Kristof: ‘No Serious Political Debate’ About Israel


TALKING ABOUT ISRAEL

Democrats are railing at just about everything President Bush does, with one prominent exception: Mr. Bush's crushing embrace of Israel.

There is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. And that silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself.

Within Israel, you hear vitriolic debates in politics and the news media about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Yet no major American candidate is willing today to be half as critical of hard-line Israeli government policies as, say, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper.

Three years ago, Israel's minister of justice spoke publicly of photos of an elderly Palestinian woman beside the ruins of her home, after it had been destroyed by the Israeli army. He said that they reminded him of his own grandmother, who had been dispossessed by the Nazis. Can you imagine an American cabinet secretary ever saying such a thing?

One reason for the void is that American politicians have learned to muzzle themselves. In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic primaries, Howard Dean said he favored an ''even-handed role'' for the U.S. -- and was blasted for being hostile to Israel. Likewise, Barack Obama has been scolded for daring to say: ''Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.'' In contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton has safely refused to show an inch of daylight between herself and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

A second reason may be that American politicians just don't get it.

King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to Congress this month and observed: ''The wellspring of regional division, the source of resentment and frustration far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine.'' Though widely criticized, King Abdullah was exactly right: from Morocco to Yemen to Sudan, the Palestinian cause arouses ordinary people in coffee shops more than almost anything else.

 


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