The Democrats and Palestine

Hubris leads directly to disrespect. Back in power for just a handful of weeks, Rep. Gary Ackerman, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, is already displaying his disregard for the Peace Movement, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, the unfairly maligned progressive Jewish community, and, well, generally anyone who favors a fair debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No such debate will occur on Valentine’s Day when Ackerman’s Subcommittee hosts a stacked and biased witness list. There to present will be David Makovsky, Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Martin S. Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, and the infamous Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum. The latter is akin to a modern-day McCarthy with his close ties to Campus Watch and its classroom monitoring work.

None of the three witnesses can be described as a vigorous advocate on behalf of Palestinian rights and freedom. They have taken a go-slow approach on peacemaking, contributing to a cruel delaying of the day of freedom for millions of men, women, and children in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post of 13 February notes how he was convinced for the case for war with Iraq by the “usual experts in and out of government.” This is precisely what we have here with Makovsky and Indyk. Pipes, meanwhile, is so far to the right that some Democrats will come away thinking Makovsky and Indyk are moderates on the hearing’s topic of “Next steps in Israeli-Palestinian peace process. ”

They are not. Makovsky defended the illegal separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank when he testified on the Hill in 2004 alongside his WINEP colleague, Amb. Dennis Ross. Indyk recently hosted Israel’s leading racist, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was a featured speaker at a Saban conference in Washington, DC. While an invitation does not necessarily constitute endorsement, it did much in this instance to bolster Lieberman as a legitimate politician.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the speaker selection is that the biased list comes at a time when debate is opening up on Israel-Palestine in the rest of the nation thanks to the work of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as well as the efforts of President Jimmy Carter. Congress ought not be the last place to have meaningful discussions about Israel and Palestine. Yet members of Congress will not be able to take informed decisions related to issues of life and death in the Middle East if they shut out the voices of a whole segment of the debate. This is poor form and it is dangerous both to American national security interests and the prospects for a just regional peace.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a national coalition of more than 200 organizations, sent a letter to Rep. Ackerman on 8 February recommending several witnesses for the hearing. As of this writing, all have been ignored. Indeed, something of a rejoinder was received the very next day when Pipes was added to the list, albeit at the request of the Republican minority and not the Democrats. The bottom line is that the Democrats continue to ignore the growing Peace Movement on both Iraq and on ending the Israeli occupation.

The Subcommittee has made a real mistake in distancing itself from recommended witnesses Naseer Aruri, Phyllis Bennis, Nadia Hijab, Rashid Khalidi, Saree Makdisi, and Joseph Massad. Instead, the Subcommittee prefers the failed wisdom of an old guard that has contributed mightily to setting the region on fire. Further setbacks lie ahead when new voices clamoring at the door to be let in are not added to the debate. Hubris led us into the Iraq conflagration and is quite capable of helping to steer the wrong course on Israel/Palestine as well.

MICHAEL F. BROWN is a Fellow at the Palestine Center. His views are his own. Previously, he was executive director of Partners for Peace and Washington correspondent for Middle East International. He is on the Board of Interfaith Peace-Builders.