Israel's handling of last summer's controversial conflict in Lebanon should serve as a model for the United States and its own war in Iraq, a leading US congressman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "America can learn from Israel to the extent that the Israelis knew after 34 days that it was not the success they had anticipated and that it was time to pursue alternative courses," said House Foreign Affairs Middle East and South Asian Subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-New York). "We have not learned that, and we continue to be stuck in the mud." He praised Israel for understanding that "there had to be a complete top to bottom, bottom to top review" of the military before then acting on that review, referring to the Winograd Report's findings on the government's mistakes during the conflict.
The second Lebanon war: JPost.com special report
At the same time in America, he charged, "We have an administration that's still in denial."
In his conversation with the Post, Ackerman also criticized, albeit less harshly, the American government and Jewish community for not emphasizing the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab lands at the same time that the Palestinian refugee issue has gained such traction.
"We've not done a good job historically in pointing to their plight because we were realistic â€¦ and successful," said Ackerman, who is himself Jewish. "We shouldn't have a separate standard for Jews because of their success. That's discrimination."
Ackerman held a hearing on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab Lands this week, the first such Congressional hearing, according to his staff.
In introducing the hearing, Ackerman declared that, "The reality is that an exchange of populations has taken place; that the Jews of Iran and the Arab countries are not going back to those lands; and that the Palestinian refugees will not be returning to homes in the State of Israel."
Still, Ackerman questioned President George W. Bush's decision to write a letter in 2004 [seeming to rule out] the Palestinian "right of return" to Israel, saying he had "deep concerns about the wisdom of the United States handicapping one party to a negotiation before the deal-making begins."
A fellow Democratic representative from New York, Jerrold Nadler, however, would like to see Bush do more on the issue of refugees, including Jewish ones. He introduced a bill earlier this year urging the president to ensure that when the issue of Middle East refugees is discussed in international forums, any reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similar reference to other refugee populations.
"The suffering and terrible injustices visited upon Jewish refugees in the Middle East needs to be acknowledged," said Nadler, who touted his bill at a B'nai B'rith breakfast held to honor Jewish members of Congress on Wednesday morning. "It is simply not right to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees, who, in fact, outnumbered their Palestinian counterparts."
Ackerman said that just holding the hearing helped advance his efforts to bring greater attention to the experience of Jewish refugees, with many of his colleagues telling him they were unaware of the issue before this week.
Ackerman recently returned from a trip to the Middle East, where he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) and other Israeli officials.
He also met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Ziad Abu-Amar and Finance Minister Salaam Fayad. Israel refuses to have contact with the latter two because they are part of the Hamas-led coalition, though both are themselves independent. Ackerman termed this policy difference between the US and Israel merely a "nuance."
He also said that he heard "good things" from the Palestinians on the need for negotiation with Israel rather than violence, but said more needs to be done to bolster moderates.
Ackerman's subcommittee will hold hearings with General Keith Dayton on issues including his plan for better training of Palestinian forces loyal to Abbas.
"There are good guys and bad guys," Ackerman said of the struggle between Abbas's Fatah party and Hamas. "We shouldn't be waiting for the good guys to win. We should be helping them."