Monday, August 31, 2009

Christian Science Monitor: Erasing Jewish Rights


Walter Rodgers goes far beyond a simple debate over settlements.

Rightly or wrongly, the settlement issue continues to dominate headlines and op-ed columns. Settlements are by no means a consensus issue both inside and outside of Israel and the debate surrounding them is part of a legitimate public discourse. An op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor by former CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rodgers, however, presents a distorted and one-sided argument that goes beyond the settlement issue, touching instead on the very legitimacy of Jewish rights to the land of Israel.

Here, we deconstruct some of Rodgers' more egregious statements.

"Does any serious observer of the region believe that Israel's appetite for land – owned and occupied for generations by Palestinians – is going to abate?"

Considering Walter Rodgers spent 5 and half years living in Jerusalem, his grasp of history is evidently very weak. Rodgers ignores continuous Jewish habitation dating back over 3,000 years while exaggerating Palestinian claims. This, despite the fact that no independent Arab or Palestinian state has ever existed on the land that is now Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In addition, how can Rodgers accuse Israel of an uncontrollable "appetite for land" while ignoring Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005?

"Just weeks ago, the Israeli government evicted two extended Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem, clearing the way for more houses for Jews in traditionally Palestinian neighborhoods."

Once again failing to add context, Rodgers fails to mention that the two Palestinian families were evicted for non payment of rent following a long and drawn out legal dispute. Instead, Rodgers prefers to imply far more nefarious motives behind Israeli actions which were the result of Israel's court system and not the government as Rodgers charges.

"Israeli settlements have become a kind of concrete kudzu to Palestinians. The Fatah party recently renewed its commitment to resisting them, holding that "the Palestinians have the right to resist the Israeli occupation by all possible means.""

Is Rodgers suggesting that threatening violence and a return to suicide bombings and terror is understandable or acceptable due to the existence of settlements? The extremist language employed by Fatah at its recent convention did not apply specifically to settlements but to all Israeli presence in the West Bank and beyond.

Rodgers appears to be undisturbed by Palestinian threats of violence but excessively concerned by building taking place within pre-existing settlements. This willingness to excuse or look the other way when Palestinians threaten or carry out violence is symptomatic of a double standard in the media and diplomatic processes.

"Further, religious and ultrareligious Jewish settlers insist they have divinely bestowed title to the land. Few passages in the Bible are more frightening to Arabs than Deuteronomy 11:24:

"Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.""

Attributing biblical passages to imply Israeli designs on vast tracts of the Middle East far beyond the borders of Israel or even the West Bank is a staple of Arab conspiracy theories. We seriously doubt that Arabs are genuinely frightened by this biblical passage, which has never been adopted as a policy by any Israeli government.

In stark contrast, the Hamas Charter, basing itself on religious claims, calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, while even the PLO's charter has never been amended to remove this threat. Rodgers may instead wish to ask whether Jews should be the ones fearful of the very real religious and ideological agenda promoted by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the global Jihad movement.

"From the air, these settlements appear a terrestrial octopus"

While Rodgers may not have meant to draw upon such imagery, it is difficult not to remember where the cartoons and descriptions of a tentacled octopus have appeared before in relation to Jews and Zionists - straight from the pages of Der Sturmer and various anti-Semitic Arab publications.

"Yet, the moral difficulties of moving indigenous peoples off the land by subterfuge or force are obvious."

Rodgers may use different terminology but the meaning is clear - the accusation of "ethnic cleansing". Of course, the charge is false, as demonstrated by the exponential growth of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past decades.

Rodgers goes on to play up Jewish power over the US political system and to question the alignment of Israeli and US interests a la Walt and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby. See here for more on the US-Israeli special relationship and a rebuttal of similar charges to those in Rodgers' op-ed.

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