Strange ob­ses­sion

The Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES -

Re­ly­ing on Oc­cam’s Ra­zor, Car­o­line B. Glick (“The State Depart­ment’s strange ob­ses­sion,” Our World, Septem­ber 12) as­serts that de­ci­sion-mak­ers have “‘is­sues’ with Jews and with Is­rael” (a thinly veiled al­le­ga­tion of in­sti­tu­tional an­ti­semitism).

Dur­ing my nearly quar­ter of a cen­tury at State, I con­cluded that Amer­i­can diplo­mats were nei­ther more nor less an­tisemitic than the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion as a whole. They tended to make de­ci­sions – even those that seemed ir­ra­tional – for rea­sons other than the world’s old­est prej­u­dice. In re­sponse to Glick’s rhetor­i­cal “Per­haps there is another ex­pla­na­tion for this con­sis­tent pat­tern of be­hav­ior...” here are a few pos­si­bil­i­ties:

Diplo­mats who de­cide to fo­cus on the Mid­dle East have many Arab coun­tries in which to serve, and only one Jewish state. When choos­ing a lan­guage to study, they tend to opt for Ara­bic rather than He­brew be­cause it of­fers a much wider range of over­seas as­sign­ments. They then spend years in for­eign posts im­bib­ing the Arab party line. This per­spec­tive will be ab­sorbed by even the most crit­i­cal of­fi­cer and could ex­press it­self sub­con­sciously later on. This “cli­en­ti­tis” must be dis­tin­guished from con­scious an­ti­semitism.

Is­rael has failed to of­fer a con­sis­tent and con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tive to the Arab po­si­tion. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s most re­cent term be­gan over eight years ago, yet his vi­sion for the re­gion is still un­clear. The Arab Peace Ini­tia­tive re­mains on the ta­ble, and Pales­tinian lead­ers speak in­ces­santly about their dream of an in­de­pen­dent state with spe­cific bor­ders. In re­sponse, Ne­tanyahu of­fers only neb­u­lous as­sur­ances that he wants peace and is will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with­out pre­con­di­tions.

Even when Ne­tanyahu does make a sub­stan­tive state­ment, he is of­ten con­tra­dicted by mem­bers of his govern­ment and he might well back­track in or­der to main­tain his coali­tion. State Depart­ment of­fi­cials rea­son­ably won­der: What are Ne­tanyahu’s fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples? His red lines? His ul­ti­mate goal? How far do Jewish rights to their own land ex­tend?

Con­trary to our parochial view, the world does not re­volve around Is­rael. State Depart­ment de­ci­sion-mak­ers op­er­ate ac­cord­ing to their view of what is best for the US. Their de­ci­sions – right or wrong – may be based on re­alpoli­tik in which the Arab coun­tries, taken as a group, are seen as much more crit­i­cal to US se­cu­rity than a sin­gle Jewish state. Re­alpoli­tik, by def­i­ni­tion un­prin­ci­pled, is not nec­es­sar­ily an­tisemitic.

State Depart­ment of­fi­cials may hon­estly be­lieve they are act­ing in Is­rael’s best in­ter­ests. In this pa­ter­nal­is­tic view, it’s rea­son­able to force the Is­raeli “child” to swal­low bit­ter medicine so that the ill­ness that threat­ens its ul­ti­mate sur­vival may be cured be­fore it is too late.

There are sev­eral other pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions for the many State Depart­ment poli­cies with which we dis­agree, not the least of which is sheer in­com­pe­tence leav­ened with a to­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing of the cul­tural and re­li­gious di­vi­sions in this part of the world. The facile con­clu­sion that these de­ci­sions are based on mal­ice to­ward the Jewish peo­ple and their state is un­war­ranted and un­help­ful. EFRAIM A. CO­HEN Zichron Ya’acov The writer is a re­tired Amer­i­can di­plo­mat.

Car­o­line B. Glick sug­gests an anti-Is­rael bias at the US State Depart­ment based on two is­sues. The first is the fate of Iraqi Jewish ar­ti­facts that the United States in­sists on re­turn­ing to Iraq. The sec­ond con­cerns the depart­ment’s pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to have Is­rael re­turn $75 mil­lion promised by Congress as sup­ple­men­tary aid.

For me, the first is­sue is most dis­tress­ing.

As it hap­pens, ap­prox­i­mately three years ago, the Amer­i­can Jewish His­tory Mu­seum of New York dis­played a trav­el­ing ex­hibit of a small sam­pling of Iraqi Jewish ar­ti­facts that had been cleaned and re­stored by the Na­tional Ar­chives in Wash­ing­ton. These were items res­cued from a wa­ter­logged base­ment of the Iraqi se­cret ser­vice, just as de­scribed in the ar­ti­cle.

Among the items were fam­ily pho­to­graphs, let­ters, me­men­tos, diplo­mas and many such per­sonal items hav­ing no in­trin­sic value other than sen­ti­men­tal. Iraqi Jews now liv­ing in New York came by to view the ex­hibit and I still re­mem­ber the ex­cite­ment of one gen­tle­man who rec­og­nized his fifth-grade re­port card. He was dis­mayed that it would not be re­turned to him and took co­pi­ous pho­to­graphs.

I asked one Iraqi Jewish woman why there was no protest de­mand­ing the re­turn of these items. She said Iraqi Jews were still very fright­ened. They ap­pre­ci­ated the haven they had found in the US but did not un­der­stand that in a democ­racy, voic­ing ob­jec­tions did not mean in­grat­i­tude, nor that there were no penal­ties, such as ex­pul­sion from the coun­try, for such acts.

There is no doubt that the re­turn of these Jewish items to what is now a Jew-free Iraq, where they had been looted, is out­ra­geous. If any­one doubts the ab­sur­dity, read Iraq’s Last Jews: Sto­ries of Daily Life, Up­heaval and Es­cape from Mod­ern Baby­lon by T. Mo­rad and D. Shasha. This book is a col­lec­tion of vi­gnettes shared by Iraqi Jews de­scrib­ing how hor­rific their ex­is­tence be­came once Is­rael was de­clared an in­de­pen­dent state and how they ul­ti­mately had to flee for their lives, leav­ing ev­ery­thing be­hind, in­clud­ing pho­to­graphs, let­ters and re­port cards.

In the name of jus­tice and de­cency, these items ought to be do­nated to the Baby­lo­nian Jewry Her­itage Mu­seum in Or Ye­huda. The mu­seum could then em­bark on an am­bi­tious pro­gram to re­turn these items, wher­ever pos­si­ble, to their right­ful own­ers.

We Jews pride our­selves on prac­tic­ing ha­she­vat avaida, the re­turn of lost ob­jects. Our govern­ment, as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of world Jewry, should pres­sure the State Depart­ment to do no less. SARAH PEARL Jerusalem

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