I know a public school teacher who was arrested for a particularly reprehensible crime. For weeks, the press in her town focused on those charges, limiting her denials to the very end of the story. After she was acquitted, she said that she felt as if she had been run over by a truck.
Joseph Zogby, recently a special assistant to the secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is recovering from a similar experience. After he graduated from the University of Virginia Law School, he founded the Palestine Peace Project, and, living on the West Bank of Israel from 1996 to 1998, he was also its director. He resigned from the corps before joining the State Department.
His organization brought 40 young lawyers and law students to the West Bank to work as interns with Palestinian human rights and other legal groups. They also met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
This year, while Zogby was at the State Department, he was broadsided by Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, who urged that he be fired from the State Department for having written of Israel as a "colonizer," a "monster" and an "abuser of Palestinians."
Klein's charges were based, he said, on two articles Zogby had written in the Arab-American literary journal Al Jadid and in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Alerted to Zogby's actions by the Klein attack, Sidney Zion, a columnist for the New York Daily News, also demanded Zogby's dismissal because of his "vicious anti-Israel writings," including his description of Israel as "an alien oppressor."
Zion noted that Malcolm Honlein -- executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations -- had described Zogby's appointment to the State Department as "obscene."
In two outraged editorials, the New York Post repeated the purported quotations from Zogby's articles, adding that Zogby had called the Oslo Accords "a capitulation, a virtually unconditional surrender to an occupier. . . . This guy shouldn't be working as a dogcatcher."
As the press attacks spread, even the usually judicious Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said of Zogby that there should have been no room in the State Department for "individuals who publicly advocate antagonistic views of Israel."
With regard to saying that Israel is "a monster," Zogby actually wrote: "How could I identify with the people who oppress the Palestinians? Maybe it was because we have a lot in common." Zogby cited "our genocidal treatment of the Native Americans and enslavement of African Americans. . . . After grappling with the similarities between Israelis and Americans for a while, I recognized that the only way out was to admit that the big, bad Israelis are just like me."
As for the Oslo Peace Accords, Zogby actually wrote: "Most Palestinians view Oslo as a capitulation, a virtually unconditional surrender to an occupier. . . . Most Palestinians, including high-ranking Palestinian Authority officials, have not read the dense, legalistic accords."
Zogby added that he had corrected a Palestinian official who had falsely charged an Israeli violation of part of the accords.
In a letter to the Forward, a Jewish weekly newspaper in New York, Brad Rubin, who identifies himself as "a proudly religious Jew," wrote he had spent a summer with Zogby's Palestine Peace Project on the West Bank. "Never did Zogby demand that we believe in, or subscribe to, any one view." And graduates of that program, Rubin went on, "have educated Palestinians about Americans, and Jews and Israelis about Palestinians, and Americans about each side."
Zogby is now an attorney in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. His job involves investigating and prosecuting "systemic civil rights violations by state and local law enforcement and in state and local prisons."
His job description cannot, of course, include prosecution of violations of fairness by members of the press. Zogby's only recourse is to continue to be the kind of person we used to call "a mensch" in my boyhood neighborhood.
Zogby also wrote that so long as "Israel occupies another people and nation . . . neither people will be truly free." That is exactly what I heard in Israel from Israeli colonels -- all of whom fought in the wars of survival -- when they started the Peace Now movement to keep their country free.