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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Why elections in Israel are good for the United States, by Andy Martin




(CHICAGO)(November 17, 2005) I’m a Republican who favors less government, lower taxes and more personal freedom. What am I doing in bed with Israeli socialists? Well, here’s what.

It is an unfortunate truth that “conservatives” in Israel are the party of war, occupation, expansionism and endless conflict. All of which blows back on the United States. A few days ago I was a guest at a dinner sponsored by Givat Haviva, an organization started by the kibbutz movement to foster Arab-Israeli peace contacts. My host and good friend said it was a dinner populated by “liberal Jews.” Indeed. But the attendees were all committed to peace, and to a policy ending the state of perpetual hostility through creation of a real Palestinian state.

Last week something happened that highlights the differences between Israel and the Arab world. The Labor Party, which has recently been in bed with Ariel Sharon, held an election and chose an “Eastern” Jew as its leader, Amir Peretz. He promptly called for new elections and peace with Palestinians. Well, what’s not to like?

Will President Bush appreciate the opening for peace which has dropped into his lap? I would like to hope so. But I am very doubtful. As for myself, I am delighted to see Israelis voting. I don’t think much of their proportional representation electoral system, which splinters voters and leads to fringe elements in the Knesset, but Israelis do have elections. Unlike Arab states.

Unlike the Egyptians, who would be a powerful nation and a real leader of the Arab world if they had democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, because of the Mubarek dictatorship Egypt remains a backwater, politically and economically. Back to Israel. There, they take democracy to an extreme. But they vote. They don’t blow each other up, with the notable exception of the right-wing extremists who killed Yitzhak Rabin.

To be sure the Labor Party in the past (and present) has advocated many of the racist policies that have led Israelis (and their American friends) into the current morass. Most notably they have repeatedly lied about the July, 2000 peace meeting with President Clinton, where no “generous offer” was ever made in writing, and thus was never rejected by Palestinian negotiators.

Still, I am convinced that the Israeli left today offers the best—the only—prospect for peace and thus I am very hopeful about the election of Mr. Peretz as Labor Party leader.

Why is Mr. Peretz so special? He is the first “Eastern” Jew to have a realistic chance of becoming prime minister. Israel’s founding history and subsequent narrative have largely been written by European Jews. Unfortunately, they have prolonged the strife and helped to create the enduring controversy with Palestinians.

Over the centuries, while European Jews lived in fear of their Christian neighbors, Eastern Jews lived in Arab and Muslim states in peace and safety. Contrary to the efforts of revisionists, there is no historical hatred between Jews and Muslims. Baghdad itself was twenty-five percent Jewish. The horrible hatreds which exist today were ginned up by successive generations of politicians on both sides who were seeking political advantage from exploitation and extremism.

While European Jews were being slaughtered by the Nazis, Jews in the Arab world were living in peace and often in great prosperity. The King David Hotel in Jerusalem was built in the 1930’s by a wealthy Egyptian Jew. Yet these Jewish residents of the Arab world were sucked up in the hysteria of the creation of the State of Israel, and paid a high price for the dreams of their European brethren and parallel Arab short sightedness.

Instead of retaining their Jewish population, Arab states retaliated for their frustration over the creation of Israel by making life impossible for local Jews. Coupled with Israeli sabotage intended to force Eastern Jews into Israel, a great (and unnecessary) migration took place. But once in Israel the “easterners” were not particularly welcomed and were relegated to the status of virtual untermenchen.

Had Eastern Jews been allowed to remain in Arab lands and continued to be welcomed and lived in peace we would not have the current state of perpetual ignorance, hostility and estrangement. Unfortunately, every mistake that could have been made, was made, on both sides. The result is the deadlock we see now.

The current stalemate has been exacerbated by the Bush Administration’s love affair with Ariel Sharon. Sharon is the greatest song-and-dance man since the demise of vaudeville on Broadway. Bushies are enamored of him. Sharon’s pirouettes over peace among the pro-Israel right in the United States have won him undreamed of support from Bush & Co. Sharon has exploited the “global war on terror” as a tool against Palestinian nationalism. The result has been chaos and misguided policy advice to American leaders.

It is not likely the Bushies are happy at the prospect of Sharon being voted out of office, and he may not be. But for the first time Israelis will have a real choice, and a chance to vote for peace. Peretz is not a former military officer. Even if Sharon is returned with a reduced majority the dynamic will change drastically.

As a contrarian, I see the ascendancy of Peretz as a hopeful sign for the future of American policy.

Ironically, because Eastern Jews have their history and traditions in the Arab and Islamic world, they are among those most likely to be amenable to a settlement with Palestinians. Both Eastern Jews and Palestinians have been the victims of history.

And so, even though I am a loyal Republican at home, I salute the prospect of an Israeli leader who will be genuinely committed to peace because he knows and understands Arabs. Even if he is of the left. Hey, politics makes for strange bedfellows. But I would rather see Arabs and Israelis as bedfellows than see them as belligerents. What’s not to like about that?

ANDY MARTIN is America’s most respected independent foreign policy and intelligence analyst. His independent Contrarian Commentary is read and respected worldwide. He spent part of 2003 living in Baghdad. He is executive editor of Andy Martin’s Worldwide News and Contrarian Commentary, starting January 1, 2006. Martin has been involved in the Middle East for 35 years. Media contact: (312) 440-4124. E-mail: andymart20@aol.com. Andy is a candidate for governor of Illinois.


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