Leading pro-Israeli organizations in the United States have pointedly refused to condemn Ariel Sharon’s inclusion in his new government of the National Union alliance parties whose members ran for election on a platform openly advocating the “transfer” – or ethnic cleansing – of the Palestinians. The National Union is made up of three parties, Moledet, Tekuma and Israel Beitenu and won seven seats in the recent Israeli election.
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), widely regarded as the most influential pro-Israeli group on Capitol Hill, did not issue any statement marking the formation of the new government. Rebecca Needler, AIPAC’s press secretary explained to me that, “we don’t comment on domestic Israeli issues.” When I asked her if she thought that the inclusion in the Israeli government of a party that openly espouses ethnic cleansing would make AIPAC’s advocacy work more difficult, Needler replied, “Israel’s coalition government is representative of a true democracy.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which boasts of “90 years fighting anti-Semitism, bigotry and extremism,” also remained publicly silent. When I called for a comment, a woman named Sarah in the media relations office initially told me that, “we don’t usually issue statements on changes of government in democratic countries.” I later received a call from ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. I asked Foxman if his organization planned to issue a statement commenting on the inclusion of the National Union parties in the Israeli government. Foxman’s first reply was “Why would we?” I countered, “because they ran on a platform in favor of physically removing all the Palestinians from their homeland.”
Foxman said that it is “an overstatement to say that the party ran on a platform of transfer.” He claimed that this was just the personal view of a few individual members. On its website, however, one of the National Union parties says, “Moledet” (“homeland” in Hebrew) is an ideological political party in Israel that embraces the idea of population transfer as an integral part of comprehensive plan to achieve real peace between the Jews and the Arabs Living in the Land of Israel. [sic] ” The party further boasts that, “Moledet has successfully raised the idea of transfer in the public discourse and political arena in both Israel and abroad.”
The National Union’s combined platform states, “Within the framework of any agreement, it is necessary to solve the Palestinian refugee problem – refugees who have spent the past 55 years in refugee camps. The proposed solution is transfer by agreement (population exchange) by which the refugees would be settled in Arab countries in place of Jews who emigrated to Israel from these countries.” More than eighty percent of the population of Gaza and up to forty percent of the population of the West Bank are refugees.
Foxman explained that since “transfer” is not part of the coalition agreement, on which the new Israeli government is built, there was no reason to issue a public comment. “We disagree,” he said, “with many parties on many things, and we don’t make statements about everything.” I asked if he didn’t think the ADL had a special duty to respond to proposals that fit the international legal definition of genocide. Foxman assured me that he thought the idea of transfer was “unacceptable” and “undemocratic,” but made no firm commitment to condemn the new Israeli government for including parties with a clear pro-ethnic cleansing platform. Foxman said he had not read the relevant party platforms “in a while,” a remarkable admission from a man whose organization apparently scrutinizes for evidence of ‘anti-Semitism’ every obscure pamphlet issued in the backstreets of Cairo. “I will go back and read them,” Foxman assured, “and if transfer becomes part of the coalition agreement, then you can be sure you will hear from us.”
The very high tolerance for racist and potentially genocidal ideas that Foxman evinces when they come from Israelis is not evident in other, lesser cases. For example, when the far-right Freedom Party made gains in Austria’s elections in 2000 on an anti-immigrant platform, Foxman issued a statement saying, “It is astonishing that a significant portion of the [Austrian] population is ready to embrace a party and leadership that espouse xenophobic and nativist positions and statements.” (ADL press release, 1 February 2000)
Foxman and ADL President Howard Berkowitz even flew off to Vienna to meddle directly in Austrian politics, and met with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, as well as the president of the Austrian parliament and other senior officials. According to a 28 February 2000 press release, “The Anti-Defamation League has watched the political situation in Austria with great concern. After meeting with elected officials, including President Thomas Klestil, we remain deeply concerned about the decision by Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to include Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party as part of his coalition.”
The idea of “solving” the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is gaining increasing exposure in the United States as well as in Israel. In February 2002, the ubiquitous daily USA Today published an op-ed calling for “resettling” all the Palestinians in Jordan, and in May 2002, then US Republican Majority Leader, Congressman Dick Armey, explicitly backed transfer on national television. More recently, popular comedian Jackie Mason wrote an article in The Jewish Press headlined, “Time To Threaten Arabs With Mass Eviction.”
It is hardly surprising that such dangerous notions are becoming increasingly mainstream when the leading pro-Israeli organizations utterly fail to condemn them, and not a single American newspaper devotes an editorial to rejecting them. In such an unrestrained atmosphere it cannot be long before Sharon is indeed able to openly espouse “transfer” and still be lauded in Washington as a “man of peace.”
This article was first published in The Daily Star on 3 March 2003