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Last week Amazon altered its Web page featuring Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which previously had prominently featured top journalist Jeffrey Goldberg's critical review in The Washington Post of the former president's controversial book.
Whatever reason Amazon had for making the change, credit for it is being claimed by a group of pro-Palestinian supporters who last month started up an on-line petition protesting the placing of Goldberg's review.
One of the organizers, Henry Knorr, wrote in the Berkeley Daily Planet: "In signing the petition, customers pledged to stop shopping at Amazon if the retailer did not come up with a more balanced page by Jan. 22. A copy of the petition, some 16,200 signatures, and supporting materials were sent to [Jeff] Bezos and his staff on Friday. The following morning, the 'Editorial Reviews' section of the page listing Carter's book was overhauled: It now begins with a glowing tribute from Amazon to the former president's achievements and an interview with him about the book, plus a photo of him and graphic links to some of his other books - all new material, and all of it posted ahead of the negative review."
But that's not enough for Knorr, who adds: "I'm sorry Amazon continues to display the review by Jeffrey Goldberg because I think it's horribly unfair and misleading, and I still wish they would add one of the other reviews we suggested. Some people who signed the petition have let me know that they still intend to close their accounts if Amazon doesn't make more changes."
Among those additional changes is one noted by Philip Weiss, a fervent anti-Zionist journalist who writes a blog for the The New York Observer Web site: "The critics point to Goldberg's background - that he 'is a citizen of Israel as well as the United States, and that he volunteered to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, for which he worked as a guard at a prison for Palestinian detainees.' The critics are saying, you should say where Goldberg's coming from."
Weiss goes on to note that "Goldberg doesn't mention [Israeli] citizenship on his Web site," and then shifts to a general discussion of how "the issue [of dual loyalty] is a long-held concern of Jewish critics of Zionism." (It should be noted here that The New York Observer is no fringe publication, but a sophisticated weekly widely read by the Manhattan elite.)
Weiss is surely being disingenuous. Regardless of what's on Goldberg's Web site, he's certainly made no secret of his past Israeli connection; it's the central subject of his recently published memoir Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide.
There's considerable irony here. Goldberg's book is, in fact, both a scathing critique of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians - based in large part on his own experiences in the IDF Military Police as a guard in the notorious Ketziot detention camp - and an impassioned rationale on why he abandoned his early Zionist dream of becoming Israeli, and returned to his native America after only a few years here.
This is made abundantly clear in a scene recounted in Prisoners when Goldberg (a former colleague of mine) returns to Israel several years later and is detained and interrogated by a Palestinian security official while reporting from Gaza. Asked if he still does IDF reserve duty, he responds: "I used to, I said. But now I'm very much an American... I made this statement to Abu Hamad with unmixed pride. It was not merely a tactical assertion. I was proud to be an American, and was no longer embarrassed to be an American Jew."
That hardly sounds like someone with divided loyalty or an apologist for Israel. The truth is, Goldberg's critique is unacceptable to defenders of Carter's book not because of who he is, but what he says. Although he surely shares many of the former president's complaints about Israeli policies, Goldberg doesn't let the Palestinians off the hook, to the degree that Carter does, for their own actions. Nor does he excuse the former president for the several misrepresentations and factual errors in the book, as so many others have.
THAT KIND of criticism, though, is something Carter's defenders don't want to hear, or even be heard.
It is striking, in the debate over Carter's book, as well as the interrelated one over last year's Walt-Mearsheimer report, how eagerly those who share its views insist that real discussion in the United States over Israeli policies toward the Palestinians is being suppressed by the all-powerful "Jewish lobby" and its defenders. And it is dismaying how quickly they resort to ad hominem attacks on those American Jews who speak out in support of Israel, accusing them of willingly acting against (or in indifference to) their own county's interest.
In point of fact, is there any foreign policy concern since the end of the Cold War that has consistently received more extensive attention in the US media and public sphere, and has generated more debate, than the Israeli-Arab conflict? The problem for unbalanced critics of Israel is not that there isn't debate over the issue, but that there is too much of it - and that for the most part, they consistently find themselves on the losing side of the argument.
In their frustration over this situation, they are shifting tactics, and now are aiming to discredit the winning side.
Odd, isn't it, that nobody in the political and media mainstream thinks it's exceptional, or certainly a sign of divided loyalties, for Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Irish-Americans, Taiwanese-Americans, African-Americans and many other ethnic groups to involve themselves in policy debates (often via official lobbying organizations just like AIPAC) in regard to foreign states to which they have cultural roots or ties.
It seems it is only the all-powerful "Israel lobby," manned by American Jews whose real interests lie outside US borders, which attracts this degree of scrutiny and criticism. And of course, this lobby is what accounts for what are now unprecedented levels of American popular support for Israel - and not the no-brainer argument that whatever its faults, Israel remains the only nation in this region that fully shares Western democratic values at a time when those values are under attack by a radical Islamic terrorism nurtured in the Arab world, and has also consistently shown itself more willing than its enemies to compromise in the search for peace.
So perhaps Goldberg should be embarrassed to be an American Jew, since for defenders of the Carter book, any American Jew who doesn't see the establishment of Israel as the sole original sin of the Mideast conflict fails the litmus test to be a fair player in this discussion - including one who strongly criticizes Israeli policies, and even makes clear his rejection of a personal Israeli identity he once believed in.
In Prisoners, the Palestinian policeman who interrogates Goldberg at one point tells him: "Israel is only strong because it has the great power of America behind it... The only reason America supports Israel is because of the Jewish political power."
It's no surprise he heard such things in Gaza. But I wonder if he expected to hear it spoken so prominently one day back in America.
The writer is director of the Jerusalem office of The Israel Project www.theisraelproject.org