Readers of my work will be aware that I have frequently cited the articles of MJ Rosenberg, late of the Israel Policy Forum and who now works for Media Matters. In recent days, MJ has been going absolutely ballistic over the American Task Force on Palestine’s (ATFP) engagement with a group called The Israel Project.
In a recent piece on Talking Points Memo Café, MJ wrote: “…in sucking up to the pro-settler, anti-Palestinian Israel Project, they are trying (yes, I believe it’s intentional) to weaken the progressive forces in the pro-Israel community
like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Jewish Voice For Peace, and the others. After all, if the Palestinians endorse a far right Zionist organization, why should Jews bother with the likes of J Street?”
Where I differ with MJ is that I do not think that ATFP did this intentionally. But other than that, I have to say, I think he’s right about how their recent actions undermine the efforts of Jewish peace groups and also give legitimacy to a group, The Israel Project (TIP), which is not just a right-wing group, but one that has actively promoted hatred and stereotypical images of Palestinians.
The JTA reported on the meeting between Salam Fayyad and TIP, and described ATFP’s involvement this way:
Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, which helped arrange the recent evening with Fayyad, said his organization sees engaging with the mainstream of the American Jewish community as critical to making negotiations work.
“We have to have the best possible relations with the widest swath of Jewish American groups,” Ibish said. “We want to talk with any organization that is interested in a two-state solution.”
The American Task Force on Palestine also dialogues with AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee, he said.
Ibish, however, questioned The Israel Project’s ties with Marcus and other figures who over the years have depicted the whole of Islam as implacably radical.
MJ linked to two articles that do a good job of reflecting the sort of “information” TIP puts out about Palestinians. This group goes well beyond the American Jewish Committee (AJC) or AIPAC in the sort of bile they put out about Palestinians.
Yet ATFP helped bring Salam Fayyad to meet with them in a very public way. And in so doing, ATFP gave an imprimatur of legitimacy to TIP. And MJ is correct in saying that Jews who are not sure which way to turn in supporting different Jewish Mideast groups—whether to swing toward AIPAC on one side or J Street on the other—are going to see this as a reason to stick with the right wing side.
I have known both MJ Rosenberg and Hussein Ibish, who is a senior fellow at ATFP for many years, and I respect them both. In ATFP, I have met ZIad Asali a few times and have had opportunity to have several lengthy conversations with
Ghaith al-Omari, also a senior fellow at ATFP. If Ibish and al-Omari are willful collaborators, they put on a pretty good show, because I do not believe that to be true.
However, that does not mean they cannot be pursuing a poor and doomed strategy. I believe this to be the case, on a number of levels. I have no issue with ATFP reaching out in dialogue to Jewish groups who have never demonstrated that they care one whit about a Palestinian life. I understand and agree that Arab groups should reach out and have frank and open discussion with AJC, or the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), and yes, even AIPAC.
But TIP is a different matter. This is not a group that is a mover and shaker in the Jewish community like the others I named. They promote a completely biased and distorted view of Israel, the Palestinians and the conflict in general. Why ATFP would choose to promote them is beyond me.
Again, my experience of ATFP is positive, and I still believe the body of their work shows them to be sincerely interested in a two-state solution and Palestinian self-determination. But it is also the case that many Arab-Americans see them as collaborators and sell-outs. And the statement they released today, which is no doubt in response not only to MJ but also I’m sure to a number of complaints they likely received after their soiree with TIP does little to reassure anyone who has that belief.
The statement asserts ATFP’s complete independence and their intent and prerogative to engage in dialogue with anyone. In terms of its goals, the last sentence sums it up: “ATFP relies on its own independent evaluation of what policies, programs and activities will best promote peace and the American national interest.”
OK, but notice anything missing there? I mean, after all, isn’t ATFP there to advocate for Palestinian freedom and rights to be respected and reflected in US foreign policy? In fact, other than references to their own name and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinians are not mentioned in the statement at all.
Again, I believe ATFP to be sincerely interested in a just and reasonable resolution to the conflict, and I do not believe they are willfully selling out. But I also believe they are pursuing a very foolish strategy and are not discerning those American Jewish groups which they need to stay away from, like TIP. I was delighted to see a joint statement by ATFP and JCPA welcoming the peace talks a month ago.
But ATFP, if they are to be effective, must not only be a moderate face of pro-Palestinian politics (I believe that Jews, Arabs, and anyone else must have both moderate groups that can talk the DC talk as well as those who can more boldly state positions), but also keep Palestinian interests at the heart of what they do. And that has to mean not embracing anti-Palestinian bigots like TIP.
Postscript: I did contact my friend, Hussein Ibish, and asked for his take on these events. I have not yet heard back from him. I sincerely hope that neither he, nor my friend MJ find anything here to be a personal affront. In any case, should either of them choose to respond to this piece, I will post, reprint or link to any response they may care to offer.
Further to postscript: Hussein just contacted me and let me know he did not receive my e-mail inquiry and I then discovered I had sent it to his old e-mail address.