George S. Hishmeh
Middle East Times
May 8, 2008 - 5:34pm

The May cover of The Atlantic magazine, a respected monthly, was daring. The headline was unbelievable for an American publication: "Is Israel Finished?" The Star of David was larger than the characters on the cover which was adorned by the four colors of the Palestinian flag –– red, white, black and green.

The author is Jeffrey Goldberg, who admits that he as "a young Zionist in the late 1980s ... was drawn to the idea that Israel represented the most sublime and encompassing expression of Jewishness," and so he moved there and joined the Israeli army.

The article leads off with the rift between the discredited and beleaguered Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and a grieving novelist, David Grossman, whose son was killed in the ill-considered Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006. But the author says the rift in fact "mirrors the division confounding Israel," especially whether it can "overcome its paralysis to make the hard choice necessary for its survival ....."

In other words, can Israel, unlike Olmert, support a settlement along the lines favored by Grossman and two like-minded authors, Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua, who all have been "longtime advocates of territorial compromise with the Palestinians, in part for reasons of morality, and in part because they want to protect their country's Jewish majority."

What is eye-catching about the article is that this topic could not have been discussed so boldly and openly at any previous time since Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories more than 40 years ago.

Grossman is now quoted as saying that he is ready to support Olmert "if he believed that the prime minister was truly serious about taking the necessary steps toward reconciliation with the Palestinians" including Hamas. Goldberg fears that "the possibility of a two-state solution is swiftly fading," and is not impressed by what he calls the "farce" of the Annapolis peace conference that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush sponsored late last year.

The morass that the American Jewish community finds itself nowadays has, for example, contributed to the recent founding of more dovish leaders and groups such as J Street Project and the outspokenness of others including the Israeli Policy Forum.

Alon Ben-Meir wrote this week in the Middle East Times that "at the heart of this [Israeli] conundrum is the occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands, a wound that if left unattended will produce a tragedy of a scale we have not yet witnessed." The university professor advises that Israel "must ultimately free itself from the albatross around its neck and relinquish these occupied territories."

But this half a step forward does not necessarily mean that all is well and the influential American Jewish community has become more open-minded.

Take the case of Debbie Almontaser, the Yemeni-American who was forced to step down last August as the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran School, New York City's first public school dedicated to the study of Arabic language and culture. Her resignation was precipitated by the "New McCarthyism and right-wing media attacks," as Democracy Now, a popular liberal radio program, put it after she was painted as an educator with a militant Islamic agenda, some calling it "madrassa."

The issue was touched off when Almontaser innocently responded to a reporter from The New York Post to explain the word "intifada," Arabic for "uprising" or "shaking off" which was on a T-shirt that a young girl, who was not in the school, wore. Her failure to condemn the slogan, which the Palestinians use to describe their uprisings against Israeli occupation, precipitated an outcry for her ouster. She has now filed a lawsuit claiming the Education Department has violated her right to free speech.

Coincidentally, the upcoming conference of the Middle East Studies Association, scheduled to be held in November in Washington, D.C., will have a panel to examine, "Conflict, Diversity and Inclusion in Education."

A participant in the panel will submit an original attempt that explores "the formative history of political Zionism" between 1897-1947 through poster art. The paper, which includes drafts of 12 lessons for high school students, has been prepared by Dan Walsh of Georgetown University and will focus on, among other subjects, the definition of "anti-Semitism," which is currently problematic in the American lexicon.

Walsh, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and who probably has the world's largest collection of Palestinian posters, some 3,000 now available on an impressive slide show, has successfully used it as "an entree point for a deeper, more nuanced discussion of contemporary Middle East politics and history."

He hopes to visit the Central Zionist Archives in Tel Aviv in order to form "a researchable core of material on the subject" in order to serve the goal of making contemporary Middle East studies more accessible and comprehensible.


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