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Israel up close


ELAINE McARDLE should be lauded for recognizing the potential pitfalls involved in accepting a free trip to Israel from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (‘‘I was lobbied by the ‘Israel lobby’ ,’’Ideas, Oct. 7). If only she had spent time finding sources to represent the points of view missing from her experience, rather than searching out psychologists to confirm the obvious point that such junkets are bound to affect participants’ views.

Lacking the voices of Palestinians and dissident Israelis, McArdle’s piece reflects exactly the kind of bias she worries about. The article humanizes Israelis but not Palestinians, and fails to even mention the ongoing military occupation that is the root cause of most violence in the area.

When I traveled to the Mideast last year, I was slightly too old to qualify for the free ‘‘birthright Israel’’ trips offered to Jewish young adults. So I scraped together the money to pay my own way; without the restrictions imposed by a ‘‘sponsored’’ trip, I was able to travel in both Israel and the West Bank. Meeting Palestinians as well as Israelis was enlightening. Missing out on that range of experience is apparently the real price to be paid for some of these free trips.


HOW WONDERFUL that Elaine McArdle is asking herself questions about her filters on her recent AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel and realizing that she didn’t see the Palestinian point of view. Indeed, if she had visited the West Bank and Gaza and spoken to Palestinians, she might have concluded that the government of Israel is not a partner that the Palestinians can trust, given its violations of human rights and UN declarations and its ongoing settlement expansion despite signing agreements that outlawed that expansion. She might wonder how long the Palestinians can tolerate the omnipresence of danger, the imprisonment of thousands of their men, the strangling of their economy. ‘‘With some effort,’’ as she herself says, she could have arranged to hear the other side, and she would have been more clear about her own filters.


The writer is a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace.

ELAINE McARDLE wonders why the AIPAC ‘‘soft sell’’ succeeds in generating pro-Israel views.

Adding to her wonderment, the AIPAC-sponsored trip included a visit to the separation barrier ‘‘at its most formidable and depressing.’’

The trip also included a discussion by the main Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat.

However, AIPAC’s success is no wonder: More knowledge about Israel tends to result in a more pro-Israel position. Therefore, no hard sell is required. It is actually true that Israel is a liberal democracy filled with earnest and generous people. It is really the case that Israel is very tiny and under constant attack. Any visitor to Israel can see that it is an open society that wrestles seriously with the appropriate responses to the attacks against it.

Similarly, most of AIPAC’s ‘‘opinions’’ are straightforward facts that can be observed easily by anyone willing to take the time.

McArdle reports that she came back from the AIPAC trip ‘‘significantly better informed and far more interested in the Middle East.’’ That is the only goal of AIPAC. No bias is required to be pro-Israel. The facts speak for themselves.


McARDLE MENTIONS the daily Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. On the left side of the Israeli political spectrum and frequently critical of the powers that be, the paper provides ample evidence of the impassioned, uninhibited debate that characterizes Israeli public discourse.

The sheer complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, not to mention the high stakes, naturally generates a wide range of opinions about the situation. At least in Israel.

We have to wonder how it is that Congress is miraculously of a single mind on this critical and complex issue when this body can otherwise be so fractious. It is precisely the absence of vigorous and uninhibited debate in Washington — the kind that Israeli democracy can rightly be proud of — that makes it difficult to dismiss claims that the Israel lobby has indeed had too much influence on US foreign policy.

If that is so — if we have the best Congress money can buy — it will eventually become clear that we have been false friends of Israel. True friends offer something sturdier than unquestioning acquiescence.


The writer is a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopalian monastic order, and is a frequent visitor to Israel.

THE ARTICLE ideally describes how effective lobbying can be conducted professionally. However, McArdle’s mild complaint that she didn’t gain ‘‘the Palestinian point of view’’ was gratuitous. In our competitive society based on the free circulation of ideas, lobbyists and others presenting their contentions have no obligation to cover both sides of an issue. Their opponents are free to present theirs separately, which the Palestinians do quite effectively.


ELAINE McARDLE illustrates the dilemma that we Americans face when thinking about Israel. I am encouraged by her heartfelt desire to learn more. However, it is clear that she was lobbied well.

She saw the wall, but did she wonder what those on the other side of the wall might have to say? Did she ask to talk to Palestinians who are not the ‘‘moderate’’ ones acceptable to Israel? Did she think to ask the Israelis about equal rights?

She could have listened to people who did not express themselves in the calm, soothing voice of diplomacy. They would more likely have been seething with an anger that she would not find comfortable. Would she have understood? Would she have been persuaded?

I would like to encourage McArdle to continue her quest for understanding. Her examination of the means by which she and we Americans have been persuaded is an excellent first step.

After 60 years of war, it is a subject that we Americans need to discuss realistically. It is a discussion that both we and the Israelis need to have.

Londonderry, N.H.

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