David Harris

Michelle Alexander’s NY Times column hits new low

It's replete with errors, shows no understanding of -- or sympathy for -- Israel, and dishonors Martin Luther King

Reading Michelle Alexander’s column, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” in The New York Times (Jan. 20) isn’t for the faint of heart. So many questions swirl around it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, I wish I could say I was surprised to see such a flawed and polemical piece in the paper, but then again the Times isn’t exactly new to such pieces, at least when it comes to Israel-related matters.

Second, outrageously, Ms. Alexander tried to link her column to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., though she presents no convincing evidence that he would have agreed with her premise. To the contrary, the Dr. King that AJC leaders worked with on civil rights and other pressing issues, in the 1960s, was a staunch friend of Israel (and the mainstream Jewish community). And, of course, the paper played along by featuring the column prominently on the eve of the national holiday honoring his legacy.

Third, as the title suggests, Ms. Alexander sees herself as heroically “breaking the silence” and taking on those dark (Jewish?) forces trying to stifle any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Ms. Alexander, what silence are you breaking? The paper you wrote your column for, and countless others, have been publishing such pieces for decades. Fortunately, they’ve had little resonance with the American people, who instinctively understand the Israel story and its importance to us as Americans.

And fourth, there are countless outrages in the column itself.

She unabashedly applauds boycotts of Israel; falsely accuses the Jewish state of apartheid; approvingly cites extremist voices like the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace; endorses the Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean the end of Israel; veers dangerously close to anti-Semitism with references to Jewish money; and charges the country with endless acts of oppression against both its Arab citizens (who, in reality, are fully active in just about every aspect of Israeli life, including the Supreme Court) and Palestinians.

Nowhere does she show any understanding of Israel, much less even an ounce of sympathy for its unenviable situation in a rough-and-tumble region where the weak don’t last long and, tragically, peace has proved elusive.

For her, Israel was settled by European Jews, suggesting outsiders, but there is no reference to the nearly one million Jews expelled from Arab countries, most of whom thankfully found refuge in Israel and today comprise the majority of the Jewish population, much less to the historical links of the Jewish people to the land.

Nowhere does she reference Israel’s multiple and well-documented efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, beginning the year before the state was reborn in 1948 and continuing into the 21st century. Israel is blamed nonstop for the current situation, while the Palestinians are blameless. Does Ms. Alexander have a clue about the actual history and its endless layers of complexity, or does she live in a sanitized world of simplistic narratives that perhaps feed a larger world view?

Nor is there any explanation of how Israel came into possession of the West Bank in 1967 or how it sought a land-for-peace deal immediately afterward, only to be rejected by the Arab League in September 1967.

Of course, there’s not even a hint that, absent a peace partner to achieve a two-state accord, Israel tried at the very least to minimize the impact of occupation, as evidenced by a growing Palestinian population, rising life expectancy, improving standard of living, substantial self-government, and the founding of several universities in the West Bank.

Gaza is described as occupied by Israel, even as it withdrew lock, stock, and barrel in 2005. Hamas is mentioned in passing, but not as a terrorist organization determined to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamist state. What exactly is Hamas in Ms. Alexander’s mind? Is it a liberal, democratic, non-violent, and peace-seeking group? I can’t imagine that Dr. King would have thought so.

A reader of Ms. Alexander’s column would have no hint at all about terrorism from Gaza and the West Bank; the thousands of missiles fired indiscriminately by Hamas and Hezbollah; the many Israeli families that have buried their relatives because of such attacks; or, for that matter, Israel’s full-throttled pluralism and its age-old yearning for enduring peace and coexistence.

And, last but not least, I can’t help but wonder how Dr. King would have reacted to such a piece that seeks to shamelessly exploit his memory —and hijack his legacy — by turning an outspoken friend of Israel into a would-be moral cudgel against the world’s only Jewish-majority country. My guess is he would have been appalled.

About the Author
David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
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