This allows them to portray themselves as a beleaguered group in possession of the "truth," but unable to be heard because "sinister" forces stifle discussion.
What's their evidence? Well, apart from citing ad nauseum the so-called attempt to deny Tony Judt a chance to speak at an event at the Polish Consulate in New York in the fall, and Alvin Rosenfeld's much-discussed AJC essay on Jews who delegitimize and demonize Israel, their principal assertion is that the US Administration and Congress are overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, as if this fact in and of itself proves the point.
Judt shouldn't flatter himself. No one I know spends any time trying to pull the plug on his speaking engagements. The Polish Consulate story wasn't the dark conspiracy that Judt and his supporters tried to portray, allowing them to complain loudly that his free-speech rights were being abridged by a pro-Israel "thought police." It was a simple foreign policy matter. Poland is a close friend of Israel. Consequently, the Polish consul general decided, after learning that his space was going to be used by a group whose speaker questioned Israel's right to exist, that it was inappropriate. As he said, the consulate is not a catering hall, available for hire by anyone; rather, what goes on there reflects that country's worldview. Instead, Judt spoke in another venue, no one uttered a peep, and that was the end of that, or so you would have thought.
And Rosenfeld's trenchant essay has been twisted beyond all recognition by those who either fell for its mischaracterization by the New York Times as part of a liberal-conservative face-off, which it was not, or who themselves were cited and couldn't accept the role reversal. Instead of doling out harsh criticism, they were on the receiving end. Rather than deal with the facts of Rosenfeld's argument, though, they cried foul and created bogeymen, principally the pro-Israel community's alleged McCarthyite tactics. Why they should have the right to say the most outrageous things about Israeland its supportersbut remain immune from critical scrutiny escapes me.
Their ace-in-the-hole proof that policy debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict is suppressed in the US is America's pro-Israel orientation. After all, any sensible nation would have figured out by now that standing proudly with Israel isn't necessarily in America's interests, right?
Those who industriously peddle this theory prove that, at times, the most difficult thing to see is what's right in front of your nose.
If they really want to understand why America is pro-Israel, they should save their breath and stop looking for dark conspiracies. The answer is much simpler. The vast majority of the American people identify with Israel and its aspirations, as well as its challenges.
Sure, it must be painful for those who write in the New York Review of Books to accept something so shockingly elementary. But Americans, to their everlasting credit, have figured out the basic story line of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
That doesn't mean they necessarily regard Israel as blemish-free or incapable of errors in judgmentwhat country is?but they can clearly distinguish among the key protagonists. They know the difference between the peace seeker and the peace spoiler, the fireman and the arsonist, the friend and the foe.
They can identify with a country whose roots go back to the Hebrew Bible and whose historical and spiritual journey informed the thinking of our nation's Founding Fathers.
They recognize democracy when they see it and cherish the shared values on which friendship among freedom-loving nations is built.
They grasp clearly that Israel's foes, including Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and Iran, are the enemies of everything Americans stand for.
As immigrants and refugees themselves, or their descendants, they understand that countless people in history have been displaced (including hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries), not just Palestinians. The answer, Americans have proven by their own example, is to build new lives and not wallow in self-pity.
They appreciate Israel's determination, against all the odds, to establish and defend itself, while building a vibrant, pluralistic society and seeking peace with its neighbors from day one.
And Americans intuitively know that wanting peace is one thing, making it happen is quite another. When Israel has had a credible partner, peace, based on compromise by both sides, became not just possible but inevitable. Yet absent that partner, there's no choice but to stand your ground until someone comes along who is seriously interested in peace.
Yes, AIPAC has become one of America's most effective advocacy groups. And other groups, like AJC, which believe the democratically elected government of Israel should determine the country's fate, not outsiders, are active as well. Is there something wrong with playing by the rules and doing a job well, especially when the stakes are so high?
But let's not forget that there are countless other groups all over WashingtonArab, Arab American, Muslim, Jewish, and others, some well funded,that are utilizing the US Constitution's invitation to "petition the government" to get their own differing or contrasting views across on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And, despite tiresome claims that debate is suppressed, they're also out in full force in the media, universities, think tanks and speaking halls of America. Look, for example, at the extraordinary coverage Jimmy Carter received since his controversial new book on the Middle East appeared. His countless appearances, including, ironically his demand to avoid debating formats, belie the very notion that "dissident" voices can't be heard in the US. If critics of US policy toward Israel haven't been nearly as successful as they'd like, it's not because their right to express themselves has been mysteriously suppressed. Instead, it's because, till now, they haven't persuaded the vast majority of Americans.
It's time these critics face reality squarely rather than cooking up outlandish and self-gratifying theories for their predicament.