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Speaker: Palestinians lack clout

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

In the halls of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., members of Congress hear from a litany of lobbyists, supporters of Israel included.

But one group, the Palestinians, do not have the same influence in the nation’s capital, leaving their cause without representation on Capitol Hill, says the chief lobbyist for a New York-based not-for-profit involved in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

MJ Rosenberg, who works for a group known as the Israel Policy Forum, in Park City on Thursday night described the inability of the Palestinians to influence congressmen, saying the lawmakers only hear from the Israeli perspective.

"On Capitol Hill, one narrative is heard — the Israeli narrative," he said during a private appearance at a Deer Crest mansion, alleging Israeli lobbyists write congressional bills that cut off aid to the Palestinians.

The gathering, which was hosted by a member of the forum’s executive committee and drew about 15 people, was small but the people who attended, including some who are Jewish, were attentive and engaged the speakers as they listened to Rosenberg and David Elcott, the forum’s executive director, discuss the Israeli-Palestinian question for a little more than an hour.

Rosenberg described working in Washington as being a "gigantic influence game" with the Palestinians largely left out. He doesn’t blame the Israel supporters, saying the lobbyists for that side operate like they would for other groups. Instead the Palestinian supporters, he says, need to mobilize in Washington.

"They say make our voice louder. All we hear is the other people," Rosenberg said, describing comments he gathers from members of Congress.

In an interview after his remarks, though, Rosenberg said the Palestinian supporters are starting to lobby Congress. He said regular Americans do not realize the dispute is being played out domestically but the lobbying efforts have brought the conflict to the U.S.

"The pro-Israel side is heard. The pro-Palestinian side is not. Neither is the pro-peace side," Rosenberg, who is Jewish, said, adding, "Members of Congress get their information from lobbyists and lobbyists write the legislation."

The Israel Policy Forum promotes a so-called two-state solution to the dispute, which envisions an independent Palestinian state. The two-state solution has won many backers in the U.S. but advances have been difficult.

Rosenberg said a "broad majority of Jews" support a two-state solution.

Locally, people on the East Side and the West Side monitor the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and some have traveled to the Holy Land to learn more about the situation. The dispute is not a common topic, though, in the area’s public discourse.

Elcott reviewed centuries of history in the Middle East, harkening to the Crusades, empires that ruled the region and the European colonization of the Holy Land.

But he cautioned the sides offer different versions of the history. The Israeli version, he said, portrays Jews as refugees after the Holocaust returning to their biblical homeland. But in the Arab version, Israel cannot exist, he said.

"It’s a different narrative told by Israelis, the Jewish community," Elcott said.


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