Yesterday's two-hour long radio debate between Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson was the first opportunity for them to be compared solely on the basis of questions that hadn't been filtered by the presenters. As I wrote here yesterday, I was proud of them both.
My article here yesterday about how important I feel the issue of some of Ethan's campaign contributions to be, as Benson addressed them to Berkowitz in the KUDO debate, brought a lot of PA comments.
One caller bought up an issue that was just plain weird. Ethan and his wife have created a trust as a way to shelter their kids if something happens to them. The caller whined about this being in contradiction to a statement that Ethan had made to the Anchorage Daily News, that he doesn't have a "trust" or some such thing. Anyway, the call was weird, and borderline menacing.
Three callers brought up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khaled Zayed called. He's a well-known peace activist in Anchorage, and is a proponent of worldwide nuclear disarmament. He asked the candidates a complicated question, but the central part was, "Do you think Israel should withdraw in the West Bank to the 1967 borders?"
Predictably, neither candidate answered that important question directly.
Ethan said, "You know, there was a lot of progress toward the end of the Clinton administration as to what the ultimate land should look like." Sounds a bit like a "no" to me, considering the maps that were being considered at the conference to which Berkowitz was referring. He related to the violence Israelis randomly and unjustifiably suffer. He said nothing about the far greater violence suffered by Palestinians. The moderator gave Diane Benson no chance to answer.
The next caller was another iconic figure in the Alaska Peace and Justice arena, Paul Prebys. He asked, "What will either of you do to try to stop funding, the unlimited funding, of military weapons and supplies to Israel to commit genocide against the Palestinians? Will you vote to end the funding of unlimited military supplies to Israel?"
He then asked, "When Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, what right does the U.S. have to demand control of Iran's nuclear development of energy production? Will you support Israel's preemptive strike on Iran?"
There was then a top-of-the-hour news break. Diane Benson stated "I don't support pre-emptive strikes." She then criticized the Bush administration's many failures in the realm of negotiating for the past seven and a half years. The moderator didn't let Ethan in, moving on to another question.
Earlier in the program, a caller named Jeff asked, "What are you going to do about military aid to Israel?" The caller had referred to "annihilation."
Both Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz were passionate in their personal statements about "annihilation." Benson's Tlingit people faced annihilation in the sense of its cultural extirpation, when she was young. Her reaction to that throughout her challenging and courageous life, is an important part of her personal makeup. Berkowitz has referred, in speeches and campaign appearances over the years, to his own family's devastation from the Nazi Holocaust.
But neither candidate was able to answer this question directly. That was disappointing. Again, though, it wasn't surprising. Discussion of the role of Israel, and of a meaningful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conundrum, in Democratic Party politics or political races, is highly toxic. Our American Congress and Senate are more supportive of one right-wing Israeli coalition government after another than are the Israeli people themselves. Open discussion of the issues asked by the three callers is more fervid and productive in Israel than it ever is in the USA.
I was impressed, though, at the degree both candidates seem to be knowledgeable about this issue, and about the ongoing wars in the Middle East. This was probably the only debate at which these issues will be brought up so forcefully by questioners, so I thought it important to address that here.