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Israel

The Third Narrative: Not So Third, Not a Narrative, Not New

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(This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on April 3, 2014.)

I regret to say that a fair number of people I respect (and some not so much) have signed on to a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, evince as it may the best of intentions, is nonetheless, in truth, very considerable twaddle. I speak of the statement of principles of the Third Narrative Academic Advisory Council. The council, we are told,

[w]ill function as an advisory body to The Third Narrative (TTN), facilitated by Ameinu.  The Council will seek to create a unique, middle ground, organizing space at TTN for progressive academics and will engage academics from across North America.

The statement goes on to list varied activities all of which relate to the promotion of academic freedom. This focus suggests that a pivotal organizing impetus for the formation of the council, perhaps even the conception of a “third narrative,” has been the recent and growing movement toward academic boycotts directed at Israel. That is a vital concern, and along with that concern the council promotes, essentially, empathetic evenhandedness (the “third” narrative) and the two-state solution. Plenty of people have made claims to the latter beliefs, so, again, it seems apparent that the particular motivation for the formation of this council of academics is the current growing threat to academic freedom by the BDS movement, which, not by the way, the council statement never mentions by name. Thus, since the statement of principles begins its introduction averring that

[s]cholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict,

I am going to offer a little of that difficult question asking and critical thinking promotion.

The opening sentence of the introduction states,

We are progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.

Well, no, one does not have to be either of these two given alternatives, but such a formulation suggests that in order to be pro one an individual must by logical entailment be anti the other, as ifpro-Palestinian were the conceptual complement of anti-Israel instead of a historically contingent pairing that is the consequence of political choices. To put a fine point on it, one may well be, as many people long have been, pro-Israel and still be a supporter of the two-state solution – and thus feel “empathy for the suffering and aspirations” of Palestinians and be not anti-Palestinian – as well as an opponent of academic boycotts, as most everyone also has long been. In other words, this is not a new position to take.

Still, the founders and members of this council felt prompted to form it and to frame what they chose to call a “third narrative.”

The listed principles (a-g) are seven. They are on their face unobjectionable to reasonable people, though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one, historically, that has seen, even until today, very large numbers of unreasonable people. The principles are almost all couched in the evenhanded vocabulary of “both sides.” Almost all.

Principle c) avows,

We believe the Israeli occupation of the West Bank not only deprives Palestinians of their fundamental rights, but is also corrosive to Israeli society and is incompatible with the democratic principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.

Now, certainly the framers of this principle know that elements of it are disputed. Some people – one will presume among them those signing onto the statement – might call any dispute over the wording of “occupation” to be disingenuous caviling. Others will call it the making of meaningful distinctions. But the council does here take a clear position that it is not. Okay. Fine. Being evenhanded and balanced and all that, with “empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples” does not mean not having any point of view at all, and here, obviously, on this point, it goes against Israel. Being evenhanded and balanced and all that, one presumes that elsewhere among the principles or in the statement one will find articulated some expression of specifically blameworthy Palestinian behavior – not because one should make some up, so to speak, just to pretend to be fair, but because there is actually blameworthy specifically Palestinian behavior to perceive?

Apparently not.

Principle f) asserts,

We reject the all-too-common binary approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that seeks to justify one side or the other as all right or all wrong, and sets out to marshal supposed evidence to prove a case of complete guilt or total exoneration. Scholarship and fairness require a more difficult and thoughtful approach.  As academics we recognize the subjective perspectives of individuals and peoples, but strive to apply rigorous standards to research and analysis rather than to subsume academic discipline to political expediency.

Yet, those  rigorous standards of research and analysis, when applied in principle e), to “rhetoric used by both sides [emphasis added] offer no specific acknowledgement, as with Israeli “occupation,” to the institutionalization of anti-Semitic rhetoric within organizations and concerns run or funded by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In principle d), where the council “cannot condone the use of violence targeting civilians,” but names no national names, its rigorous standards fail to detect over the organizational, terrorist history of the PLO and its constituent members, and in the onslaught of the second Intifada, and in Hamas missile and rocket attacks on Israel a purposeful policy of violence targeting citizens of which there is not the remotest like on the part of Israel.

The call, in the interests of peace, is that one show to both peoples a balanced “respect for their national narratives.” This is not to say – it does not say – intellectual recognition of a narrative. It does not say, as part of the reality of negotiating some resolution to conflict with foes,accommodation in an acceptable way of a foe’s narrative. It says “respect” for it. The anti-Semitic narrative, the “settler-colonial” interloper with no ancient history on the land narrative. The rejectionist narrative. Respect for it. And this would be “to apply rigorous standards to research and analysis rather than to subsume academic discipline to political expediency”?

While I know specifically that it is not so for many of the individuals who have signed the Third Narrative Advisory Council Statement, the statement, as a joint product, does give off a whiff of something. It has the odor of sweaty discomfort to it. The rotten BDS movement has made unnerving advances into academic terrain, and these scholars recognize how awful and frightening that is. Yet, though BDS is clearly opposed elsewhere on the Third Narrative website, omission of any direct reference to it in the advisory council statement, and to BDS’s provenance, is glaring. The unwillingness, despite all the conspicuous rhetoric of balance, to specifically cite Palestinians for wrongful behavior in any instance, while showing no such reserve about Israel, feels telling.

The Third Narrative has the odor of offering people a way to take a stand, in the current moment, seemingly supportive of Israel, but while holding their noses. If you want to oppose academic boycotts, but you don’t want to call yourself pro-Israel or specifically criticize Palestinians for anything, you now have a statement you can endorse or even sign, and when you do sign it, you may notice something about all the other names of people supporting a “third” narrative and its “unique, middle ground”: they are almost all Jewish names, without a recognizably Arab name among them.

AJA

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Israel

More on the Israeli-Palestinian School Book Project

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At the Algemeiner today, I address the just released Israeli-Palestinian School Book Project. Since posting I have gained further clarity and focus on problematic features of the project and the information about it released to the press.

About the number of books and items “analyzed,”

The official list of books included those approved by the Israeli and Palestinian Ministries of Education for 2011. The study examined school books used in the Israeli State secular and Religious tracts and from independent ultra-Orthodox schools. Palestinian books were the Ministry of Education’s textbooks used in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a small number of books from the few independent religious schools (Al-Shariah) when relevant to study themes. A total of 640 school books (492 Israeli books and 148 Palestinian books) were reviewed for relevancy to study themes, and content in the 74 Israeli books and 94 Palestinian books with most relevance was analyzed in detail. The researchers analyzed more than 3,100 text passages, poems, maps and illustrations from the books.

So, indeed, as I raise to question at the Algemeiner, why was there purposeful selection of textbooks from ” independent ultra-Orthodox schools,” but apparently – there is no reference – no comparable selection from Hamas-controlled schools? Why was the original selection of books weighted 3 to 1 toward Israeli books? What were the specific terms of the basis, determined by whom, of “most relevance” what constituted “relevance” that determined the choice of the final 74 Israeli and 94 Palestinian books?

The analysis examined 2,188 literary pieces from Israeli books and 960 from Palestinian books.

Why is there a more than 2 to 1 preponderance of Israeli literary pieces? Would this not provide a more than double opportunity for the detection of passages that might be “analyzed” as “negative”? What rationale is there for not working from equal databases?

Why, apparently, were no Arabic textbooks from Israeli Arabic schools included in the study? (What might it reflect on Israeli society and education if these books were notably free of “negative” depictions of the “other,” however the “other” might complexly be conceived in this circumstance?

A total of 670 literary pieces were analyzed independently by two different research assistants. Statistical analysis demonstrated high inter-rater reliability, meaning that two different raters independently evaluated the same poem, passage of map in highly similar ways.

How were these 670 pieces selected from the 3148 noted above? What was the reason and basis for this further selection?

I have placed in quotation marks around my own use, referencing the report’s use, of the word “analyze” or “analysis.” The report makes significant claims to scientific rigor. However, the analysis of a chemical compound is not the same as the analysis of a text, even if one attempts to subtract human subjectivity from the text by disregarding its truth value. (And was it a stipulated criterion to disregard truth value in determinations of negativity? As, I argue at the Algemeiner, this is indefensible and produces unavoidable and potentially dramatic distortion of the results.) And we are told above that “two” – only two – different research assistants analyzed the 670 pieces. Two analysts of negativity unrelated to truth. Did the study provide them with a list of specific verbs, adjectives, figures of speech and idioms the use of which were automatically to be designated negative? Was there no subjective, critical allowance for judgment beyond such a list? From what environment did the research assistants come? Were they already employed by, students or teaching assistants of the lead researchers who shared, perhaps, their predisposition toward the study’s outcome?

The press release states,

The study engaged a Scientific Advisory Panel that resulted in the worldwide collaboration of 19 experts, including textbook scholars, social scientists and educators from across the political spectrum of both Israeli and Palestinian communities. The advisory panel includes textbook researchers from Germany who led Germany’s self-examination of their textbooks in the decades after World War II, and U.S. scholars who have themselves analyzed school books in Israel, the Arab world, and the former Yugoslavia. The advisory panel reviewed every aspect of the study and agreed on the findings.

However, departing from this account, Eetta Prince-Gibson at Tablet reports,

Several Israeli members of the SAP dissented. According to a memo provided by the Education Ministry spokeswoman, Professor Elihu Richter of the Hebrew University said that “questions remain concerning definitions of the variables, how they are classified and measured and counted and what materials are included and excluded.” Richter warned that some of the comparisons may be “sliding down the slippery slope to moral equivalence.” SAP member Dr. Arnon Groiss, author of a separate study on Middle Eastern textbooks, wrote that he has severe reservations about the methodology and that some 40 significant items, which attest to incitement on the part of Palestinians, were not included.

Further, Groiss has now released this lengthy and instructive analysis and commentary on the report. He states,

Again, we, the SAP members, were not involved in the research activity.

Moreover, it was only a few days before the February 4 release of the report that I was first given the 522 Palestinian quotes for perusal. Having compared them to the quotations appearing in other research projects, I realized that some forty meaningful quotations, which other researchers in former projects, including myself[1], incorporated in the material and used them in forming their conclusions, were missing. [Emphasis in the original]

….

I have found deficiencies on both levels of definition and actual use. On the first level, categorization was restricted to very general themes, leaving out important issues such as open advocacy of peace/war with the “other,” legitimacy of the “other,” etc.

….

There is no attempt to study the quotes more deeply and draw conclusions. All items were treated equally, with no one being evaluated and given a more significant status that the other. It seems that they were simply lumped together, counted and then the numbers spoke. It might be statistically correct, but, as we all know, statistics not always reveal the actual complex picture. This kind of analysis has produced a “flat” survey of the quotes, without any reference to their deeper significance (for example, looking at a demonizing text with no specific enemy as if it were a “neutral” literary piece). Also, all quotes were treated as separate items with no attempt to make a connection between two quotes or more in order to reveal an accumulated message (for example, concluding from the connected recurrent mentioning of the need to liberate Palestine, and the similarly recurring theme that Israel in its pre-1967 borders is “occupied Palestine”, that the liberation of Palestine actually means the liquidation of Israel).

A full reading of Groiss will be instructive for the non-specialist. Its education is two-fold and contrary. First, one recognizes how complex is the activity of attempting to bring something approaching objective scientific rigor to the non-literary analysis of texts. The kinds and range of issues to consider is impressive in variety and complexity. But a mirror principle automatically arises from that condition – that all this complexity in conceiving and formulating the field and terms of analysis bespeaks just that subjectivity of which Groiss offers so many dissenting views, a subjectivity that should give pause on the level of a foot-pedal brake before one reaches with too grasping hands for the label of science.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

Two Epistemic Closures: The GOP and Israel-Critics

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(This commentary originally appeared in the Algemeiner on January 25, 2013.)

What do Tuesday’s election results remind us of?

They should recall the result of November’s U.S. elections.

Against all evidence – and here I do mean all evidence – Mitt Romney and Republicans of every stripe, from Tea Party to establishment, genuinely believed that they were going to win. Strictly speaking, this was not a case ofepistemic closure. It was more a case of confirmation bias, of false-consensus bias. Against consistent evidence of how most Americans view their nation and the role of government, in the face of polls that all year had shown, however marginally, Barack Obama invariably leading Romney across the broad swath of polls, Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate favored Romney.

Because conservatives had for decades succeeded in the rhetorical and perceptual warfare that had slanted voters’ reception of the vocabulary of liberalism, conservatives persuaded themselves that the United States is a center-right country. All that was ever required was to pay attention to what Americans want from their government, and for their own lives under the purview of that government, to know that the U.S. is actually a center-left country. Americans, as do the citizens of most developed nations, want a social-welfare foundation and safety net; they want protection of their individuality, and for their variant personal and group identities, in how they live their lives. Conservatives’ inference for themselves, from their own first principles and rhetorical arguments to others, that the nation is center-right constitutes the epistemic closure.

What did the Israeli election results show?

Western liberal Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the Israeli electorate was moving, if it hadn’t already so moved, in a far right – even, hysterically,fascist or theocratic – direction. Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the evidence demonstrated this.

Whom do I designate by “Israel-critics”? Anyone who criticizes Israel? No. Israel-critics are liberals who are neither, at the farthest extreme, open or barely concealed anti-Semites, nor, somewhat less vilely prejudicial, anti-Zionists, nor “peace and justice” frauds who, pretending to critique Israeli policy and governments, are actually advocates of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian victory rather than of negotiation and compromise.

Israel-critics are otherwise mainstream liberals who have been epistemically seduced and corrupted by the ideological distortions of postcolonialism. Their first principles in regard to concepts like power, marginality, race, and geopolitics direct their reading of history and events so that they dramatically invert the history and confuse the causality of the events. They have persuaded themselves – against all evidence – and repeat to insanity in light of that evidence, that the settlement project, however misguided, however much an irritant and an excuse, is the cause of intractability in the Israeli-Arab conflict, when the history, like the polling for President Obama, makes manifest that it is not even remotely so.

From Walter Russell Mead:

The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYTWSJBBCNBCTime, ReutersGuardianHuffPoSlateSalonAl Jazeeraand countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.

That didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there’s a strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud, center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.

How did the MSM get this so wrong? TAI editor Adam Garfinkle noted that the media is prone to a simple psychological fallacy: “We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon) what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we’re sure that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will not see evidence of it until too late.”

Edited: Overzealous intern now living in house of pain.

Wrote Remnick:

Meanwhile, Israeli politics continues its seemingly endless trek to the right. Every day, the Web carries the voice of another leader of the settler movement who insists that the settlers are the vanguard now, that the old verities are to be challenged, if not eliminated. Early last year, Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh, told a Chabad paper, Beit Mashiach, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”

Of course, the epistemic error in Remnick’s piece began with his decision to profile Naftali Bennett and not the man who turned out to be a greater story of the election, Yair Lapid. This error by Remnick, however, arises from a prior error, inferences post Camp David and Taba that boggle the understanding of those who recognize their gross distortion no less than the GOP’s Romney delusion is a marvel to those who could see it. Wrote Yossi Klein Halevi,

Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

In response to Remnick and all the others like him, Josh Block wrote,

Last night, a centrist country, rooted in liberal, Western values identical to our own, gave its vote to parties clustered around the political center. Those who predicted a different outcome will now have to ask themselves which of their assumptions, or their agendas, led them so far astray.

We know from the reaction of the GOP since November and from the long world history of political delusion that no partisan of any mistaken set of ideas “will have to ask themselves” anything. The truth may set you free, but it is also often another country not easily reached. The greatest challenge is for those who have a foot in only one of these two countries. They need to do some high steppin’.

AJA

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Why Obama Hearts Hagel

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 11. 

The last time I wrote about President Obama’s then only rumored selection of Chuck Hagel I said two things I knew I would wish to revise. The first, rhetorically, was the question: “What was he thinking?” The second was a quotation from Gil Troy’s generally very good writing on this subject, which I qualified then as “[p]erhaps overstating the case.” In attempting to answer the rhetorical question, I need to begin by deepening my critique of the passage I quoted from Troy.

Troy wrote,

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

I cited these words by Troy because of this schism he noted in Obama’s foreign policy tendencies. The schism is real, but Troy characterized it too crudely and mislabeled its divisions. Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the McGovern caricature of “lovely and idealistic.” (And for the record, let us all recall that George McGovern flew 35 combat missions in World War II as a B-24 bomber pilot.) Nothing in Obama’s foreign policy descends to the cynical imperial machinations of Henry Kissinger.

What Troy confuses with Kissinger’s Machiavellian realism is Obama’s more straight forward and empirical political reason. Obama was clear about it in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Awarded a prize he knew he had accomplished nothing to earn, Obama’s expressed acceptance in a speech before that audience of the need for state violence, on that occasion and under such circumstances, constituted a minor profile in courage. Said Obama,

[A] head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by [Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point, I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world’s sole military superpower.

But the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions — not just treaties and declarations — that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

The concentration and determination with which Obama has prosecuted a controversial, vigorous and deadly stealth and drone war against the United States’ terrorist enemies is testament to the truth of the beliefs expressed in these words.

In a speech that attempted to grasp and express complexities of human and state development, and international relations, greater than those captured by brute or simplistic concepts identified with either Kissinger or McGovern, Obama said the following as well.

[W]ithin America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists — a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values around the world.

I reject these choices…. No matter how callously defined, neither America’s interests — nor the world’s — are served by the denial of human aspirations.

Along with the anti-terror campaign, we can see this complex of beliefs at work in Obama’s response to many of the developments in the Middle East not specifically related to Israel. On the one hand, while Obama’s more idealistic critics on the left and more militant critics on the right judged him harshly for weak support of the Iranian “Green Revolution” of 2009, Obama judged, realistically, that in the absence of evidence that the protests could actually succeed, the U.S. had nothing to gain by appearing one more time, however honorably in American eyes, to support the overthrow of an Iranian government. No greater and forceful expressions of idealistic or militant U.S. support for the protests, absent any inconceivable American military interference, would have made a difference to the outcome. Nothing to gain and historical propaganda points to be lost.

In much bolder terms and against the prospect of much greater losses than a propaganda war, Obama has made the same realistic determination about Syria.

The President received similar criticisms, more heavily weighed from the right, regarding his response to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Again, Obama even more finely weighed the apparent tensions between realism and idealism. The President, like every president before him, accepted the realistic necessity, toward other ends, of working with an autocrat like Mubarak. As with Iran, considering an uprising that might not succeed and the political losses that might follow from hasty support for the protests, Obama hedged his bets with middle of the road comments. Once the magnitude of what was occurring became fully apparent, Obama rightly judged that the United States – rather than working in practical self-interest with autocrats – could not be seen, as it was during the Cold War, actively to support autocrats in the repression of their own people.

Avoiding and overcoming such American excesses of the Cold War, and their continuation in too ready post Cold War entry into any but absolutely necessary wars, is central to Obama’s long-term vision of U.S. international realignment. That alignment is away from a unipolar America imperial reach and self-assertion toward an America that is rather a leader in a community of nations. Said Obama in Oslo,

More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

There is no such mandate in Syria, not a mandate greater, really, than much of the rest of the West pushing American troops into battle. Obama ran in 2008 clearly against such solitary American commitments, especially after over a decade of war in two battle zones, and not to mention the untold unintended consequences that might follow. In Libya, however less consequential the case may seem, other nations, in an extraordinarily rare occurrence, did take the lead in promoting and accepting responsibility for the intervention while the U.S. bore the background brunt of the air and intelligence campaigns. This was precisely what Obama wished under the circumstances as they developed and entirely in keeping with his vision of an American international future.

Among American politicians, Obama is rare in recognizing the essential requirement, more than two decades after the Cold War’s end, of realigning the United States away from the imperial position it assumed in leading democratic forces in that war. Even an imperial sway conceived as benign and beneficial produces a perpetual descending cycle of reinforcing needs and behaviors. The breadth of interests that super power sway requires entails a breadth of power to protect them. A breadth of power generates its own interests. Imperial behavior conceived only as an advancement of noble ends can expand innocently and then be justified, in the maintenance of an imperial nature, as a necessary protection of interests.

Because the U.S. is the sole superpower in the world, it acts to extend the reach of its power (power not being static) in order to maintain itself and to protect the interests that naturally attach to that power’s reach. As the interests expand, the superpower must engage more nations with the purpose of pursuing and maintaining those interests. Ironically, this makes the superpower a supplicant, always needing to negotiate with other nations over those nations’ more natural interests and spheres of power, and far from the natural sphere of the superpower’s interests, because now the world has become its sphere. World security concerns become the superpower’s security concerns, and multiple nations, pursuing their own more vital interests, to some degree of variance with the interests of the superpower, now become problematic concerns.

The current conservative formula is that any reconsideration of this cycle is a disengagement bespeaking weakness. In order to avoid this appearance – indeed, reality – of (relative) weakness, the cycle must be maintained perpetually. The United States, now that it is the sole superpower, must ensure that it remains the sole superpower. If it is not the conquering, occupying power of imperial epochs past, it must now be and remain the imperial power of enforceable influence wherever its interests and security are perceived to reside, and increasingly they are perceived to reside almost everywhere.

Such, however, is part of the historic pattern in the decline of empires.

Chuck Hagel shares this vision with Barak Obama, and in a post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan world, Obama seeks Hagel’s advice and support in directing the nation toward its first profound international realignment since the Second World War. All this is independent of Israel.

The record of Barack Obama’s support for Israel is clear. Policy missteps and symbolic miscues provide fodder to those already otherwise inclined to mistrust him, but the record of action thus far is irrefutable. However, the idealist in Obama, the late twentieth century liberal in him, and the biographical outsider in him – however he may recognize the distinctions between Israel and the autocratic societies that have been its enemies – makes it difficult for him to articulate those differences in cultural or anything resembling Manichean terms, despite his asserted belief in Oslo in the existence of evil. Thus Obama, for all his vision, greater than many around him, of a necessary and better American international future, fails to see more than geopolitically local and limited threats. The limited are non-state organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the like. The local are the normal geopolitical contenders, such as China in Asia, and the historically garden-variety despots such as Gaddafi and Assad. However, there is a greater threat in the world.

A confluence has occurred in the post Cold War world. One stream may be found in Islamist theocratic intolerance, rooted in so many anti-Semitic cultures. This intolerance finds a supportive voice in far left postcolonial rationalizations of the conduct of “marginalized” and “powerless” peoples. It is further abetted by liberal reluctance, like Obama’s, to make cultural claims not only in praise, but in censure. This confluence finds its center in the Middle East, around Israel, and it is the greatest international threat since the fall of the Communist world.

The mystery will remain as to why Obama did not mind disappointing women in rejecting the highly esteemed Michèle Flournoy for Secretary of Defense. It will remain why he did not mind so upsetting so many Jews at his selection of Hagel. It may well have been his calculation that most of the Jews who would object were already opponents who mistrust and criticize him. There is much evidence to support the latter part of that claim.

About Hagel’s ultimate influence over Israel policy, a best case scenario might recall Obama’s obvious desire to surround himself in his cabinet with varied figures of name and stature, among whom he will still make his own final decision. From Mark Bowden’s book The Finish, about the Osama bin Laden decision:

The only major dissenters were [Vice President Joe] Biden and [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates and, by the next morning, Gates had changed his mind. [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General James Cartwright and Leiter favored the drone over the raid.]

That is the Vice President and, initially, the Republican and very heavy weight Secretary of Defense disagreeing, and a major military adviser and the director of the National Counter Terrorism Center urging a different option. Obama knows his own mind.

The worst case scenario is that Hagel further weakens a so far bumbling and ineffectual approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that he amplifies Obama’s failure to perceive the larger picture in the Middle East, and that his choice sends exactly the wrong signal to Iran.

The worst case scenario is too real, the consequences too great. That is why Hagel’s choice, despite the sense that can be found in it, is the wrong one.

AJA

 

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Israel The Political Animal

The Hagelian Dialectic

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 4. Today, President Obama announced his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

The Chuck Hagel trial balloon has been aloft for weeks now, not to burst or land – since its lofting was never officially acknowledged – until either he or someone else is officially nominated for Secretary of Defense. What conclusions may be drawn without tendentiousness?

Above all, we see a pattern, oft repeated, of charge and counter charge between supporters of Israel and critics of Israel and American policy toward Israel, using the same language each time, making similar tenuous accusations and identical unsubstantiated claims. It is a fake dialogue – because no genuine interchange is intended – that cannot reach a synthesis because on neither side is the true, greater argument sufficiently the focus of attention.

In detail, first, even if one is both a strong supporter of Israel and of President Obama, even if one is generally admiring of the President’s foreign policy and holds no doubt of his commitment to the security of Israel in even the ultimate circumstances, nonetheless, the weakest part of that foreign policy has regarded Israel. About Israel, the President has demonstrated the tinniest of ears and spoken with the most recurring hiccups. Even if, ultimately, he nominates someone other than Hagel, the very idea that Obama considered him will have served only to foster greater mistrust among the already mistrustful.

Gil Troy, writing at Open Zion, has done the best, most balanced writing on this subject. Perhaps overstating the case in both directions, Troy has nonetheless noted a schism in the President’s foreign policy inclinations, between McGovern and Kissinger.

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Given Obama’s difficulties with the Jewish community, some unwarranted, others clearly created on his own, and there being no upside to a Hagel trial balloon and even greater downside to his actual nomination, one can only wonder, “What was he thinking?”

Second, there has been excess, as there often is in these cases, in the reaction to Hagel. Once again, the dispute has been unnecessarily and uncertainly personalized and driven by identity politics.

Let us observe, as the evidence seems clearly to suggest, that Israel and even Jews hold no special place in Chuck Hagel’s human sympathies and affections. So? How much does any randomly chosen American, Israeli, or Jew care about Ghanaians? Or the Aymara Indians of Bolivia? Everyone need not care all that much about Jews or Israel. That does not make anyone anti-Israel or even an anti-Semite, even if the occasional politically incorrect, clumsy locution escapes his lips. Yet as is often the case, some Jews and other supporters of Israel have responded to an unsympathetic political actor like Hagel with tenuous charges of animus and even anti-Semitism. This serves only to focus the debate on identity politics and group influence rather than on profound and outstanding principles.

The outstanding instance of this tendency occurred where such misbehaviors can be frequently found, somewhere in the vicinity of Bill Kristol, whether at the Emergency Committee for Israel or The Weekly Standard, which early headlined the threat of an anonymous senate aid,

Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.

The ugliest manifestation of that quote, beside its anonymity, is the charge of anti-Semite brandished as black mail threat: no honest commitment to exposing anti-Semitism just on its virtues, but only as a threat of character assassination to gain the upper hand in political warfare. Proud work, that – work that honestly earns the counter-charge of “smear” otherwise flung so carelessly and ignorantly by Israel’s programmatic Western foes.

However, in any widespread contention, there will be people who behave badly. There is no party discipline in public debate. The greater empirical truth is that such cheap resort to name-calling has been relatively rare, and most of it, if one investigates, from minor figures. Troy in his own searches discovered what I did, that when searching the Internet for “Chuck Hagel” and “anti-Semite” what one finds in overwhelming abundance are links to writing objecting to Hagel being called an anti-Semite rather than the few mostly unknown figures who have actually called him that.

This leads to a third point in detail – the nature of the response, whenever these affairs arise, from those whose program it is to criticize Israel and object to American support of Israel. First, they will decry the influence of the Israeli lobby – influence and support they wish they had themselves. Second, in the manner of the arch smear monger himself, Glenn Greenwald, they will accuse critics of someone like Hagel of smearing him, when they themselves have little understanding of, or concern for, the easy distinction between a smear and a criticism. Third, in the most extraordinary cases, such as that of Charles Freeman over three years ago, and now Hagel, portions of the foreign policy and journalism establishments will rise in defense of their now current standard bearer – this last even when, as now, it produces the incongruity of firm liberals providing very weak evidence in support of a very conservative figure they would otherwise vigorously oppose.

That incongruity, however, points us to that true, greater argument that should always be the focus in these debates, not the question of Jews and who loves them or hates them, or whether “they” have too much influence. Chuck Hagel did not need to be the second Jewish senator from Nebraska. One need be no anglophile to recognize England as a proper ally, or sacrifice one’s peeves with the French to know we would back them, again, against an intolerant aggressor. No less the South Koreans, the Aussies.

In his recent series of posts on Hagel, Steve Clemons of the Atlantic posed the following questions to a collection of experts almost universally supportive of Hagel’s foreign policy views on Israel:

Others argue that Hagel has been supportive of Israel’s interests but in a way that doesn’t make a false choice between Israel and Arab states and doesn’t compromise core US national security interests.  Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying?  Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel?  Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?

These are all the reasonable or currently relevant questions to ask.

The suggestion itself that there is a “false choice” between Israel and, generally, the Arab States is the essential reason – and not philo or anti-Semitism – that Hagel is the wrong choice, and the defense of him mistaken. Is there a false choice between democracy and autocracy? Between modern liberalism and, often, medieval religious fanaticism? Is the there a false choice between the Enlightenment and a belief in the personal integrity of the individual – in human and civil rights on the one hand, and on the other, nations whose cultures frequently remain infected by misogyny, homophobia, and the vilest forms of anti-Semitism? The very idea that fundamental alliance with either Israel or the Arab states presents a false choice, and that such are the terms on which defenders of Hagel might offer their defense is reason alone to reject his nomination. Was it a false choice between Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc? Between South and North Korea? Kosovo and Serbia?

There is, indeed, an American foreign policy culture that has long excused the sins of the Arab world and minimized its stark differences from the Israeli state. They have had their economic or cultural reasons, or a commitment to foreign policy “realism.” But there is no reason that supporters, not only of Israel, but of all those Enlightenment and liberal democratic virtues should welcome as Secretary of Defense a man who in his policy stances has not sufficiently recognized the stark differences in this choice, or who garners his defense from others who similarly fail to recognize them.

When we hear spoken the idea that support of Israel might “compromise core US national security interests,” we must ask how it compromises US security interests to align the nation always with liberal democracies against undemocratic and repressive states. When, in the history of the United States, would anyone advocating for a cabinet position have wished to argue that the U.S. had been wrong, and had compromised core security interests by supporting allied democracies against surrounding undemocratic, repressive, and intolerant states that threatened them? Should we not now be supportive of Poland against potential threats from Russia? Australia against a terrorizing China? Which advocates of American foreign policy would deem these “false choices”?

All of these questions culminate in the proposal by Clemons that Hagel’s views might constitute “constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy.” Realistic and constructive to oppose terror designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard? To oppose urging the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as the U.S. has done? To oppose economic sanctions on Iran, leaving only the choices of either, ultimately, armed conflict or dangerously naive faith in the possibility of negotiated settlement without coercive influence?

It is easy to argue that Hagel misperceives the nature of contending forces in a crucial geopolitical area. His advocacy of ending sanctions against Cuba is empirically well-founded. His refusal as a senator to acknowledge the Armenian genocide (facing none of the practical exigencies of a president, perhaps, to demur), suggests a similar realism ill-founded in a commitment to historical truth and humane international values, and this curiously aligns him in the current uproar with elements of the left critical of Israel for supposedly inhumane treatment of Palestinians. But then foreign policy realism contradictorily married to an agenda other than self-interest will always produce contradiction. Thus many Israelis and supporters of Israel had no difficulty criticizing the Obama administration for not fully supporting the Mubarak tyranny even in the face of a full popular uprising against it – even as Israel rightly touts its commitment to democratic values. Thus many on the left now run to the Republican Hagel’s defense – even as they oppose nearly everything else for which he has stood.

It is not only easy to argue that Hagel is wrong on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a strong and coherent argument can be made, on the historical evidence and the merits, that his misperception of the Middle East has broader implications worldwide. The argument can be made on its merits. To support Israel is to support democracy and liberal values. To support Israel against the repressive, intolerant, and often inhumane regimes that have hatefully and violently sought to destroy it even before its birth is to support all the virtues for which the American and Western democracies are supposed to stand – for which Western and American liberals are supposed to stand. The choice could not be starker, the implications in a post 9/11 world could not be bolder, the failure of vision through the wrong choice could not be greater.

What those committed to a wise and broad American foreign policy vision need care about is that nominees for foreign policy positions share this vision.  That is the ground, the honest and sufficient ground on which the battle should be fought. All the rest is a distraction or a cynical manipulation to other ends.

AJA

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Israel, Its Foes, and the Plain Truth

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You could find smoking guns like this all over the scene, and some people would still be smelling roses. (Maybe the one in the desert.) Adam Levick at CiF Watch brings us today, posted below, news of an astonishing, revelatory nature.

Whether attributable to the reactionary autocratic nature of their political systems, the  repression of individual creative initiative endemic to their political and cultural milieus, or a culturally ingrained Antisemitism that requires automatic opposition to any development originating in Israel, the vote in the U.N. of 31 nations to oppose encouragement of private and public sector entrepreneurship reveals a plain truth. Against the 141 nations that voted for the Israeli-proposed resolution, we find all of Israel’s historic and current Arab enemy states and every major Muslim nation joined together with any remainder of the  most politically and economically backward nations in the world: North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. Of the three most creative human activities – artistic production, scientific inquiry, and entrepreneurial initiative – those nations of the world most direly in need of the latter have now officially rejected the very idea of it in the premier world forum. We find in this group of nations, too – absent the major players of the Cold War communist world – the core of those nations, later to be repudiated by history, that shamefully voted in 1975 to declare Zionism a form of racism.

What the Guardian won’t report: Israel wins at the UN. Israeli culture wins in the Middle East

by Adam Levick (cross-posted at CiF Watch)

On Dec. 21, 2012, a UN resolution on “Entrepreneurship for Development” was proposed by Israel, along with 97 co-sponsors.

The resolution encourages private and public sector entrepreneurship, “developing new technologies and innovative business models, and enabling high, sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth while protecting the rights of workers as the best way to deal with the challenges of poverty and job creation.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, said the following:

“The Israeli spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity prevailed at the UN today.  As a state that was founded in difficult circumstances, we have been able to create opportunities for talented people and have become an enterprising superpower. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship can work miracles and drive economies forward. Investing in human resources is a real message that Israel conveys to the developing world.”

The UN adopted it by a vote of 141 in favor to 31 against, with 11 abstentions.

The Guardian – which continually informs their readers when the UN censures the Jewish state – hasn’t reported the Israeli sponsored resolution.

Why does it matter?

If you recall, there was a huge row over comments during the US Presidential campaign suggesting that Israeli culture is a major factor in the state’s economic and social prowess in the region.

Many commentators on the far left (including ‘Comment is Free’ contributor Rachel Shabi) scolded those who would suggest a connection between culture and success – imputing racism to such arguments.

Shabi characterized the broader narrative that Israeli culture may be more conducive to success than Palestinian culture as “standard-issue superiority complex racism”.

To those so easily manipulated by au courant post-colonial causation, the stubborn reality of Israeli success (as with Western success more broadly) must be explained by Western hegemony or other global injustices.

To the far-left crowd which occupies the Guardian, the word “racism” – which is defined by a belief in the inherent, immutable, biological or genetic inferiority of a group, race, or ethnicity – has been defined so expansively as to even impute such bigotry to those observing intuitively that some cultural habits are necessarily inimical to economic achievement and social development.

Now, take a look at the countries who voted against the Israeli resolution advocating “entrepreneurship for development”.

Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Comoros, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Yemen.

Do you see a pattern?

A strong majority of these states are plagued by poverty, under-development and despotism.

Oh, and  also:  The majority of these states are opposed to Israel’s very existence, and some have a shameful history of having ethnically cleansed their Jewish citizens in the twenty years following 1948.

The resolution, based on the most intuitive reasoning, was opposed because it was the Jewish state which proposed it.

By obsessing over Israel, refusing to concentrate on the real problems plaguing their societies, and working to instill the liberal cultural habits necessary to alleviate their poverty and throw off the yoke of tyranny – and ignoring the lessons on how a small, innovative, Jewish country accomplished so much in just six and a half decades – they ensure that little progress will likely be achieved.

Those in the West who continue  to indulge such nations in the fantasy that their anti-Zionist delusions are justified, even righteous, are complicit in condemning millions to poverty, tyranny and hopelessness.

 

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When Is an Open-Air Prison a Terrorist Camp?

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(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

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Israel The Political Animal

Reflections on the Spirit of Resistance

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Paul Newman’s 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, the apex of journeyman Stuart Rosenberg’s directorial career, imbued popular culture with many iconic scenes and memorable lines. (“What we have here – is failure to communicate.” “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”) Among the famous scenes is that of the prison camp boxing match between George Kennedy’s alpha prisoner (the role that won him an Oscar and made him famous) and Newman’s smaller Luke.

As expected, Kennedy’s “Dragline” beats Luke good. But Luke will not stay down. He is woozily staggering with every blow, even knocked down by some of the head shots, but each time, against cries from his fellow prisoners and advice from Dragline finally to stay down and put an end to his whupping, the unconquerably recalcitrant Luke keeps rising up for more. Finally, Dragline just walks away, defeated in victory, and Luke has earned the heroic worship of all.

In addition to its inherent quality as a film and the quintessential, natural, non-hipster cool of its leading man, Cool Hand Luke was a film for its time. In an age of defining cultural rebellion, the film exalted the spirit of resistance against crushing, inhuman authority – in the film itself, the sadistic authority of a chain gang, for the culture that received it, any presiding force that would quash individual autonomy and personality.

The valorization of resistance as a human attribute is longstanding. From the slave rebellion of Spartacus and Masada to democracy creating revolutions and the Warsaw uprisings, the human spirit is stirred and encouraged to persist by the spirit of resistance. Most commonly since the Enlightenment, we see an ultimate expression of human nature in the natural uprising against oppressive forces.

In the United States, on Thanksgiving, we celebrate a story of resistance. That is not how most people think of the day, but that is one perspective on the story. We say we honor some congenial meal in which surviving Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony feasted with Massasoit and his men. But celebrations of survival, too, are testaments to resistance – resistance to the elements, to the forces of nature and circumstance, to those who may be aligned against us. We resist defeat in many ways.

Native America has a different perspective on the Thanksgiving holiday. That attendee of the first Thanksgiving Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, engaged in his own resistance. He resisted over his lifetime as best he could the encroachment of the colonists on Wampanoag land and attempts to convert the Wampanoag to Christianity. Massasoit and all those who came after him lost in their resistance.

A lesson in this is that resistance, for all we exalt its spirit, neither endows any instance of it with justice, nor ennobles the goal in the service of which it stands its ground and refuses to bend. Neither victory nor loss are determinants of justice. The spirit may be willing, but the cause is weak. In the United States, the Mafia has resisted American law and its enforcement. In Mexico, drug cartels resist even the government’s militarized effort to stamp them out. During the Iraq War, there was an Iraqi insurgency – a resistance movement – and those even who claim to promote social justice who supported it and cheered the idea of it.

In the world today, many of the values of the international regime of laws, of human rights evaluation and critique, and of ideological sympathy are misguided by just such a disjunction between the spirit and the flesh – the actual substance of justice. The rules of a legal and human rights superstructure – the products of millennia of moral development – are abstracted from their substantial existence in the free, democratic nations that haltingly advance them and, in reality, often used as weapons against these very embodiments of the spirit.

Even honesty in itself is an empty shade if it is not in the service of a good. Shall we honestly express every critical and even accurate opinion of every potentially hurtful kind to those around us whom we love?

Resistance in itself is nothing. In the name of what – what ideas, what dream of human relationship – do we resist? Against what do we resist?

No honest consideration of ongoing conflict between Hamas controlled Gaza and Israel, between any anti-Semitic or Islamist culture and Israel, can take place without addressing these questions.

An anecdote:

Just over ten years ago, I was present at a large show and party at my wife Julia’s relatively new gallery – before, after that night, we both understood that security would always be necessary. I was alerted midway through the evening that a man none of our friends knew had been obnoxious to several women. None of the women had complained or made a scene, however, and there seemed no overt basis on which to take any action.

At the end of the evening, while saying goodbye near the door to some last visitors, I was told by a good friend that back in Julia’s office, where a few close friends were gathered privately, this man was present and refusing to leave. I went back to speak to him. He was beside Julia. I politely, regretfully advised him that the show was over and that we needed visitors to leave. He ignored me, asked a personal question of Julia, who uncomfortably declined to answer it, and when I saw that, though I was standing right in front of him, the man would not even look at me, I told him, at the point that he reached for Julia’s arm, that if he did not leave, I would have to call the police.

“How fast can you get to the phone?” the man replied, and lunged at me.

Taken by surprise, I was backed against a wall, where I began to struggle with the man. Two male friends quickly jumped in and the four of us tumbled to the floor in a heap of grappling bodies.

We have probably all seen video of men apparently very high on a drug who display extraordinary strength and require multiple police officers after very great effort and struggle, to restrain them. This man was such a man. He seemed high and irrational. One person who vaguely knew him thought, on the contrary, that he might actually be off his meds. Regardless, though all four of us were of roughly equal size, it took all the effort that three of us could muster to gain control of the man and restrain him on the floor, where he never ceased his resistance. Any let up by any one of us saw the serious attempt by the man to throw that person off him. Any one of us would have been beaten by him. Even two of us would not have been able to control him.

Others present called the police. In the meantime, for the twenty minutes it took the police to arrive, there was no let up for the three of us in exerting ourselves to retain control. We told the man many times that if he calmed down, we would ease up on him. He only fought back harder in response. Sometimes one of us might feel exceptionally angered by the man’s ferocity and exert himself, arguably, too forcefully, and the other two would check him. The man all this time, whenever his face was positioned to do it, would spit on us, until we had to expend ourselves to assert even more control and hold his face pressed to the ground so that he could no longer reach us with his spit.

More naturally violent people than we, of whom there are many, would not have been satisfied with controlling the man’s violence and would have brutally ended the conflict with what would necessarily have been a very violent beating. Indeed, were there no police to come to the rescue, there would have been no alternative to that violent beating, and there would have been much bodily and other physical damage all around.

When the police finally did arrive, the scene they found was one of four bodies so entwined on the ground that in taking control of the situation they had actually to touch arms and legs and ask to whom each one belonged. Certainly, the entangled circumstance into which they walked told no obvious story, though it would have been easy to conclude that three men had ganged up on a fourth.

Everyone present confirmed the same account, however, and our troubled gallery goer was escorted to a cell.

That’s my account anyway, the only one you have. You have to believe me, and if you think you have some reason to mistrust me, perhaps some ideological dispute, you may think I have slanted or even entirely misrepresented elements of the story. I think I am a fairly swell guy, but wouldn’t you know that there are people out there who, on the basis of things I have written, have had some not very nice things to say to me?

Of course, there are some events and histories that have considerably greater public and evidentiary records than my wrestling match just off the boardwalk at Venice Beach. Oddly, for some people, that does not make a difference.

People resist the truth, too.

AJA

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Not So Random Questions, Facts, & Observations about Gaza & Israel

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If forces in Mexico – drug cartels, for instance – were firing rockets and missiles into an area roughly covering 25% of the United States this is what it would look like.

If the U.S. equivalent of one million Israelis were under threat of this bombardment on a daily basis, running for cover, hiding in bomb shelters, suffering damage to their homes, roughly 45 million Americans would be victims of this terror.

Imagine the reaction of the American people. Imagine the political and national defense requirements of the U.S. government in response, even if no one had yet been killed.

The United Nations categorizes 48 nations, with a population of 832 million – nearly 1 in 8 people on the planet – as “least developed countries.” Neither the West Bank nor Gaza, since they are not countries, is on this list. However, according the CIA World Factbook ranking of the percentage of national populations living in poverty, in which Gaza is included, Gaza ranks 46th, with 38% of its population living below the poverty line. That is, 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty. The list of these nations, including a very large number of African Nations, is close to identical to those on the U.N. list, but not quite. Among those nations not categorized by the U.N. as least developed nations, but with higher percentages of their populations living below the poverty line than Gaza are Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Belize.

Unlike with Hamas in Gaza, Israel is not now engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Why is that?

If the armaments directed by Islamists in Gaza against Israel are, in fact, incapable of inflicting significant damage to military purpose – if they are so ineffectual to any practical material end – why do the extremists fire them? What is their immediate goal? What is their ultimate desire?

If, in return, Gaza periodically – now, a fourth year cycle – sustains physical destruction and casualties from Israel far beyond what Islamists inflict, why do they persist? What did they materially gain the last time? What prospect of material gain is there this time? Why (to choose a phrase) in the name of humanity do they do it?

Bibi Netanyahu is said by his critics not to be truly committed to negotiations and two states. Let us accept this for present purposes as true. It is true, too, that after more than sixty years (which is not to discount centuries) of mind-bendingly complex conflict and historical entanglement, simply affirming a commitment to anything and mouthing a willingness to negotiate are clearly not in themselves representative of a true or impending path to resolution of the conflict. This is what, in fact, Bibi Netanyahu has done, and his critics discount it. They simply do not believe him. Whatever creative thinking, diplomacy, and policy initiative might be required to break open the uncrackable nut of this problem, they have not issued from the brain trust, the intellectual think tank of the Netanyahu government. Okay. Agreed.

It is also true that there is no easier, so slicker, no more tendentious form of argument than to ground one’s arguments on the indemonstrable inner beliefs and passions of participants to the argument. Disputing arguments to the unseen is like attempting to prove a negative.

Has the pronounced position of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, every day of its administration, been that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally? I will answer that question.

Yes.

Has it been the pronounced position of the Palestinian Authority on any day of Benjamin Netanyahu leadership of Israel that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally?

No.

Has Benjamin Netanyahu publically declared his willingness to seek a two-state solution?

Yes.

Is Hamas willing to commit to a two-state solution?

No. (Hamas wishes, rather, to kill all Jews. Or simply rule them in the culminating world caliphate. Theologians, robed and unrobed, dispute this.)

Those who claim that if only Benjamin Netanyahu were Ehud Olmert, or Ehud Barak (good Ehud Barak, before he was bad Ehud Barak), or even Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, there would be a chance for peace need to point to anything ultimately accomplished by any of these Israeli leaders – in the face of Palestinian rejectionism – that substantiates that belief.

More Americans died after the United States went to war against Imperial Japan subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack than were killed before. Does that mean the U.S. was wrong or even simply mistaken to engage the conflict? Maybe it should simply have accepted the damage thus far and not made things worse? And Germany had not even attacked the United States. Was the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, then, aggression?

Did the allies during World War Two worry, in bringing the war to Japan, that they were creating more Kamikazes? Did they consider that if perhaps they simply ceased their aggressive defense, the Japanese would alter their own aggressive designs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not remotely comparable to the Irish Troubles. This common analogy is a weak, warm brew (or one dunk only of a Lipton’s tea bag – take your pick).

Protestant Irish are the lineal or political descendants of invaders, with no original claim to the land of Ireland.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews are original inhabitants of Israel-Palestine.

Nonetheless, most observers and people of good will were of the belief in the twentieth century that the Protestant Irish had long since roots in Ireland deep enough to warrant certain political claims, among which claims, considering Catholic-Protestant enmity, was autonomy (in Union with Great Britain) in Northern Ireland. A “two-state solution” had already been effected for Ireland in 1921. Palestinian Arabs rejected their two-state solution in 1948.

Rather than an internal minority rising up in violence against the State of Northern Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more fully, historically, the Arab-Israeli conflict) is the product of an external majority’s unwillingness to acknowledge, or seeking to destroy, a separate state.

For all the enmity between Irish Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Republicans, neither was committed by charter or theology to the genocidal destruction of the other.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 required first a ceasefire and was predicated on IRA disarmament.

Whatever compromises were reached, the IRA was required to abandon its goal of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Those who put forth this analogy generally articulate their case from the standpoint of human conflict as the product of misunderstanding and mistrust, however overlaid it may be with webs of historical, religious, and political complexity. In such presentations they do not acknowledge the reality of any kind of essential hate, of arrogance and absolutism. With enough patience and communication, human miscommunication can be overcome, they believe. Problems can be solved. We can all come together.

The indigenous peoples of the world – as that category was identified by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations – Native Americans in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the many Indigenous cultures of Latin America all wait for the First World nations’ recognition of the reality of absolutism, arrogance, and condescending hate. But those peoples already lost, to conquerors who were merciless in their conquest and are unrepentant in their rule. Fortunately for the New World’s ruling cultures, their indigenous peoples are not supplied with rockets by Syria and Iran. Fortunately for Israel, it does not have to focus on what the past week would have been like were the circumstances reversed, though it can never afford to forget.

AJA

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Los Angeles Times Slants Coverage of Israel-Gaza Conflict

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Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (We...
Map of Israel, the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), the Golan Heights, and portions of neighbouring countries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years from now – How long, O Lord? – when the historical studies are done of yet another period of profound human and political failing, the evidence of even journalistic prejudice against Israel and Jews in the first part of the twenty-first century will be too bountiful for the whole to be encompassed. Yesterday, I posted about how National Public Radio offered an account of the growing threat of Greece’s fascistic, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, inclusive of analogy to the rise of Nazism out of Germany’s troubled Wiemar Republic. Astonishingly, while recounting current offenses against foreigners and gays in the context of this analogy, reporter Joanna Kakisssis, never once mentioned Golden Dawn’s bigotry against Jews – the prejudicial offense for which Nazism is most infamous.

Even the nearly inconceivable excuse of an oversight would prove the point as well.

Today, in the Los Angeles Times, Edmund Sanders’ lede is more commonplace, but no less slanted.

Israel’s surprise air assault on Gaza Strip militants killed the top military commander of Hamas and set the rivals on a familiar course that could end with another major confrontation — but in unpredictable new circumstances created by the “Arab Spring.”

Compared with its past campaigns against Hamas, Israel is likely to find itself more restrained politically and militarily in the new landscape.

We see here fully conscious slanting both obvious to the reasonably informed and unbiased mind and subtle in its reception by the less informed who will be misinformed by it. Sanders is the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, so of course he knows Israel’s killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari followed as many as 800 rockets fired from Gaza on Israel this year, with at least 125 fired this past weekend, before the current Israeli military action. Yet, Sanders, whose slanted writing about Israel is not new, chooses to lead his report with reference to Israel’s “surprise” (because no one might have anticipated it after all that provocation) assault on Gaza strip militants – not their yearlong and weekend long assault on Israel. And it is the Israeli response to these hundreds of rocket attacks that has “set the rivals on a familiar course,” not the abiding animus and continuing violence of  Hamas against Israel.

And what, too – by the way – constitutes Israel as a “rival” to Hamas? Toward what pursuit is Israel in rivalry with Hamas? Toward possession of and governance of Gaza? No. What of anything does Hamas want or have that Israel desires? Nothing. But Hamas does explicitly call for and desire the death of Jews and the possession of the land of Israel. Does Sanders not recognize the settled nature of Israel’s existence  and believe Hamas and the Israeli people to be in rivalry for that land and its governance? Are the United States and Islamic fundamentalists who dream of a world caliphate, in Sanders’ mind and language, rivals?

Yet all this amounts to, in the words of Sanders, not a Hamas campaign against Israel, but one of Israel’s “campaigns against Hamas.” How could any person who actually needs this reporting to be informed come away from it with anything other than a perversely convoluted and concocted implicit history and current account? This is, too, mind us all, not an avowed Palestinian partisan writing, but the pretense of an objective reporter.

This is more slanting in two brief lead paragraphs than can make the remotest claim to fair and honest journalism.

AJA

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The Israeli-Palestinian Enthymeme

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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

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Israel The Political Animal

Maureen Dowd and her Critics

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A couple of interesting comments from Noga and David on my post, “A Political Hall of Mirrors,” prompts these further considerations on the reaction to Maureen Dowd’s neocon puppet master column. I don’t think this is a subject in which people need necessarily hold hard positions unwaveringly and completely opposed to differing views. Of course, I had read the Jeffrey Goldberg post that David directed me to, and what Goldberg does very well in it is demonstrate the deep history of “puppet master” as an anti-Semitic trope. But Goldberg himself says more than once that he does not believe that Dowd was drawing on that history – had intended to invoke it and thereby evoke an anti-Semitic feeling in the reader. That is why I end in the ambiguous place I do in my last post and title it as I do – considering the multiplicity of lenses and perceptions.

If one has the sense that Dowd was not herself being anti-Semitic, even though she employed a term that can succor anti-Semites, then that raises questions about the vociferous response to her column. It is one thing to believe that a writer, in a particular context, made an ill-advised choice of words; it is another to roundly attack her as if she were being, actually, anti-Semitic in her views. Much of that attack (though not all – just as not all neocons are Jews) came, in fact, from conservatives and neocons, just the people who would wish to invalidate Dowd’s attack on them by trailing the red herring of any actual anti-Semitism. It is true that much anti-Semitic sentiment and parlance has become routinized among segments of the left, which now offer ugly mockery of anti-Semitic concerns. It is also true that there is a very bold and unattractive right that aggressively seeks to exploit this current weakness of the left in order to fully align support of Israel, and identification with Jewish concerns, with conservatism. Many on the right view this as a historic opportunity – and they are right to do so – to alienate Jews from their long, historic liberal leanings. The reaction to Dowd was an opportunistic attack on a facile representative of liberalism.

Why, then, do I seem to come around a bit, on this topic, in my response to Andrew Sullivan’s commentary? First, because Sullivan makes it so easy. Israel is one of those subjects on which he is completely emotive and unsubtle in his thinking, driven by animus and entirely injudicious.

David makes the following point, drawn from Goldberg responding to a sympathetic, but nonetheless divergent James Fallows:

I think his most telling point consists in pointing out that James Fallows can recognize that Newt Gingrich’s referring to Obama as “the food-stamp president” is a racist dog-whistle, in spite of Gingrich having made no explicit reference to race, while claiming that Dowd’s “neocon puppet master” cannot be an antisemitic dog-whistle because Dowd made no mention of Jews, Israel, or religion.  What is sauce for the goose (and properly so in the case of Gingrich) is sauce for the gander.

“Food stamp President” and “puppet master” are not equivalent code terms. They operate differently as verbal signs. No one has argued – no one can – that “puppet master” cannot be used without anti-Semitic reference. All one need do to clarify that point is use the term in a context in which there are no Jews. It can be used that way, is used that way, and retains a full charge of meaning without reference to Jews. It is only in a context with Jews that the possibility of anti-Semitic reference arises. This is not so with “food stamp President.” The complete history of that term is in a context in which racist coding arises: there is not context in which the term has ever been used in which it did not offer the possibility of racist coding. With Barack Obama – a black president – there is not even the possibility of the “not all neocons are Jews” argument. There is only one President and he is black.

Then, too, there is the context of common usage by the speaker of the term: just in the past couple of years we have had Newt Gingrich referencing Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world view, and Obama’s pursuing the dreams (of his father) of a “Luo tribesman,” a “philandering, inebriated African.”

Why would anyone think that Gingrich has concertedly sought to identify Obama with black Africanness, with a primitive threat to civilization and the moral social order? Why?

If there is a comparable personal vocabulary and context for Maureen Dowd, I have yet to be presented with it.

What we see, then, is the contrast between purposeful messaging and message enabling, but this last is why I end, finally where I do on Dowd. The attack on her, from some, offered just the vile opportunism imputed to her, but it also enabled the likes of Sullivan and Mondoweiss, which also cheered her on for its own reasons, not hers, and that is why the language she used, in the context she used it, always needs to be called out, if not called a crime.

AJA

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(Updated) Impenetrable: The Hollow Rhetoric of Judith Butler

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(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

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The Palestinian Failure

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Munib al-Masri

Some nations are lucky in their leaders. For decades now, academic historians have downplayed the significance of the leader – the “great man” – in the understanding of historical epochs and focused their attention elsewhere. Still, you cannot study the early American republic without renewed appreciation for the role of George Washington. How lucky was the U.S. again for Lincoln in his time, FDR in his, England for Churchill at the same time, Israel for David Ben Gurion. The French were not so lucky at the time of their revolution. The Palestinian Arabs, too, have had no Ben Gurion. They had Yassar Arafat.

A couple of weeks ago, Munib R. al-Masri, a storied figure among Palestinians and considered to be the wealthiest of them all, published an Op-Edin The New York Times. al-Masri is quite a moderate Palestinian, who is currently seeking a third way, beside the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and trying to construct avenues toward peace with Israeli counterparts. Still, he must operate in the Palestinian environment created over the past sixty-plus years, and there are party lines he chooses to follow. He claimed, for instance, as the title of his Op-Ed read, in response to the well-publicized comment by Mitt Romney, that “Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back.” My point is not to comment on Romney’s observation, but al-Masri’s – that it is any Israeli “occupation” or other activity that has held Palestinians back. In fact, I don’t need to make that case. Seven years ago, in David Samuels’  lengthy “In a Ruined Country,” for the Atlantic, al-Masri made the case himself.

The money [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

Samuels expanded.

For those at the top of the heap the rewards were much larger and more systematic. The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat’s inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat’s cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president’s office, where it was spent at Arafat’s personal discretion. An additional 35 percent of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The financial resources of the PLO, which may have amounted to somewhere between one and two billion dollars, were never included in the PA budget. Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.

Contrary to the comic-book habits of some Third World leaders, such as President Mobutu Sese Seko, of Zaire, and Saddam Hussein, Arafat eschewed lurid displays of wealth. His corruption was of a more sober-minded type. He was a connoisseur of power, who used the money that he stole to buy influence, to provoke or defuse conspiracies, to pay gunmen, and to collect hangers-on the way other men collect stamps or butterflies. Arafat had several advisers who oversaw the system of patronage and theft, which was convincingly outlined in a series of investigative articles by Ronen Bergman that appeared during the late 1990s in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The PLO treasurer, Nizar Abu Ghazaleh, ran the company al-Bahr (“the Sea”) for a small number of wealthy shareholders, including Arafat’s wife, Suha. Al-Bahr set the price of a ton of cement in Gaza at $74, of which $17 went into Arafat’s private bank account. One of Arafat’s favorite bagmen, Harbi Sarsour, ran the General Petroleum Company, which established a monopoly over all the gasoline and fuel-oil products sold in the West Bank and Gaza. A company called al-Sakhra (“the Rock”), run by Fuad Shubaki on behalf of Fatah, profited hugely from an exclusive contract to provide all uniforms and other supplies to the Palestinian security forces. Official monopolies on basic goods and services had exclusive suppliers on the Israeli side. These profitable contracts were made available by Arafat to companies associated with former high-ranking members of the Israeli civil administration and the security services in the West Bank and Gaza.

The genius behind this system was Muhammad Rachid, who became Arafat’s closest economic adviser. A onetime protégé of Abu Jihad, Rachid was a former magazine editor who became involved in the diamond business. He came to Arafat’s attention because of his keen talent as a businessman, and because he was an ethnic Kurd—which meant that he was safely removed from the family- and clan-based politics that always threatened to disrupt the division of the spoils.

In their cities and villages Palestinians were subject to the extortion and violence of Arafat’s overlapping security services, which competed among themselves for payoffs, arbitrarily arrested people and seized their land, and forced citizens to pay double or triple the price for everything from flour and gasoline to cigarettes, razor blades, and sheep feed. The fact that nearly everyone in Palestinian political life had taken something directly from Arafat’s hand made it hard to criticize him; it was easier to go along. In 1991, at the low point of Fatah’s finances, Ali Shahin, one of Arafat’s earliest allies, wrote a secret report lambasting Fatah’s “inconceivable moral degradation,” for which he blamed the excesses of a leader whose true interests were “the red carpet, the private plane of the President, free rein to spend money.” Shahin became the minister of supplies in Arafat’s government and was notorious for selling spoiled flour and making truckloads of chocolates sit at the Erez checkpoint in the heat in order to help out a friend who owned the only candy factory in Gaza. The economy of the Palestinian territories, which had enjoyed startlingly high growth rates after 1967, when it passed from Jordanian and Egyptian control into the hands of the Israelis, stagnated and then went backward. In less than a decade Yasir Arafat and his clique managed to squander not only the economic well-being but also the considerable moral capital amassed by the Palestinian people during two and a half decades of Israeli military rule.

Samuels later gives us Gazan human-rights activist Iyad Sarraj.

“Palestinians have lost the battle because of their lack of organization and because they have been captives of rhetoric and sloganeering rather than actual work,” he says. “I believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in one way or the other is between development and underdevelopment, civilization and backwardness. Israel was established on the rule of law, on democratization, and certain principles that would advance Israel, while the Arabs and the Palestinians were waiting always for the prophet, for the rescuer, for the savior, the mahdi. Arafat came, and everyone hung their hats on him without realizing that there is a big gap between the rescuer and the actual work that needs to be done. This is where the Palestinians lost again the battle. They lost it in ’48 because of their backwardness, ignorance, and lack of organization in how to confront the Zionist enemy. They lost it when they had the chance to build a state, because the PA was absolutely corrupt and disorganized.”

There probably has never been a people more ill-served by a greater lack of leadership, a greater financial and moral corruption of leadership, than the Palestinian people. And there is a lot of competition.

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Anti-Labor, Anti-Free Press, Anti-Gay, Anti-Israel

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Some people never get the point. Some people once got the point, or claimed to, claimed to see it – there it is, over there – and then they got their hands on the point and stretched the point, to make a point, turned it inside out, inverted and perverted the point, developed a string theory of the point, and later conceived an alternate universe of the point.

From Eric Lee, examining the role of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre on the contemporary history of left anti-Semitism:

This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.

For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.

….

Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.

What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.

From the The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global union federation of over 600.000 journalists in 134 countries, on August 2:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today accused Hamas security forces of harassing elected officials of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) in Gaza. In a letter to Ismael Haniyeh, Prime Minister in the Hamas government, the IFJ President said that journalists’ leaders in Gaza have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and threats designed to force them to stop their union work. Some of them are now facing charges of illegal activities and a travel ban after they refused to give in to pressure.

“We consider the accusations against our colleagues of illegal activity and theft of the union identity a malicious accusation which should be dropped immediately,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha in his letter. “They should be allowed to work without restrictions and the travel ban imposed on them must be lifted.”

The IFJ says that the campaign against the PJS board members in the Gaza strip started in March, after their election. It included the raid organised by supporters of Hamas who took over the PJS offices in Gaza with the help of security forces and evicted the staff and elected officials.

The harassment has recently escalated in targeting of individual members who were bullied into stopping union work. According to PJS, its Vice President Tahseen Al Astal and a colleague are being investigated by Hamas Attorney General and have been banned from travelling. The investigation was launched shortly after the two officials defied the order to cease their activities in the union, the PJS says.

Said TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine):

The contrast could not be clearer: in Israel, independent trade unions that sometimes cooperate with, sometimes confront the government. In areas controlled by the pro-Iranian Hamas, unions under the thumb of an authoritarian regime.

And then there is the Death Star of of the lost point point, the inverted point, what’s the point pointlessness of “pinkwashing,” which combines the subversion of every pillar of human dignity: personal and political liberty and human and civil rights. From Jonathan Miller:

Israel’s commendable gay rights record should be a cause for the American Left to celebrate.  But in the Orwellian dystopia that is our political discourse today, the Israel-is-always-wrong crowd has used Israeli publicity of its proud LGBT culture as yet another reason to criticize the Jewish State.

Borrowing a term coined by the breast cancer prevention community to describe companies that claim to care about the disease but at the same time sell carcinogenic products, the anti-Israel crowd has redefined “pinkwashing” as Israeli propaganda designed to hypnotize American liberals into ignoring Israel’s transgressions in the disputed territories.

The most quotable advocate of this terminology is CUNY English Professor Sarah Schulman, who  described her objective as trying to frame the Palestinian cause with simpler language, “like in the kinds of magazines you read in the laundromat.”  (Perhaps “pinkwashing” is supposed to remind laundromat users of the infuriating consequences of leaving a red shirt in a white washload?)

Schulman’s proof of Israel’s nefarious, designs?  She quotes a Tel Aviv law professor who claims that “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”  A comment that’s about as probative and relevant as a “Yo Mama” joke.

Indeed, the explanation is so simple, it’s hard to imagine any alternative reasoning.  It’s called capitalism, or more precisely, tourism promotion: Israel brags about its extraordinary LGBT culture in order to encourage gay and lesbian people from all over the world to visit the Jewish State and bring their tourist dollars. Considering the subject matter, it’s a remarkable and heartening development:  I can only dream of a time when my home state of Kentucky would launch advertisement campaigns to encourage gay and lesbian people to visit our beautiful state parks.

And what’s the alternative?  Should Israel hide its vibrant LGBT culture so as not to offend the senses of radical anti-Zionists?  Doesn’t this call to the closet run precisely counter to the extraordinarily effective strategy launched by gay-rights martyr Harvey Milk, who presciently argued that when people learned that their family, friends, and neighbors were gay — that gay people too can do “heroic things” — they’d understand that homosexuality was not “abnormal sexual behavior”?

Some of the “pinkwashing” logic has been so stained by the BDS spin cycle that that it verges on parody.  Professor Jasbir Puar, who teaches women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, argued at an April 2012 New York forum that the Israeli occupation “is one of the most contentious issues in queer organizing today.”  When questioned about the Gaza government’s treatment of gay and lesbian people, she retorted that “it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is an occupation.  We can’t judge a country by its attitudes towards homosexuals.”

Get the point?

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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Single Conversation

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The following is a partial transcript of a “discussion” on Democracy Now between Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. In this brief exchange we see all of the essential characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tobin makes the point that regardless of any opinion regarding the settlements, peace can be had. Legal settlements can be sacrificed for peace just as illegal might be. Abunimah fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor. Rather than respond to that idea, he dismisses it as a “talking point.” And even if it were? What about the idea behind it? However, Abunimah is not a man of ideas, but of postcolonial jargon. His rhetoric in a single brief conversation represents in nature the actions of the Palestinian and greater Arab world going back to 1947: refusal to engage and accept, a rejection of reasoned discourse just like rejection of a Jewish state. He slings historically and conceptually false lablels like slurs and stones: “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “indigenous Palestinian people.” In his final dishonesty, he snows the sympathetic mind with reference to “Jim Crow tyranny,” as if two peoples in conflict over land and competing nationhoods are the equivalent of discrimination within a single nation.

But, ah! That’s the point. Abunimah’s unspecified solution in equality to his manufactured inequality is an unarticulated but implicit single nation – which isn’t Israel. Tobin, less driven and riven by hate and mental hackery, is too smart for him, and does not leave the inference unexpressed. Then Abunimah is reduced to scurrying into all the corners of his dishonesty to deny the implications of language.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Read.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a statement made by Israeli President Shimon Peres. He spoke out Tuesday against settlements in the West Bank. He said, quote, “Israeli settlement in territories densely populated by an Arab population could bring about a threatening demographic change; that is, it could endanger the Jewish majority in Israel. It is doubtful that a Jewish State without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish.” Jonathan Tobin, can you comment on what Israeli President Shimon Peres said?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That’s a position that many Israelis hold. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the question of their legality. The problem here is that people like the people from The Electronic Intifada don’t really recognize legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in the country, including inside the Green Line, including the settlement Tel Aviv. The problem here is that it’s not a question of whether they’re legal or not, because if the Palestinians wish to make peace, if they wish to compromise, if they wish to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they can do so, and Israel has approved it will withdraw from territory, if offered peace. The problem is, the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in that country. That’s why this is—the talk of war crimes, the talk of it’s criminal—Jews are not foreigners in the land of Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians don’t wish to share. What we have here is a question of disputed territory. Both sides have rights. All the rights are not on the sides of the Palestinians. Jews have rights, too. If the Palestinians wish to have peace, if they wish to have the Palestinian—independent Palestinian state that they were offered three times and rejected three times in the last 12 years, they have to start dealing with the reality that the Jews aren’t going away. And if they do, they’ll find that Israel is willing to withdraw from most of the settlements, whether they—whether they consider them legal or not. Let’s not conflate these two issues. Peace is possible if the Palestinians are willing to make peace. It’s not possible if they focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out. Even the Obama administration, which has been the most sympathetic to the Palestinian of any in recent—in any recent light, understood that many of the settlements are going to stay. That’s what the talk about territorial swaps was about last year. So, to focus on the illegality of things, of places that everyone knows are going to stay Israeli, and where Jews have the right to live, is just a fantasy that breeds more terrorism and more rejection of peace, which is what we get from The Electronic Intifada.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, if—

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I mean, yeah, I see that Mr. Tobin studied the talking points very well this morning. Of course, let’s bring things back to basics. This isn’t a question of Jews. Jews have lived in Palestine since before the Zionist settler colony was imposed on Palestine. It’s not a question of Jews living there. It’s a question of settler colonialism, of apartheid, of the assertion that Jews have a right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people and have a right to just bulldoze— literally bulldoze—their way onto Palestinian land and steal it for their own benefit. Frankly, I mean, I’m not surprised Mr. Tobin doesn’t care a jot about international law—

JONATHAN TOBIN: Jews are the indigenous people there, too. Jews are not foreigners.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —but you would think—you would think that Commentary, a conservative publication, would care at least about private property rights and the fact that vast tracts of these Jewish-only settler colonies are built on private Palestinian land, stolen by force by Israel’s Jewish sectarian militia known as theIDF.

Now, back to Shimon Peres’s statement, which was your original question, of course, his statement calling Palestinian babies a so-called demographic threat really reveals the Jim Crow-like racism at the core of this Zionist ideology that views the mere existence of Palestinian babies in their own native land as a threat to Israel. How can Palestinians ever possibly recognize or give legitimacy to an entity which views their mere reproduction as human beings as a mortal threat? It’s time for Mr. Tobin and all the fans of this apartheid, racist, Jim Crow tyranny to make good on their claimed liberal and progressive values and oppose Israeli apartheid and accept the inevitable, which is, just like in the Jim Crow South, just like in apartheid South Africa, one day there is going to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea, and all of this nonsense that Mr. Tobin is trying to sell us will be absolutely forgotten.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to the U.S. response to the commission’s report. The Obama administration criticized the findings of the report. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, quote, “The U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.” Jonathan Tobin, can you respond to that?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, of course the administration isn’t going to—hasn’t recognized that position. It opposes it. But it also tacitly agrees to the fact that the Jews aren’t going away. I mean, what we heard from my colleague on the show was the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. All the calumnies, all the slanders about apartheid—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I never said that. I didn’t use those words.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Yes, yes. That’s what—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I said that the system of racism and apartheid is going to be ended.

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is exactly what you are talking about.

ALI ABUNIMAH: And that will happen.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is not an apartheid state. It is the only—

ALI ABUNIMAH: But don’t substitute your words with mine.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is a state where Arabs have equal rights, serve in the parliament. And that—that is exactly what they are talking about. They’re talking about the destruction of Israel, and which is why this whole discussion—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your words, sir. And it’s your fantasy.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is your meaning. Don’t try to—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your fantasy is the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Don’t try to—don’t try to lie your way out of it.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Was Jim Crow the destruction of Alabama and Mississippi?

JONATHAN TOBIN: You are fantasizing about the end of the Jewish state.

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The Boys Who Cried the Boy Who Cried anti-Semitism

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One of the salient features of the evolving massively networked media environment is the readier production than ever before of manufactured realities. Enough people simply assert something to be true, enough people virally lift the assertion across the MNM and write about it as true, and the idea takes almost unshakeable hold in the minds of a sufficient number of people so that the manufactured reality is now a feature of reality itself – a contention, a belief that clings to circumstance and becomes a part of it. No situation in the world produces more of this than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, as an example, Paul Krugman, in an almost classic apophasis extended over three very brief paragraphs, managed, while pretending not to address the conflict – “But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect…” – to invoke as many as three of these manufactured realities. The first, announced in the title of his column, is that there is a crisis in Zionism. It has been said by some that if there is a crisis in Zionism, it is, in fact, a crisis in liberal Zionism, not Zionism per se. It might also be characterized that if there is any kind of crisis in Zionism, it is a crisis produced by those declaring that there is a crisis in Zionism. Said the man with the gun in his hand, “Don’t you understand – this is a life or death situation!” Well, if you say so.

But such perceptions, or their contrary, may merely be a matter of temperament. Okay, you deal with the crisis. I’m going fishing. Or, okay, you deal with the crisis – I’ll go deal with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Next, while Krugman was feigning apophasistically (oh, I like that) not to address the crisis of Zionism in a column he titled “The Crisis of Zionism,” he also claimed of Israel that

the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide

and that

to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups…..

This is a pretty common – hell, this is a constant complaint of critics of Israeli policy: that they criticize Israel, quite dramatically and severely in many instances, and that – oh, my God – they get criticized quite dramatically and severely back. What the hell is going on around here?

This sentiment was echoed in an “open-letter” of encouragement to Krugman from that very sensitive dear, Jeremy Ben-Ami, who declared,

As the President of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby, I am followed closely by my own personal buzzsaw.

The last time Ben-Ami supped with Barack Obama and George W. Bush he was heard to cry out, “You guys just have no idea.”

In the face of this brutal rhetorical assault, the likes of which has not been seen since way back during the pre-modern days of the last Rick Santorum anti-Obama ad, Krugman felt compelled – even though he really didn’t want to talk about all this stuff – to proclaim Peter Beinart “brave,” and Beinart’s book, titled, wouldn’t you know, The Crisis of Zionism, a “brave book.”

It is near impossible to measure the magnitude of the courage it takes to stake out a position on Israel basically that of the editorial board of the New York Times and of nearly every one of the regular international columnists of that paper. From Mearsheimer and Walt to Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Charles Freeman, Norman Finkelstein, Gunter Grass, Haaretz, the Guardian, many of England’s major unions, many scores or more of left campus organizations, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the World Council of Churches – may I stop now? It’s a lonely world out there. It’s a no man’s land, brother. The courage, the courage.

And what they suffer once they speak out – what they suffer.

What do they suffer?

Other people disagree with them. Vehemently. Why?

Says Beinart of Israel, it is

an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy

that is

sweeping the two-state solution into history’s dustbin.

More,

we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel

for it is guilty of

systematic oppression.

Beinart had previously written,

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral

while

 in Israel today, this humane, universalistic Zionism does not wield power. To the contrary, it is gasping for air.

And get this:

Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.”

I think I’ll stop there. My aim here is not to argue any of these claims. My aim is to call attention to their nature. Their severity is hard to surpass without criminal accusation – hardly unusual against Israel in these confused times – and some of them even imply it. Yet these critics, such as Beinart and almost all like him, and now from behind a rhetorical device, Paul Krugman, take umbrage, cry foul, that people who feel and think just as deeply as they, but against their positions, argue back at them with just as great severity. Followed the contention between American Democrats and Republicans lately – from the Affordable Health Care Act to gun rights to contraception to who’s a card-carrying communist to who’s a war criminal? Strong views, strong language.

Maybe it should be different, but it’s all around us. For me to be called “shoeshine boy for Hitchens” is a penny found on the street. “Jew hack” is stronger stuff. And though readers who even recall might think that after this, this prime specimen had burrowed back into a wall post, I’ve spared him the attention of letting readers know that he occasionally likes to write and try to post comments calling me Judenrat. Worth knowing about him, more – for there’s a point in it – is that his was the voice that narrated The Goldstone Report video along with Ken Loach and Arundhati Roy. That is how it mixes together in the cauldron of Jewish modernity.

What contemporary critics of Israel are doing in their constant whining that the defenders of what they criticize are playing too rough – poor babies – calling them names, and it shouldn’t be allowed, is engaging in a form of special pleading. They want an exception made for critics of Israel. They get to say that Israel is losing its democracy and an acts as an oppressor, that Zionism is in a downward moral spiral, that Israel’s government bears comparisons to Franco’s Spain, but that their opponents, who believe all of these charges to be utter, slanderous crap, don’t get to slam these critics back just as hard. Why would these various voices think themselves so special – that they should be spared the equities of rhetorical combat?

For the actual anti-Semites amongst them – for the John Mearsheimers blurbing for the Gilad Atzmons – the meme of fierce, crushing retribution from the Zionists is just a continuation of the classic conspiratorial slander: speak out against the powerful Jew and his forces will rise up foully in repressive reaction. The well-intentioned critic of Israeli policy speaking nonsense – Krugman writing of “the narrow-minded policies of the current government” as if this protracted history of Arab enmity and rejectionism began only with the facilely-conjured bogeyman of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 – repeats the same meme (“to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack”), and the blind alliance between the vile and the vain further poisons the atmosphere. Wherein lies their vanity? They are so convinced of the moral valor of their stand that they are astounded that the universe does not deliver to them a dispensation from the return volley. How brave they are to say shitty things about Israel; how simply awful and unfair that Israel’s defenders will say shitty things back.

The culminating appeal, the bathetic cri de Coeur is against a charge of anti-Semitism. Krugman, in his not writing about the crisis of Zionism, finds words to repeat this manufactured reality too, complaining of

organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.

You will, of course, find people making stupid, reflexive charges of anti-Semitism and self-hating Jew. There are enough bloggers and comments sections out there to allow any little teapot to pop its lid. The woodwork delivers up critters who squeal “self-hating Jew” in letters and emails just as it does those who squeak “Jew hack.” It is not, all that often, a very attractive world. What you will not find, however, is any record of his legitimate critics calling Peter Beinart anti-Semitic. I had the idea, but of course I was not the first, so when I Googled “Beinart” and “anti-Semite” together, among the hits I made on the first page was this from Jewlicious:

Search on any internet search engine for “Peter Beinart antisemite” or “Peter Beinart antisemitic” or “peter beinart antisemitism” as I just have and at least in the first pages of the search (I didn’t have the patience to go deeper, sorry) there were no articles or blogs, certainly not from any reputable sources, where Beinart is called anti-Semitic. In fact, you find supporters of his position and reasoned articles, pro and con, about his book.

What you may, indeed, find more of than anyone actually calling Peter Beinart or other mainstream liberal critics of Israel anti-Semitic is people, rather, objecting to critics of Israel being called anti-Semitic. At least in the public internet records of this debate, discussions of the prospect of the charge, and expressions of objection to the charge, are far more likely to be found than any actual leveling of the charge.

Jews have a long history of coping with manufactured realities. It isn’t over yet.

AJA

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Israeli Ambassador Fears 60 Minutes “Hatchet Job”; Bob Simon Protests, Then Delivers

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On 60 Minutes last night, Bob Simon explained in backgrounding the excerpts of his interview with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren that Oren asked to respond to the 60 Minutes report – before it even aired – because he had heard the report would be a “hatchet job.” (The reported charge is in the video, but omitted from a transcript that is not labeled as abridged.) Simon made much of the unusual request and Israel’s apparent defensiveness. Oren said during the interview that the interview itself had confirmed the reports. Simon protested that Oren could not know this because the report had not aired yet. Oren conceded that point.

Now the report has aired.

It is worse than a hatchet job. It is slick, slasher journalism and a disgrace. It is a black mark on 60 Minutes’ storied tradition not only because it enters the annals of prejudicial, anti-Israel reporting, but because it is garbage journalism not worthy of the name.

To suspect that Simon might be responsible for a hatchet job on Israel, one only need be familiar with his prior reporting on the subject. In this 2009 report, for instance, it is not only the substance of the report that is problematic, but Simon’s reporting tactics and style. At about 5:35 in the video, Simon makes a show of attempting to interview a small IDF unit that has taken up a position in a Palestinian home, a unit in the middle of a security operation. Talking through a door from the street, Simon attempts to make the soldiers appear dishonest and furtive because their commander – in the midst of a military operation – will not talk with a reporter.

“Have you lost your voice,” Simon accusatorily asks, while surrounded by Palestinian boys.

It is a manipulative and bathetic display with only one aim.

In last night’s report, Simon pretends to cover the story of the West Bank’s dramatically declining Arab Christian population. He interviews a myriad of Palestinian sources and cites Palestinian documents that clearly suggest Israeli responsibility for the decline. Among Israelis, Simon interviews only Oren and Ari Shavit, though Shavit is actually offered as a mostly supportive voice for the Palestinian claims. So Oren is the only Israeli voice to counter all of those that are critical. The manifest aim of the report is insinuate the cause of Christian immigration by adjoining the repeated references to the population decline to stock complaints about Israeli behavior towards Palestinians, such as the construction of the security barrier. Amidst all this, however, the report does not present a single piece of factual evidence or cite a single Israeli policy or action that is specifically directed against Arab Christians.

Let me repeat that, because it is very important: Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes report, the report that very prominently devotes itself to suggesting Israeli culpability for the decline in the Arab Christian population in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and which explicitly upbraids Ambassador Michael Oren for objecting beforehand to its aim – that report does not cite as much as one Israeli policy or Israeli government act as exemplary of behavior specifically driving Christians to emigrate.

The report never addresses why Moslems are not emigrating in the same way. Though Oren states it, Simon’s report never explores his claim that it is Moslem behavior toward Christians that is driving them away. Though even Shavit states,

 Israel is not persecuting Christians as Christians

Simon does not explore the meaning of that point or alter the argumentative drive of his report.

When Simon reports, in this one sentence,

But inside Israel, in Christian towns like Nazareth, Arabs are Israeli citizens and, according to Ambassador Oren, they’re thriving,

he leaves it at that and devotes not a word of commentary or a second of screen time to examining the truth of Oren’s claim or its implications for the presentation his report is making.

The report even goes this far. I leave it for last because it is so outrageous and so tendentiously brands Simon and his report as promoters of the Palestinian propaganda that seeks even to reach back into history and lie about it to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Israel. The report offers:

Mitri Raheb: Christianity started here. The only thing that Palestine was able to export so successfully was Christianity.

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem. He runs schools, cultural centers and health clinics.

Mitri Raheb: Christianity has actually on the back a stamp saying, “Made in Palestine.”

This is said, with no corrective follow up, of the religion whose central figure of veneration was born and died a Jew, whose followers for the next century were still considered Jews, and who was born in the Kingdom of Judah.

Bob Simon owes Michael Oren an apology. CBS needs to initiate a review of the making of this 60 Minutes report and account for it to its audience.

AJA

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Tenth Anniversary of a Lie

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The Battle of Jenin was waged between April 1-11 2002. Recently, Myrrh, at Harry’s Place, took note of that anniversary by surveying the historically malicious and misinformative coverage of the conflict by England’s Guardian. But the Guardian‘s campaign of hysterical distortion constituted only a part, if a prominent one, of a campaign of lies and anti-Israel calumny that continues to this day.

On the heels of a thirty-day Palestinian suicide bombing campaign in Israeli cities which included thirteen deadly attacks (imagine thirteen 7/7’s in one month), Israel embarked on a military offensive in the West Bank.  The fiercest fighting in this offensive occurred in the refugee camp just outside the West Bank town of Jenin, the launching point for 30 Palestinian suicide bombers in the year and half previous (seven were caught before they could blow themselves up; the other 23 succeeded in carrying out their attacks).  In this battle, which lasted less than a week, 23 Israeli soldiers were killed as well as 52 Palestinians, of whom at most 14 were civilians (there is some marginal dispute about that last figure).

There was nothing extraordinary in this battle or in these numbers.  Looking back, what is extraordinary is that Ariel Sharon’s Israel sat through 18 months of Palestinian suicide terror before embarking on even this military offensive.

Nonetheless, led by the Guardian, among many other online and ideologically antagonistic sources, the charge became current, instigated by the Palestinians, and was quickly, uncritically, because willingly, accepted that Israeli Defense Forces had perpetrated a massacre in which hundreds, even thousands of Palestinians had been wantonly murdered amid indiscriminate destruction of the camp.

In fact, as aerial shots later showed, the pictures of ostensibly widespread destruction in Jenin and its adjacent refugee camp were all of the same tiny area within the camp which had been the scene of a tactically brilliant ambush — on the part of the Palestinians.  Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed when a series of booby-trapped buildings collapsed on them.  It was the IDF’s deadliest engagement of the month-long offensive, 

Crucial to what occurred, and completely contrary to the historic lie, was the IDF’s decision specifically to seek to avoid the massive death toll that an air campaign would produce and to incur the risk of greater casualties itself in order to avoid it. Thabet Mardawi, a leading Islamic Jihad fighter in the battle, who reported having himself killed two of the IDF soldiers, later acknowledged of the Israeli decision, from an Israeli prison,

“It was like hunting … like being given a prize. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the soldiers,” he said. “The Israelis knew that any soldier who went into the camp like that was going to get killed.” He added: “I’ve been waiting for a moment like that for years.”

Writes Myrrh,

It was this incident [of the ambush of the IDF soldiers] that made many Israelis question the wisdom of endangering so many ground forces rather than just relying on air power.  This would hardly be unprecedented.  And we don’t need to look to the behaviour of countries that Israel would never want to be compared to.  NATO fought two wars from the air — over Serbia in 1999 and Libya last year —with lopsided results.  Very lopsided.  Zero combat losses for NATO, roughly one thousand enemy combatants killed and slightly more than a thousand civilians as well.  

A different kind of comparison is found in these battles:

In the two Fallujah battles, US-UK forces lost 126 men and killed nearly 1400 armed militants and about 900 civilians; in Jenin, recall, the respective numbers were 23 IDF killed, 38 Palestinian militants, and 14 civilians.  Though both Fallujah battles were covered extensively and critically, and though the second one involved troops from the UK, and though it was in a war that this paper [the Guardian] viewed dimly, the number of times the words ‘massacre’ or ‘war crime’ appeared in its coverage was exactly zero (of if you prefer numbers: 0).

The Wikipedia account of the battle, and the truths of it, is deeply documented, and unlike other pages devoted to elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are unsurprisingly disputed, it goes uncontradicted. Ten years later, Jenin is only, perhaps, the most famous among the decade and more of lies that continue to be fostered against Israel. It is the most widespread propaganda war of malign misinformation ever waged against a free and democratic state outside of that, in the twentieth century, of the Marxist totalitarian states, and their foolish Western sympathizers, against the democratic West, and is the lineal continuation of that war.

AJA

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The Unsound Judgment of Peter Beinart

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Just over two years ago, I wrote a post titled “The Unsound Judgment of Andrew Sullivan.”

Sullivan, for all his true virtues, is a man of strikingly unsound judgment. He swings, he swings frequently, he swings with emotion from one impassioned response to another, a kind of journalistic Thaïs transforming regularly from the life of a courtesan to the devotions of ascetic convert, and always extreme in his commitment, whatever it is. On the ridiculous level, this results in his campaign against male circumcision (a fair enough position to take) by mischaracterizing it as “male genital mutilation.” His infatuation with Ron Paul, before succumbing to Obama, was typical on a more important level. Paul’s libertarianism has a quintessentially American appeal for some (and Sullivan’s Americanism is another of his impassioned conversions), but from his fiscal ideas to his 30s-era isolationism to his documented history of prejudices and conspiracy mongering, the shallow American individualism is a primer coat covering a totally cracked pot. And it was like Sullivan to inhale the steam without ever detecting the leaks.

Not to let my commentary date, Sullivan subsequently endorsed Paul in the 2012 Presidential election Republican primaries.

Peter Beinart, who certainly has written plenty, in addition to the similar journalistic careers he and Sullivan share as former editors of The New Republic, has not been a daily blogger for well over a decade like Sullivan, so has been driven less to ill-considered daily opining. But he appears to be making the most of his opportunities, and the result is the same dramatically – because, on a large scale, unreliable and fallacious – unsound judgment. It is not simply a matter of ever having been wrong, but of how one is wrong, what one makes of it, and whether one continues to be wrong in the same way on different issues.

In December 2004, Beinart famously wrote for TNR, “A Fighting Faith,” an acute, but too ideally titled call to attention directed at fellow liberals for a post 9/11 world. Belief is empirically grounded and moves us by reason; faith blinds and tends to the missionary. The title foresees the end of the article and the end of Beinart’s political passage over the next decade. But for now, the piece began,

On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington’s Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that “the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction.” Liberals, they argued, “consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West.” Unless that changed, “In the spasm of terror which will seize this country … it is the right–the very extreme right–which is most likely to gain victory.”

During World War II, only one major liberal organization, the Union for Democratic Action (UDA), had banned communists from its ranks. At the Willard, members of the UDA met to expand and rename their organization. The attendees, who included Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, and Eleanor Roosevelt, issued a press release that enumerated the new organization’s principles. Announcing the formation of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the statement declared, “[B]ecause the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere,” America should support “democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over.” That meant unceasing opposition to communism, an ideology “hostile to the principles of freedom and democracy on which the Republic has grown great.”

At the time, the ADA’s was still a minority view among American liberals. Two of the most influential journals of liberal opinion, The New Republic and The Nation, both rejected militant anti-communism. Former Vice President Henry Wallace, a hero to many liberals, saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress. As Steven M. Gillon notes in Politics and Vision, his excellent history of the ADA, it was virtually the only liberal organization to back President Harry S Truman’s March 1947 decision to aid Greece and Turkey in their battle against Soviet subversion.

But, over the next two years, in bitter political combat across the institutions of American liberalism, anti-communism gained strength. With the ADA’s help, Truman crushed Wallace’s third-party challenge en route to reelection. The formerly leftist Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) expelled its communist affiliates and The New Republicbroke with Wallace, its former editor. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) denounced communism, as did the NAACP. By 1949, three years after Winston Churchill warned that an “iron curtain” had descended across Europe, Schlesinger could write inThe Vital Center: “Mid-twentieth century liberalism, I believe, has thus been fundamentally reshaped … by the exposure of the Soviet Union, and by the deepening of our knowledge of man. The consequence of this historical re-education has been an unconditional rejection of totalitarianism.”

Today, three years after September 11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, liberalism has still not “been fundamentally reshaped” by the experience.

In all of this, and most of what followed, Beinart was right. He understood, too, what disabled the liberal response to his call.

Instead, Bush’s war on terrorism became a partisan affair–defined in the liberal mind not by images of American soldiers walking Afghan girls to school, but by John Ashcroft’s mass detentions and Cheney’s false claims about Iraqi WMD. The left’s post-September 11 enthusiasm for an aggressive campaign against Al Qaeda–epitomized by students at liberal campuses signing up for jobs with the CIA–was overwhelmed by horror at the bungled Iraq war.

A major reason for Beinart’s support for the Iraq War was his belief in the existence of Iraqi WMD. But it was not his only reason. He ends,

Of all the things contemporary liberals can learn from their forbearers half a century ago, perhaps the most important is that national security can be a calling. If the struggles for gay marriage and universal health care lay rightful claim to liberal idealism, so does the struggle to protect the United States by spreading freedom in the Muslim world. It, too, can provide the moral purpose for which a new generation of liberals yearn.

A “struggle to protect the United States by spreading freedom in the Muslim world” – in Iraq and Afghanistan – is not liberalism. It is neoconservatism, especially as a Paul Wolfowitz, I think sincerely, and a Dick Cheney, cynically, have further fashioned it. The United States may wish for freedom in the Muslim world, should help support it benignly when the  opportunity presents, and should not actively ally with forces that prevent it, but a liberal vision of American foreign policy should not seek actively, in missionary excess, to spread freedom.

To have been wrong about the existence of WMD is to have been mistaken. To have been misled in so many of the particulars in the evidentiary case for war is to have been betrayed by one’s government. To have conceived a missionary purpose to the Iraq War was to be misguided in oneself.

This latter error haunted Beinart, who began, ultimately, to attempt redress. While many have referred to the attempt as an apology, I have not found that word anywhere. It has certainly been a mea culpa. In the The Good Fight: Why Liberals, and Only Liberals, Can Win the War on Terror, and in multiple other venues, after acknowledging the mistakes about WMD, the missionary military ideal, and trust in the Bush administration, Beinart goes further.

Partly, I was wrong on the facts. I could not imagine that Saddam, given his record, had abandoned his nuclear program, even as the evidence trickled out in the months before the war. And I could not imagine that the Bush administration would so utterly fail to plan for the war’s aftermath, given that it had so much riding on its success. But even more important than the facts, I was wrong on the theory. I was too quick to give up on containment, too quick to think time was on Saddam’s side. And I did not grasp the critical link between the invasion’s credibility in the world and its credibility in Iraq. I not only overestimated America’s capacities, I overestimated America’s legitimacy.

As someone who had seen US might deployed effectively, and on the whole benignly, in the first Gulf war, the Balkans and Afghanistan, I could not see that the morality of US power relies on the limits to US power. It is a grim irony that this central argument is one I ignored when it was needed most.

This acknowledges the distinction between liberalism and neoconservatism. However, from acknowledging errors in fact, Beinart proceeds to recanting what he now puts forward as flaws in belief. But to recognize that subsequent factual revelations about Iraq invalidated the conclusions about war drawn from them is not to delegitimize the premises upon which the argument was made, upon which one constructs a philosophy and a policy. Yet this is what Beinart leads himself to do, even as he grasps to preserve a vision of anti-totalitarian liberalism. And what we see is that his misperception now is rooted in his misperceptions before. Beinart’s confession drew mixed reactions from the left quarters he had previously criticized: there was appreciation of an honest self-appraisal, but lingering anger over the fullness of the earlier attack. For those quarters still do not share Beinart’s more benign vision of the first Gulf war, the Balkans and even Afghanistan. (All one need do is review the pages of The Nation from the last quarter of 2001 to be reminded that the far or “anti-imperial” left did not require six years of Bush administration ball dropping to oppose that engagement too.) Beinart argues forcefully for traditional international liberal values in addressing inequity and powerlessness, but on the key issue that both Afghanistan and Iraq raised – the willingness of the left to conceive legitimate American use of military force in defense of legitimate interests, against illiberal adversaries – Beinart now defers to liberal democratic consensus, which should rather be a means to community, not a method of irresolution.

So Beinart stands, more generally. Now, in the past year and half, Beinart, in article and books, has become a fierce “liberal Zionist” critic of Israel. In “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” The Crisis of Zionism, and repeated regular columns Beinart has, in extraordinary contradiction, allied himself with the very left elements he criticized. This week, continuing his profoundly mistaken history in portraying Israel’s West Bank settlements as the cause of continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he advocated in The New York Times boycotting the settlements. This is an attempt at nuance that has pleased no one, even as it so mistakes the issue

Writes Gary Rosenblatt of Beinart’s “myopia” in The Crisis of Zionism,

He seems to view the Mideast crisis through the prism of the settlements as front and center – the very core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has little to say about the very real concerns of Israelis or about the history and context of a problem that goes back decades, if not centuries.

Says Sol Stern in the aptly titled “Beinart the Unwise,”

What is wrong with Beinart’s book is contained within its title, The Crisis of Zionism. Zionism itself is not in crisis. The liberal Zionism Beinart espouses is, because Beinart and others like him have decided to condition their belief in a Jewish national homeland on its pursuit of policies that make them feel good.

This is the very general case. Here is Elder of Ziyon offering a fisking in demonstration of how completely misrepresentative Beinart is in his particulars.

Peter Beinart in the New York Times has another incredibly misleading article about – well, you know what its about.

TO believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer.
On the one hand, the Israeli government is erasing the “green line” that separates Israel proper from the West Bank. In 1980, roughly 12,000 Jews lived in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). Today, government subsidies have helped swell that number to more than 300,000. Indeed, many Israeli maps and textbooks no longer show the green line at all.

In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the settlement of Ariel, which stretches deep into the West Bank, “the heart of our country.” Through its pro-settler policies, Israel is forging one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.

For Beinart’s thesis to be correct, you must believe that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO has no political legitimacy, or power.

Yet it is recognized as a full state by 129 nations; its citizens vote (at least in theory) to elect their leaders, it has autonomy, a territory that all accept as controlled by its own security forces, a court system, an Olympic team, and its own passports. According to at least one distinguished legal scholar, it is considered a full state under international law. The World Bank is putting out reports about how ready the territories are for statehood. The entire Oslo process – that Israel still supports – was designed to give full self-determination to Palestinian Arabs in the territories, and (more recently) statehood. For Beinart to turn around and state that all of these don’t exist, and that for some reason the territories are (as he tries to coin the term) “nondemocratic Israel,” is nonsense. Israel has no intention of integrating Ramallah or Jericho into Israel. And as recently as January, Israel tried to hold negotiations with the PLO, and the other side refused.

Beinart, in his attempt to sound an alarm for Israeli democracy, chooses quite deliberately to ignore everything that happened to the Palestinian Arabs since 1994.

It is Palestinian Arab intransigence, not Israeli settlements, that has stopped a Palestinian Arab state. Beinart’s willingness to blame only one side shows that he is not being as evenhanded and “pro-Israel” as he tirelessly claims to be.

But, you might counter, what about Area C? Israel does indeed control all aspects of the lives of Arabs who live there, and while they vote in PA elections, they do not have much say in their own political affairs. Doesn’t Israel’s presence there endanger Israeli democracy?

The number of Palestinian Arabs in Area C is about 150,000 (about 2.5% of all Palestinian Arabs.) Which means that the percentage of people living under Israeli sovereignty who do not have political rights is, today, about 1.9%.

By way of contrast, the percentage of people living in US territories who are not represented in Congress and who cannot vote in presidential elections – those in Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands and elsewhere – is about 1.3%.

So is Israel’s control of Area C a danger to Israeli democracy? Not unless you think that US territories endanger US democracy too. The idea is ridiculous. It is an issue, it is not a death-blow to democracy.

To go further, if Israel would decide to annex Area C, wouldn’t that solve all the problems? No demographic issue, giving the Arabs there full citizenship – and Beinart’s argument is down the drain.

Somehow, I don’t think that Beinart would support that solution, or even a modified version of that solution. Because he has bought into the Palestinian Arab narrative that the artificially constructed 1949 armistice lines – which were not considered international borders before 1967 and were always meant to be modified in a final peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world – are somehow special, and that no peace can possibly result from a change in those lines that would include, say, Ariel.

This is a detail of specific knowledge that few people – few people, even, with strong views and of active involvement – have of conditions and history. It is public figures such as Beinart who, instead, more generally shape the moral sense of those ethically compelled to care about so central an international issue. What is the further reasoning process, beyond what we already see, that takes on this responsible role? Beinart has begun to answer his critics. In the following, he responds to what he characterizes remarkably as “right-wing critiques” – remarkable when one considers Beinart’s post 9/11 analysis and the profoundly illiberal character of so many of the forces, Palestinian and other, that oppose Israel.

The first [critique] is that it lets Palestinians off the hook. As Ambassador Michael Oren wrote, my proposal “absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility for the current situation, including their rejection of previous peace offers, their support for terror, and their refusal to negotiate with Israel for the past three years.” Oren has it exactly backwards. What actually absolves the Palestinians of responsibility is the growth of Israeli settlements.

Let’s assume that the Palestinian leadership hasn’t come to terms with the hardest concessions that a two state deal would likely require of them: a merely symbolic refugee return and something less than full control over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It’s much easier for Palestinian leaders to evade those issues when they can point to the expansion of Ariel, a settlement that stretches thirteen miles beyond the green line….

When I called the West Bank settlements “An Historic Error,” I did so not just because I think them an ethical misjudgment, but because they have, indeed, provided the Palestinians more than three decades of excuse making, over thirty years opportunity to absolve themselves of responsibility, as Beinart puts it, for their statelessness. What Beinart completely, simply obtusely misses, however, is the key element to that excuse making, in addition to the settlements themselves: the cooperation of people like Beinart in accepting the excuse. The excuse – any excuse – has practical value only to the degree that those hearing it are willing to grant it acceptance and legitimacy – which is exactly what Peter Beinart does. If Peter Beinart and others did not use this excuse of the Palestinians as an argument against Israel, it would cease to have force and the Palestinians would cease to rely on it. It is an excuse not merely blindly accepted by Peter Beinart – it is an excuse manufactured precisely for Peter Beinart.

Even as Beinart locates error, he commits another; even as he exposes a ruse, he perpetuates it. Even as he swings from one strongly held view to its contrary, missing the essential detail in the haze of misty political faith, and the inclination to pursue it boldly, his arguments become less and less sound. And so do his judgments.

AJA

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What Can “Free” Palestine

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On Wednesday The New York Times published an OpEd by Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament and “secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative.” The article is entitled “Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine.”

Peace is always a good start to resolving disputes. Here is what else would help to “free” Palestine.

The Arab and Muslim world, including Palestinians, can stop hating Jews. It can stop teaching the hatred of Jews – not only Israelis, but Jews – in its schools. It can stop preaching the hatred of Jews in its mosques. It can work to disinfect itself of what it has permitted to become a culturally defining characteristic: genocidally expressed anti-Semitism.

The Arab and Muslim worlds can also freely acknowledge and accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

These changes from decades, and longer, of hatred and rejectionism could open the way to compromise and resolution. What nation faced with the unyielding hatred of surrounding enemies – hatred expressed toward the inherent nature of that nation’s people – and those enemies’ refusal to acknowledge unreservedly that nation’s right to exist would perform any differently?

What would also help is to cease lying about history and inculcating those lies in the young and sympathetically supportive. So, yes, peace would help. What have Palestinians ever gained from the rejection of that too? But protest against what? Against the anti-Semitism? Against the rejectionism? Shall we count the number of times Palestinians have had the opportunity of their own state and rejected it? Against the historical lies? For aside from the admirable commitment to peace, Barghouthi’s article is a sham, and the Times’ publication of it a disgrace. The “paper of record” which still claims to be the publisher of “all the news that’s fit to print” apparently finds any blatant historical lie fit to print. It will not, to its own historic shame, call torture torture, and it demonstrates again – with, in fact, no ideological consistency – that it will exercise no intellectual and professional judgment in distinguishing propagandistic misrepresentation from honest difference.

Of course, the very title of the article is a lie. There never was a national Palestine that enjoyed a condition of “freedom” – independence? – which was subsequently lost and to which it might return, thus rendering it freed. Immediately before the now forty-five year period that Israel has sometimes and sometimes not “occupied” all or parts of the West Bank, for instance, the West Bank was entirely occupied by Jordan, which afforded its residents far less freedom, independence, and self-government (none) than do the Israelis. Should not the Palestinians have complete independence and self-government? They should. Is it too much to ask that the condition of independence be negotiated in historical honesty? So far, yes.

The article proper begins inauspiciously.

Over the past 64 years, Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences. Yet all we have seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives and resources, and the emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.

The article begins embedded with lies. Sixty four years ago, the Arab population of the Palestine mandate (they were not yet regularly referred to as Palestinians) rejected a state of their own. Their armed struggle in 1948 was not for freedom – which they would have immediately had from the British Mandate had they accepted their own state – but to prevent for Jews an independent state of their own. The Palestinians have, indeed, tried negotiations and conferences, which on those occasions and others offered them that independent state of their own. They have never accepted it because it always involved giving Jews more than the Palestinians want them to have – which for significant numbers of Palestinians is anything at all. Israeli Jews originally accepted for their independent state only about two thirds of the state that emerged after the 1948 armistice. They wanted a state.

The settlements on land the Palestinians consider theirs to have for a future state – now just on the West Bank, Israel having abandoned its equally ill-advised settlements in Gaza – did not begin until after the 1967 War. Barghouthi’s opening two sentences rather unclearly suggest that the settlements have been going on for 64 years. This is all an extraordinary amount of misinformation for 44 words.

Of course, there is the further currently popular whitewashing of suicide bombing advocate Khader Adnan.

And there is the typical, misleading comparison of Israel-Palestine to Britain-Northern Ireland, which misdirection aims at characterizing the ancient and unbroken Jewish presence in their homeland as that of foreign invader and conqueror. On that point, Barghouthi contradictorily claims,

Our movement is not intended to delegitimize Israel, as the Israeli government claims. It is, instead, a movement to delegitimize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which we believe is the last surviving apartheid system in the world. It is a movement that could free Palestinians from nearly 45 years of occupation and Israelis from being part of the last colonial-settler system of our time.

I will not even bother with the apartheid claim. But as mistaken as the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are, Jews lived on the West Bank before the 1948 war. Jews on the West Bank are no more “colonial-settlers” than an Arab returning to Israel would be a colonial-settler. But that last sentence reveals the full scope of the ideologically opportunistic propaganda of Barghouthi’s presentation. The “last colonial-settler system of our time”? Would that be virtually every nation in the Western Hemisphere, as well as Australia, where truly non-indigenous, conquering cultures still rule over subjugated indigenous populations? Adherents of the ideology Barghouthi mimics would gladly pronounce that truth, but the pretense that the historical situations are equivalent only spotlights further the dishonesty of this advocate of peaceful protest.

Peace is nice, peace is good. Palestinians need it. Israelis need it. The region needs it. Can it set the Palestinians “free”? It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition.

I hear tell the truth can set you free. It’s been said.

Maybe Barghouthi should try that too.

AJA

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