An Islamic Reformer's Despair Over 'The Israel Card'

Leon Wieseltier expresses the Israel-lobby position by saying, Sure, hold an international conference to fix Iraq, but don’t bring Palestine into it. It’s the same line Kenneth Pollack gave us 4 years ago when he issued his manifesto for disaster (the invasion of Iraq) and said there must be no linkage between reforming Islam and dealing with (nondescript) “troubles” in Israel/Palestine.

They’re wrong; but don’t listen to me.

Ali Eteraz is an important blogger: a liberal humanist Muslim who lives in New York. One of the things Eteraz believes, along with Wieseltier and Pollack, is that the Palestinian issue gets way too much attention in the Islamic world. But that doesn’t mean you can dismiss it.

Eteraz sent me a note, explaining his position.

Psychologically I find myself at a precarious position because I have very rarely seen a way of criticising Israel, and its policies, without that criticism simultaneously connected to a latent anti-Semitism. Having often been victimized by blatant Islamophobia, I have very little interest in assisting in having Jews subjected even to a more latent version of prejudice.

[But] from a pragmatic position, [America’s] unchecked support of Israel hinders the project that I am most interested in: empowering Muslim reformists. I think it is particularly tragic that Israel/Palestine gets so much more play than the multitude of other human disasters in the world. However, that is reality, and one off-shoot of that reality is that one Palestinian death, or one additional Israeli settlement, or one additional story of exclusionary actions by the IDF, does more to set back the efforts of Muslim reformists (especially in the Arab world), than anything else. It gives to the fundamentalists and extremists a way to keep bringing the discourse to a polarizing dead-end…I wish [your blog] would recognize it explicitly: The vast majority of ills in the Muslim world are due to the profusion of tyrants. The tyrants, if removed, will inevitably be replaced by democratic Islamists. The most likely “wing” of the Islamists which will acquire power will be the hardliners because they have the ability to play the Israel Card.

If American realists and pragmatists take away that card from the hardliners by not treating Israel like the golden calf, we can assure that when (and it is inevitable) the democratic Islamists come to power, it will be the moderate, and one hopes, the reformist element of the community. We need to see more… measured and reality-based non-rhetorical non-polarizing discussions about certain acts of Israeli hubris. A vast majority of the Muslim world a) does not want to push the Jews into the sea, b) doesn’t even want the one-state solution, and c) is quite content with the idea of a return to the ’67 borders and a bi-state solution. However, if that doesn’t happen — and it can only happen if the United States permits it — the vast majority of the Muslim world will remain susceptible to the Israel Card. I really wish it was possible to engage in Islamic reform without having at all to deal with the issue of Israel and Palestine, but I am increasingly realizing that it is not so possible. People like me are in need of people like you. I hope that you will talk about Israel in a manner that is so honest and so fair and so humanist that people will be persuaded of your position without the fear of an anti-Jewish backlash. I hope that is not too much pressure.

That’s a humbling statement. It shows how much I can improve my own politics by not losing sight of Islamic tyranny. And it shows how vital we are as the new center: American pluralists who do not demonize Arabs and call for evenhandedness across the region.