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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer: Israel
Governor Huckabee on current mid-east peace talks
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The Personal Becomes Political:
The Attitudinal Prism of Condoleezza Rice

October 26, 2007  |  Dr. Joel Fishman

Last week in Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, articulated some of her personal views which ultimately found their way into the press. For Dr. Rice the struggle of the Palestinians is analogous to that of the Afro-Americans for civil rights and she identifies with the Palestinians. She recalled what it meant to travel in segregated buses as a little girl in Alabama. She also compared the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to Reverend Martin Luther King, because, in her mind, both were committed to peace. According to reporter Aluf Benn, Rice views Abbas as committed to the struggle for Palestinian independence and, like Martin Luther King, opposed to terror and violence (Haaretz, October 16, 2007). Independently, David Bedein reported Rice's statements in The Bulletin (Philadelphia, October 17, 2007).

While this juxtaposition of the Afro-American campaign for civil rights and the Palestinian (armed) struggle seems strange, by using methods of political analysis it is possible to appreciate the significance of this type of information. Condoleezza Rice has given us the "Attitudinal Prism" of her decision-making process. Political scientists Gabriel Almond and G. Bingham Powell defined the term and explained its importance: "Men choose among alternative paths in accordance with their perception of the world in which they must act. The lens through which that setting is filtered may ... be called the Attitudinal Prism. The content of that which they perceive is the Image. Together these constitute the Psychological Environment, the framework of choice, decision, and action. In foreign policy, as in all politics, the prism is shaped by three interacting variables-political culture, historical legacy, and the personality traits of the decision-makers."

It is clear that Rice personally considers that the Palestinians have a strong moral case and that Israel does not. Furthermore, she bases her views on her personal experience, drawing upon an analogy from the memories of her own childhood, particularly her identification with the Afro-American struggle for civil rights. According to Almond and Powell's analytical criteria, such attitudes are critically important because they become part of the decision-making process.

The problem is that Rice has adopted an incorrect analogy. Mahmoud Abbas was never a man of peace. It certainly would be a positive step forward if Rice could deal with the facts on their own merits and try to grasp why the Palestinians have reached their present situation. She should also face the fact that the Palestinians could have done much better had they refrained from launching the Second Armed Uprising in 2000.

Returning to the civil rights struggle, Condoleezza Rice's statements reveal that in her quest for a simple analogy, she forgot the one group that proved its friendship for the Afro-Americans. American Jewry unreservedly supported the civil rights struggle through participation and financial contributions. No other group in America demonstrated its commitment to social justice, as did American Jewry and its representative institutions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a personal friend of Martin Luther King and marched with him. The Secretary of State should not forget that Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were martyrs for her people's cause, real martyrs - not to be confused with the terrorist murderers who blow up innocent civilians in public buses. The Afro-Americans did not win their campaign for civil rights on their own. They needed allies in Americans society, and the American Jewish community stood by them.

Further, Rice has overlooked a fundamental but not obvious, historical fact: Israel gave the world the idea that that all men are equal, because God created all men in His image. Israel also gave the world the principle that all men are equal under law. "One law and one ordinance shall be both for you and for the stranger that sojourns with you" (Numbers 15:16). This rule is called "isonomia". In Against Apion, written between 96-100 C.E., Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, states that Moses "the Lawgiver" established this rule three thousand years previously, long before the Greeks (and well before the birth of the other two monotheistic religions). Josephus adds: ".... Persons who have espoused the cause of order and law - one law for all - and been the first to introduce them, may fairly be admitted to be more civilized and virtuously disposed than those who lead lawless and disorderly lives." (Against Apion II: 15, 151).

Josephus' statement explains why today many Palestinian Arab residents of Jerusalem stubbornly insist on remaining under Israeli rule. They prefer equality under law - even if they do not particularly care for the Jewish state. Israel's laws and legal system are still superior. And one should not forget that, if it were not for Moses "the Lawgiver," there could not have been a civil rights movement or a Reverend Martin Luther King.

Condoleezza Rice's Attitudinal Prism reveals a perception of the current situation which is limited by her personal experience and hopelessly superficial. It also lacks an awareness of history. Such perceptions, based on a false and oversimplified analogy, prevent the Secretary of State from seeing the facts objectively and dealing fairly, which are the prerequisites of statesmanship.

Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
joel.fishman@gmail.com

 

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