Categories
Israel The Political Animal

“It goes without saying”: the Further Rhetoric of Terrorist Apologia

When the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, then with Salon,interviewed Rene Brulin in 2010, the purpose of the conversation was to discuss Brulin’s research into the origins of the contemporary usage of the term “terrorism.” According to Brulin it has two origins. One is in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the late 70s, President Carter frequently used the word to apply to the Iranian hostage-taking of U.S. embassy employees. This, Brulin says, was a specific usage. It had not yet evolved into a discourse. By discourse Brulin means the organized consideration of a subject via use of an identifiable vocabulary particular to it. The discourse, then, becomes expressive of a point of view about the subject, a way of seeing it, a perspective on it, and, as such a lens, also then helps determine how users of the vocabulary will see and think about the subject, just through their determinative use of the language of that particular discourse.

Brulin says that U.S. terrorism discourse developed out of the Reagan-era application of the term to Central American insurgencies. He also claims – and Greenwald pointedly leads him in this direction – that this discourse was purposely merged at the time with an earlier developmental strain: Israel’s use of the term to characterize the violent activities of its Arab enemies. According to Brulin, this merger was the goal of conferences held by Israel’s Jonathan Institute.

The objective, the official objective is – I have the transcripts of the conference – it says that the objective is “to focus public attention on the real nature of international terrorism, on the threat that it poses to all democratic societies, and on the measures necessary for defeating the forces of terror.” And everything in [Brulin’s] book is about the fact that terrorism is not something that, is not a threat that Israel only is facing, but it’s a threat to all democracies, the whole Western world.

Then there’s this idea that terrorism and totalitarianism, meaning the Soviet Union and its allies, are linked, that the terrorists are also the totalitarians. And then there is the focus on state support or state sponsoring of international terrorism, which are issues that were absolutely not in the American discourse on terrorism until then….

….

…so you have a clear link between the American discourse, suddenly, and the Israeli discourse, and from that moment on, in America, people are going to be starting to talk about terrorism in ways similar to how Israel had been talking about it for 10 or 15 years.

This account provides the Rosetta stone to understanding the rhetoric of terrorist apologia. In hisfinal column for Salon, Greenwald wrote of this history by Brulin,

From the start, the central challenge was how to define the term so as to include the violence used by the enemies of the U.S. and Israel, while excluding the violence the U.S., Israel and their allies used, both historically and presently. That still has not been figured out, which is why there is no fixed, accepted definition of the term, and certainly no consistent application.

I addressed last time the crucial claim, arising out of this argument, that there is no effectively applicable meaning to the term “terrorism.” Here also, though, Greenwald performs the reflexive mirroring that is the key to understanding terrorist apologia rhetoric. Greenwald expressly means to join the United States and Israel as politico-cultural allies and international forces and to claim an intent on their part to frame their enemies as terrorists and to excuse their own acts in contrast.

The mirror claim to be made on behalf of the U.S. and Israel – and derived from a more complex historical analysis than that in which Greenwald engages – is that totalitarian states and forces similarly oppose the U.S. and Israel and came to act against them out of the same kinds of ideological tendencies, if not for the same geo-historical reasons. Thus emerged, for this and other reasons, a natural circumstantial alliance between the two in combatting terrorist activities and sources.

The real challenge, then – in contrast to the conspiratorial challenge Greenwald asserts – is how to look at the mirror and not see only mirrorings. How can we observe circumstances and not find in them only inverted, contesting mirror images, but identify instead the substance of an actual object outside the mirror, distinguished from its inverted mirror image? For the rhetoric of terrorist apologia is purposely constructed of just these indistinguishable reflections – as in “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” It is just a matter, you see, according to the rhetoric, of which side of the mirror you stand on.

The fundamental rhetorical tools used to create these mirror illusions, deceptions, and confusions (like the hall of mirrors shoot out at the end of Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghaiwith every form an illusion until a bullet finds its mark) are what are called, in sentence stylistics,parataxis and hypotaxis. Parataxis offers semantic units that are, as the prefix tells us, apparently equal to each other in import and relation. Hypotaxis constructs subordinate relationships, as in the basic complex sentence, of an independent, main clause and a dependent, subordinate clause.

Apologia rhetoric begins with the relativizing structures of parataxis, as in the parallelism of one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. But as in the attempt to first neutralize the word terrorism by rendering it meaningless, yet also contradictorily then attach it to different objects, in the U.S. and Israel, terrorist apologia frequently grounds its arguments in the pretense of hypotaxis, explored under the guise of balanced parataxis, but only effectively to reverse which ideas are subordinate to which. Argumentatively, we may begin with this emphasis, for example.

While insulting a man to his face is wrong, beating a man to the ground in response is completely unacceptable.

Effectively, however, we may end with this.

While beating a man  to the ground is completely unacceptable, it is wrong to insult a man to his face.

We alter the subordination, thus which idea we express more emphatically, here by transferring the subordinating conjunction to the opposing clause and even by reversing the order of the clauses: climatic ordering tends to place emphasis on a concluding thought. We could further the change in balance by removing the “completely” in the subordinate clause and adding an intensifier like “simply” before “wrong” in the main clause.

A disingenuous interlocutor can clam in either case that he has expressed disapproval of both acts, yet it is obvious that in each instance, one behavior has received the greater disapproving attention. What terror apologists regularly do, on both the sentence and broader level, is claim to condemn (and thus, supposedly, reject) terror, while proceeding to argue for a more balanced view of interests, and of cause and effect, that functionally, like the complex sentences above, excuses Islamist and Arab terrorism by explaining their roots in American and Israeli acts. The United States and Israel are effectively assigned the responsibility for the terror against them and even, as the word is criticized as meaningless, covertly and overtly charged with terrorism themselves.

Terror apologists pretend that the argument is conceptual. It is an ongoing disagreement over and search for clarity about the meaning of words: terrorism, democracy, justice, freedom. What can gay rights really mean in an “apartheid” state? They must not be rights or an expression of liberty at all; they must be covertly something else, for which the apologists make up new words: pinkwashing,homonationalism. Faced with these common human and political contradictions, pretending that the contest is rhetorical rather than ideological, the apologists, rather than critically examine their principles, thus expand the vocabulary of their own formative discourse, from which they cannot escape.

Rather than directly state, in many cases, that at this point in the moral millhouse of human history terror apologists judge the West to be the world’s foremost malevolent and politically destructive agent, they pretend that clearer moral insight can be produced if we just rhetorically re-envision it. One rhetorical device the apologists use to mask this avoidance is

It goes without saying.

This is a common place figure. It is used to introduce a long defense of the grievances behind a violent terrorist attack, as, when writing about the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in “Was the London killing of a British soldier ‘terrorism’?” Glenn Greenwald offered,

That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without sayingbut given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term “terrorism”, it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence? [Emphasis added]

Sometimes terror apologists do literally believe that “it goes without saying” blah, blah, blah, and do not say it at all. Most of the time, however, they do, as a sop to humane sensibilities and as a cover for the true balance of their antipathies and sympathies, make this offering of what, in rhetoric is called a performative: a statement that performs the very act, just in the speaking, that it articulates. To saythat it goes “without saying” is, in fact, nonetheless actually to say it – and in this figure, since it purports not to be saying it (“goes without saying that”), we might call it an anti-peformative performative. (I’m just sayin’.)

It goes without saying can take different forms, in different words. For instance, on October 18, 2001, Noam Chomsky gave a talk at MIT in the aftermath of 9/11. Titled “The New War Against Terror,” it provided, even in those circumstances, the usual anti-American presentation from Chomsky, during the course of which he accused the United States of perpetrating in Afghanistan, and so quickly, “some sort of silent genocide.” Before all that, though, Chomsky said,

I’m going to assume 2 conditions for this talk. The first one is just what I assume to be recognition of fact. That is that the events of September 11 were a horrendous atrocity probably the most devastating instant human toll of any crime in history, outside of war.

That was Chomsky’s “it goes without saying” saying figure, after which it did, as is always so, further go without ever saying again.

The “it goes without saying” formulation has an additional purpose. We might call it the foundation for  plausible refutation. Greenwald’s piece on Rigby’s murder earned him a spat with Andrew Sullivan, who was enraged by Greenwald’s – I think the term would be apologia. This enabled Greenwald to respond with the a follow up figure of speech.

I expressly stated

Greenwald replied to Sullivan thus:

That I “legitimated” the London attack or argued it was a “legitimate protest” is as obvious a fabrication as it gets. Not only did I argue no such thing, and not only did I say the exact opposite of what Sullivan and others falsely attribute to me, but I expressly repudiated – in advance – the very claims they try to impose on me. [Emphasis added]

It is a wonder so many people keep getting Greenwald so wrong when he so expressly states his positions so clearly: “the exact opposite of what Sullivan and others falsely attribute to me.”

How can this be? Would not those who until now, according to Greenwald, grievously mistake him, happily accept a commonality in condemnation of this awful violence, whatever continuing disagreements there may be? What can possibly be the source of such misunderstanding?

Here is Noam Chomsky, again, in the Monthly Review of November 2001.

We should not forget that the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.

Here is Chomsky being questioned by Deborah Solomon of The New York Times on November 2, 2003.

Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?

No. This is the best country in the world.

Why would anyone be confused?

There is on the basis of these two sentences, actually, greater legitimate cause for confusion than there is in Greenwald. Juxtaposed as I have offered them, the sentences are paratactic. Neither one primary or subordinate to the other, they are unmistakably contradictory. In broader contexts, however, both Chomsky and Greenwald, and many like them, are quite clearly hypotactic in their rhetorical structures. They may offer expressions critical of violent political acts against the U.S. Israel, the United Kingdom, and other Western nations, but those judgments are unmistakably subordinate to the analysis that follows and which is intended to clarify a basis for understanding the violence, for rooting it in acts by the West that are original and, at the very least, worse, because originating in greater power.

Whether this understanding rises to the status of justification for terrorist violence – apologia – is yet another area of dispute and rhetorical dissimulation.

(Next time: Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.)

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

Lessons from Brooklyn College BDS, Barghouti, and Butler

.

This commentary originally appeared in the Algemeiner on February 22, 2013.

Reader and correspondent David Lurie has directed me to some not well-publicized revelations about the Brooklyn College BDS event. To begin, the campus BDS chapter defended itselfagainst various accusations of selective and prejudicial admission to the event and other claims, including the discriminatory eviction of four Jewish students. On the face of it, the account of circumstances surrounding admission is conceivable. One can easily imagine the organizers having become overwhelmed by the notoriety and numbers drawn by the event. One can imagine, but since there is no video record of events, we have only the current claims and counter claims.

Why is there no video record of events, which would help clarify the circumstances of the eviction of the four students, confirming or disconfirming different accounts?

Initially, BC-SJP decided not to allow the event to be videotaped by media, at the request of one of the speakers whose remarks were to be published online in The Nation magazine the same day.

While Brooklyn BDS curiously declines to name the speaker who requested the videotape ban, we know that this was Judith Butler, since they were her remarks that were published in The Nation. This is the Butler who opened her remarks by praising the idea of academic freedom and its preservation (!) in the successful holding of the BDS event.

It is not difficult to see why Butler sought the ban on videotaping. It was just last summer, during the controversy over her award of the Adorno Prize, whenvideotape of a 2006 UC Berkeley event revealed her praise of Hamas and Hezbollah as progressive organizations and her advocacy of engagement with them. During the summer controversy, she sought to misrepresent by the written word only what she had actually said, but the videotape exposed the truth. This time, Butler ensured there would be only her official statement. Without a videotape of her delivered remarks, we cannot even know for sure that what The Nation printed is even a completely accurate account of what Butler actually said.

Next, in a telephone interview with The Jewish Week, Carlos Guzman, one of the BDS event organizers, provided an account of the student evictions that contradicts public statements even by Brooklyn College.

The organizer of this month’s controversial forum at Brooklyn College who ordered four pro-Israel students ousted from the event said he acted because the students “didn’t belong” in the room, despite having been escorted there by a vice president of the school.

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Carlos Guzman said he also acted because it seemed to him that the students “were preparing” to circulate flyers to others in the room — not because they were doing so, as a college spokesman previously alleged.

….

Guzman later told The Jewish Week that college administrators “broke the rules. … They basically snuck them in without our knowledge, into the room.”

Amid the declarations of commitment to academic freedom and free inquiry, we see a contradictory pattern. Butler closed her remarks with a moral imperative.

We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.

This is a characteristic, though unusually lucid example of the mystico-poetic theory-talk that emerged from the influence of Martin Heidegger. The notion of “dwelling” is particularly Heideggerian. Heidegger, in his profound considerations of the nature and function of language, distinguished between the practical use of language, in order to do things, and language that seeks deeper meaning, which gives rise to the poetic. Heidegger, we came to learn, failed drastically himself at managing the intersection of these two roles. Many of his linguistic children actually use a version of the poetic – specialized language like “dwell” – united with more generally impenetrable prose to obscure what they advocate doing (what they might call praxis) in the high fashion garb of intellectual mere rumination: I come to consider, not to act. Or in the reverse rhetorical ploy, seeking the same obscurity of action behind the act of speech, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Butler could more simply have said, in order to promote model democratic behavior, “We need to listen and speak freely and openly with each other, even when we disagree.” Instead, promoting a kind of realm of transformed being, she declares we must “dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.” In such a formulation strong disagreement is not merely a democratic difficulty we need to accommodate; it is fractiousness itself that is as much a feature as a bug of this elevated state of dwelling in free inquiry.

That’s the talk. What’s the praxis?

Butler bans cameras and publishes an official statement, which may or may not represent what she actually said, in a house organ – just as would any common polwho has placed into the Congressional “Record” remarks he later amends, or never actually delivered on a congressional floor. Or some Commissar erecting a verbal Potemkin Village of an occurrence. She does not, by any account, speak up to protest when the Brooklyn BDS modus operandi, according to one of the event’s own organizers was clearly not to “dwellcriticallyfractiously, and freely in political discourse together.”

It is a phenomenon always to be observed how a certain kind of missionary critic will become, by backward projection, that which she, or he, critiques. Witness Julian Assange’s efforts to protect his own secrets.

A truth about BDS that it seeks to obscure, and about many fervid opponents of Israel, is that much like the verbal show of intellectual liberty belied by performance above, they mask their fuller intentions under a cloak of civil rights or, here, academic freedom. In the West today, there are many Islamic fundamentalists who will decry any apparent violation of their rights – which in a democracy they should indeed be entitled to do – while, as advocates of Sharia, they do actually believe in those rights at all. During the McCarthy era, those who appeared resistantly before congressional committees commonly stood on either their Fifth or First Amendment rights. They did have rights to do either, but which choice they made – to refuse to disclose their beliefs in self-protection or to assert freely their right to those beliefs – could reveal much about the integrity of the person’s acts and position.

Fundamental to Brooklyn College and its political science department’s defense in sponsoring the BDS event was the claim that sponsorship did not signal endorsement of BDS as a policy. I have already discussed the greater complexity of implication in the sponsorship than such simple disclaimers acknowledge. It appears that every other academic department on the Brooklyn College campus recognized this complexity, too, when all 33 that political science chair Paisley Currah contacted amid the controversy, that they might ratify the political science department in co-sponsorship, declined to do so. Brooklyn College English professor and well-known progressive voice Eric Altermanexplained this refusal.

No doubt many if not most of the supporters of BDS are the naïve, idealistic types of people who were attracted to Communism in the thirties, the Black Panthers in the sixtiess, the Nader campaign in 2000 and who knows what will comes next. In certain respects, once upon a time, I was this kind of person myself. But their innocence—and the abuse that results from opposing them—does not excuse our responsibility to condemn the intellectual masquerade in which BDS engages and the destructive consequences it supports.

BDS leader Omar Barghouti has openly, yet disingenuously stated,

While I firmly advocate nonviolent forms of struggle such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions to attain Palestinian goals, I just as decisively, though on a separate track, support a unitary state based on freedom, justice, and comprehensive equality as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict.

This is an intellectually preposterous notion, tapping into both the deceitful and self-deceptive etymology of the fallacious. BDS promotes the most aggressively delegitimizing view of Israel’s position, policies, and practices in response to over sixty years of rejection and aggression against it from the Arab world. To advocate for the moral imperative of BDS is to reject Israel’s claims to its history, both ancient and modern, and the legitimacy of its efforts to survive as a Jewish state. Barghouti, in fact, advocates the demise of Israel as a Jewish state. These are not different tracks: the perspective on Israel and the effective goal are the same. The claim of a “separate track” is a declarative shell game so poor and detectable that one can see the ball rolling on the table as it shifts from shell to shell.

More openly, Judith Butler, without the aid of rhetorical railroad switches, openly opposes the existence of Israel.

Despite its claims, what the Brooklyn College political science department sponsored was more than an educational exercise in academic freedom, a demonstration of the free inquiry that is the defining activity of a university. If what the department did was no more than place its imprimatur on the BDS event as one presenting an idea worthy of intellectual consideration and debate, then what the department so offered moral standing to is the idea that Israel, in its historic self-defense, is an outlaw state, an idea promoted by two people who believe that Israel should cease to exist and who are committed to promoting that end. The wild and ludicrous arrogance of all those involved in fulfilling this role lies in the smug sense of entitlement to so threaten the legitimacy and future of a whole nation, the fulfillment of a people’s millennial dream of deliverance, and receive no strong and assertive reaction in response. The burlesque of this academic variety review is to pretend that BDS is mere formulas on a chalkboard, the oscillating multi-verse versus a terminal Big Bang, a symposium on Adam Smith and Karl Marx – when instead it is an activist political campaign against one party to an intractable and existential conflict. And supporters of that party, Israel, are supposed to light their pipes and polish their elbow patches and admire the scholarship.

One truth may be that some academics are so accustomed to the flatulent stink of their own quickly dissipating rhetoric – like Butler’s commitment to dwelling in something or other – that they believe they can engage in political activism in the guise of academic inquiry and receive a free pass from those they act against. They think they get to play pied piper, then claim that all they are doing is putting on a concert. A marked case in point is CUNY doctoral student Kristofer Petersen-Overton, the focus of controversy at Brooklyn College himself two years ago, when he was hired, then unhired, then rehired to teach a grad course on the Middle East.

Writing in the Huffington Post to criticize those who opposed the Brooklyn College BDS event, Petersen-Overton offered the standard disingenuous deceptions, claiming of opponents that they had

managed to transform a standard panel discussion on a controversial issue into a cause for pious outrage.

standard panel discussion of two, not discussants, but advocates. But why quibble over nomenclature. It’s just talk, right?

Petersen-Overton also took issue with Alan Dershowitz, whom he termed a

longtime scourge and chief prosecutor of insufficiently pro-Israel academics everywhere.

Yes, that is it, isn’t it – one draws interest from Dershowitz by being “insufficiently pro.”

Curiously, Paisley Currah, in his defense of his political science department – the department that did, ultimately, by unanimous vote rehire Petersen-Overton to teach – a defense that offered that familiar refrain about the non-meaning of the BDS event sponsorship (also conveyed unanimously – not veryfractious that Poly Sci department, are they), not only vigorously contested Dershowitz’s arguments, but characterized him, in his objections, to start, as one of “the usual suspects.”

Interesting phrase. Usual suspects? In what?

Currah specializes in queer and transgender issues, but Dershowitz is a full-throated advocate of gay rights, so he can’t be suspect in that area. Dershowitz is also a noted advocate of civil liberties, so in that cannot reside the suspicion.

Is it Israel? Is Dershowitz a “usual suspect” in regard to Israel? In what? In his ardent defense of the nation? Suspect?

What leanings does this glib phrase betray? Oh, and Petersen-Overton, about whom the issue of contention two years ago was his capacity for academic objectivity, against his record of Palestinianadvocacy, and a similar body of published work? Writing about BDS just this past October, he said,

In this essay, I take it for granted that Israel’s behavior in the occupied Palestinian territories is characterized by extreme violence and racism, defining qualities of all military occupations. We may or not agree as to the particular details of a desirable settlement, but for those of us uninfluenced by either dogmatic messianism or unrepentant sadism, the occupation must come to an end sooner or later. As activists and scholars who take an interest in human rights, we should be willing to consider the ethical and strategic desirability of all forms of resistance. No discussion should be off-limits.

Here’s to the academic life. And its freedoms.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Uncategorized

Response to Judith Butler at Brooklyn College

.

This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on February 15. 

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti

The ironic and the disingenuous are kin. Their commonality resides in a gap, which is the distance between what is said and something else. With the ironic, the distance is between what one says and what one means. With the disingenuous, the distance is between what one says and what one has reason to recognize as true.

Judith Butler is not an ironist – not intentionally so, or perhaps only once, when she opened her remarks at Brooklyn College by referring to the controversy surrounding her appearance with Omar Barghouti at the Students for Justice in Palestine BDS event as a Megillah: “What a Megillah!” By these words Butler sought to wrap her appearance and the destructive impetus of BDS in the comfort of traditional Jewish experience – a tedium, like the tedium of all that Jewish disputation over the millennia, but by that fact merely a part of Jewish experience, just oystaynenzikh over coffee and some rugelach, and not thereby an outlier, something to fear or be rejected. No more than a variation on the time-honored tendency to hakn a tshaynik among the mishpucha.

Butler knew, however,that what she is about is not a comfort, that it would unravel the wrap, and that the arguments against her are so far from a tedium that she would spend all her words to misrepresent and seek to counter them.

Butler closed her remarks – it is the next to last sentence – so:

We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.

She had opened her remarks by saying,

I would like personally to thank all those who took this opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of academic freedom.

This of an event that was closed to the general public, to which the press was barred, and from which voices presumed to be dissenting were ejected.

What an ironist. How disingenuous.

Academic Freedom: What We’re Talking About

The Brooklyn College political science department claimed that to sponsor the event was not necessarily to endorse it. Much of the controversy surrounding the event has hung on this point even while missing it. It is a fine point still lacking – from the Brooklyn College political science department and anyone else who has written on the matter – an effective distinction.

To sponsor is to take responsibility for or to financially underwrite. To endorse is to express support or approval. To take responsibility for is one form of support. To financially underwrite is also a form of support. When the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine sought co “sponsorship”of the event by the political science department, SJP did not, according to department chair Paisley Currah, seek and receive financial support for the event. Financial support raises other issues, but since there was none, they need not in this instance be addressed. Without funding from the department, what could the meaning of “sponsorship” be? Other than the college’s stating what it claims sponsorship is not – endorsement – what is it?

With no other practical purpose, sponsorship can only signal some form of endorsement.

But endorsement of what?

A university can stand in three relations to an idea. One is to agree with and promote it. Most people would argue that this is not the role of a university, but obviously, when one considers it, universities do agree with and promote the idea of free inquiry – academic freedom – and, arguably, a liberal education.

A university may represent ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. This is its primary role. In political philosophy, students learn of utilitarianism, Marxism, liberal democracy, anarcho-syndicalism, Plato’s enlightened autocracy. The university will serve as advocate for none of them, but moderate, instead, students’ encounter and engagement with these ideas.

A university will not represent all ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. It will not so represent Nazism or racism (not just the behavior, but a belief in racial superiority) or pederasty as an acceptable model of adolescent development. It is the precise role of the university, however, to acknowledge, in the appropriate context, all ideas and clarify them for educational purposes. In the appropriate classes, students will and should learn about Nazism, what it advocated and what it was. One can imagine the wavering commitment of many, though, were a branch of the Ku Klux Klan to establish a student group on the Brooklyn College Campus and invite David Duke (both a racist and anti-Semite) to speak, while also seeking the “sponsorship” of the political science department.

If Brooklyn College’s sponsorship was not fully of BDS as a position, an advocacy of it, the sponsorship was at least, then, of BDS as a morally respectable idea, so that a university would be fulfilling its proper role not only in acknowledging the idea’s existence and clarifying it for educational purposes, but actually in promoting the idea as worthy of our consideration and our moral intellectual regard and not beyond the pale.

However, when one rejects bias and discrimination and corrupt historical revisionism, such as Holocaust denial, one does not only reject them as supportable practices, but as ideas worthy of our serious engagement. The role of the university is to permit students who are led to engage an objectionable idea to so engage it, even, where appropriate, to educate them in its nature. In that is the academic freedom. Academic freedom does not require that the institution place an imprimatur of sponsorship upon an extra-mural event, an imprimatur that has no other, practical meaning but the symbolism of the sponsorship. The choice to provide such an imprimatur can only reasonably be interpreted as a signal that the ideas to be presented at the event are worthy of consideration. This Brooklyn College, in mischaracterizing the nature and responsibilities of academic freedom, disingenuously fails to acknowledge, as does Judith Butler, who actually does endorse BDS.

An Unreliable Narrator

“That there is no final or adequate narrative reconstruction of the prehistory of the speaking ‘I’ does not mean we cannot narrate it; it only means that at the moment when we narrate we become speculative philosophers or fiction writers.”

Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself

Still prefatory to her actual attention to Israel, Butler felt compelled to acknowledge the Brooklyn College event’s most vocal and high profile critic, stating that it had been asserted that

no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor, but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

No doubt, the audience was amused by this deflationary poke. Of course the gibe was at Alan Dershowitz, who it is my understanding is capable of offering his own defenses, but we learn something from the specific claim of the criticism. Here is what Dershowitiz actually said to this point:

The event shouldn’t be cancelled, but the political science department should withdraw it’s [sic] support, or alternatively the political science department should invite me or someone else that represents an opposing point of view and give equal endorsement.

Dershowitz’s focus, we see, was on the political science department’s sponsorship of the event, and he considered it sufficient merely for the sponsorship to be withdrawn. Alternatively, he offered himself or anyone else who could represent the opposing view to participate in the sponsored event.

If Butler cannot accurately represent in a single sentence the content and the rather simple alternative proposal of one single other sentence, how may she be trusted to offer an account of matters so complex and profound as the history and nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In the same paragraph, Butler had asserted,

If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech.

She attempts to refute the two proposed claims – Dershowitiz must speak and BDS is hate speech – by presenting them as contradictory.

So in the [case of hate speech], it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech), but in the [other] instance, it is a viewpoint, presumably singular, but cannot be allowed to be heard without an immediate refutation. The contradiction is clear, but when people engage in a quick succession of contradictory claims such as these, it is usually because they are looking for whatever artillery they have at their disposal to stop something from happening.

In the two quotations above, Butler makes three additional misstatements. First, it may be that in the rhetoric department at U.C. Berkeley hate speech is not protected speech, but in the United States of America, it is protected. It is also, wherever it may direct its hate, a viewpoint. It may be an ugly, emotion laden viewpoint, but it takes a view, and it has a point, and not infrequently in our contentious activist world, movements are constructed around those points.

A ” quick succession of contradictory claims” is surely inimical to informed discussion and debate. So, too, is the inability to accurately describe reality in even a single sentence.

Butler sets next on refuting claims that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. She asks,

[W]hy would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic?… [W]hy would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic?

She introduces her summation of this rhetorical display, with

For those who say that exercising internationally recognized rights is anti-Semitic….

The level of disingenuousness in these loaded questions and distorted characterization is truly remarkable. It is the first demonstration of a fair and critical mind, capable of stepping outside the frame of its own narrative, to be able to represent its interlocutor’s argument in the opponent’s own terms. The challenge then is to refute the terms of the opponent’s argument and offer one’s one own terms in rebuttal. Yet when Butler, a believer in narratives, calls in her closing for us all to “dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together,” she is so opaque to herself that even when she assumes the rhetorical stance of stating her opponent’s position, she cannot, even to the level of a lone introductory phrase, represent it honestly, so as to attempt the refutation honestly.

All the preceding is sufficient to demonstrate Butler’s level of reliability as an interlocutor in debate. (There is far more of this kind of inaccuracy and mischaracterization in her five thousand words than is accounted for here.) At Brooklyn College she had two major points to make about Jews, and the first continued this pattern of misrepresentation, but at this stage, in the critical matter of Butler’s own special concerns, more subtly.

Only if we accept the proposition that the state of Israel is the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people would a movement calling for divestment, sanctions and boycott against that state be understood as directed against the Jewish people as a whole. Israel would then be understood as co-extensive with the Jewish people.

….

The second point, to repeat, is that the Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated

This argument is both obtuse and a straw man. No significant party, if any, claims that Israel is “the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people” that Israel is “co-extensive with the Jewish people,” or rejects the manifest reality that the “Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and … Zionism.” No more than is France the exclusive representative of the French people or Russia of the Russian people. People of French ethnic origin, like any other, may, and do, live in other nations, may engage French cultural practice, may feel a sense of French identification even while preferring to live elsewhere, may criticize French society or government, may even give up their citizenship for another, while remaining ethnically and even recognizably “French.”

Of course, Jewishness, serving as both ethnicity and religious faith offers conceptual complications for nationality. So does all of human history. The French pied-noir of colonial North Africa found themselves after Algerian independence no longer acceptably Algerian and not comfortably French. Unlike most other nations, nationality in the United States has nothing to do with ethnicity. In contrast, no one expatriating to Russia and gaining Russian citizenship would ever, nonetheless, be considered “Russian.” Those of Irish descent in the U.S. frequently feel very strong identification with Ireland, as during the long conflict in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, they remained American in citizenship and in equally strong identification. They criticized one side or another in Ireland, yet if a grandparent was born in Ireland, are automatically eligible for Irish citizenship. These complexities of social organization are the rule. The question is whether we generously accommodate them – in honor of the impulse toward affective association that leads all peoples, Palestinians, too, to wish to dwell together in commonality –  or we choose one anomaly among others as the reason for prejudicial exception against Israel and Jews, under the pretense that there is any kind of categorical consistency to nationality.

One atypical feature that Butler exploits regarding Israel is the apparent lexical distinction, in English, between the words “Israel” and “Jew.” This is unlike the obvious relation of “France” to “French” and “Russia” to ”Russian.” The apparent verbal separation seems to provide an opening for making just that argument of separation between Israel and Jews. On the contrary of course, etymologically, Israel, or Yisrael in Hebrew are the descendents of Jacob, who have struggled with God, the Hebrew people – Jews.

Why are not citizens of the United States called United Statesians? What crisis of authority in representation– if voluntarily accepted – does this present? Would the likeness to other national identifications be easier to recognize if Israel changed its name, to suit the modern lingua franca, to Jewland?

Or would such an alteration only highlight all the more the true issue at the core – the objection by Butler that there be a land for the Jews?

Before Butler got to that central conviction, however – her objection to the existence of a land for the Jews – there was one more logical stumble to make on the way to her lurching conclusion. It is easier to dispense with Israel if one can argue that Israel deserves to be dispensed with.

If Israel is to be considered a democracy, the non-Jewish population deserves equal rights under the law.

Now certainly all true democrats will acknowledge that every proclaimed democracy faces the moral compulsion to pursue complete and perfect democracy. The United States pursues that so far elusive goal too. But the “if/(then)” conditional Butler puts forward commits the “all or nothing” variation on the fallacy of false dilemma. In full context, she is claiming that Israel is discriminatory toward its non-Jewish citizens. (Butler chooses to say “population” rather than citizens, perhaps because that in itself would speak well of Israel and would raise the inevitable contrast with Lebanon and Jordan, where Palestinians citizenship and rights have been dramatically and increasingly problematic.) Her all or nothing claim is that if Israel has deficiencies in its equal extension of rights to all of its citizens, then, by dint of that imperfection, it is not a democracy at all, and is clearly a deserving target of its critics. We would find by this fallacious logic that probably nary a democracy in the world is actually a democracy, including certainly the United States during the long period of African slavery, the longer period of female and Indian disenfranchisement, and even until today, when LGBT Americans do not enjoy fully equal rights.

Butler’s continuous forays into illogic are not ultimately a difficulty in her arguments against Israel, though, since Israel should not exist to begin.

The Exile of the Jews

The essential argument against BDS that Butler sought to refute is that it is discriminatory, hateful, anti-Semitic, even destructive.

I am only seeking to make the case that BDS is not a destructive or hateful movement.

Butler claimed that she does not agree with all expressions of the BDS movement, yet she chose to appear with Omar Barghouti. Omar Barghouti expressly seeks the end – the destruction – of  Israel and of a Jewish state.

While I firmly advocate nonviolent forms of struggle such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions to attain Palestinian goals, I just as decisively, though on a separate track, support a unitary state based on freedom, justice, and comprehensive equality as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict.

Butler also offered a risible protest against the abuse of Holocaust and Nazi analogies by defenders of Israel, when anyone conversant with the contemporary contours of this debate knows that such comparisons, of Israel to Nazi Germany, in word and in image, have become a nearly daily commonplace from foes of Israel – even from Omar Barghouti.

Avishai D. Don, writing for the Harvard Crimson almost exactly a year ago on the subject of BDS and Barghouti’s book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, said,

But the BDS movement hides its ultimate goal of dismantling the Jewish state behind its public rhetoric.

….

Utilizing the vocabulary of international norms, the movement actually systematically attempts to undermine the international consensus that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

This is what Butler did disingenuously at Brooklyn College, first, by appearing with Bhargouti, and second, by failing to acknowledge at that college, that educational setting, that she, too, does not merely seek to correct Israeli policy, but actively opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. She did hint at her position, though.

When Zionism becomes co-extensive with Jewishness, Jewishness is pitted against the diversity that defines democracy, and if I may say so, betrays one of the most important ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.

Butler does not explain why the Frenchness of France or the Japaneseness of Japan are not so “pitted against the diversity that defines democracy” that the existence of their states, too, need be opposed. However, she does manage to misrepresent the truth in yet another sentence. Butler refers to one of the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.” What shall we say of thinking that characterizes as an ethical obligation what was actually an existential necessity, a necessity that met its ultimate failure in the Holocaust – a failure that should have served irrefutably for all as the irresistible historical peroration of the necessity of the Jewish state? But Butler has stated on more than one occasion that she does not, in her public utterance and advocacy, feel compelled to seek accordance with reality.

It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.

Butler wrote those words in Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, and it is in that work that she fully makes the case for the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition.” Alan Johnson sums the argument in his Fathom review of the book.

Dispersion, for Butler, must be thought ‘not only as a geographical situation but also as an ethical modality.’ By returning to the diasporic experience we find a ‘Jewish route to the insight that equality must be secured for a population regardless of religious affiliation’ and a means to effect ‘a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.’

Words on a page, their reception by the eyes, the scanned processing in rapid succession, for immediate comprehension, of the ideas of a text may not always deliver their full effect. Sometimes what has been said needs to settle, to descend deeper into comprehension with the full weight of meaning and implication, and in some cases, the effrontery of its claim upon the world. Butler argues not only that Jews drew from the Diaspora, their long exile in often and ultimately almost always hostile foreign lands, the experience and insights of an expanded and deeper moral nature. Butler is arguing, too, that this exilic nature has finally actually become the Jews: consigned to exile, Jews should now be condemned to it, for clearly there are millions of Jews who do not wish it. This is of no concern to Butler, for whom impossibility is no bar to reason, like labeling as a “solution” the kind of proposal that millions would fight and even die to prevent.

Jews, for Judith Butler, are to become the symbolic sacrifice on the ideational alter of post-nationalism, for their renewed exile will represent “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.” The God of Abraham and of Moses would let his people go. Cyrus the Great would release the Jews from captivity in Babylon. But Judith Butler will exile them forever.

Who today would theorize that the African Diaspora, having been stolen from their homes and submerged in the depths of servitude had actually – look at the riches of culture they have produced out of their pain and endurance in so many nations – found their true and greater natures in an ethic of selfless service, to which perhaps they should return? Who would philosophize that the indigenous populations of the world – those whom Butler and her allies continue to abuse by co-opting the vocabulary of their cause as a weapon against not Israel, but Jews – who would argue that in their centuries of conquest, abuse, and loss, their alienation from spiritual relation to their lands, indigenous peoples have been transformed by history into a moral exemplar, and that only through their continued disconnection and their yearning for reconnection can they serve to lead us away from materialism and back to a purer relation to the earth?

But Jews should be returned to exile from the land that was, and is again, their own in order to model “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.”

Butler  finds difficulty with the term ant-Semitic. She argued repeatedly at Brooklyn College against its use and applicability to the selective and discriminatory policies she promotes. It has become, to her mind, a term subject to “radical misuse.” Here is another term, then, to describe her convolution of Jewishness, perhaps fresher and more forceful to her mind. It is an obscenity.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian Textbook Study Fraud

.

This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on February 8. 

Palestinian children march during the 39th anniversary celebration of the founding of Fatah.

You think you’re a person of good will and fair minded. You are a strong and aggressive advocate for Israel against its many and varied enemies, malicious or misguided, but you are not single-minded: you support two states for two peoples – Jews and Palestinians – both with ancient historic claims to their presence on the land, and have always opposed the settlement project. Even more, however, you have committed yourself to opposing, wherever it reveals itself, the vile and unyielding hatred and rejection of Jews that disfigures Arab societies and humanity. Still you wish always to be fair and intellectually honest: this six decades long dance of aggression and defense, of control and resistance has been unavoidably a test of everyone’s empathy. Even those on your side – those of whom you are one, the Jews, those whom you support and whose greater justice and openness to resolution of the conflict is recorded on every page of the historical record – even they, for they are human, will err, will convince themselves of a falsehood, will stand defensively resistant to the evidence that disproves some dearly held conviction.

When, then, you read of a scholarly study – “Victims of our own Narratives?” it is called – the results of which appear to disprove just such a crucial conviction, that Palestinian educational materials incite hatred of Jews, you brace yourself. You have seen the videos of very young Palestinian children inculcated through song and pageantry in the murderous glorification of suicidal “martyrdom.” You have seen the parades and dedication ceremonies with the speeches in honor of people who fought no armies, but have blown up, instead, buses with civilians and children on them. (If torture of Al-Qaeda leaders was a stain on American moral distinction, what corruption of the soul is it to stand in celebration of the dismembered bodies in pizza parlors?) You could go on and on.

Still, you tell yourself, you could be deluded – the victim of a comforting, but false narrative – about the totality of this demonization. Who can ever be immune? How many stories of the past, repeated in chorus after chorus, become a substitute for actual memory? Prepare yourself, you say. Be honest. Judge the evidence as it reveals itself. The truth is great and complex. It needs no lies to champion its ascendance.

You read of the study’s supervisor, Bruce Wexler, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Yale. You read of the balance of nationalities of those who work on the study, and of the advisory board of distinguished figures. There is the balance, too, and the distinction, of the lead researchers, Palestinian scholar Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, and Israeli Daniel Bar-Tal from Tel Aviv University. The study was commissioned by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land and even financially underwritten by the U.S. State Department. It all shapes an impressive imprimatur.

The results?

Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate,” headlines The New York Times.

Textbook Study Debunks Myth of Palestinian Incitement,” asserts Al-Monitor, the sexy new voice of Middle East reportage.

Textbooks show both sides to blame for enmity,” reports The Jerusalem Post.

Textbook study faults Israelis and Palestinians,” the Associated Press informs with balance.

Both Israeli and Palestinian schoolbooks largely present one-sided narratives of the conflict between the two peoples and tend to ignore the existence of the other side, but rarely resort to demonization, a U.S. State Department-funded study released Monday said.

Even, already, the story – to speak of narratives – is told on Wikipedia.

A comprehensive three year study (2009-2012), regarded by its researchers as ‘ the most definitive and balanced study to date on the topic,’[4][5] found that incitement, demonization or negative depictions of the other in children’s education was “extremely rare” in both Israeli and Palestinian school texts, with only 6 instances discovered in over 9,964 pages of Palestinian textbooks, none of which consisted of “general dehumanising characterisations of personal traits of Jews or Israelis”.[4]

Oh, dear, you think.

Be a man, you tell yourself.

You continue to read, whatever you can. Maybe you seek an escape hatch. Let us be honest about that. Because we are all being honest in all we do here, are we not? But you also know that in this matter – in all matters, of course, but especially in this matter of Israel and of Jews – it is wise always to read a little more, learn a little more, know something more. You learn that Israel’s Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar has rejected the study out of hand. That is troubling. Such a reputable academic study, simply dismissed. This will look bad, and rightly so.

And then you read of Bruce Wexler’s response to the rejection.

“That man cannot see beyond the blinders that have come into his mind by developing as a product of a national narrative that can’t understand the types of things we’re talking about here, and by the way, national leaders who have those blind spots, like he does, make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

You pause. You think, something is not right about that comment, its tone and its condemnation. Where is the scholarly temperament? Where is the neutrality? Surely, Wexler, a professor of psychiatry who is seeking accurate descriptions of reality, whatever they may be, committed to the tale told by the evidence and not invested in the climax – surely he would understand that an outcome upending the firm beliefs of only one party under study would be disturbing. He would anticipate that. And his role, his neutral and scholarly role, would be, surely, to defend and advocate for the integrity of his study, in the long term interest of advancing knowledge, but not to attack those under study for failing to acquiesce in the study’s conclusion. How often do researchers treat the subjects of their study with contempt?

Something not right.

And you wonder about “blinders that have come into his mind by developing as a product of a national narrative that can’t understand the types of things we’re talking about here.” You wonder, is that a response merely to Sa’ar’s dismissal of the study? Because it does seems to reveal an already existing perspective.

Let’s read some more, you tell yourself. Let’s see if this leads anywhere.

You begin to read from varied sources widely varying reports on the number of textbooks studied, from “3,000 texts, illustrations and maps,” in the notoriously biased Guardian, by the notoriously biased Harriet Sherwood, to various reports of four hundred plus Israeli textbooks to only one hundred plus Palestinian. The account apparently most familiar with the contents of the study puts the number at 74 Israeli books and 94 Palestinian. Already we see wildly imprecise or misreporting. Perhaps there were various levels of more focused scrutiny? By what process of selection?

ABC News reports,

The study analyzed 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian books, covering grades 1-12 and teaching social sciences, geography, literature, religion, Arabic and Hebrew. The Israeli books were from state-run secular and religious schools, as well as independent ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. The vast majority of the Palestinian books were used in government schools, and only six in private Islamic schools.

All accounts tell us the same: that the Israeli textbooks were selected both from public schools and “ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools,” presumably with the expectation, reportedly borne out, that a higher level of religio-ethnocentric characterization would appear in the Orthodox books.  ABC notes above that only six textbooks were from private Islamic schools and no account you read even addresses whether any textbooks were drawn from Hamas controlled Gaza. If it seemed important to select – and announce the selection – textbooks from ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, anticipating some extremity of representation, or at least thinking it a distinct segment of society requiring discrete inclusion, then why would there not be the same call with Hamas? You read in the Guardian, too, that Israel’s Arabic texts for Israeli Arab schools were not included in the study. You think to yourself that somehow – really having no idea how – such an inclusion might be very instructive. You think you are detecting a number of questionable omissions.

Then you read that the study, its authors claim,

employs a new methodology to produce a transparent, simultaneous, comprehensive and scientifically rigorous analysis.

Central to this methodology was to identify and count “negative” portrayals of “the other.” You think that there is a fair degree of subjective and not “scientifically rigorous” evaluation involved in consideration of what constitutes “negative,” but you go on. When you go on, you discover, for instance, that statements of fact such as, teaching about Iraqi pogroms,

[o]n the holiday of Shavuot, Arabs attacked Jews and murdered them, including women and children

are evaluated as negative. As is

[t]error struck again and again, and reached a climax in the period after the war with the murders of 13 students and teachers from Moshav Avivim on their way to school (May 1970) and 11 athletes at the Munich Olympics (September 1972).

Just as is the judgmental (and factually incorrect)

Zionism is “a colonialist political movement founded by the Jews of Europe in the second half of the 19th century… [intent on] displacing the Palestinian people in Palestine from their land.”

Or would be “Jews are the descendants of pigs and apes.”

You begin to realize that this new “transparent” and “comprehensive” methodology is actually not very new and now very common. Though, yes, it is transparent. As can frequently be found in a similar misconception of objective reporting, this methodology counts only occurrences and claims, but does not interpret their meanings or assess their truth. Simply, Mr. Churchill claims and Mr. Hitler denies the claim. Were such an objective and “scientifically rigorous” approach taken to the analysis of current or historical events, both Mein Kampf and all of Winston Churchill’s various speeches over the course of the 1930’s warning of the dangerous militaristic rise of Germany would simply be counted, with no further assessment, as “negative” depictions of “the other.”

Of course, the details of the study are many and much greater, but confidence in its quality is crumbling. But how can this be, from such highly qualified people? So you seek to educate yourself about the figures behind the study.

Bruce Wexler, you discover, is the founder of A Different Future, an NGO committed (as are we all?) to seeking peace in the Middle East. Fundamental to its vision is the equalizing belief that

Extremist minorities perpetuate the conflict in pursuit of their own agendas.… Acts of cooperation that humanize the “other” and build trust get little exposure while extremist groups receive free media coverage worth millions of dollars. [Emphasis in the original]

Wexler has written Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social ChangeAccording to MIT Press,

In Brain and Culture, Bruce Wexler explores the social implications of the close and changing neurobiological relationship between the individual and the environment, with particular attention to the difficulties individuals face in adulthood when the environment changes beyond their ability to maintain the fit between existing internal structure and external reality. These difficulties are evident in …the meeting of different cultures…and the phenomenon of interethnic violence.

You begin to understand better now Wexler’s response to Sa’ar. If one is party to conflict, if one believes in one’s position in the conflict and rejects attempts to make disappear through “scientific” study the human reality you live in that conflict, then you are ipso facto determined not by your critical analysis of your circumstances, but by neurobiological disability “to maintain the fit between existing internal structure and external reality.” You protest, the psychiatrist tells you, too much.

What about those co-leaders of the study, you wonder, Adwan and Bar-Tal? Like Wexler, they are academics of impressive certification and residence. What you discover, though, is that Adwan is co-directors of PRIME – the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East – the prime project of which is the “Dual-Narrative History Project” the proposal of which is “’Learning Each Other’s Historical Narrative’ in Israeli and Palestinian Schools.”

Adwan and the late Dan Bar-On, an Israeli who was co-director of PRIME and who was strikingly unsympathetic to the Israeli view of the conflict, co-authored a book, Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine.

Adwan’s co-director of the textbook study, Bar-Tal, is author of book reminiscent of Wexler’s:Intractable Conflicts: Socio-Psychological Foundations and Dynamics.

A commonality begins to come into view: researchers in the field of peace and conflict resolution studies who conceive of conflict as misunderstanding that has been locked into neurobiological and socio-psychological dynamics. It is the project, you begin to see clearly, of Wexler’s work and of Adwan’s and Bar-Tal’s to erase distinction and difference, to establish parity between Israeli and Palestinian narratives, so that neither can claim the high ground of greater truth. Working from the belief that conflict is the product of misunderstanding, the researchers reduce the historical record and the current ideas of antagonists to hardened circuitry and narratives mistaken for reality. Everyone is the same in misunderstanding, and if we can let go of all the pain and the grievance (here – here’s a tissue – have a good cry), then all that stands between Israelis and Palestinians is the land.

You understand now that Wexler, Adwan, and Bar-Tal have their own narrative of the world, and of the world of Israel-Palestine, and not very remarkably they have written that narrative into their study.

But it is worse.

You realize this is all a dead end. You realize it is an intellectual boondoggle, a scientific research Goldstone Report. The researchers, biased to begin, not just against Israel’s position in the conflict, but against the conceptual ground of Israel’s position – that conflict can be the product of intention, and not simply of misunderstanding – produced results through highly questionable and even absurd procedures that confirmed what they already believe and that shape a lens through which they already see the conflict. Yet as always, such an account is self-contradictory

The researchers’ motivating conception is that conflict, rather than intentional and contentious, is the product of parallel and dueling narratives that cannot read each other. The conclusion of the textbook study –  which based on all you have now learned about the intellectual drives of the researchers, is believed, if not even intended, to apply not just to education, but all Israeli claims of Palestinian incitement – is that Israeli claims about Palestinian educational practice constitute a false narrative that Israelis have become habituated to read and recite. Israeli claims of an objective record of rejection and offense are a chimera. But when Bruce Wexler feels antagonized by Gideon Sa’ar’s rejection of Wexler’s study, that is no chimera or false narrative, no hardening of the neurobiological circuitry, but an actual offense that Wexler will objectify as the “blinders” in Sa’ar’s mind, blinders that make Sa’ar, in Wexler’s doubtless judgment “dangerous.” But Israelis have no ground upon which to call Palestinians a danger to them. That is just a story.

Another story, related by Palestinian advocates, is that the power imbalance between the two parties obviates the normal expectation of equality of action and reaction between them. This is even the rationale of so many for the obsessive concentration on Israel and what it does and does not do to advance the cause of peace, with little consideration of Palestinian behavior. Israel’s greater power, according to this argument, its military might and control, is already a kind of precondition to negotiation and resolution that Palestinians must meet, so the Palestinian side, excused in its passivity, is entitled as well to demand some other, more common and particular, equalizing precondition, such as a halt to settlement construction. Viewed through this lens, Palestinian preconditions are not one-sided and unequal demands at all, but equalizers of human and political dynamics.

However, there is a different lens through which to view what is actually a contrary truth. For while in this peace-promoting vision of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict what the two sides want is the same – self-determination for their people in lands of their own – what they have to barter with in the negotiation of their futures is far from the same. What the Israelis have, that the Palestinians want and bargain for, is land and control over it. What the Palestinians have and Israel bargains not to gain, but eliminate, is hatred, rejection, and violence without limits. But the concrete concession of land and authority, once given, are not easily regained, not without great cost, while the surcease of hatred is an achievement poorly measured, and rejection and the violence easily resumed.

Israelis can see Gaza from where they live, you think. Can Bruce Wexler?

In this Palestinian power of negation – a six decade commitment to privation, and to withholding from Israel, at whatever cost, fulfillment of Israel’s dream of an end to enmity, of the accomplishment of normalcy and the elimination of the existential question – it is, through a different window on the world, Palestinians, actually, who hold the power: “The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life.”

You conclude that this latest  “peace and justice charade” is part of the ever expanding campaign to delegitimize not just Israel today, but the ancient and modern history of Israel, and the truth of the unprecedented enmity against Israel, and of the six decades of conflict forced upon it. It is the “scientific” arm of a widening campaign. The campaign seeks to test, through also political and international organization, linguistic and conceptual manipulation, reimagination of old caricature and stereotype, legal warfare, groupthink and more whether through sheer force of ideological will, reality can be inverted, the history of a people and a nation perverted, and the day be made the night.

It is not, you think, as if it has not been done before.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

When Is an Open-Air Prison a Terrorist Camp?

.

(This post originally appeared in the Algemeiner on December 11, 2012.)

It is a term we hear a lot in the twenty-first century anti-Israel propaganda storm, flung wildly against the truth – that Gaza is an “open-air” prison. We hear it not only from Arab and Muslim anti-Semites and the committed anti-Israel ideologues, but from well meaning people on the left who speak out of compassion. They know of a densely populated land area with significant poverty, an area the borders of which are controlled by third parties – Israel and Egypt, though most of these people purposely or ignorantly neglect to remember Egypt – and they are moved by what seem to be longstanding and intractably oppressive living conditions. It is simply inconceivable to them that these conditions – the density, the poverty, the external controls – are conditions that the people who live in them, in fact, choose for themselves rather than opt to alleviate . Who would act so against reason and manifest self-interest? An alternative historical narrative is thus required to render such hateful self-destructiveness more comprehensibly as pitiable oppression.

Overwhelmingly, the facts refute two of the three themes of this contemporary narrative of Gaza. Truly, any poverty anywhere is a misfortune to be assisted and overcome. The fact is, however, according to the CIA World Fact Book, that 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty than does the Gaza strip. Among these nations are most of Africa, including Kenya and South Africa, and most of Central America, including one of the two closest neighbors to the United States, Mexico.

It is commonly affirmed, as a second theme of the story of Gaza, that Gaza is, in the very words present right now at the website of the storied and esteemed BBC News, “one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world.”

In fact, of sovereign states and dependent territories, Macau, Monaco, Singapore, and Hong Kong are all considerably more densely populated than Gaza, the first two nearly five and four times as densely populated. Of the top 49 densely populated cities of the world, all are more densely populated than Gaza, the first, Manila, ten times more densely populated, the forty-ninth, Malé, capital of the Maldives, still four times more densely populated than the Gaza strip. Even the island of Manhattan in New York City, which has a nearly identical population to Gaza, yet is one fourth the size, is thus four times more densely populated than is Gaza.

The claims of wretched poverty and oppressive population density in Gaza are quite simply among the great lies of contemporary world affairs, and, so easily disconfirmed, are, as reportage, among the most scandalously incompetent or malign.

Thus we come to the third theme, the control of Gaza’s borders, which, woven among these first two themes, leads so many to adopt the “open-air prison” metaphor. That is, indeed, what the term is, and what all who even dare to use it forget that it is – a metaphor.

After all, we know it is not an actual prison, do we not?

In what kind of prison do the inmates hold elections to choose a government, and within the bounds of which prison that government exercises complete control?

In what kind of prison do we find not gangs, but a genuine military force, arrayed against no force of guards policing the inmates’ lives in “the prison”?

What kind of prison is it in which the inmates possess a force of thousands of rockets and missiles smuggled from sovereign nations and actually fired beyond the prison walls, in the hundreds and more per year, into the surrounding civilian population?

What kind of prison is it in which the prisoners hold the keys to their cells? In which the prisoners themselves, on a schedule of their own choosing, might convene a parole board and make what declarations and commitments as to future behavior are required to gain their almost immediate release? And failing to have done so on any one day, might simply choose to do so on the next, and the next, under the conditions of an open-ended, never concluded parole hearing, with no fear ever of finally serving out their terms till death against their will?

Does this seem absurd? Does it seem that I am too literal here? Do I seem to make mockery, by ridiculous comparison to the actual conditions that govern real prisons, of the intent of the metaphor?

But what is the intent of the metaphor? Is it not to deceive the judgment and manipulate the moral imagination of those addressed by it so that they will conceive Israelis truly as brutal jailors, while the Gazans, never duly convicted through any process of law, are drawn falsely as unjustly imprisoned?

What those who believe the metaphor forget, but those who concoct it ever recall, is that the goal of political metaphor is to refashion reality, which is to say lie about it but bury the lie. They bury it in metaphorical equivocation. I happily fancied that I had myself discovered this logical fallacy, which I reasonably conceived as the metaphorical fallacy (or the fallacy of transference), only to discover that just three months ago, Bryan Caplan of George Mason University had held the same vain hope for himself, where upon he discovered that two philosophers at Brock University in Canada had got the drop on us both by two years.

The metaphorical fallacy is first a kind of  fallacy of equivocation, because it misleads through the use of a term with more than one meaning, performing a semantic shift. That is the very nature of metaphor, which is an act of transference, transferring the quality of some object – a bird let’s say – to my real subject, some guy I’m talking about, whom I call “flighty as a bird.” That formulation I have used is a simile, which is a kind of metaphor, which is itself a kind of analogy. The clarity of the “as” or “like” constructions in simile is in making plain that metaphor is a special form of analogy.

In typical straight political analogies – “another Vietnam,” “another Munich,” “it’s the Cold War all over again” – we understand that two distinct phenomena are claimed to have sufficient similarity as to make one understandable according to our knowledge of the other.  The fallacy of false analogy is committed by analogical overreach: there may turn out to be, with scrutiny, many potentially significant points of comparison, with too few among them demonstrating true similarity, thus making one phenomenon a poor standard by which to asses the nature of the other.

The metaphorical fallacy is, second, a form of false analogy. As I said, metaphor is by definition an equivocation. If I turn my simile of “he’s as flighty as a bird” into a pure metaphor, I would say, “he’s a flighty bird, that one.” I say this, perhaps, because he is erratic in his behavior. A true “flighty bird” hops and skips around a lot, taking off and landing often and rapidly. I conjure that quality in the metaphor and transfer it to the man of whom I speak. I do this for effect, a rhetorical effect. I do not literally mean that the man hops and skips around or that he flies, and even if he is physically prone to something like the former – and not quite – he certainly does not do the latter. When I says “he’s swift as a tiger,” well – not really that fast. If I call him “a lion” in the boxing ring, well, you know, notactually a lion. We are equivocating in the application and acceptance of the transferred quality, which is to say, literally speaking in two voices, pretending to be literal in order to make the imaginative leap, but in the end, and even in the beginning, not being literal at all.

If I said ten years ago that Afghanistan would be “another Vietnam,” I would not have intended to fool you into believing that Afghanistan was itself Vietnam, that is, identical to it. I would just have intended a useful comparison. However, to attempt what is not political analogy, already itself a risky enough proposition, because so often questionable and faulty,  but political metaphor is to begin in the wrong, at fault and deceptively, because I would be pretending accurately to describe circumstance by use of inaccurate, ambiguous, words –  because political reality is concrete, not rhetorical: there is not rhetorical genocide or rhetorical invasion, rhetorical rocket attacks or rhetorical economic recession. And when, through the magic of words, we create these things nonetheless, they are metaphorical only, not concrete and politically “real.”

The pressing questions I posed above about the metaphorical comparison of Gaza to a prison would have to annoy any proponent of the term because he would be compelled to insist that I was missing the point: obviously, Gaza is not an actual prison, like San Quentin. The point, he would argue, is that Gaza is like a prison because of the deprivation and the close quarters and its borders, its boundaries, are controlled by people other than those who live inside them, with passage in and out similarly controlled and limited, just like a prison – and school buildings, and military bases, and movie studios, and the White House.

Those are the points of comparison, the only points of comparison, and as we focus now on that last point of comparison, we need to consider why those boundaries are controlled. We need to think about what a blockade is, and why it was put in place, and remains in place, and how a blockade – and a legal one, too – is not like a prison.

“But don’t you get it – it’s a metaphor.”

And the purpose of the political metaphor, employed and repeated, and accepted by the well meaning but soft headed and the BBC, like the narrative of Gazan poverty and the refrain of its population density, is to beguile the listener into forgetting it is a metaphor – an abjectly false and slanderous metaphor – and then to accept it and repeat it as literally and shamefully true.

Then there is the matter of the terrorist camp.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian Enthymeme

.

This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on on October 18, 2012.

In rhetoric, an enthymeme is an argument that contains an unarticulated premise. Commonly this is because the conversation is among a group of people with shared values, among whom one or more of those values — premises to an argument — it is assumed, requires no expression. Among a collection of crime–busting DA’s in a death penalty state, the argument “it was a coldblooded, premeditated murder — he should be executed” does not require expression of the major premise “people who commit premeditated murders should receive the death penalty.” That commonly-held belief is understood. Sometimes people assume too much. Sometimes they are careless in their arguments. Sometimes they are being tricky. Who knows. Whatever the reason, for various reasons, unarticulated premises — unstated assumptions — are the cause of much misunderstanding and confusion in argument, including political argument.

There are, in truth, two Israeli–Palestinian enthymemes, one on each side and each a kind of inverse of the other. It isn’t that the assumption in each case has gone, literally, until now, always unstated. It hasn’t. The assumption — a fundamental position — has been stated many times and continues to be stated often. It is that each assumption is a belief generally characterized as an extreme position, articulated by individuals and groups pursuing a goal generally considered to be extremist. These “extremists,” most often — and the more extreme, the more often — do not make enthymemic arguments. They present their full case, every premise, every belief articulated toward the conclusion: the clear goal. Rather, they are the more moderate and reasonable parties, or parties who believe themselves to be moderate or pretend to be reasonable, who make the enthymemic arguments.

The Palestinian enthymeme omits the premise that the parties presenting their position do not accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Again, many extremist Arab and Palestinian organizations, such as Hezbollah and Hamas – and Muslim nations, such as Iran – obviously are already quite open about this, though many foolish people refuse to see the brick wall of this rejection that boxes everyone in – the original separation barrier that has separated the region from peace since 1947 and longer. However, that premise – essentially, that Israel is illegitimate – is the unexpressed, even motivating belief of many parties who pretend to moderation, but do not truly practice or pursue it.

In “The ‘Peace and Justice’ Charade,” I wrote about those activists and groups who utilize the language of social justice and peace to pretend that what they seek is an equitable and humane resolution to conflict that, as concepts of social justice always imply, upholds the rights and interests of all parties. In truth, these groups advocate continued conflict toward the goal of a Palestinian victory. Typically, when representatives of these groups and the many non-affiliated sympathizers with them address a current event in the ongoing conflict, the 2008-09 Gaza War, for instance, they direct their attacks at what they claim are current Israeli misdeeds. But this is always a cover. If, rather than debate the usual concocted “facts” that regularly come to dominate the media and international responses to these events, one pursues a historical chain of exploration with such critics, one discovers a not-so-curious countervailing fact: there was never a time, before the misdeeds of Gaza or the deceptions of Oslo or the failures leading to 1973 or the “aggression” of 1967 in which Israel was ever right or justified. There is sometimes the cursory premise in pretense that Israel is a nation with legitimate interests, but when matched against historical events, this turns out to be effectively untrue. What is revealed is a commitment in intellectual belief to the idea that every practical policy ever pursued actually to bring Israel into existence was somehow an injustice, in an invalidating, illegitimating act. Thus is the unstated premise exposed.

What, then, is the Israeli enthymeme? The Israeli enthymeme, most recently justified, but not openly acknowledged per se by the Levy Report, is that Israel is no longer bound by its acceptance of the 1947 partition plan. The extreme position, entirely disrespectful of the partition plan, is the religious claim of a Jewish right to all of Biblical Israel. This argument is openly made, all of its premises clearly stated.

For many others, however, the six decades and more of Arab enmity and anti-Semitism and war and terrorism have invalidated, if not necessarily Palestinian rights, certainly Israeli obligations to pursue resolution to the conflict as if the past six decades have not happened. In truth, there are degrees to which almost anyone with some degree of sympathy for Israel accepts this argument. International policy pursuits are nothing if not inconsistent.

Accordingly, for instance, consider forty-five years of constant reference to post-1967 U.N. resolutions as if – goes the pretense – they are legal directives with completely coherent legal foundation. The call is always to return to the 1967 boundaries. Why do none of the responsible parties demand a return to the ‘47 partition lines? The 1967 boundaries – the 1949 Armistice “Green” lines – were never established as permanent boundaries. Should not any ultimate resolution return all parties to the original plan and division of land? Would that not be equity?

No. All responsible parties recognize what the 1948 war and Arab rejection of and reaction to the partition revealed – that Israel as constituted in the partition plan was untenable. Legal and logical consistency be damned. So all but Israel’s enemies simply ignore this de facto historical development – a development always implicitly acknowledged and accepted in calls to return to the 1967 boundaries.

There is a further consequence, however. The consequence is to establish a precedent and foundation for the Israeli enthymeme. There have, after all, already been consequences to Arab rejectionism. The Arab nation that might have arisen within the borders of the 1947 partition plan is forever lost. Since 1967, what Palestinian Arabs have been offered are the reduced borders established by the 1948 war. Since 1967, Israel has argued, as after 1948, that the ’67 boundaries were established by the war to be inadequate to Israeli security. Israel, officially, seeks adjustments. Some oppose, but many – the details continually disputed – accept the principal. Once more, Palestinians will pay a price for a course of cultural and political hatred and rejection they have pursued. Once more, a foundation for the Israeli enthymeme is laid.

There are multiple additional reasonable arguments in support of the unstated premise of the Israeli enthymeme. An end of the Levy Report was to find one in challenging the very notion in law of Israel as an occupying power on the West Bank. There is a natural right – and a great contradiction  for the Palestinian Authority in rejecting it – of Jews to live on the West Bank. There is the basic case in common sense that argues, “How many times must I be rejected and abused – horribly abused – in response to my offer of a compromise before I may rightfully say, you know what, I withdraw my offer.”

If Palestinians and the Arab world can wage unremitting hatred, perpetual terror, and intermittent war against Israel for 64 years and still end up with the same deal they could have had before (but not the same – not 1947!), then what price is there to be paid other than the lost time and lives and the other costs of conflict? And who recompenses Israel for its losses?

Given, then, the record, and the continuing Palestinian rejection, on that side, of any genuine effort at reconciliation, why not just pursue, little by little, in creeping reality of circumstance, a modern Israel that embraces all of its historic land? We will not make this our official policy, and if a miracle should occur, and the Palestinians suddenly offer what they never have before – well, we’ll deal with that then. In the meantime…

There are many justifications for the Israeli enthymeme. There is one profound argument against it.

The international community and people in general accept, as most people will in nearly all circumstances, the fairness of compromise. The decades-long record of Arab and Palestinian rejection will not stand out in the minds of most people any differently from the endless charges and counter-charges, of grievance and counter-grievance that characterize to fatigue the contours of every conflict in the world. What stands out, what will always stand out in the end, if they are maintained to the end, are Israeli justness and fairness in contrast to the contrary among the nation’s enemies – a willingness at the conclusion as at the start to accept reasonable compromise. If, instead, Israel uses all of the easily comforting justifications of Arab behavior to seek in the end the same total victory Israel’s enemies have long sought against it, Israel will have sacrificed much of the honor of its beginnings.

There has been much discussion for over a decade about how an Israeli left may meaningfully reconstitute itself, what it means to be a liberal Zionist in some way other than ignoring the failure of Oslo, and the reasons for it, and simply parroting, in a sandwich of AsAJew love, Palestinian arguments. There is, however, lots of historical precedent for clear liberal recognition of the world’s horrors and of the world’s bad actors and of the resolve required to meet them. Many of Israel’s founders contribute to that precedent. Liberal Zionism today need be no different. A liberal Zionism will also maintain a true commitment to a two-state resolution to conflict. That commitment entails not acquiescing to the Israeli enthymeme, the not fully stated argument that Israel should no longer be committed, whatever the behavior of its foes, to a secure and fair compromise and two states.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel The Political Animal

A Political Hall of Mirrors

.

Puppet Master (franchise)
Puppet Master (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bob from Brockley writes (from Brockley, I presume) to offer compliment and commentary to my last post on Maureen Dowd. Bob and I are usually in close alignment on such issues as have arisen from Dowd’s recent column on the neocons. In this case not. Bob (whom, if you don’t, you really should be reading over at BobfromBrockley) thinks, like other of her critics, that Dowd used problematic language in a subject that seems to touch on Jewishness. Contrary to my more common thoughts on these matters, I think Dowd’s critics got it all wrong this time. And then again…

I have to say that I do not read Dowd often. I find her brand of snark far too facile and empty of nutrition. Sort of like Cheetos, which have their place, mind you. So I don’t know if Dowd has a history here. I suspect not, though others are welcome to enlighten me. I think history, context, matters. For the sum of Dowd’s offense in this instance is that she used the term “puppet master” in relation to behind-the-scenes necons influencing the foreign policy pronouncements of international neophyte Mitt Romney; her editor adopted the word “slither” from Paul Wolfowitz, used against the Orthodox Barack Obamawitz, for the title of Dowd’s column, back against the neocons; and as we all know, a pretty fair number of influential neocons – by no means all, including some very influential figures – are Jewish.

Absent any history on Dowd’s part, and considering that there is nothing even close to a Jewish reference in her column – despite the gross distortion of some, like Dylan Byers, in reporting on Dowd’s column – I find this an attack (and it was swift and serious) to have been very misguided. It is misguided because, I think, wrong, and because it tends (mistakenly) to confirm the common dismissals these days of all those lined up against Israel of unfounded charges of anti-Semitism. It is very much to the point that many (not all) of the most damning critics of Dowd are representative of the kind of foreign policy positions she was decrying, American politicos deeply invested in devising an umbilical tie between support of Israel and the most conservative, jingoistic expressions of American foreign policy.

It seems apparent to me that Dowd was incensed – as we all should be – that American neocons are still part of any foreign policy discussions in our politics, just as Romney-Ryan are running on the similarly failed GOP plutocratic economic policies that failed just as miserably under George W. Bush and before. The anger comes through very clearly, if the brief particulars are not deeply thought out. Dowd’s neocon opposition is as extreme and simplistic as are neocon ideas themselves. The Jewishness of some neocons is entirely incidental to the column, and even that incidental nature is never even alluded to – unless, of course, it is now considered to be so that the very use of the terms “puppet master” and “slither” conjures up Jews. That is an ill-considered destination.

James Fallows has written an excellent post on the issue, all of which should be read, and that makes the essential points quite well.

– For what it’s worth, I know that the term “puppet-master,” which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago’s role as “puppet-master” of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd’s column, the statement that a certain group was “slithering” back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote.

I agree exactly with what Kevin Drum said:

There’s nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd’s column. She just doesn’t like neocons, and she doesn’t like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

People who are not members of a certain minority group should be careful to avoid terms that that can do harm. But we all have a stake in keeping discussion as free and open as possible. In my view Dowd, with whom I often disagree, was making a valuable point [about the resurgence of the neocons]

Well, there I stand – except I just caught a glimpse of the politics of all this in a mirror, and there is another mirror reflected in that mirror, and some fun-house distortions begin to appear.

Bob commented on my last post a second time, to direct us all to Andrew Sullivan’s post on the matter, from yesterday. It’s getting to where you can begin to term this sort of thing “pulling a Sullivan.” It’s about how one gets to be un-PC and wrong at the same time.

Sullivan does not just defend Dowd, unsurprisingly – he actually manages to upend my argument and confirm the currents in American politics that Dowd’s critics feel. I don’t think it confirms anything in the least about Dowd – but offering a bat to someone  likely to use it for bashing someone else over the head ought to give one pause. Of course, if Dowd’s column had been allowed to pass without the attack, the likes of Sullivan would not have had the opportunity on one day to show himself, and we ought to see him clearly.

What did Sullivan do and say?

To begin, there is in the post title, “Another One!” and the photo of Dowd with a Hitler mustache, and the mockery of concerns over, and charges, of anti-Semitism. This kind of thing is common today, in quarters, too, where the denizens would be outraged by a like display showing Dowd with a KKK conical hat and mocking concerns over anti-Black racism. Or anti-Latino or, in many instances, anti-Muslim. An observable reality is, too, that whenever resentment of, for instance, charges of anti-Black racism are expressed, anti-Black resentment itself, indeed, is not often hard to see. So it is with Sullivan regarding Jews.

In the obverse action of Dylan Byers, distorting Dowd’s column in order to criticize her, Sullivan performs the identical distortion in order to promote an anti-Israel argument that Dowd did not make.

Dowd wrote a column in which she noted how Greater Israel fanatics run the Romney campaign’s foreign policy (which they do), and their neoconservative bubble is part of what explains Romney’s nasty and divisive attempt last week to politicize the recent flare-up of violent anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Dowd wrote a column noting no such thing: Dowd makes no even implied reference to “Greater Israel fanatics” or the issues that would follow from such a reference. This is all Sullivan: Sullivan confirming, indeed, that when a Maureen Dowd writes what she did, there are people like Andrew Sullivan who will always see the Jew in it.

So many mirrors.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

(Updated) Impenetrable: The Hollow Rhetoric of Judith Butler

.

(Update) Tomorrow, September 11, 2012, the birthday of Theodor Adorno, and only chronologically coincident with the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attack, Judith Butler is set to receive the triennial Adorno Prize, awarded by the city of Frankfurt. Resonant with the themes addressed in the commentary below, originally posted last week at the Algemeiner, is this reporting, yesterday, from Deutsche Welle’s DW website. The now long-noted rise in anti-Jewish sentiment and ideas, on the left, in Europe, and recently, most disturbingly, in Germany is subtly reflected in the DW report.

What is the headline of the report? “Adorno Prize for Judith Butler irks Jewish groups.”

Irk. To annoy. To irritate. That is all this gross insult and dangerous intellectual manifestation is said to amount to: an annoyance. Get over it.

Throughout the report, Butler is referred to as an “Israel critic.” Consider how this innocuous terminology – it’s all healthy intellectual exchange, right? – dangerously misrepresents the  truth. “Critic” suggests analysis and fault finding: the evaluation of weakness within and against an integral whole. The book, film, music, art critic finds flaw – as well as source for praise – in an artistic endeavor, an endeavor honored in principle. Rarely does the book critic state that the book never should have been written, and not just because the book is so bad, but because the very idea of the book was illegitimate.

Do critics of the United States, of England, of Russia, of China, argue that those nations should not, should never have existed?

When did “foe,” when did “enemy” become critic? The leadership of Iran uses destructive tropes, intellectuals like Butler use ideologized tropes, but the challenge to Israel’s legitimacy is the same, the goal of its elimination as a Jewish state and homeland identical. This single term fully represents the fundamental dishonesty at the core of the campaign against Israel.

Throughout the report by Helen Whittle, the “criticism” of Israel by Butler is never adjectivally characterized; her defense of herself is called “spirited.” Once again, as frequently since its publication on August 26, a newspaper report in the Jerusalem Post on the Jewish reaction to the award is itself characterized, as if it were an editorial, as “scathing.” While Butler’s anti-Israeli activities are not placed in the context of repeated acts and attacks of their kind, the objection to her award is specifically identified with the reaction to Günter Grass’s abominable attack on Israel in faux poetic form, “What Must Be Said.” And the reaction to Grass is described as “vicious.”

“Amid the uproar,” we are told, “Grass expressed his frustration that criticism of Israel is often equated with anti-Semitism.”

Impenetrable: The Hollow Rhetoric of Judith Butler

That title appears a contradiction. We think of the impenetrable as dense, so thick and compacted it cannot be pierced. But what is hollow is also impenetrable, differently, for there is nothing to pierce. The projectile, the probing argument, successful, smashes into density and destroys some part of it, alters the rest. In a hollow space, the molecules part like an undulation in air and reform themselves, after the traceless passage, around the same space. Nothing is changed.

Such is the rhetoric of Judith Butler, and are the ethics that are the product of that rhetoric, that are – in the language of that rhetoric – essentiallyrhetoricized. Butlers’s enmity toward Israel, and the argument she makes to justify that enmity, must be understood as another empty wind in the greater hollow space in which it blows. Butler writes in defense, in fact, not of her argument, but of herself – a telling distinction – that while many criticize her, with her impending Adorno Prize, for support of BDS, she is criticized from the left, on the contrary, for rejecting violence.

It is true: I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more naïve than dangerous, but it is my view. [Emphasis in the original]

This is not merely a pathetic defense, but a contemptible one. A grown woman, an internationally honored scholar who thrusts her ideas challengingly into world political debate, defends herself on the basis of not just naiveté, contritely, but of self-conscious naiveté, willingly. Of innocence, naiveté’s younger sibling, Graham Greene once wrote, in an ironically, historically counter political context, in The Quiet American:

Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

As naiveté claimed by one so well-schooled, it is more the leper having thrown the bell away.

So distinguished a mind cannot, apparently, conceive herself naïve and dangerous, dangerous because naïve, even as she resists the obvious recognition that someone such as she has no right to be naïve. So distinguished a mind retreats to naiveté, makes manifestly no argument, and declares, like one entirely unschooled, simply: “it is my view.”

As if Butler might simply, credibly hold to such a declaration as a position irreducible and unchallengeable. But why be surprised? In her latest book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she writes,

It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.

So Butler recognizes in her thought and in the political programs she advocates none of the compulsion of the possible, of reality. One may simply advocate ideas without the obligation to contemplate their effect on reality, for if they are, indeed, impossible, they are impossible for reasons: reality rejects them, and if reality rejects them, there are consequences to the rejection. Many people, living in the world beyond the hermeneutical and hermetic enclosure of rhetoricized reality recognize what those consequences might be. But as Richard Landes notes,

Butler and her post-modern, non-violent performers, however, cannot [commit the violence]. They can only empower the forces that seek, openly, to do so violently. They can only identify with aggressors. Would she intentionally stir up genocidal forces against her people? God Forbid! Would she do so in practice by signing petitions and writing denunciations of that allude to a comparison between Israel and the Nazis, and by hanging with people like the gang at Mondoweiss, who have no problem making the analogy? Yes. But as long as it’s not an intentional murder, her hands are clean.

Not surprisingly, so solipsistic a moral approach to the real world of people, expresses itself with striking self-absorption. In her essay of 2000 words, “I” appears 50 times, often followed by irrelevant (but apparently not to her) personal information. The consequences of her deeds, what Summers referred to as the effects of her performance on her own people, apparently carry no weight in her moral calculus. Her good intentions absolve all accidental sins, defend from all criticism.

To the point, an earlier book of Butler’s, of moral philosophy, is entitled Giving an Account of Oneself. Not an account of one’s ideas, of the occurrences in the world that one enables, but of oneself. Of course, the title emerges from Butler’s whole project of accounting for the nature of subjectivity, of the “I” that stands in relation to itself and in moral relation to others, but it would hardly become the critical theorist who is Butler, ever examining the self that is constructed of – and imposed upon one – by language to dismiss the implications of the language she uses.

The opening sentence of Giving an Account of Oneself is

I would like to begin by considering how it might be possible to pose the question of moral philosophy, a question that has to do with conduct and, hence, with doing….

There is thus an apparent recognition of the obvious purpose of ethical consideration, to enable real, right action and not merely produce ideologically whole but detached theorizing (the fact of impossibility does not suffice…). Pages later, much to the fundamental point of Butler’s general post-structural theorizing, she writes,

When a universal precept cannot, for social reasons, be appropriated or when – indeed, for social reasons – it must be refused, the universal precept itself becomes a site of contest, a theme and an object of democratic debate. That is to say, it loses its status as precondition of democratic debate; if it did operate there as a precondition, as a sine qua non of participation, it would impose its violence as a form of exclusionary violence.

That is to say, when a universal value is judged inappropriate to a local, i.e. not a universal, social context, and is thus rejected, it is no longer a universal value.

That is to say, with application to Israel-Palestine, that the liberal democratic values by which some might wish to judge the historical and contemporary records of the parties to the conflict are invalidated because others, Butler among them, have constructed an inverted ideology of power that renders the universal short-circuited. You are on 120 volts, as it were; they are on 240. Butler is limning Theodor Adorno in these lines, but the foundation for argument is hers.

Do not trouble yourself about the logical coherence of this assertion. As Butler’s prose goes, the excerpt is actually rather lucid, and already we see that when one is able to pierce the smokescreen of impenetrable jargon, one finds nothing there. Confronted by real world application the critical theorizing explodes in contradiction and self-negation – on the very basic level of upholding real justice and not merely advancing ideologized constructs of it.

Butler’s notoriously obscure and awful writing is only among the worst examples of a common malady – theory-talk that when it descends in hawk-like gyres to the ground of reality reveals its predatory nature: Jean Baudrillard, after 9/11, writing of the “twin-suicide” of the towers of which everyone had dreamed; Slavoj Zizek, welcoming the United States to the “Desert of the Real.” When Butler similarly descends to political defense and apologetics, and attempts actually clearly to communicate, a different kind of empty cant reveals the hollow vessel that delivers it.

Butler is at pains to do three things in her Mondoweiss defense: argue against charges of anti-Semitism, defend herself against accusations of praise for Hezbollah and Hamas, and reassert her social justice bona fides. She fails on all three counts.

I do not mean on the first count that Butler is manifestly anti-Semitic. She is not, and the question is never one of knowing another’s heart. However, to the degree that Butler makes any genuine argument at all in her defense, and it is a low degree, her attempt, as is now customary for her, is to coopt the history and nature of Judaism, and its meaning – limiting it, for instance, to Disaporic rather than national Judaism – so that she may embrace the Judaism she prefers, reject the other, and excuse herself, she thinks, of the anti-Semitic charge.

Such is Butler’s presiding strategy throughout her theorizing. She rhetorically disappears difference by analyzing it as a product of language and performance. The social problems engaged by political feminism are for Butler the product not of any actual human difference, but of the social constructs of the feminine and masculine. Queer is not a challenge to the oppressive power of the normative – as the original politicized embrace of the term declared; for Butler, it is a subversion of the very idea of normativity. Normal and queer are constructs too. Similarly, the problem with Israel is not that it is Jewish; the problem is that – by method of Judith Butler’s critique and theoretical disappearing act – it is, voila, not Jewish. So saith Judith Butler.

Then there is the fact that Butler chose to publish her defense at Mondoweiss, a blog that, in the psychodrama of its originating authorship, and in much of its commenting community, is deeply, personally and politically anti-Semitic. Does Butler think that because she steers clear of Stormfront she is all right, or is it that Stormfront is on the right, and Butler, from Mondoweiss to Hamas, cannot perceive anti-Semitism on what she conceives to be the left?

Writes Butler of the anti-Semitic charge,

The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say.

We see here and throughout that when Butler permits herself to be readily understood, she is preposterous and dishonest. Refusal to consider and debate? An attack on reasonable exchange – on listening and speaking? Butler knows full well that there are almost countless numbers of people – intellectual and scholarly peers and others – who consider and debate hers and like ideas regularly, who listen and speak in response, and refute, and who would argue with and debate her and the ideas she promotes without hesitation. Her accusation of silencing dissent is a completely insupportable, cant response, because she has no better. The charge of anti-Semitism is both separate and the same, and it is made, when it is made, for preceding cause, not in order to preclude debate.

Butler’s defense against the accusation of praise for Hamas and Hezbollah is the usual weasely evasion, most reminiscent, currently, of her political opposite, Todd Akin’s “I used the wrong words in the wrong way” when referring to “legitimate rape.”

What she said then:

I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. … So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the conversation on the Left. I similarly think boycotts and divestment procedures are, again, an essential component of any resistance movement.

What she says now:

My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context …. I was asked by a member of an academic audience … whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to “the global left” and I replied with two points. My first point was merely descriptive: those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left. My second point was then critical: as with any group on the left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against that group, and one needs to critically evaluate their stand. I do not accept or endorse all groups on the global left.

Little of what Butler now claims is true. Her remarks were not “merely descriptive.” The two organizations she described not just as left, but as, actually, “progressive,” and Butler called it “important” to so understand them. (And why, anyway, would she cede public and valued political designation of two violent terrorist organizations to the organizations themselves?) She did not offer the choice of support for the groups – and why endorse even the choice? – but called understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as progressive, left social movements to be a “critical, important engagement.”

A fascinating feature of the moral imagination is that even the brilliant manufacturer of abstruse ethical theory will, when cornered by natural and acculturated conscience, seek to escape the mirror she finds there. The extended “as-a-Jew” recitative that opens her defense, and that culminates with that term, is followed by the announced imperative, for Butler, “to speak out against injustice and to struggle against all forms of racism,” as “someone who wishes to affirm a Judaism that is not identified with state violence, and that is identified with a broad-based struggle for social justice.”

“All forms of racism,” “state violence,” broad-based “struggle for social justice.” All meaningful terms representing real ideals, except for when they are reduced to cant – to trite formulations that drop from the tongue, as they do among her fellows, like ritualized epithets. Butler ends her account of herself by attempting to substantiate the “all forms” of racism and the “broad base” of the struggle for social justice, but the effort is a fraud, a gross misapplication of terms. Demonstrably, she does no such thing – for where are her critiques of broad-based Arab anti-Semitism, her supportive attendance at conferences opposing misogyny and homophobia in the Muslim world?

State violence? Where in the world is there not state violence? Where is Judith Butler vocalizing in support of the self-determination of the Kurdish people against their violent suppression by Iran, Syria, and Turkey? On what basis does one choose one’s commitments, and how will one verbally scurry to mask that basis?

When Butler was ridiculed in 1998, chosen by the journal Philosophy and Literature to receive First Prize in its Bad Writing Competition, she wrote what was an earlier defense of herself in a New York Times Op-Ed. In it, she commits a telling confusion of terms. She argues that “ordinary language” is expressive of “common sense,” common sense itself too often (always?) representative of hegemonic and oppressive power structures. So, conveniently, a theory is defended by which impenetrable language is the marker of radical critique. Intelligible language is confused with ordinary language, the complex with the obscure, clarity of expression with common sense. By just such a rhetorical strategy is the reality of who one is, and what one really stands for, disguised.

But there is no hiding in plain sight. In plain sight, when Judith Butler comes into it, we see right through her.

AJA

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Uncategorized

Playing Politics with Jews

.

This post previously appeared in the Algemeiner on August 1, 2012.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in his best Captain Renault form – which includes being entirely insincere and unconvincing – is shocked, shocked to discover that there is politics going on in the U.S. of A. Never played any of that sort of thing himself.

Though, actually, feigning shock at the discovery of politics going on right there in the city of the Casa Blanca is, well (cover the children’s ears) an act of playing politics.

Reported The Hill (and everyone else covering the jerk-my-chain political beat), Cantor,

said in a statement Sunday that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion Jewish voters were “being exploited” was “deeply insulting” and “patronizing.”

Cantor, who is Jewish, was responding to comments Pelosi made during an interview during which the Democratic leader suggested Republicans were trying to unfairly depict President Obama as having a strained relationship with Israel to further their domestic agenda.

“It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything,” Cantor said. “Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”

Oh, dear. That Cantor, such a sensitive one.

Politics – that’s politics, not policy – is about wrangling votes. Everyone knows this. That is, all but those whom the politicians – excuse me, policy makers – believe are innocent or ignorant enough not to know. The electorate is made up of constituencies, economic, ethnic, racial, geographic, religious, and interest-based constituencies to which it is the task of politicians to appeal. Go for the gun owners, appeal to the farmers, empathize with Hispanics, curry favor with Jews. That’s the way it is done, and this is why we write and read without pause about who has what percentage of one group or another in the polls.

Professional campaign managers and communications directors seek every advantage and develop every opportunity to increase an old or gain a new voting bloc. Speak Spanish even though your party opposes any policy but deportation for illegal immigrants? Habla, amigo, y rápido. Think many Jews, who vote overwhelming Democratic, care about nothing more than the certainty of the U.S. commitment to Israel? Think there may be an opening? Then it’s time to recall that old joke from the 1980 presidential campaign:

“What’s flat and glows in the dark?”

“Iran after Reagan takes office.”

(Turned out to be very far from the truth, too.)

The far left and some liberals are sadly misguided in relation to Israel and Obama made some diplomatic errors right from the start. The Israeli left collapsed and Likud governs in Israel. So, increasingly, support for Israel is identified with political conservatism. That is, then, a political opportunity. Tell the children Republicans don’t seek to exploit it. Don’t say that to the adults. In contrary circumstances, so, too, would the Democrats.

However, only one definition of exploit is “to take selfish or unfair advantage.” The other meaning is to “use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.” We exploit natural resources, and we should. To make good productive use of a thing is to exploit it as well.

The task for the knowledgeable, the sophisticated voter in any instance is to determine which kind of exploitation is taking place. Pelosi made her case:

But [Republican Jews] have to know the facts. And the fact is that President Obama has been the strongest person in terms of sanctions on Iran, which is important to Israel. He’s been the strongest person on whether it’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, any of these weapons systems and initiatives that relate to Israel. He has been there over and over again.

It is regularly repeated in U.S. and Israeli security circles that despite diplomatic missteps and the lack of rapport between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the security relationship between the two nations has never been closer or stronger. Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just two days ago?

But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

It is in response to this reality that Mitt Romney and his supporters are forced to ever newer and higher levels of bellicosity. Soon, the only place to go in addition to denying the actual record will be a call to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors yesterday.

Let us, for clarity, examine the example par excellence of just the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. Let’s look at the Emergency Committee for Israel. Exploitation often begins with alarmist language.

Emergency, indeed. Is it 1948, 67, 73?

Sound good, though. Draws the blood up.

The Emergency Committee for Israel is just two years old, 2010 being, apparently, when the emergency arose, and it exists for one reason, to defeat Barack Obama. William Kristol, a founding board member, says it was inspired by J Street. By their models, viewed even in the mirror, ye shall know them. Even AIPAC, for Kristol, is too moderate. Why? Because it cooperates with the Obama administration. Which sounds like a good thing to do if what one is interested in is aiding Israel, and to judge by Ehud Barak doing a pretty fair job of it. But not if one’s greater, more immediate interest is the domestic political one of unelecting Barack Obama. However, that would be exploiting Jewish concerns for political ends, and that would be, according to Eric Cantor, insulting and patronizing even to allege, never mind actually do.

The ECI website is sparse. There is an Issues page: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, all very relevant to concern for Israel. Click on their links: nothing. There are, in fact, only two items on the Issues page – the most recent eighteen months old. Return to the Home page, though, and the raison d’etre for the ECI is quickly apparent. There is one item opposing Ron Paul by board member Gary Bauer – most recently found defending Chick-Fil-A’s anti-Gay advocacy in a very un-Israeli-like fashion. All of the remaining nine items are anti-Obama.

Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Gary Bauer says the Obama administration is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

Whom to listen to. Tough choice.

Tellingly, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, ECI produced a putrid and cynical video ad, the purpose of which was not to dispute the beliefs or claims of Occupy protesters or respond to any, um – emergency – for Israel. ECI scraped up, from months of demonstration footage, seconds of video of only two different people making anti-Semitic remarks and edited the footage to make the bigoted speech appear more plentiful. ECI did this not even to take a stand against OWS, but in order to try, then, to connect the anti-Semitism to OWS and OWS to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and thus, by clear implication – well, need I?

As I wrote then, in “’Emergency’ Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue,”

the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS (sic), which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

That is the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. And, at the same time, it is “deeply insulting” and “patronizing,” as Eric Cantor chose the terms for unbecoming behavior toward Jews. They form together a kind of trifecta in crass political opportunism.

I have no doubt Eric Cantor is outraged.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
The Political Animal

Alexander Cockburn: Remembering the Dead

Alexander Cockburn. Photo: screenshot via cspan.

Cross posted at the Algemeiner.

It really is the ultimate sentimentality.

That concern with how we will be remembered, or how those for whom we care will be treated in the minds of others, or who is saying what about whom now gone. It is too obvious to say we will never know the reputations we will have: that we project, we project. Every thought about the future outside of the most simple heavenly fantasies is a projection. We cast our wishes into the coming times and imagine that a reality that will not be ours is one that can make a difference to us. Good people have had their heads cut off, noble people been tortured in and into obscurity, infants murdered. What matter if some people think you a philanderer, a schnorrer, a charitable woman, a nice guy when you are gone? You know you take a secret self with you. They are anyway bound to get you wrong; for sure, not entirely right.

Certainly we would prefer not to leave a foul or evil reputation, at least for the benefit of those we care about, still living. There was a Greek fall not just for Oedipus and Joe Paterno, but for their families, too. Still, the big falls, the little ones, we can’t control them. Maybe Donald Trump has no idea how quickly his name will fade, even from the building facades that bear it, a name that will stand for grandiose buffoonery the way a doctor’s name was Mudd.

Still, we try to project our egos into the after-here. We are not, no we aren’t, wholly rational creatures. Strange, then, the effort of Alexander Cockburn, or for him, of some who claim to admire him. Cockburn died on Friday, and now the first final assessment begins. As for any person, there are those who loved him and who thought him good, and more. There are others – plenty – of radical left and contrarian temperaments, who think his journalism was groundbreaking and worthwhile.

"The Politics of Anti-Semitism" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. Photo: AK Press.Many others, in contrast, will point out as long as necessary that Cockburn made a career of trafficking in every bitter, unsubtle and self-defeating excess of far left thought, to which he later added the same from the right. More, he was one of the voices on the Western left who introduced the incoherence of promoting oneself as “anti-racist” while simultaneously mocking and scorning the oldest grounds for anti-racism our woebegone civilization has produced: anti-Semitism.

It is inconceivable, of course, that any form of racism could prevail in any culture, nation, or region of the earth without the proper focus of unremitting attention, labeling, and combat from the left. With a modest swell of anti-Muslim feeling in the United States since 9/11, the left has joined with those combating anti-immigrant sentiment and the long-presiding, even institutionalized racism against African-Americans. Yet with the entire Middle East region and much of the Islamic world steeped in the vilest manifestations of anti-Semitism, the labeling of that racism has become just that ground for rejection and mockery that Alexander Cockburn helped establish.

You will not hear a voice on the left – as you will from the right – deride accusations of racism against Blacks. You will not encounter on the library shelves, books by longstanding writers of The Nation entitled The Politics of Racism, though Cockburn, who was that Nation contributor, did co-author and co-edit The Politics of Anti-Semitism, with such contributors as Cynthia McKinney, Robert Fisk, and Norman Finkelstein. If the calculations of justice and the moral equation in the Middle East, and for Jews, became garbled in only the second thirty years after the Holocaust, producing garbage, Alexander Cockburn was a journalist who played a prominent role in that outcome.

Given an easy opportunity to provide evidence of an unprejudiced mind – a typically bilious column piling on the mean, small-tongued Don Imus when the broadcaster finally went too far on his radio program – Cockburn found words to name every group-victim of Imus’s sewered mind but Jews.

Said Marc Cooper, once a colleague of Cockburn’s, “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.”

At best, I say. But others will say differently. Jeffrey St. Clair, the longtime colleague and friend who co-edited with Cockburn the journal CounterPunch, which Cooper saw as a “rhetorical and intellectual dead end,” plans in that publication a series of “tributes to Alex from his friends and colleagues,” so there will be that effort to determine how Cockburn is remembered. But as I suggested, St. Clair made a strange choice to begin with.

In the two sentence paragraph lede, St. Clair announced over the weekend:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

The effort at memory setting begins in the next paragraph:

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done.

Among the notable features of Cockburn’s life was his earlier friendship and later falling out – politically and personally – with Christopher Hitchens. Connor Simpson at the Atlantic rather overstates the case when he writes that:

most of all, [Cockburn] will likely be remembered as Christopher Hitchens’ foil.

Though maybe not, in light of that odd swipe, from grave to grave, at the manner in which Hitchens lived his final days and did his own last work. It is hard to imagine, under the circumstances, that Cockburn would not have discussed with St. Clair the manner in which the former’s death would be announced in his own publication. Cockburn did write his own unsparing epitaph for Hitchens on the occasion of that death. Either way, the rancor, among the first words in memory after Cockburn’s passing, marks a petty and graceless public, if not private, exit. Let the remembering begin.

AJA

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Categories
Israel

God and Man at the Higgs Boson Level

.

Cross posted at the Algemeiner.

I wrote the other day how most physicists who speak of it are uncomfortable with the label “God” particle for the Higgs boson particle, the existence of which scientists at CERN confirmed on Wednesday. The rather casual, sensationalistic origin of the label clarifies that discomfort, as does, I suspect, unsurprising scientific worry that too conventional religious thinking might make of the word a matter light years from what even a sympathetic eye should see in it. In my post, I offer a more serious argument for the neutral B-meson as something like a “God” particle. But none of this is the point today beyond the discomfort so many scientists have with language that suggests anything about the world beyond the interactive relationships of its particle matter.

So much of life is in the immaterial interstices, and the God fearing scientist, so brilliant in the calculation, within the laboratory, is just another fearful and arrogant human being on a country road or a city street. Maybe more arrogant, for there is that tendency to think the calculation the sum of life, the laboratory the center of the universe.

So it is that fellow blogger Bella Center informed me yesterday that British mathematician Peter Higgs, suddenly now quite famous, after experimental confirmation of his theorized particle, is a supporter of the BDS campaign against Israel. Word first broke widely, though not blaringly, on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion page. There isn’t a great deal to be found on the internet, not even a link to Open Zion’s source, but, of course, the BDS’ers think it confirmation of some truth.

Among the momentous immaterial elements of life with which physics is powerless to aid us is in understanding the distinction between facts and the truth, and how we may gain any grasp of the latter. To quote my friend Bella, it’s complicated. For instance, if you happen to read the Raw Story two days ago about the “Shy physicist whose name lives on in Higgs boson,” you would have learned of Higgs and his collaborators that

[t]he trio had shared the 2004 Wolf Prize, one of the top awards in physics.

Now there is an apparent truth, encoded in publicly disseminated news media. If it were the sum of your reading on the subject, it would constitute an alternative, because incomplete, universe, as we learn from PhyicaPlus, the online journal of the Israel Physical Society (emphasis added) that

[a]lthough the British scientist Peter Higgs gave his name to the Higgs field and Higgs particle, at least two other physicists, François Englert and Robert Brout, had a part in the discovery. All three were awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize by Israel’s Knesset in 2004. Higgs  boycotted the ceremony for political reasons.

Of course, we do not learn even in that Israeli journal what the “political reasons” were, perhaps because the writer here was more fully inhabiting his physics than his Israeli universe.

We can learn only a little more from consulting Wikipedia, where the extent of Higgs’s political activities, is thus reported:

Higgs was an activist in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) while in London and later in Edinburgh, but resigned his membership when the group extended its remit from campaigning against nuclear weapons to campaigning against nuclear power too.[9][29] He was a Greenpeace member until the group opposed genetically modified organisms.[29]

Higgs was awarded the 2004 Wolf Prize in Physics (sharing it with Brout and Englert), but he refused to fly to Jerusalem to receive the award because it was a state occasion attended by the then president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and Higgs is opposed to Israel’s actions in Palestine.[30]

No indication – as is so with many other British adversaries of Israel and BDS proponents these days – that the political situation in any other nation in the world has ever gained Higg’s interest or provoked him to discriminatory and exclusionary action. Nonetheless, it is reported in the Jerusalem Post that “Israelis rejoice over discovery of ‘God particle.’”

Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman Ronit Tirosh said Wednesday that she was “very proud of the contribution of Israeli scientists [to] the discovery.”

Astrophysicists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Tel Aviv University, the Technion-Institute of Technology in Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalemhave been active in the massive effort, which involved CERN’s particle accelerator – the largest machine in the world, costing over $10 billion.

Prof. Yaron Oz, dean of TAU’s faculty for exact sciences, who worked on CERN’s multinational team at Geneva for four years and has made numerous visits since, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that the huge facility “is like the UN should be. Everybody is devoted to making the discovery as a team, without any politics or vested interests. I worked even with Iranians there, and there was never a harsh word between us. We all just wanted to understand. It has already proven that the nations of the world can function harmoniously for joint targets.”

Ah, well, you know what Bella says, and the particular electron-volt weight for what all this represents and how it gets calculated has not yet materialized at CERN. I must close, though – really, I must – by faithfully reporting what else I came across, just by the way, from following seemingly relevant links, while digging into the cyberspace of this material. It, too, is part of the universe, part of the truth, however, in the end, it will all completely add up: Elie Wiesel Cons the World, by Carolyn Yeager.

AJA

 

Enhanced by Zemanta