Howard Berman, Peace Now and right-wing pot shotters
01/25/2010 - 17:01
James Besser

So let’s see: J Street is “anti-Israel,” according to the many emails I continue to receive and blogs I read (if Google News Alerts are any measure, J Street must be the single most active topic in the entire known universe).   And Americans for Peace Now (APN) is, by almost any objective standard, further to the left than the upstart J Street.

So how long will it be before the emails start flying about Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who had the audacity to speak before an APN crowd in Los Angeles last week and actually praise the pro-peace process group?

Hmmm. An interesting dilemma for right-wing pot shotters. It’s one thing to slam relatively unknown members of Congress for taking J Street money or criticizing, however mildly, Israel’s policies in Gaza; it’s  something entirely different to slam Berman – a respected pro-Israel stalwart in Congress and now the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

What Berman said at the Yitzhak Rabin Peace Luncheon (no doubt Rabin, too, would be called a self-hating Jew by some,  were he still alive) was this:

“APN is among the most reliable and valuable sources of information about the peace process, especially regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent in my office poring over maps with the knowledgeable and articulate policy director for APN in Washington, Lara Friedman, as well as the Jerusalem expert nonpareil Danny Seidemann, who has frequently accompanied her.”

Berman cited his preoccupation with “issues involving Israel’s security and Middle East peace” during almost three decades in Congress, and what he learned during his first official trip to Israel in 1983: “It was then that I first began to discern the primary problem Israel would have to face if it maintained its hold on the West Bank and Gaza: either it would eventually have to rule over a disenfranchised Palestinian majority, or – if it enfranchised the Palestinians — Israel would eventually cease to be Jewish.  Call it the ‘democracy/demography’ problem. I knew I wanted Israel, as a Jewish homeland, to be a democracy.”

And he said he began to worry about the “immense toll the occupation was taking on Israel.”

Berman gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu credit for taking “difficult decisions” and showing  “greater maturity and pragmatism during this, his second prime ministry, than he did in the 1990s,”  but also chided the Israel government for the Gaza blockade, saying “There is great suffering in Gaza, especially because of Israel’s refusal to allow reconstruction materials to be brought in. The root cause of that suffering, however, is not Israel but Hamas.”

Put those words in the mouth of a congressional back bencher, and the howls from the right would be deafening. But Berman? Is there anybody in our community foolish enough to label the Foreign Affairs chair  anti-Israel?

An interesting dilemma for the right. And a nice moment for APN, which has been eclipsed, at least in terms of public visibility, by the aggressive J Street folks.

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