New York – One of Israel’s leading left-wing columnist who writes for a major Israeli daily told Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), in an on-the-record conversation, “I used to be against the Gaza Disengagement Plan, but now, with the United States and Europe expecting us to leave, it may cause too many problems for Israel to stop the Plan at this late date.”
ZOA’s Klein responded by saying that since a major national poll of 1,000 Americans by McLaughlin & Associates showed Americans strongly opposed the Gaza/Samaria Plan by 63% to 16%, there would be minimal political problems in the US if Israel postpones the evacuation. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Minister of Finance, said this week that it would even “strengthen” Israel’s relationship with America if Sharon postponed the Plan. Netanyahu made these remarks at an Israeli Cabinet meeting last week. There, he held up a copy of the ZOA commissioned poll citing Americas’ strong opposition to the Plan and their strong belief that this Plan rewards terrorism. (This picture of Netanyahu ran in Yediot Achronot last week.)
The Poll also showed that by a margin of 3 to 1, Americans believe any Palestinian State’s goal would be to “destroy Israel,” not to live in peace with her. They also supported Israel maintaining sovereignty over Jerusalem by a margin of 63% – 5%. On the Jerusalem question you couldn’t get a better response if you asked people whether or not they liked Haagen-Daz ice cream.
Noting that this major columnist had referred to ZOA as having “radical right wing positions,” Klein asked him what the basis was for this false charge. He assured Klein that this label was “not a bad thing” but that anyone who takes a position different from the Israeli government is a “radical.” Klein responded, “I think that’s a rather bizarre definition, because then you could deem as radical half of Israel and most of the world including outgoing IDF Chief Moshe Ya’alon, Natan Sharansky, Moshe Arens, Shlomo Gazit, much of the Knesset, the United States, of course Sharon, Barek and Netanyahu, and on and on.” “Isn’t it ludicrous to say that any disagreement with the government of Israel should be labeled ‘radical,’ Klein asked. “That would mean most of us have been and continue to be ‘radicals’ at any given moment.” But the columnist kept insisting that there was nothing wrong with using that appellation.
I then asked him point-blank if he thought outgoing Chief of the IDF Moshe Ya’alon was a “radical” because he disagreed with Sharon’s Gaza policy. He replied that Ya’alon “only disagreed with the Gaza Plan when he found out Sharon was going to remove him and not be in charge of the Gaza Plan.” When Klein explained to him that Ya’alon came out against the Plan immediately after it was announced, by saying, “This will be a tailwind to terrorism,” He simply insisted I was wrong.
ZOA has always supported diplomacy — I therefore asked the columnist about the legitimacy of asserting that ZOA was “a vocal opponent of diplomatic initiatives involving the Israeli and American governments?” He replied, “Well, you don’t support giving away all of the Golan Heights to Syria, do you?” I said to him, “that’s correct, ZOA does not support a 100% giveaway of the Golan to the terrorist regime headed by Basher Assad.” The columnist said, “you see, if you don’t support giving all the Golan, you can’t support diplomacy because otherwise it won’t work.” I said that if diplomacy requires a 100% capitulation to the other side’s demands, it’s no longer diplomacy – but surrender. Diplomacy is used to negotiate some sort of compromise on at least some issues. I then reminded him that Prime Minister Barak offered 100% of the Golan, yet Assad still rejected his peace overtures.
I finally asked him as to why he characterized our Gaza Poll as “misleading.” He said, “your poll only reveals the mindset of your strong opposition to the Gaza Plan; it doesn’t really show the American public’s view. You know you can get any answer you want fro a poll depending on how you ask the question.” I responded that ZOA’s views are irrelevant to the results of the poll. McLaughlin and Associates, a highly respected pollster, formulated a straightforward question — McLaughlin refuses to harm his reputation by “loading” the question as some “push-pollsters” do.
The question asked was very straightforward, “Do you think Israel should unilaterally withdraw from a section of Gaza and Northern Samaria forcing 10,000 Israeli Jews from their homes and businesses without an agreement of peace?” Yes or No. Straight. No tricks. And 63% of American said no. In fact, Professor Louis Raymon, former chairman of the Department of Mathematics, Temple University, who teaches both mathematics and statistics, said, “ The ZOA poll asked a straightforward question of a representative sample of 1000 Americans (June 26-27, 2000) prefaced by objective facts necessary for an informed decision. The results would seem to be unquestionably accurate, valid and meaningful.”
When I asked the columnist why he didn’t call me to question me before he wrote this very unfair, hostile and even ludicrous column, he said he didn’t know. Then I said it’s a shame we had never spoken before, that if he had known me, maybe he would not have written these inappropriate and hurtful things about ZOA. He responded, saying he did speak to me a few times in the 1970s. I said, “In the 1970s I was a senior economist working on health policy issues in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. I was doing nothing related to Israel or the Mideast.” He responded, “Oh.”
This exchange between the ZOA’s National President and a noted journalist in Israel exemplifies the problems that plague discussions about the Gaza Expulsion Plan and other issues. There are those who want to push the plan through at all costs. They deflect reasoned opposition to the plan by resorting to using pejorative labels and drawing unfounded conclusions about credible information.
Prominent Israelis who argue against the Plan, such as Moshe Ya’alon, are dismissed as having a ‘sour grapes’ attitude. The ZOA’s position is that a full, open, and thorough public dialogue about the nature and details of the Gaza Expulsion Plan is necessary, and should have occurred before any such Plan was implemented. The lack of such an open, honest, and thorough dialog, as exemplified by some of this leading columnist’s comments, is deeply distressing.