes for the Arab Spring.  It's not that Scheinmann was off the wall in his observations, but both his perspective and the panel struck me as glaringly insufficient for not considering that Israel's strategic strength would be jeopardized if there is no peace agreement with the Palestinians.

During the Q & A, a woman launched a tirade against critics of Israel, spewing her venom against J Street among others as Israel-haters; nobody on the panel contradicted her.  To the contrary, Josh Block sought her out after the program, handing her his card.  (I've discovered a recent piece in Open Zion quoting Block's positive response to this irate questioner.)  Block had a stint in the Clinton administration as a spokesperson for the U.S. Agency for International Development and tends to emphasize his Democratic party roots, but his pro-Israel advocacy is rooted in his years working for AIPAC.  This is not to say that Democrats can't be supporters of AIPAC, but his liberal credentials nowadays may be somewhat thin.

Following the program, I buttonholed Hazony outside the hall, expressing my concern that Israel's strategic situation in the absence of a peace agreement was completely ignored.  I discovered that Hazony does not agree that Israel's democratic status is being eroded by ruling over a majority or near-majority of Arabs from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, most of whom do not have citizenship rights in the Jewish state.  Like many others on the right, he disputes these population estimates and projections.

He also contended with me on Palestinian incitement against Jews and Israel in their schools.  We wound up discussing Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, with both of us acknowledging that we are not experts on this matter.  (Click here for recent reports on Palestinian and Israeli textbooks.)

All in all, Hazony and I had a polite disagreement.  But so far, he has not responded to my email attempts to continue our dialogue.

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