In addition to this personal blog, I post most of what I write here on my blog at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. I have received some exceptionally hostile comments in response to my my recent blog “The New Mandela” there, and I responded with the following, which I share with you.
First, the article I posted titled “The New Mandela” was written by long-time veteran Israeli journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, and not by me. I did say that I thought his analysis was generally correct and enlightening, which is why I posted it for those who would not have seen his piece otherwise. One may not like Avnery, nor agree with him, nor welcome his comments, but no one can question his love for the state of Israel and for the Jewish people. Uri Avnery is not naïve nor is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is an astute Israeli political analyst who has spent his life thinking and writing about all things Israel. Israel’s press is filled with such voices.
Second, I believe the point he was making about Marwan Barghouti being the “New Mandela” is that Nelson Mandela, in his early years, was also deemed a terrorist who was involved in actions that resulted in the killing of others, just as Barghouti has been so characterized. The fact that Mandela grew past his terrorism and became the remarkable leader that he did does not cancel out his early career. The same can be said of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Both were involved in what David Ben Gurion and much of the Jewish world at the time considered terrorist acts, and both became Israeli Prime Ministers. Menachem Begin, in particular, became a man of peace in the truest sense.
Third, yes – Barghouti was convicted of murdering Israelis during the 2nd Intifada as the commander of the Tanzim. He sits in an Israeli prison after being sentence to 5 life sentences. Yet, there is precedent for releasing people with blood on their hands from Israeli custody. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged more than 1000 Palestinians for Gilad Shalit, and among those 1000+ were more than 300 Palestinians with “blood on their hands.” This was not the first time Israel has done so. Should Bibi have done so? Most Israelis said “yes” with deep concerns and fears about the real possibility that some of these released terrorists would kill innocent Israelis again.
Given Barghouti’s past position in support of negotiating a two-state solution non-violently to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a position he supported during the Oslo period and which he now has returned to, according to many reports) the question is whether he should be released so that he might become the “New Mandela.”
And finally – I respect the strong and passionate feelings of Jews and Israelis for the state of Israel. I feel passionately myself. Yet, before I respond to anything anyone else says or does, I ask myself whether I am responding out of rage, fear and hate, or out of love and concern for the people and state of Israel. I would ask everyone else to do the same. We are, after all, a people that thinks and critiques and asks the hard questions. Let no one question another’s motives. Rather, critique the ideas thoughtfully. We all gain when we all do so.