Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review of Bonfield vs. Gottstein Katz at the Bartlett Club Today

This week's Bartlett Democratic Club luncheon in Anchorage was devoted to an exchange between articulate advocates for Palestinian rights, on one hand, and the current government of Israel, on the other. The event was well managed by the Bartlett Club board and moderator Alex Newhall. It had none of the yelling or rancor that has characterized some of the luncheons there in the past that dealt with this extremely contentious issue.

Some were expecting Alaska's director of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, David Gottstein, to represent the Israeli side in the exchange. Instead, we were treated to an employee of the Israeli government, performing that role.

Ora Miriam Katz is the Director of Government Affairs for the Consulate General of Israel's San Francisco office. A graduate of the University of California San Diego and Universitat Ben Gurion Ba-Negev, she stated right off that this is her first trip to Alaska, and that she is smitten by the beauty of our home. (I invited her to come up here in the summer.)

Opposing her, representing Alaska for Palestine, were Mark and Dawn Bonfield. Moderator Newhall had a club member flip a coin to see who went first. Katz won.

AIPAC director Gottstein or his staff might have done a better job prepping Katz for the ambience and physical setup of the luncheon site, held in the meeting room of the DeBarr Dennys. She struggled to get her visual aids make an impact - they were too small and too low to be seen.

Her remarks began with a typical glowing portrait of many of the things Israel is - a vibrant environment for aspects of what one can characterize as progressive thought - gays in the military, socialized medicine, equal rights in many areas for Jews, Muslims and Christians. In much of what she initially said, she was accurate. Israeli society deserves credit for what has been achieved in these areas.

Unfortunately, Ms. Katz then went on to state a number of falsehoods. One struck me as rather strange, and I thought she had merely misstated the case. But then she said it again. Katz claimed twice that over 1,000 Israelis were killed in March 2002, during the most awful month of the Second Intifada. The generally acknowledged figure of Israeli deaths during that month is between 130 and 135, which was bad enough.

Government Affairs Director Katz went on to misstate the percentage of West Bank lands the Israelis are willing to evacuate at the time of the creation of a Palestinian state. Her number, stated twice, was "over 98%." We've heard this number before. She also stated that if a settlement on settlements is reached, Israeli lands retained in the West Bank would be comparable to something "a bit larger than Anchorage." She provided no map.

Here's one.

The orange parts of the map are those occupied by settlements and Israeli military "withdrawals." They represent far more than less than 2% of the West Bank. They are also configured to strategically hobble any possible development of an independent Palestinian economy, should a Palestinian state actually emerge.

Katz also mischaracterized the current state of the ongoing Israeli investigation into the awful deaths last week of five members of a West Bank Israeli settler family, in the gated community of Itamar. She stated that "Fatah's El-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade has claimed responsibility for these hiduous murders." I questioned Ms. Katz about this after the talk, and she reiterated that view.

Again, this is not the case. Israeli authorities have imposed a gag order on the press there since Monday. Before the gag order, the group Katz accused of the killings denied involvement:
The military wing of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, said Monday that its activists had no part in the slaying of five members of a settler family in Itamar on Friday night.

Commenting on the nature of the killings, in which five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death, including a three-month-old baby, the brigades said they "oppose the targeting of civilians and killing of children no matter what the pretext may be."

The killings triggered settler outrage and an Israeli military manhunt in the northern West Bank, and were condemned by the Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that the killings were "inhuman."

Fatah's Al-Aqsa Brigades came under scrutiny after an offshoot with loose affiliation going by the "Imad Mughniyya Group" sent a statement to media outlets claiming to have carried out the attack, but details from the statement did not match statements from investigators. Members of the group in Gaza later denied any involvement.
As a representative of her government, Katz should be more careful with such words. I hope the killers are caught soon. And punished. But if Katz hasn't been informed about the state of the investigation before making such claims, the person prepping her needs to be fired.

I thought Miriam Katz's presentation was well done, overall. I could have written her lines for her - I know the drill. She almost seemed to be frustrated at having to spout the party line a couple of times, but that might have been my imagination. I keep hoping these bright, attractive and affable kids from Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Libya might be able to find a new, peaceful road for the Mediterranean. Katz should be included in that group.

And so should Dawn and Mark Bonfield, though they live here, not on the Med. This couple have their schtick down. They even worked events from the past few days into their standup routine in ways that slipped way over the heads of most of the Bartlett Club folks. They're pro, and Katz picked up on it. I wish I had sat in the front, rather than the back of the room.

Dollar for dollar, Alaskans for Palestine got a lot more bang for their buck at Bartlett than did AIPAC or the San Francisco Consular office.

The format of this discussion on Israel and Palestine showed that the Bartlett Club wants to be able to schedule and discuss Middle East affairs rationally and in a constructive environment. It should have been given another 30 minutes, somehow. Or more.

image - Mark & Dawn Bonfield, Miriam Katz - PA

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