Center Field: Defending Israel is not Smearing Obama or Bullying Mary Robinson

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-6-09

Just as savvy lawyers teach their associates to pound the table harder the weaker their argument becomes, Israel’s critics are accusing its defenders of “smear” tactics and “bullying.”

In the toxic atmosphere which pollutes Middle East discourse, rife with accusations about super-powerful Jews doing their dirty work through the omnipotent “Jewish lobby,” Israel’s defenders are frequently put on the defensive. These unfair, hysterical accusations undermine the democratic discourse essential to governing effectively, especially in a complicated, messy policy arena such as the Middle East.

Let’s face it, no one wants to be accused of McCarthyite tactics, and few people have the stomach these days to be on the wrong side of Barack Obama and his minions. People who dare criticize the American president get the kind of treatment Marc Stanley, the chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, meted out in The Jerusalem Post this week.

In a screed entitled “The Chutzpah of Obama’s Jewish Critics,” Stanley targeted the rather mild, anguished op-ed Aluf Benn of Ha’aretz, published in the New York Times, asking “Why Won’t Obama Talk to Israel?

Benn made the important point that having visited so many other capitals, Obama’s refusal thus far to visit Jerusalem was telling, as was the president’s inability to address serious Israeli security concerns in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s return to terrorism and Hamas’s barrage of rockets after Israeli concessions.

Stanley claimed Obama is “making an unprecedented effort to reach out to the Jewish community,” and that critics like Benn would “leap at any chance to attack the president.”

Stanley then accused “the small anti-Obama wing of the Jewish community” of trying “to smear Obama in the Jewish community” during the 2008 campaign.

In the same vein, valid criticisms raised about President Obama’s shocking decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson were distorted, then dismissed.

I was careful in my Jerusalem Post blog criticizing her selection for America’s highest civilian honor not to call Robinson an anti-Semite – I called her a Neville Chamberlain, an appeaser who failed to stand up to Arab anti-Semitism in the buildup to Durban in 2001.

Nevertheless, critics in the “Talkback” said I called her an anti-Semite. Mary Robinson herself responded to the criticism with her own smear. “There’s a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community,” she said. “They bully people who try to address the severe situation in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The Belfast Telegraph made explicit what Robinson’s snide remark implied with its headline:  “Former Irish President Mary Robinson ‘bullied’ by Pro-Israel Lobbyists.”

In fairness, the pro-Israel side has more than its share of hysterics too.

Those of us who try to criticize President Obama’s Middle East Policy constructively – and lament his tone -deafness in awarding Mary Robinson and other matters – are hindered by the shrill minority that unfairly and inaccurately calls Obama a Muslim and Robinson an anti-Semite.

But to lump a thoughtful leftist like Aluf Benn in with that crowd, to ignore the anguish Mary Robinson’s failures at Durban caused, by simply dismissing critics as “bullies,” is destructive.

Since the 1980s, there has existed a kind of political sweepstakes, a competition in which each side in a debate tries to gain points by claiming it has been the one treated most unfairly.

Since the 1990s, in the United States, Republicans and Democrats have tended to treat honest criticism as personal attacks. Too many people seem to forget George Washington’s counsel to learn from your critics and understand that intelligent and virtuous people sometimes come to contrasting conclusions.

In his latest NRO Blog, the former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and White House aide Dr. Tevi Troy (yes, he is my brother), reports that a source told him that Robinson’s selection “was not fully vetted, but that the White House feels that backing down at this point would make things worse.”

In criticizing Robinson’s award I did not expect the White House to backtrack – institutions rarely do. But I did hope that the White House would be more careful next time and more sensitive to Jewish communal concerns in so many ways.

It is clearly still amateur hour at the White House. Even the holy Obamians have much to learn. A White House impervious to criticism is a White House doomed to fail. Obama and his aides, like the rest of us, can learn from their critics, even more than they learn from their friends  if they are open to listening rather than quick to smear critics as enemies.

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1 Comment

  1. nadkobi

     /  August 7, 2009

    hey gil
    doesn’t it work two ways. i know the article does not state specifically who made the recent comments but it is clear that it is coming from people close to our administration
    http://forward.com/articles/111475/
    shabbat shalom
    kobi

    Reply

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