Where Right and Left Collide: A Zeek Debate

between Jay Michaelson and Evan Sayet
Moderated by Dan Friedman

With "red states" and "blue states" representing an increasingly polarized American electorate, it's rare that ordinary citizens with radically different views debate issues in a substantive way. Over two days, via instant messenger and email, I moderated a debate between Zeek's Jay Michaelson and Evan Sayet, the Communications Director for L,A. for Bush. As is always the way, time meant that not everything was said, not everything was replied to, and some things were not said as clearly or coolly as they might have been. Such is the nature of debate. The person with the last word had time, and not necessarily reason, on his side! I also asked both sides to provide links to websites and other resources to buttress their factual positions; where provided, those are below.

I divided the debate into four main areas, which you can click to from the following list, or you can read the debate through. 1. Israel 2. Environment and General Political Outlook 3. War on Terror 4. State / Religion (Note: Evan Sayet and Jay Michaelson represented the two main parties in the Presidential Election Campaign but neither of them were speaking as official representatives for the candidates or parties.)

DF: John Edwards said this morning that he was a strong supporter of Israel -- how do you see your parties supporting Israel?

JM: I think there are two major issues regarding Israel in this election. The first is to debunk the myth that George Bush has been good for Israel. In fact, he's been a disaster for Israel. The Iraq war, whatever its other merits, has been a huge boon for Iran, Israel's #1 enemy. That's why Israel has covert troops on the ground in Northern Iraq right now. Moreover, Israel now faces an unprecedented international isolation - it's a pariah state. Sure, Bush has stood by Israel, but Bush is responsible for this situation to begin with. Obviously, no one but Israel should decide Israel's security. But Israel needs an American ally that doesn't aid in its isolation and alienation from the international community.

The second major issue is this: I know many American Jews who are, in the words of one of them, "holding their nose and voting for Bush." What that means is, they don't agree with Bush's economic policies, don't agree with mixing church and state, don't agree with Ashcroft or Rumsfeld or Rice. But they perceive Bush to be better for Israel. I would ask these Jews to wonder whether they aren't fulfilling the worst antisemitic stereotypes by taking this position. Aren't they putting the needs of a foreign country - albeit one they and I love - over our own? As Americans, we need to vote for the guy who we think is best for America. If you agree with Bush on all the issues, great. But if you're doing it solely because of Israel, well, I think that should be looked at very carefully.

ES: There are several fundamental differences in the very philosophies of what makes one a Liberal/Democrat and what makes one a Republican. While we share many of the same goals the means to accomplishing those goals could not be more different. It is deep in the psyche of the left that the way to change bad behavior into good behavior (which is what government attempts to do at every level) is to actually reward bad behavior. If a child isn't studying and fails to read at a seventh grade level the Democrat believes that we should reward that student with a promotion. If we don't he'll become angry and sullen and then really REALLY won't study. So when Bill Clinton wanted to create a legacy for himself and force a "peace" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict his method was to REWARD the corrupt, terrorist dictatorship with land, money, arms and parties at the White House. President Bush, on the other hand, recognizes that bad behavior needs to be punished and good behavior rewarded. So on the one hand he holds out to the Palestinians the promise of their own country while refusing to allow such so long as Arafat remained a terrorist and his "government" remained corrupt.

Another difference between the parties is that the left decides what is right by counting the number of other nations that agree with us. It doesn't matter to them that the UN is a corrupt force that is dominated by Arabists and anti-Semites, etc. The notion that Israel is suddenly a "pariah" (as if it wasn't before) is meaningless to me. Right is defined by what is right not by how many nations agree with us. This is a lesson I expect my ten year old to understand (that I'd rather he be without a friend than do the wrong thing in order to be popular) and yet Democrats don't seem to understand it. Finally, the notion that one supports Israel AGAINST the United States is simply untrue. What needs to be understood is that one supports Israel because it is a beacon unto the world, it is the last place where Jews congregate and and Judaism is good for the world including America.

JM: This is a common theme one hears from the Bush camp - that the Democrats don't understand, or can't see, or are dumber than ten year olds. I think this rhetoric itself indicates a kind of blindness - a fundamental inability to see that there are other coherent value systems, not just those who are blind and those who can see. Notice how much yelling there is, and how much contempt.

On the merits, to focus on Arafat and the territories is myopic. The reality is, they are no threat to Israel's existence. Iran is the threat. It has a nuclear program, which now we can't go after because we've squandered all our credibility on a war fought for false reasons. It trains terrorists and arms those who can seriously hurt Israel. As for the Oslo process itself, it was not meant to reward anyone, least of all the terrorist Arafat. The question I have is, there are two million Palestinians in the West Bank. What are you going to do about that? I would love to slam the door, forget about them, annex the territory, or some other solution like that - but none of those solutions will work. The fact is, the only way to peace is to build a serious Palestinian leadership. That leadership cannot be Arafat. Yet this president has undermined, destabilized, and harmed all the alternatives to him.

However, this whole thread is a distractor. Bush and Kerry are on exactly the same page on the Palestinian issue. Where they differ is on more global issues. Let's remember, the Arabist, Anti-semitic UN was right about there being no WMDs in Iraq. Sometimes it's best to check our own arrogance by consulting our allies. This isn't about playing nice; it's about being realistic and not thinking that we can go it alone, against the world, and that we're always right. As Iraq has shown, we are sometimes wrong.

ES: I agree, we both want freedom and peace for Israel. The difference is in our philosophies on how to go about it. First, the UN never said there were no WMD. In fact quite the opposite. The question was basically, given that ALL of the intelligence from EVERY nation said Saddam had and would use WMD do we send in an inept socialist inspector working for the corrupt and pro-Arabist UN or do we protect ourselves and the President made the right choice.

JM: I will accept this correction. The UN did not say there were no WMDs. They said we should inspect before we strike. Had we done that, 1000 American soldiers would be alive today.

ES: As for the Democrats agreeing that Arafat cannot be the leader - that is a wonderful (yet completely unsupported) new position. After all it was Bill Clinton who brought Arafat back from exile, gave him tons of American taxpayer money, weapons and threw lots of parties for him at the White House (in fact Arafat was the most feted world leader in the Clinton years). As far as "myopic" goes, the Republicans and this President have changed the very face of the Middle East and Islamic Asia. Pakistan, a nuclear armed enemy under Bill Clinton (why not, there was no risk to being America's enemy) is now a staunch ally fighting terror, Libya has given up their terrorist ways, Afghanistan is no longer the training ground for terrorists and, of course, terror in Israel is down ninety percent.

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Image: Jay Michaelson

October 2004

Empowering Jewish Progressives
Leah Koenig

Deconstructing Zell Miller (and Reconstructing Kerry)
Jay Michaelson

A Demonstration in Words
Hila Ratzabi

Where Left and Right Collide
a debate
moderated by
Dan Friedman

Art at War
Bara Sapir

Jews and Bush
An Online Resource Guide

Belly of the Beast
Cullen Goldblatt

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From previous issues:

Abraham Mezrich

Damp Memories
Joseph Dobkin

Meditation and Sensuality
Jay Michaelson