It’s better not to ask questions

Here’s a lesson in democracy. In preparation for the upcoming November elections a group of local activists sent a questionnaire to the 85 candidates from their county running for seats in the state legislature. They hoped the information they’d receive would encourage debate and allow voters to make better decisions at the ballot box.

What did they get instead? They got slammed. Their survey was called “abhorrent and repulsive,” and the newspaper that brought the charges against them ignored their calls for a reasonable policy debate and did not allow them to respond with as little as a letter to the editor.

The candidate survey from Peace Action Montgomery came under attack for a single question in it, that – you guessed it – addressed the Israeli occupation.

Del. Benjamin Kramer (D-Montgomery), one of the candidates receiving the survey, issued a public letter calling the questionnaire “anti-Semitic” and promising to encourage fellow candidates to ignore it.

Anti-Semitic? You be the judge.

Question 5 is composed of only three sentences. The first two are statements of facts:

1. “In the past, the Maryland state legislature has exercised its power to order the state’s pension system to divest its holdings in companies that are complicit in illegal activities in other countries.”

2. “The World Court has ruled that Israel’s separation wall and settlements in the West Bank are illegal.”

Based on those facts, a legitimate policy question is asked:

“Would you support a similar divestment bill targeting companies that knowingly participate in these illegal activities in Israel?”

The question does not single out Jews. It does not even single out Israel. It does single out actions that break international law. What’s wrong with that?

Ask Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, who described the questionnaire by Peace Action Montgomery as “abhorrent and repulsive.” The JCRC holds its own set of candidate forums and distributes questionnaires to inform its members. But apparently others cannot do as much.

This whole controversy erupted on the front page of the local Washington Jewish Week (“Parsing the D-word”). 

Peace Action Montgomery was quoted in the D-article, but its letter to the editor following the publication of the slander was never printed. In that letter, Peace Action Montgomery called for an open, reasonable debate on the merits of BDS, pro and con. The group even invited the paper that slandered it to co-moderate the debate. But the Washington Jewish Week has chosen to ignore the invitation altogether. What are they so afraid of?

We print here what the Washington Jewish week would not publish:

“Parsing the D Word” (July 29) not only pointed out the controversy over using divestment as a strategy to encourage Israel to abide by international laws regarding human rights; it also included statements by an unidentified Jewish backer to MD Delegate, Jim Pettit, that slammed Peace Action Montgomery as “a façade” and questioned its legitimacy as an organization that truly promotes peace. In reality, anyone who took the time to review our activities would see that we have consistently opposed military interventions and U.S. funding of ALL military occupations, but particularly those in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, since they garner by far the largest chunk of U.S. taxpayer dollars. We also vehemently oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry and are offended at being defamed for our support for human rights, protection of civil rights and opposition to violations of the rule of law.

Our question to the Washington Jewish Week is why the published article neglected to point out that our letter in response to Delegate Kramer invited him to join us in a public debate on the issue of how best to advance a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with Washington Jewish Week as a co-moderator of the event, along with a representative of another organization.

We have had no response to that invitation and so propose it again. We hope that Del. Kramer and/or Washington Jewish Week will accept this invitation for a much needed dialogue on this significant issue.

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