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March 20, 2013

“I’m not interested in nuance!” House Member on Israel-Palestinian Conflict

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/im_not_interested_in_nuance_house_member_on_israel_palestinian_conflict/

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Photo by Larry Downing/REUTERS.

This week I joined with 250 leaders of J Street in Washington, D.C. for a leadership summit. J Street is the largest pro-Israel Political Action Committee in the nation’s capital that gave 50% of all pro-Israel contributions to Senate and Congressional candidates in the 2012 election. (See www.jstreet.org.)

On Tuesday of this week J Street activists held 101 meetings with members of the Senate and House of Representatives. Each delegation made three points:

  • We asked support from the House/Senate member for President Obama’s efforts to help the Israelis and Palestinians achieve a two-state solution through negotiation;
  • Despite aggressive efforts by the Republican party to portray President Obama during the campaign as anti-Israel, 70% of the American Jewish community voted for him just as American Jews have voted for Democratic presidential candidates since World War II, that 80% of the American Jewish community supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and 76% support the President bringing a plan on which the parties may negotiate. These statistics suggest that it is politically popular to support American efforts to assist the parties in negotiating a two-state solution;
  • We urged House members to sign Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill (HR 783) that would make it Congressionally-recognized US policy to use all diplomatic tools, including targeted sanctions and the appointment of a high-level envoy, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I personally visited, along with other J Street activists, six House members. All except one were gracious, open hearted and curious about J Street’s understanding of the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what it would take to achieve a peace agreement.

One member we visited, however, was impatient and hostile to our group from the very beginning even before we sat down, despite the fact that several of us, including me, are his constituents. He interrupted us constantly leading me, as the leader of that delegation of eight, to say to him, “Congressman, you have limited time as do we – I ask you to be quiet and give us a chance to explain why we are here.” He demurred and we were then able to articulate our three talking points.

This meeting was disturbing not because of his lack of civility, though his behavior was rude. Rather, we were shocked by what he said to us.

It is important to acknowledge that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is considered to be among the most complicated, intractable, potentially explosive and destructive, and difficult international problems the United States faces in the world. In order to bring about a two-state resolution, both sides will require extraordinary efforts to listen to each other, grasp the other’s narrative, and appreciate and respect the legitimate fear, distrust and hatred that the other holds (Israeli to Palestinian and Palestinian to Israeli). The nuances of this conflict must be studied and understood by everyone in order to reach a successful resolution of the conflict.

This House member, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and should know better, said, “I’m not interested in nuance. Tell me only the facts I need to know so I can vote. I care what 98% of the population wants and they could care less about nuance. Nuance is a waste of time.”

I was shocked because his attitude is so clearly the opposite of what is needed at this critical time in Israel’s history, and especially from a House member who sits on the very committee that is responsible for foreign relations.

Thankfully, the other five representatives we visited, as well as dozens of other House members and Senators, were very different indeed. They appreciated complexity and wanted very much to do the right thing on behalf of the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.

As we parted each representative we presented an article published in the NY Times by Allen S. Weiner (February 23, 2013) entitled “Why the Middle East Needs America.” 

Professor Weiner is the Director of the Stanford Program in International and Comparative Law and co-director of the Stanford Center on International conflict and Negotiation. He is pre-eminent American expert in conflict resolution. His article is an important read for what will be needed to reach a successful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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