As important as political debate is, a more interesting question is often what issues are deemed suitable to debate. One doesn’t want to celebrate too soon, but it appears that the window for debate about Israel and Palestine has opened a little wider, and an effort to shut it down has been rebuked, at least so far.
Last week a New York businessman bought ad space for posters in various New York commuter train stations. The ads– with a map–showed the loss of Palestinian land–first through partition, then war, then occupation. The graphics, which in card form have been passed around for years and were posted several months ago by Andrew Sullivan, convey simply and powerfully the story of Palestinian dispossession.
The Israel lobby has a deep commitment to preventing Americans from hearing this story. I believe it feels that the case for more or less unconditional American support for Israel rests on a very thin and fragile consensus, which could easily shatter under the slightest pressure. So the debate, or even the possibility of one, must be squashed before it even begins.
Rather quickly, some heavyweights in the New York Jewish community got an assemblymen to complain to the Metro North, the transit authority, and to request that the ads be taken down. No they weren’t incorrect, but they were “inflammatory” nonetheless. But a week later, the ads are still up. Of course there will soon be countervailing ads, but what could they matter? Americans are drenched in pro-Israel discourse anyway, and adding more would about as meaningful as a 1970′s plea to Soviet citizens to redouble their sacrifices to build socialism.
I’m wary of an early call– clearly the ads took the discourse police by surprise, and it’s summertime, and efforts to suppress debate are no doubt just beginning. But so far, signs are encouraging. Score at the bottom of the third: First Amendment, 3; Israel lobby, 0.