Stu Bykofsky: Mideast debate: When a street is an unbridgeable chasm

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President Barack Obama, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, of Israel in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Friday, May 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

AT LOVE PARK, world-beat music filled the air with peace, love, harmony. A few blocks west on JFK Boulevard, outside the Israeli consulate, low-key chants rose.

The pro- and anti-Israel gatherings were provoked by President Obama's near-demand of something that previously had been a U.S. suggestion. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu declined it before a joint session of Congress.

Obama prodded Israel to use the 1967 cease-fire lines as a starting point for border talks. While this was understood as a U.S. wish in the past, Obama was the first president to press it on Israel, while demanding nothing of substance from the Palestinians.

To illustrate the complexity of the Mideast's tragic peace riddle, two liberal columnists drew starkly different observations from Obama's words - but the same dark conclusion.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank said that Obama "unwittingly strengthened Israel's hawks . . . and made the already remote prospect of peace that much more distant."

Harvard Law Prof. Alan Dershowitz wrote that by "giving the Palestinians more than they asked for he has made it impossible for the Palestinians to compromise."


 

In the muggy heat outside the Israeli consulate, a half-dozen peaceniks handed out leaflets. I took one and Sue Rouda agreed to answer my questions.

One leaflet used "1967 line" and "1967 border" interchangeably. Rouda agreed that that was an error, it is not a border.

The leaflet mentioned Israeli "apartheid policies." Given that 20 percent of Israelis are Arabs, with more freedom than they would have in any Arab country, how does "apartheid" apply? Rouda said that it is "just a word," it "equates to South Africa," a "colonialist enterprise" that allowed "Europeans to amass wealth off the bodies of black South Africans."

So, Israel's postwar, Holocaust-surviving immigrants - themselves victims of Europeans - got wealthy off the backs of Arabs, when it was the Jews who drained the swamps, lived on communes, made the desert bloom and ultimately built a high-tech economy?

She retreated to it being more like segregation in the U.S., claiming that there were jobs that Arab citizens cannot hold, places they cannot live, schools they cannot attend.

I walked across 19th Street to visit the three-dozen people waving Israeli and American flags. Steve Feldman, executive director of the Philadelphia area of the Zionist Organization of America, spoke for them.

He hotly denied that Israeli Arabs are barred from anything - except compulsory military service - and said that the word "apartheid" defames Israel, which accepts immigrants and refugees from black Africa.

I crossed the street. Rouda talked about Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza.

Gaza? Israel voluntarily withdrew in 2005. Instead of thanks, Israel got rockets fired at her civilians. I asked Rouda how Israel "occupies" Gaza. When you "surround" a country like a "prison camp" and you blockade the borders, "that's an occupation," she said. If that's true, Cuba is "occupying" Guantanamo.

Not mentioned was that while Israel "blockades" Gaza's northern border (to prevent arms smuggling), until a few days ago Egypt sealed the southern border. Egypt was not criticized. Why the double standard?

I asked Rouda to prove her "segregation" charge.

That evening, she sent me links to reports alleging "inequality" in Israeli life, not just between Jews and Arabs, but even between European and non-European Jews. Inequality exists in Israel, as in other democracies. That is true.

As to Israeli Arabs being barred from jobs, housing and schools, that is untrue. Like "apartheid," it is a despicable lie.

Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.