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Trib's Balancing Act


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To the editor:

It's still a free country (I think), so I won't come down too hard on Rabbi Michael Siegel and his right to campaign against real or imagined anti-Semitism at the Chicago Tribune [Hot Type, November 16]. But on the other hand, it's still a free country, and I'm one Jew who strongly disagrees with him.

Take a look sometime at the slant taken by the Chicago Sun-Times on Israel. Is this what Siegel and his friends would like from the Tribune? No thanks! It seems that no columnist will be published there who doesn't hew to the line that peace with the Palestinians is, has always been, and will always be a mirage. Nothing implying that the Israelis might bear the slightest bit of responsibility for the present situation, or that any nonmilitary solutions are available, is acceptable on those editorial pages. And this was true even before the latest intifada.

By comparison, can you imagine an American newspaper that would allow its coverage of Northern Ireland to be limited exclusively to supporters of the Reverend Ian Paisley, or to those of the Real IRA?

It is well-known among knowledgeable people that a much wider, more realistic, and more honest climate of discussion about such things is available in Israel itself than it is in the United States. I have read articles in Ha'aretz that would no doubt raise Siegel's blood pressure a lot higher than anything in the Tribune if they were to appear here.

I have fewer problems with Salim Muwakkil's opinions than I do with what appears in the Sun-Times. His opinions are a lot less one-sided than opinions routinely available in Israel. I even agree with some of them. What possible good is going to come out of increasing Israeli settlements in the territories? As a Jew, I could move to Israel today and move into such a settlement, built on land from which Palestinians were evicted. Is this right? Not to me, it isn't.

This is not to say that I agree with everything in the Tribune. Like Siegel, I can't help but wonder about the motivations of the author of the "plight of the failed suicide bomber" article. But it seems awfully far-fetched to trace this back to some anti-Semitic attitudes of Colonel McCormick.

So what's the problem? I believe that Rabbi Siegel and others who think as he does have an agenda of limiting the scope of "acceptable" commentary on Israel that is available in America to what is favorable. They view America's support as indispensable to the survival of Israel and are so insecure of this support continuing that they cannot bear the thought of arguments against it appearing in the press.

I, on the other hand, think America's support of Israel is a two-edged sword. America has and has always had interests that go beyond Israel; therefore, it is a mistake for Israel to depend totally on American support for its survival. That support may be withdrawn at any time, for any reason. (Siegel is right to feel insecure.) Far better, then, for Israel to develop a survival strategy outside of American support. To that end, I support whatever brings Israel into better relations with its neighbors. To depend instead on uncertain American support and to use that support in ways that increase the levels of tension with its neighbors is a long-term disaster--like a cocaine addiction. Sooner or later comes the big crash.

And so, of the two papers in town, I find the balance in the Tribune far healthier than the ideology-dripping drivel in the other paper. And therefore I do not support the efforts of Rabbi Siegel, however well-intentioned they may be.

Steven M. Cohen


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