Monday, April 30, 2007

Suffering Contests

Susan Estrich, the Rangel-voiced member of Fox News' cast of Democrats you love to hate, comes right out and says what people with more grace have only been strongly hinting at: Barack Obama could be in trouble because of his failure to appropriately genuflect to Israel as one of the U.S.'s BFF's in last week's Democratic primary debate.
Asked about America's best friends in the world, Obama waxed on about NATO and our European allies before looking east to Japan. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I've been around debates for decades and it was clear that Obama didn't get that this was the Israel question.

He didn't get that people like me, voters and donors, were waiting to hear the word "Israel" in a way that Japanese Americans were not. Japan doesn't live under constant threats; Israel does. Japanese Americans don't worry about Japan's survival in the way Jewish Americans worry about Israel. Obama's answer, in my book, was the biggest mistake of the debate.

Even when prompted by Brian Williams, who followed up by pointing out that Obama had neglected to mention Israel, and reminded him of his comment that "no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people," Obama still didn't get it right.

Sure, he said that Israel is an important ally, but his clarification of his "poor Palestinians" comment only left him further in the hole. His point, he emphasized, was that no one had suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failures in Palestinian leadership.

That’s not exactly how I see it, or how many Jewish Americans see it. I don’t think suffering is a contest in which special recognition goes to those who have paid the highest price. The right answer is that there has been plenty of suffering on both sides.

The Palestinians may be suffering more in the sense that their standard of living is lower, but whose fault is that? Talk to any Israeli family who has lost a friend or family member to Palestinian terror –- and that means any family in Israel –- and, believe me, they won't cede the prize for the most suffering to the Palestinians.

And they will point out, rightly, I think, that it is the Palestinians and not the Jews who have chosen these terrible leaders and remained loyal to them. Doesn't that count for something?

Understand that Esrtich simply takes Israel's value as an ally as a given, unaware, and probably unconcerned, that the next person to actually demonstrate Israel's strategic value to the United States will be the first. Her comment about a "suffering contest" is darkly humorous, as it's rare to encounter a debate with a hardline pro-Israel type in which the Holocaust is not, at some point, deployed as a justification for the disposession and immiseration of the Palestinians by the Israelis. In simple point of fact, suffering in the Israel-Palestine conflict has not been spread around equally. Such a claim is, at best, a cheap and offensive liberal dodge. The moral blindess and historical ignorance shown by Estrich here is sadly typical, but no less disturbing for it.

As to Estrich's last question regarding whose fault it is that Palestinians have often supported terrible leaders, the Palestinians have been living under a brutal and illegal military occupation for forty years, one which is specifically designed by Israel to humiliate and demoralize its subjects, to frustrate the development of viable Palestinian political institution, and to facilitate the takeover of Palestinian land by Jewish Israelis, including the ongoing de-Arabization of East Jerusalem, which has been for centuries the center of Palestinian cultural and economic life. The harassment, imprisonment, and assassination of moderate Palestinian leaders has been an integral part of this program. Doesn't that count for something? Is there a single regular commentator on any of the news channels who would ever think to ask?

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