Responses to Jewsweek’s Endorsement of Sen. Kerry

I penned the presidential endorsement of Senator John Kerry for Jewsweek’s election issue, and it’s provoked some response I feel compelled to respond to — despite being in London and swamped with work here — so here goes:

ivrydov writes, “Bush is the first president who’s treated us right, a straight shooter, no double dealing, cards on the table … Kerry speaks with a forked tongue. He goes to an Arab audience and says what they want to hear; goes to a Jewish audience and says the opposite … Sure go ahead and vote for the guy. You have only your consciences to worry about. We have to think of our bodies.”

The last two lines amount to what another reader, kapoyr18, calls “Israeli guilt trips.” The assertion that because Israelis are the ones risking their lives, we should defer to their judgment when asking which candidate is preferable on the issue of Israel, is silly on the face of it. For one thing, that would amount to outsourcing our political choice to citizens of a foreign country. More significantly, reasonable people can disagree on who is better for Israel’s security just as reasonable people can disagree on who is better for America’s. I would prefer people vote based on a weighing of the substantive evidence and a thorough analysis of policy implications, not the results of a foreign (or domestic) opinion poll.

As for ivrydov’s other argument, that Bush is a “straight shooter” and “Kerry speaks with a forked tongue,” that sentiment was echoed by ibrodsky who called Kerry a “political opportunist.” That is simply not true. It was President Bush who publicly denounced Israel’s security fence on a number of occasions before changing his position and supporting the anti-terror measure earlier this year. It was President Bush who spoke clearly in the 2000 campaign of the need for a “humble foreign policy” and the importance of our alliances, only to pursue a foreign policy that has alienated the vast majority of our allies and has been oft described as arrogance par excellence. He is not a straight shooter; he’s plain spoken, and there is a difference.

John Kerry, on the other hand, has been consistently in favor of mending the rifts with our allies and encouraging greater American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He’s also been consistent since the failure of negotiations in 2000 and 2001 that Arafat is not a partner for peace and that Israel’s right to self-defense is absolute. Both sets of positions are not mutually exclusive. While those with more right-wing positions on Israel may believe that greater American involvement is equal to a disaster for Israel, there are a sizable number of Americans and Israelis (Jewish-Americans included) who believe Israel can only be secured through lasting peace and that such peace cannot be achieved with considerable American involvement.

Their right to that position without spurious criticism as self-loathing Jews or anti-Israel terrorist-appeasers must be as sacred as Israel’s right to self-defense.

JimSilverman writes: “Wahhabi values are so completely incompatible with democracy that differences can be settled only by force or threat of force. Perhaps Mr. Pilcher would like to explain the role diplomacy played in putting an end to slavery, fascism, or communism.”

First of all, Wahhabi values are not synonymous with Islamic values. Our challenge is not to bring make Wahhabism more democratic; we must make the Islamic world more receptive to democracy and thus less receptive to Wahhabist vitriol. That challenge can, and must, be accomplished through diplomatic pressure and grassroots reform in addition to the sometimes necessary threat and use of force. Indeed, as the continuing violence and instability in Iraq has shown, the use of force without the necessary planning and resources for the building of democratic institutions from the grassroots up is a recipe for disaster. Top-down regime-change doesn’t work in any context other than totalitarian.

As for the role of diplomacy in the end of slavery, fascism and communism, one need only consult the history or political science departments of your local university — or take a stroll down the history section of your local library. There was a time when the Bible was used by Christian groups to justify slavery. It required an opening up of the interpretations of this holy text to help change peoples minds and we still haven’t fully exculpated the racist ideas held by so many Americans. This is a form of religious diplomacy, and it was employed by Ghandi to argue that the Bagavad Ghita, a violent and blood-soaked text, was actually a cautionary tale of non-violence. This can be done in Islam as well.

As for the role of diplomacy in bringing down the Soviet empire, we need only ask Israeli political leader Natan Sharansky. He’s long argued that the Helsinki agreements that put human rights on the table and linked detente with the Soviets to an opening up on this front are a useful model in the Israeli-Palestinian process. I could go on.

One final note, and it will be brief. I must respond to the nonsense of rqueen, who wrote in response to our endorsement:

“Kerry intends to turn our National Security and quite likely attempt to turn our sovereignty over to the United Nations … he has spent the last 20 years voting exclusively to weaken our military and our nation. Not only that, would you vote for someone that while they were still in the military committed acts that were tantamount to treason to their own country?”

Kerry has made it clear on more than one occasion that he does not intend to turn our sovereignty over to the UN or another other nation. There is a marked difference between seeking the support of allies — reaping the tangible of benefits of strong alliances and diplomatic agreements — and asking for permission before engaging in our national defense. Those who engage in this sophistry are showing a remarkably narrow understanding of world affairs at best and engaging in foreign policy as machismo rubbish at worst.

As for the assertion that Kerry has voted to “weaken our military” and “committed acts that were tantamount to treason,” this charges are both spurious and bordering on libelous defamation. Kerry has not voted to weaken our military; he has in fact been at the forefront of fighting for veterans benefits and seeking closure on the Vietnam War by gaining a full account of soldiers MIA. And if you believe that exercising the freedom of speech to oppose a horribly wrong-headed war in Southeast Asia that virtually our entire country now agrees was a misadventure of tragic proportions is tantamount to treason, then you clearly have abdicated that which makes this nation so great — its democratic discourse.

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