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University News

Frank urges support for Israel in quest for peace

Senior Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The United States must support Israel’s right to exist in order to establish peace in the Middle East, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. told a crowded Salomon 101 last night.

Frank, who spoke at the “Middle East Talks” event co-sponsored by the Brown Democrats and Brown Students for Israel, said support for Israel is crucial in creating a two-state peace between Israel and Palestine. But that support should not be unconditional, he said. It comes with the “right to critique policy” — something he said should be in place between all allied nations.

 Israel is a country the United States should align itself with, Frank said, referring to its record on human rights. When Frank argued in Congress for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he cited Israel’s policy of allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military as an example.

Despite being “always under attack,” he added, Israel is “one of the most democratic centers in the world.”

“Six months ago, if you were an Arab in the Middle East and you were critical of the government, you were safest doing that in Israel,” he said, acknowledging that the situation may have changed in wake of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

Frank characterized the conflict between Israel and Hamas as an “existential dispute,” one that must be resolved before peace can materialize. Specifically, he said, Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state — something he said it has not yet been willing to do.

“You cannot negotiate with people who want you dead,” he said.

But Frank also criticized some of Israel’s policies, specifically Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which he said “do more harm than good.” He also said the current governing coalition in Israel leans “too far to the right” for his comfort.

While questioning Israel’s  governing coalition, Frank praised Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his support of human rights and civil liberties.

“Three government leaders in my lifetime have spoken positively about gay rights in the House of Representatives,” he said. “Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Though Frank said people should look critically at specific positions Israel has taken, he said those critiques are a “far cry” from questioning its right to exist. He compared the situation to his opposition to the Iraq War, which does not indicate that he questions the United States’ right to exist.

Frank’s half-hour talk was followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. Frank addressed questions about Jerusalem’s role in the dispute, saying Hamas, and not Jerusalem, is the principal obstacle to peace.

Frank also addressed the question of Gaza, saying Israel should withdraw from the land, but that he understands the country’s right to “self-defense” when “people next door are trying to destroy you.”

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