From the heart of Jewish journalism- are we stifling debate?

James Besser is a respected Washington correspondent for NY Jewish Week whose reports appear in many other Jewish media outlets as well. He is a pro-Israel partisan in the sense that many Jewish-media journalists are, many sincere and some feigning extra enthusiasm just to keep their positions. I have no idea whether he is the former or the latter. But in the case of Gaza, for example, he says he “doesn’t disagree” with the assertion that Israel “was justified” in its use of overwhelming military force during Cast Lead. Which is why it’s so remarkable to see a blog post by him called “Stifling Debate about Gaza”

Besser points to Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper which recently editorialized what to much of the world seems obvious, that Operation Cast Lead has been completely ineffective in achieving greater security for Israel. “The time has come,” said Ha’aretz, “to rethink Israeli strategy in Gaza.” Citing its ineffectiveness, they then call for open crossings between Israel and Gaza.

After quoting Ha’aretz, Besser says:

What I’m wondering: wouldn’t any American Jewish group making such an argument be tarred as a violator of the pro-Israel orthodoxy, shunned, called “dangerous” to the Jewish state?

I’m not saying Israel’s Gaza policy is wrong.

From my safe perch in  Washington, I honestly don’t know what the best solution is to the Gaza-West Bank split, the tightening grip of Hamas on the strip and the fact the terrorist group doesn’t show any sign of moving beyond its goal of wiping Israel out.

I am saying there’s something disturbing about the growing determination to stifle debate in an American Jewish community with a multiplicity of pro-Israel views. Israelis engage in vigorous debate about these issues all the time, but apparently our own leaders believe that support for Israel is so shaky here that we can’t raise issues like whether or not the Gaza blockade is in Israel’s long-term security interests.

I also find it peculiar that when Jewish leaders here talk about Gaza, the only question they address is whether or not Israel is justified in taking harsh measures (their answer: of course, and I don’t disagree).

Lost in the  debate: is there any evidence these policies are working?  Does history suggest they are likely to work in the long term, or just the opposite?  Justifiable policies that produce negative results don’t strike me as a great idea, but perish the thought that we actually talk about that.

This isn’t tangential or a concern pertinent only to Gaza. His point about the refusal to allow debate about the effectiveness of these polices is the heart of the matter, because (aside from the fact that the massive attack on civilians and civilian infrastructure was also grotesquely immoral), if we did, we might have to confront the likelihood that Israel’s military leadership and successive governments, along with the right-wing settler infiltration of those institutions, are actually working entirely at cross-purposes with the majority of American Jews and Israelis who really do just want peace, presumably with a modicum of fairness. What if, by most of American Jewry’s standards, these repressive measures are a massive failure wherever they are deployed, but by their standards, the ongoing chaos and misery, and absence of any peace negotiations, is a huge success?
-cecilie surasky