On Friday, May 1, 2009 under a soft rain a number of us who had been to Israel the year before were driving from Philadelphia to Washington having arranged to bring with us Rabbi Menachem Froman of the Tekoa Settlement and Sheikh Ghassan Manasra who is Director of the Lights of Peace Society in Israel. Rabbi Froman looked at the Wissahickon and asked if that was a river. No, I said, we call it a creek. You’ll see a river in a few minutes. I had arranged through a friend who is a retired congressman for the two to meet with former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell who in January had been appointed the President’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. On the way the Sheikh called his friend Sheikh Zoher who began to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The rabbi called his wife Hadassah who began to pray from Tekoa.
As we waited for our meeting with Mitchell, the rabbi strapped on his tefillin. We were ushered into a room where Mitchell and his staff joined us. Shoes impeccably shined and intent on listening, Mitchell focused directly on whoever was speaking. He hardly blinked. “The simple gesture of maintaining eye contact,” he has written, “and concentrating on what another person is saying is not only a source of information and learning. It is also a sign of respect.”
Sheikh Manasra asserted that “Everyone who kills in the Name of God is not a Muslim. It is not Islam to kill in the Name of God or in the name of religion. The Sheikh added his desire for equality in Israel. He wants Arab Christians and Muslims to have full citizenship in the State of Israel. He added that people are not the problem. It is the politicians. Politicians are about the power of one group over another.
Rabbi Froman stated we need person to person peace; heart to heart peace. He said both the Hebrew and Arabic meaning of angel is to be a messenger. The messenger of peace is an angel. “Maybe you are the angels,” the Rabbi said. Mitchell responded that he would do his utmost to fulfill his duty for peace. The Rabbi teared up. Jerusalem is the holy city of all Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is the city of peace, the city of God. Jerusalem is the center of western and Islamic encounter. “If we can work it out in Jerusalem, then there is great opportunity for understanding everywhere.”
During this meeting Mitchell gave this respect to each no matter what side they represented. Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, part of the Israel lobby, “condemned Mitchell for his ‘neutrality,’ noting that ‘the Swiss were neutral during World War II,’” alluding of course to Nazi atrocities. 17 days after our visit to the Department of State, “seventy-six senators sent (President) Obama an AIPAC-initiated letter that signaled their concern over the deterioration in US-Israeli relations.”
Mitchell lasted in his appointment for two years. That was the tenure he signed on for and he saw no reason to continue. During that time the Obama administration also appointed Dennis Ross with responsibilities for the Middle East. Ross in between government stints had cofounded the pro-Israel “think tank” the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, another part of the lobby with strong connections to AIPAC. “Ross undercut Mitchell, contributing to the latter’s frustrations and creating a dynamic ‘plagued with tension,’ according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. At times, ‘the two refused to speak to one another, partly over Ross’ tendency to hold talks with Israeli officials behind Mitchell’s back.” (Ruebner, p. 56). “On May 13, 2011, the White House released a terse letter to Obama, backdated April 6, from a frustrated and despondent George Mitchell, tendering his resignation.” (Ruebner, p. 115) “The process in which I engaged as U.S. envoy to the Middle East,” Mitchell wrote in his autobiography, “was largely contentious and disappointing, one quarrel after another.” (p. 320)