In which Richard Silverstein misses the point

Richard Silverstein is one of my favorite writers on Israel-Palestine.  He’s a principled liberal with an eye for political realities, and an unwavering dedication to peace.  He tends to be one of the best at cutting through whatever the day’s talking points and divisive arguments are (from both the right and the left) and really getting to the heart of matters.  And he’s superb at contextualizing current events in terms of the larger political and cultural struggle for peace.

All of this is to say that he’s generally pretty awesome.  Which is why I was a bit disappointed to see his post from last week fisking an Israel lobby “stop Iranian nukes by ending foreign oil dependence” petition.

I kid you not, the best that the brightest minds behind the Israel lobby could devise in preparation for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s upcoming appearance at the UN in New York is taking out this full-page ad in the N.Y. Times, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and saying the way to stop Iran’s ‘unquenchable thirst’ for nuclear weapons is to stop using oil.

I agree with Silverstein that Iran is too often used by Israel apologists as a distraction from more pressing issues, and I too resent the tendency of the organizations behind this ad (according to Silverstein they include AIPAC, the ADL, B’nai Brith, and others) to paint complicated issues as simple goodguys-vs.-badguys scenarios, but criticizing someone who advocates energy independence puts you in a tricky position.  Silverstein does address this near the beginning of his post:

Well, OK, not all oil, we can keep guzzling good ol’ U.S. crude, but “foreign” oil is bad.

He’s definitely hitting the nail on the head here: focusing only on foreign oil dependence tends to refocus the debate on energy instead of climate change (which in my opinion is the wrong focus).  That being said, anyone paying any attention to the domestic political discourse on climate change knows that some of our strongest allies are the guys with national security credentials and the businesspeople.  The former are already on board; the challenge now is wooing the latter.  The tripartisan (it is ridiculous that that is even a term) climate bill that was supposed to be introduced last week made some pretty excellent progress on this, but it’s slow going.  For some inspiration, here’s what Thomas Friedman thinks Obama should say:

“Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I’m not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream ‘carbon tax!’ Well, what do you think you’re paying now to OPEC? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It’s just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don’t care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists.”

Climate change is as much, if not more, of a threat to our national security as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The two issues make for strange bedfellows, to be sure.  But right now we need more bedfellows, not less.  These are global problems, and if takes the whole globe in bed together to find solutions, then so be it.

3 Responses to “In which Richard Silverstein misses the point”

  1. Nativism, anyone?

    Anonymouse · May 4th, 2010 at 4:04 pm
  2. [...] wrote a new post for Jewschool yesterday and forgot to put up a link then.  Enjoy! Wednesday, May 5th 2010, 10:07 [...]

    New (sort of) Jewschool post | · May 5th, 2010 at 10:17 am
  3. [...] I’ve differed with Richard Silverstein before, and I find myself doing so again today.  I joined an FB group he created, but upon further thought, I’ve decided to leave it.  This is due to a very specific grievance; the second item on the group’s manifesto reads “2. that the U.S. government condemn unequivocally the attack on a Turkish ship in international waters; and join other EU countries in withdrawing our ambassador.” [...]

    Why I left the “Protest Gaza Flotilla Massacre, Demand UN Investigation, End to Gaza Siege” Facebook group | · June 1st, 2010 at 9:05 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik