Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Israel and Public Opinion

About a month ago I sat in utter disbelief watching Michael Scheuer being interviewed by Bill Maher on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher." Scheuer is the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden Unit and the author of a new book, "Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq." Bill Maher raised the question of whether Bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalists are always going to be willing to kill Americans and whether U.S. support of Israel has anything to do with that. Here's the exchange that followed along with the extended video clip:

Bill Maher: Would you grant me this, that as long as there's an Israel in the world (and I'm a big supporter of Israel)... and as long as America backs it, the kind of Muslims that take their religion that seriously, that they would strap on a suicide belt, are always going to be out for us and always willing to kill us.
Michael Scheuer: I think we can reduce it very seriously, sir. I disagree with you on Israel, but —
In what way? You're not a supporter?
MS: I hope Israel flourishes. I just don't think it's worth an American life or an American dollar.
BM: You don't -- you don't think the existence of Israel in the world is worth an American life or an American dollar?
MS: Not only Israel, sir, but Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Bolivia. I'm much more—
BM: You're really -- you're really not telling me that Israel is on a par with Saudi Arabia.
MS: I'm telling you -- what I'm telling you, sir, is I'm most interested in the survival of the United States.
BM: But Israel is a democracy in a part of the world that has none.
MS: What -- so what, sir? It doesn't matter to Americans if anyone ever votes again.

While I'm sure there are many CIA officials today who are critical of American support of Israel, I was shocked that this CIA unit director would state that Israel "isn't worth an American life or an American dollar." I was pleased to see Bill Maher (whose show I enjoy very much) stand up for Israel even while his audience and guests were clearly on the other side. Jewish newspapers, for the most part, did not cover Bill Maher's strong defense of the Jewish State. However, Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal apparently felt the same way I did after seeing the Bill Maher-Michael Scheuer exchange (and the Janine Garofalo comments that followed). In his editorial, he wrote:

Maher's reaction was no more composed than my own. The audience tended to side with Schneuer and fellow guest Janeane Garofalo (who knew CIA staffers adhered to the Garofilian understanding of world affairs). What the transcript [of the exchange] doesn't show is Maher's stammering, his awkward comebacks, his vanished confidence as he tried, to his great credit, to process how a man once in charge of keeping us safe could be so clueless as to what endangers us.

There is so much criticism of Israel these days. Much of it takes place on college campuses, but it is spreading and the grossly exaggerated book criticizing the Israel lobby in America by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt is not helping matters.

Jim HillerRecently in Ann Arbor, a very liberal college town that is overwhelmingly anti-Israel, the People's Food Co-Op in Ann Arbor tried to boycott the sale of all Israeli-based products. Fortunately, the Detroit Free Press reported that 77% of the co-op members voted to reject the boycott. It should be no surprise that this boycott was proposed in Ann Arbor, where a small group spends each Saturday morning protesting against Israel outside of Beth Israel, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, while families observe Shabbat inside. Members of that same group once held vigil outside of the Hiller's Supermarket in Ann Arbor. They were objecting to the owner, Jim Hiller (pictured), selling products from Israel. Well, in what was something of a "reverse boycott," these protesters only encouraged pro-Israel supporters to flock to Hiller's supermarket in droves each Sunday morning to purchase the Israeli products. Jim Hiller, a strong supporter of Israel, is the newly elected president of the Jewish National Fund's Michigan Region.

Another potential boycott of Israel that turns out to be in Israel's favor is the failed academic boycott of Israel by Britain's University and College Union. A delegation of university officials from the United Kingdom visited universities in Israel this week. In a JTA report, David Newman, a professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, said, "The boycott debate has, paradoxically, opened a window of opportunity for Israeli and British universities to develop new research links and collaborations."

With so much criticism directed toward Israel, it is imperative that supporters of the Jewish State serve as ambassadors, letting others know how essential Israel is in the world as the only true democracy in the Middle East. It is so important now to visit Israel and to support organizations like AIPAC and the Jewish National Fund. Here is a wonderful video that highlights the many positive aspects of Israel:

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