PRO-ISRAELI LOBBY IS SILENCING DISSENT
One day in 1981, my late father, Maurice Hanna Bisharat, returned from a long day at his Sacramento medical office with an extra bounce in his step, his eyes dancing with excitement. His friend, Michael Himovitz, the young owner of a local art gallery, had called, offering to hold a one-person show of my father's paintings -- mostly California landscapes. My father had taken up painting after immigrating to this country from Palestine in the late 1940s, and although an amateur, had won a national art award after two years. But the demands of medical practice, raising a large family and other avocations took their toll. It had been many years since my father's art had been publicly exhibited, and he was tickled.
My father was not a politician, but like any Palestinian living in the United States, he felt obligated to relate his people's experience to American friends. Educated and articulate, he spoke publicly in defense of Palestinian rights, and was a frequent commentator on Middle East events in the local media. Michael, a Jew, was perfectly aware of this side of my father's life. It did nothing to diminish his appreciation of my father's art, or to inhibit their friendship.
Some weeks later I saw my father sitting, stony faced. He turned to me and whispered: "I just got a call from Michael. My show has been canceled." Michael had been visited by a group from the Sacramento Jewish community, my father said. Their message: "If you show Bisharat's art, we will boycott your gallery and close you down." Michael may have been as crushed as my father, apologizing: "I just can't risk it -- it's my livelihood." The indirect message to my father, of course, was: "If you speak critically of Israel, you will suffer." Fortunately, art was not my father's livelihood, and he survived this incident. But a deep sense of outrage never left him.
So when former New York Mayor Edward Koch and Rafael Medoff asked incredulously in a recent commentary critical of President Jimmy Carter's recent book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" "Are Jews suppressing speech?" -- or when 14 Carter Center advisory board members resigned in protests of the president's positions -- the answer, for me, is not so straightforward.
The fact is that "Jews" are not suppressing speech. Michael Himovitz certainly didn't suppress my father's attempts to explain the Palestinian perspective to his fellow citizens. Many American Jews hold views not dissimilar to my father's -- supporting peace, reconciliation and equal rights for Palestinians and Jews.
Yet a minority of Jews, backed by some non-Jewish supporters, stridently protests any unflattering portrayal of Israel, often with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism. Indeed, insinuations of anti-Jewish bias are now being unfairly raised against Carter. And some supporters of Israel, apparently, are willing to exploit economic clout to punish those who, like my father, buck the trend and defend Palestinian rights.