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The American Left is notoriously anti-Israel. It seems that if one is pro-choice, or pro-gay, or even pro-civil liberties, one is almost automatically against the evil theocratic military machine dug in unfairly in amongst its peace loving neighbors.
Nevertheless, as I set out to continue my efforts to end the Iraq War by working as a summer intern at a major anti-war coalition based in New York City, a coalition famous for organizing some of the largest demonstrations against the war, I expected the activists who worked there to be different. I expected individuals dedicated to ending all war and the atrocities that are chained to any and every armed conflict to be able rise above the quid pro quo political banter that has dominated the Arab-Israeli conflict from its conception and simply work for peace. I was wrong.
As an intern at this coalition I have the privilege of attending the weekly national staff meetings. These communions aren't normally animated by lively or heated debate and usually run their course calmly and smoothly.
Yet, as I sat on a donated chair, around a donated table, in a donated midtown office, among a staff whose livelihood rests on the charitable consciences of others, I heard a remark that forced me to rock the boat.
The National Coordinator was informing those present about the prospects of acquiring posters that said in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, "An eye for an Eye leaves the whole world blind."
I thought quoting Gandhi is always appropriate when advocating for peace. However, my contemplation was interrupted by the head organizer's objection to the poster. He complained the slogan selected to print was misrepresentative of Israel's disproportionate response to Hizbullah's attacks on northern Israel. The humming of the air conditioner became the dominant noise in the room until I blurted out, "What? Do you expect Israel to use Katyushas?"
After the national coordinator explained to the head organizer that my point was that war is not a game that is played fairly, he decided to turn up the gas; the head organizer then informed me Israel was carrying out a program of ethnic cleansing.
Immediately, the rapes of the ethnic Albanians by the Serbs in Kosovo crashed into my mind. If I was any more shocked I couldn't have forced the word "explain" out of my mouth.
According to the head organizer, Israel was ethnically cleansing Lebanon of the Lebanese because it had warned inhabitants of targeted areas to evacuate for their own safety. Furthermore the Israel Air Force had forcibly prevented those who left from stampeding to get back to a war zone by destroying the roads.
Maybe the aforementioned acts fit the technical definition of ethnic cleansing, maybe they don't. Nevertheless, this is not the point. The point is that the head organizer, a paid full-time member of the national staff of the coalition, hypocritically ignored the fact that 125,000 Israelis had been driven to the southern city of Eilat to avoid Hizbullah's bombardment; ethnic cleansing by his own definition. Moreover, the head organizer severed the discussion before I could conclude my point. An organization dedicated to peace cannot pick sides and play politics when both parties are being violent and it certainly cannot silence the voice of a different opinion.
The aforementioned coalition, and the entire American peace movement need to decide whether it is an open-minded body, dedicated to the cessation of war and the beginning of friendship, or a platform for one-sided Israel bashing.
If they decide on the former they must condemn the violence being carried out on both sides and acknowledge the fact that peace can only be made by sovereign elected governments, not rogue militias whose fundamental goals include the complete destruction of their neighbors. And most importantly, the peace movement must avoid fueling the fires of hate with biased accusatory rhetoric, for these fires already engulf the region, covering the path towards reconciliation.