In Their Own Words
An interview with Governor Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee Chairman
PJV: What did you learn on your visit to Israel about the Arab/Israel conflict that you didn’t know before?
HD: I learned first-hand what an extraordinary act of statesmanship it was on the part of Prime Minister Sharon to withdraw from Gaza. It was a courageous act because Israel essentially got nothing in exchange for it. And it was a traumatic process for Israel. But I think it was a huge step toward what I hope will be a lasting peace. It marks a unique moment in Israel’s history.
PJV: But doesn’t that put the ball clearly in the Palestinians' court? Before Israel became a state, its leaders disarmed rival Zionist military organizations because they knew their new state had to have one military force under civilian control. Don’t the Palestinians have to do the same?
HD: Absolutely. We must make it very clear that to the Palestinian Authority that if they want our support, they must disarm the terrorists. Sharon has given the Palestinians an enormous opportunity with the Gaza withdrawal. But they could lose that opportunity if they don’t move to create a governable, responsible state of their own.
PJV: What can the U.S. do to encourage that?
HD: We can empower (Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud) Abbas with aid, but that aid must be contingent on him disarming the terrorists.
PJV: Given Bush’s drop in the polls and the accusations of corruption and cronyism in the administration, next Fall’s mid-term elections could give the Democrats the best chance in decades to wrest power from the GOP. Yet many Democrats still see the party as timid, unfocused, and unable to articulate a clear direction for the country. How do you respond?
HD: That’s about to change. We’ve done three critical things since I became chairman in February. By the end of the year, we’ll have professional organizers on the ground in all 50 states, a full three years before the next presidential election. We have an email list of 10,000 people who write letters to the editor and call talk shows to get our message out. And in a few weeks, we’ll be unveiling the product of extensive meetings between me and congressional leaders, governors, and mayors across the country. It’s a rebranding of our message that focuses on the key challenges facing the country. I know this process has taken time, but the party’s infrastructure has been neglected for 30 years.
PJV: And what is that message?
HD: We need a strong defense. We need an economy that works, especially for the 80% of our country whose incomes have gone down since Bush became president. We need a health insurance system that covers everyone – like every other industrialized nation in the world. And we need to have honesty in government. We need to pay attention to the culture of corruption that Bush brought with him to Washington and that has spread across the country.
PJV: What about racism? In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we saw and heard disturbing images and comments that showed our society is still plagued by racist attitudes. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room that few politicians, at least few white politicians, are willing to confront.
HD: I did. When I campaigned for president, I was the only white candidate who talked to white audiences about racism in this country. The problem is that most white people don’t think there is a race problem. They’re not aware, for example, of the results of a startling study published by the Wall Street Journal. It showed that if you’re an African-American with a clean criminal record, you are less likely to be called back for a second job interview than a white person with a drug conviction.
PJV: How do we change those attitudes?
HD: In the '60s, you could make white people feel guilty about their racist attitudes. It was a weapon that worked. But it doesn’t work anymore for the reason I just mentioned--a lack of awareness. And the flip side of guilt is anger and that’s what people like Rush Limbaugh have tapped into in recent years. The answer is to keep talking about it, to make people aware, and to confront white CEOs about their hiring practices. I realize there is a natural instinct to hire people who look like you, but it’s one we have to resist.
PJV: I can’t let you go without letting you weigh in on the war in Iraq.
HD: One of the things I heard in Israel was a growing concern about the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Initially, Israelis were happy to see Saddam removed from power. Now many wonder whether Israel is in greater danger from an unstable Iraq. Iraq is not going to be a democracy, at least the kind of democracy the president must have envisioned, and that’s a cause of great concern.Interview by Charles Smolover.
Governor's Dean's Trip to Israel
September 18, 2005
I write to you from Jerusalem. Our delegation has just arrived on our weeklong trip to Israel to see firsthand the significant challenges -- and new opportunities -- facing Israel.
Our first event was a moving Shabbat dinner hosted by an inspirational rabbi, Daniel Gordis, who made aliyah in 1999 along with his wife and three children.
I was especially moved by listening to the story of Gordis' 19 year old daughter. She had just completed her first week of military service -- service that she undertook voluntarily.
The family's hopes for peace, tempered but not weakened by realism, were both hopeful and informative.
I am looking forward toward the rest of my schedule, including meetings with senior Israeli and Palestinian leadership and the Israeli business community.
More flavor from my trip on Monday.
- Governor Howard Dean, Jerusalem
September 19, 2005
"Yad Vashem shines a unique light on the sacred responsibility we all share to remember those who perished.
"I leave here with the inspiration to do what I can to teach future generations that they are obligated to fight the dark side of humanity that allowed the Holocaust to happen. What has happened to the people of Israel must never be allowed to happen again anywhere on earth."
- Governor Howard Dean
September 20, 2005
Joining Governor Dean on his mission to Israel are three chairs of state Democratic parties. Each represents a politically critical state with a large Jewish population.
Today, the three joined Governor Dean and several of NJDC’s lay leaders for
a Black Hawk helicopter tour of southern Israel, as well as a briefing on the
disengagement from the Gaza Strip, by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Here are
some of their reactions:
And it was especially inspiring to meet some of the young men and women who have performed so well such a breathtakingly difficult task – separating families from their homes, some of which had been inhabited by those families for upwards of twenty years.
Major General Dan Harel, who lead the effort, was the model of professionalism. He said that he had a mission, and regardless of how difficult it might appear, he had to carry out his mission with respect and compassion. The stakes were high – Israeli society could ill afford an irreparable internal rift. And he and his forces got the job done.
- Former Congresswoman Karen Thurman, State Chair, Florida Democratic Party
I was deeply impressed by the dedication of the young people serving in the IDF. Throughout our trip to Israel, I have observed that even though Israel has a draft, people accept their responsibility to serve their nation willingly and seriously.
I have also grown to appreciate the people of Israel – despite being such a small nation, Israel has used its resources to the fullest to become a regional dynamo. For instance, Israel’s management of scarce water resources is a model for the international community.
I also admire how Israel’s national treasures are passed along generation to generation, such as Masada, which we toured today.
- Senator Harry Mitchell, State Chair, Arizona Democratic Party
I feel fortunate that I have been able to see so much of Israel in such a short time – even though I understand that I am only scratching the surface of what it has to offer.
I have been particularly struck by the variety of terrain – blooming desert, classical desert, modern cities, and historical treasures manage to exist within such a tiny piece of land.
I also got a sense of the vulnerability to terrorism that Israel faces when I viewed surveillance cameras of the border between Gaza and Egypt. Viewed from far above, the border patrols seemed almost like ants overwhelmed by a vast expanse.
- Dennis White, State Chair, Ohio Democratic Party
September 22, 2005
Each day of our trip to Israel has been very different, but I wanted to give you some sense of the trip and how much we have packed into each day by telling you about what we did on Wednesday.
We were honored to begin the day with Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who repeatedly demonstrated both his great wisdom and tremendous wit. His breadth of perspective on the changes Israel has experienced is unparalleled, as is his eloquence. We were particularly impressed by his passionate presentation on the overwhelming need to invest in the Negev and the Galilee.
Next, we traveled to the Kfar Saba Absorption Center, where we met with an amazing group of young people from the former Soviet Union who had moved to Israel only in the last two weeks. Their optimism, energy, and poise were remarkable, as is Israel's enthusiastic embrace of multiculturalism. We were particularly impressed by a presentation of Pnina, a 22 year old Ethiopian Jew completing her legal studies. She told the story of her arrival during Operation Moses twenty years ago.
Next, we toured the security fence by Kalkilya, where the architect responsible for locating the fence demonstrated the difficult balance that Israel seeks to maintain: dramatically reducing the threat to Israeli civilians from terrorists while minimizing the impact on the Palestinian community.
We then met with Yitzhak Herzog, the Misister of Construction and Housing. Herzog's energy, intelligence, and clear priorities allowed me to understand quickly why he is one of Labor's stars.
The rest of our day focused on learning more about the complex security environment in which Israel must exist.
First we met with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was particularly informative in explaining the existential threat that the Iranian nuclear program poses to Israel.
Finally, we ended the day by discussing counter-terrorism with Lior Liotan, whose experience in the IDF made him a particularly penetrating analyst. His discussion of how terrorists seek to maintain credibility with their peers and their community illustrated how much Americans need to know and can benefit from the unique understanding of terrorism that Israel has, unfortunately, been forced to develop.
- Steve Grossman,
Chair, Governor Dean’s Mission to Israel,
September 28, 2005
I wanted to share with you some final reflections on my trip to Israel with NJDC -- a trip made possible with the support of the American Jewish Committee's Project Interchange.
One common thread that I observed throughout our trip was the high degree of national purpose that Israel retains, even as we approach the sixtieth anniversary of Israel's founding. I saw this as I toured Masada and learned about how the IDF ensures that each generation of soldiers learns about this bitter part of Jewish history. I saw it when I toured Chaim Sheba Medical Center and met with some of the many Israeli scientists on the cutting edge of stem cell research.
And I saw the seriousness with which Israel takes its role as a Jewish homeland when I visited the Kfar Saba Absorption Center. These new Israelis, many of whom who had been victimized by anti-Semitism, spoke with deep emotion about their appreciation for the opportunity to live openly and proudly as Jews in a Jewish state.
But while I was moved by that which was contemporary, some of my most vivid memories will be of the timeless beauty of Jerusalem. No matter how much one reads and learns about Jerusalem, the only way to fully recognize the city's spiritual significance is to see it firsthand. With each trip to Israel, I gain a better understanding of the central role that Jerusalem plays in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.
- Gov. Howard Dean