As a Jew, I would be absolutely appalled to read these sentences: “The Huckabeeans also heard from Muhammed Tamimi, national president of the Arab Organization of America, who explained to the group, according to
Huckabee, that there’s really no such thing as the ‘Jewish People.’ ‘The idea that they have a long history here, dating back hundreds or thousands of years, is not true,’ Huckabee said.”
In fact, what appeared in the front-page article of today’s Washington Post read, “The Huckabeeans also heard from Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, who explained to the group, according to Huckabee, that there’s really no such thing as the ‘Palestinians.’ ‘The idea that they have a long history, dating back hundreds or thousands of years, is not true,’ Huckabee said.”
Aside from mentioning that prospective GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and his group would not be visiting Ramallah or meeting with any Palestinians, there was no mention of the Palestinians in this piece at all. Can any of us imagine an article in one of America’s most prominent newspapers where such a claim was made about Jews or Israelis without a single quote from a Jewish source in response, or at the very least a challenge to that claim by the author?
Perhaps the author of the article, William Booth, thought the assertion so absurd it needed no rebuttal. But in fact, Huckabee and Klein espoused a view of the Palestinians that a great many Americans hold, and one that even more Americans do not have the knowledge of Palestinian history to judge, and might just accept on faith.
Indeed, such statements are the very definition of “de-legitimization,” a charge Israel and her supporters throw around constantly. It is an offense to Jews when they are told they have no connection to the Land of Israel. It should be no less so for Palestinians to be told they do not exist. Yet somehow, in American discourse, the former is, rightly, treated with disdain while the latter is perfectly acceptable.
Let’s try on another picture. A Muslim cleric, a formerly powerful politician with ambitions of returning to even higher office, leads a tour of his devout followers and fellow travelers to Palestine. He takes them on a tour of the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Hebron Mosque, and the tombs of a list prophets revered in Islam. They meet no Israeli Jews though they do view the settlement of Har Homa from nearby Bethlehem.
Let’s say this cleric not only denied any Jewish connection to the land, but had another Muslim cleric tell a reporter that “… if you are a friend of Palestine, you are okay. If you’re an enemy, you’re in real trouble. God doesn’t change his mind about this stuff. The Qu’ran is an eternal book.” Would this not send chills down most American and Israeli spines? And wouldn’t this be called incitement to violence?
Well, substitute “Israel” for “Palestine” and the Bible for “the Qu’ran” and those were the words of Rev. Steve Sturgeon, a retired military chaplain and a pastor who was part of Huckabee’s entourage. And let’s not kid ourselves: his words reflect the views of a significant number of Americans. This is not just about Mike Huckabee, a man who is very unlikely to win the race for the White House next year. In part, though, it is about the very significant and influential segment of American society he represents.
Huckabee’s promotion for the Holy Land Tour on his website boasts that pilgrims will get to tour many biblical and historical sites, hear from Huckabee and other famous people about their views and experiences of the Holy Land and Israel’s value to the United States, and will meet with top Israeli officials. Interestingly, and unsurprisingly, there is not a mention anywhere of the Christian Palestinians who actually live in the Holy Land.
It is disturbing enough that these views have influence in the discourse around American policy toward Israel. But perhaps even more disturbing is the Washington Post allowing itself to be turned into a platform for this kind of radicalism.
The byline of the article locates the piece in “Masada, Israel.” The idealized story of Masada permeates the article, and clearly left Huckabee and his crew awestruck. Booth uncritically quotes Huckabee and zealously fills in more details himself about the Sicarii “rebels’” heroic stand at Masada, ending with a Roman siege and the decision by the Sicarii to die rather than live as Roman slaves.
These are the “Jews” these Christians admire, and about whom they beseech God in their prayers to “give us some of their backbone.” In fact, the Sicarii were a band of assassins, named after their long and curved daggers who committed atrocities, often against other Judeans. These included the massacre of 700 women and children in a raid on a Judean village, and, perhaps most tellingly, destroying the food supply in Jerusalem in order to force the people to war rather than the peace they were trying to negotiate with the Romans.
That would seem to describe al-Qaeda a lot more closely than the Huckabeean view of Israelis. But those suicidal assassins who attacked civilians are the “Jews” Huckabee and his crew admire, and why shouldn’t they? The view that was reinforced for them on this trip is one that rejects peace in favor of Israeli domination of another people and offers no sympathy for civilians harmed on a daily basis by the ongoing conflict and occupation.
But the more important question is why the Washington Post delivers their readers the Huckabeean view of Israel, and its concomitant blindness to Palestinians, with no critique and no counter-balance. Supporters of Israel would never tolerate the reverse, and rightly so. For all the activism aimed at protecting Israel’s image in the media, pro-Israel forces never have to contend with something like this on the front page of one of America’s leading dailies. And that tells us a great deal about why Americans have the one-sided view of the conflict that we do.