Maen Rashid Areikat Headshot

Achieving Peace Is the Priority

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AP
AP

We frequently hear unfair charges of being anti-Semitic leveled against us. These charges have been propagated in an attempt to formulate policies favorable to Israel regardless of how twisted the approach is. Yet Semitic refers to a family of languages whose origin is largely Middle Eastern. It does not only refer to Hebrew but also to Arabic, Aramaic and others. Therefore, by virtue of this fact, I'm a Semite as well as all Palestinians and Arabs. In the 1980s, when I studied at Arizona State University, the pro-Israel student kiosk consistently accused us of being anti-Semitic. How can we be anti-ourselves?

As much as we condemn anti-Semitism broadly, understanding it includes us, many pro-Israel groups use anti-Semitism as a scarecrow to suppress and silence criticism of Israeli policies. By labeling scrutiny of Israeli policies as anti-Semitism these groups are conflating the complex dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are doing themselves and Israel a major disservice. If Israel's conflict with Palestine, and the Arab and Muslim worlds, is to come to an end, there has to be a shift in the approach of these pro-Israel groups. One way to begin this shift is to end this misguided use of the term "anti-Semitism."

It is striking that the views adopted by some pro-Israel groups are, in fact, more hard line than some of those on the extreme of the Israeli society. Instead of playing the constructive role of bringing us -- Israelis and Palestinians -- closer, these groups have encouraged Israel to avoid reaching a peaceful resolution to the conflict and sadly continue to do so. These groups cannot be more catholic than the Pope, and it is imperative for them to play a role supportive of U.S. efforts to broker a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace. Making peace in the region requires that many of us join hands in order to achieve that objective. It is no secret that the Jewish-American community generally supports a peaceful resolution based on the two state solution. Many oppose Israeli settlements and human rights violations against Palestinians, demanding that Israel live up to its commitments and obligations. Yet, some pro-Israel organizations falsely claim they represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Jewish-Americans while misrepresenting what that majority actually thinks.

Although, for some time now, this strong and vocal minority dictated the political dynamics of this issue in the U.S., we now have new Jewish American organizations advocating objective and realistic approaches which in turn are moving things in the right direction.

In the midst of our diplomatic and legitimate efforts at the United Nations this past November, Washington became home to a campaign devised to challenge our efforts. I was not surprised to learn which pro-Israel groups were behind advocating cutting aid to Palestine and shutting down the offices of the General Delegation of the PLO to the United States. What really struck me was that one of the co-authors of a letter that was circulated on the Hill at the time on behalf of a major pro-Israel organization was an acquaintance of mine whom I met regularly. I remember that we always agreed that their role here was to bridge the gaps between the parties and facilitate a constructive and vibrant conversation in order to resolve the conflict. Finding out that he was a co-author of the letter was very disappointing, and it reinforced my conviction that this flawed policy of unquestionable support for Israel whether it does right or wrong must be seriously reevaluated.

When we seek peace we are fulfilling an existential objective, not just for ourselves and the Israelis, but also for the entire region and the world. Fueling the conflict and adding more tension are in clear contradiction with U.S. policies and run counter to the interests of all parties. Moreover, using political and economic pressure to coerce Palestinians and others will not contribute to an atmosphere conducive to resolving the conflict. On the contrary, it will only deepen the divide and make a peaceful resolution more remote. Instead of flexing muscles and showing political clout, energy and resources should be directed towards ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and providing both people the opportunity to pursue a dignified, peaceful and stable future.

My advice is to look at the effort of peace making as a win-win situation for all. Yes, some groups want to remain in the business of scoring political points, to weaken the resolve of the U.S., to encourage counterproductive Israeli policies, and to undermine the just struggle of Palestinians for independence and freedom. But, if one's purpose is a true and lasting peace, these are not the kinds of objectives that should be cherished, let alone 'bragged' about.