The Baltimore Sun

Courageous column can open real debate

As soon as I finished the first paragraph of Ron Smith's column "So much for changing one-sided Mideast policy" (Commentary, March 13), I knew that he would be greeted with a firestorm of abuse.

So I was not surprised to see that among all respondents whose letters were published March 18, not one letter came to his defense ("Readers speak out on Ron Smith and the Israel lobby," letters, March 18).

Given these circumstances, I felt that I needed to write this letter.

My intent in doing so is neither to deny that there could be legitimate reasons for opposing Charles W. Freeman Jr.'s appointment nor to weigh in on the "Israeli lobby" controversy.

Rather, it is to advocate for more open discussion in pursuit of the truth regarding a conflict in the Middle East that holds the lives of millions of people in the balance and threatens to impact much of the world.

Like it or not, there is a large body of evidence - not from fringe leftists or bigots but from sources ranging from Harvard professors to the editorial desk of the mainstream Haaretz newspaper in Israel - that suggests that pro-Israel organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee wield undue influence on U.S. foreign policy and even on public discourse.

This is not to imply that there isn't evidence against this claim. But having sifted through considerable literature on this topic, I have yet to see anything that closes the case on the controversy.

For that reason, I give credit to Mr. Smith for having the courage to bring this broader issue to the mainstream press even if, in the process, he might have given inadequate attention to the specific reasons that many people opposed Mr. Freeman's appointment.

Let's hope that this step encourages a long-overdue examination of the issues rather than just more invective.

Arthur Spencer, Columbia

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