Friday, August 20, 2010

Who Can’t Read?

Jeffrey Goldberg’s already famous Atlantic article purportedly merely reports on and describes—rather than argues for—the likelihood that Israel will soon attack the Iranian nuclear installations (and maybe more than that) if the United States doesn’t. A number of commentators have already eviscerated the article (Steve Walt, Robert Wright, Phil Weiss, Glen Greenwald, Yossi Alpher, and others), pointing out a number of crucial factual errors in it and arguing that rather than constituting neutral journalism it is a piece of advocacy, if not outright propaganda.

Since Goldberg also describes the views of Israeli and other opponents of an Israeli attack, and forthrightly lists a number of devastating consequences that are likely to occur after such an attack, are the critical comments on his article justified, perhaps just--in this case--an unfair function of Goldberg’s well-earned reputation as a rightwing and disingenuous hardliner on most issues concerning Israel?

Joe Klein of Time, a normally perceptive  commentator, has risen to the defense of the Goldberg article against its critics, especially Greenwald. Klein writes that “Greenwald… displays his usual inability to understand what journalism is all about….[He has] the hilariously grotesque notion that Jeff's excellent cover story in the Atlantic…is an act of propaganda. It isn't. It's an act of journalism.”

Greenwald is “stupidly mistaken,” Klein continues, when he takes Goldberg’s story about what high-level Israelis are thinking to constitute agreement with them. And even if Goldberg does agree with them, Klein argues, “it is irrelevant,” for “his piece has no secret agenda….he isn’t making an argument, he’s reporting the mood in Israel as he sees it… Any and all attempts to smear this very good piece of reporting as propaganda is propaganda.”

Harsh words. The best way to see who is “stupidly mistaken” is to closely analyze the wording and structure of the Goldberg article.

It is true that Goldberg begins by describing the downside of an Israeli attacks, which “stands a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.”

Wow. In that case, who could possibly want Israel to attack? But consider Goldberg’s next paragraph, the key word of which is “however”:

“If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, however, Israel, in addition to possibly generating some combination of the various catastrophes outlined above, will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks (though the public condemnation) of the Middle East’s moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s; and it will have succeeded in countering, in militant fashion, the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East….”

But could an Israeli attack work? Here Goldberg drops his guise of just reporting what others think and speaks in his own voice: “Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.”

Those are simply the facts of the matter, Goldberg wishes us to think. But they are not facts at all. As others have pointed out, rather than stopping an Iraqi nuclear program, it either created it or, at a minimum, caused it to be vastly expanded. Moreover, so far as I know there has been no independent verification, as opposed to an Israeli claim, that what the Israelis struck in Syria was a North Korean nuclear reactor. Even if it was, an attack on a single reactor sitting above ground in an open desert would provide no useful precedent whatsoever for judging the likely success of an attack on the extensive, dispersed, hidden, hardened, and underground Iraqi nuclear program.

Throughout the article, Goldberg extensively quotes Benjamin Netanyahu and other advocates of an Israeli attack on the dangers of a new “holocaust” if Iran gets nuclear weapons. One quote is particularly significant: “The only reason Bibi [Netanyahu] would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah,” an Israeli official who spends considerable time with the prime minister told me. “In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”

Soon afterwards, Goldberg again speaks in his own voice, musing: “If the Jewish physicists who created Israel’s nuclear arsenal could somehow have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and sent a squadron of fighters back to 1942, then the problem of Auschwitz would have been solved in 1942. In other words, the creation of a serious Jewish military capability—a nuclear bomb, say, or the Israeli air force—during World War II would have meant a quicker end to the Holocaust.”

And here is Goldberg’s conclusion: “Based on months of interviews, I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States.” Note that Goldberg does not say that “American officials believe” that a nuclear-armed Iraq would be a serious threat to the U.S. national interest—presumably serious enough to justify a U.S. or US/Israel attack—he says that it is such a threat.

The cat is out of the bag. Eliminate the clever—not that clever—slipperiness, and here is my translation of what Goldberg is saying: An Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear installations would have dangerous consequences, but is still necessary to prevent a new Holocaust. Even if Iran is not so irrational as to commit national suicide by launching nuclear weapons against Israel, Israel would suffer other unacceptable consequences—like, for example, causing large numbers of Israelis to emigrate, fearing an eventual Iraqi attack. However, it is unlikely that an Israeli attack on its own could succeed in eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat. Therefore, the United States should attack, for its national interests would be so threatened by Iranian nuclear weapons as to require an overwhelming military attack, regardless of the probable devastating consequences. And it had better attack soon, because otherwise Israel will.

So who is it that can’t read, Klein or Greenwald?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Self-Hating Jew?

For those who are not familiar with the work of Henry Siegman, he was an ordained Orthodox rabbi who later served sixteen years as the Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, the same organization that today can be absolutely depended upon to shamelessly try to defend the indefensible.

In recent years, Siegman has emerged as one of the most articulate, persuasive, and uncompromisingly candid critics of the Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians.  Yesterday, the Hebrew edition of Haaretz published a column by Siegman, “Is Israel’s Legitimacy Under Challenge?”

It is worth quoting at length; I have added emphases of his most striking comments:

“Since the Goldstone report, Israel's political leaders and public have been agitated over what they claim to be a worldwide effort to "delegitimize" the Jewish state…[The Netanyahu government] concluded that this threat, believed to be motivated by anti-Semitism, is a greater danger to the country's existence than the nuclear threat from Iran.”

“Most Israelis, particularly the present government, have been blithely indifferent to repeated international condemnations of Israel's systematic theft of Palestinian territory on which it has been settling its own Jewish population in blatant violation of international law. In fact, Israel's legitimacy within its 1967 borders has never been challenged by the international community. It was not an anti-Semite seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state, but Theodore Meron, an internationally respected jurist and the legal advisor to Israel's Foreign Ministry, who following the war of 1967 conveyed the following legal opinion to Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban: "[C]ivilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention," to which Israel is a signatory. That Convention's ban on population transfer is "categorical and not conditional upon the motives for the transfer or its objectives. [The Convention's] purpose is to prevent settlement in occupied territory of citizens of the occupying state."

“There is therefore something bizarre in Israel's insistence that condemnations of its violations of international law are not intended to challenge the illegality of its settlements and continuing occupation but the legitimacy of its very existence. If Israel keeps it up, that insistence may well turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Perhaps Israel's right wing government believes that by accusing the international community of seeking to undermine its existence it will distract attention from an increasingly untenable claim that Israel is a model democracy that also enshrines Jewish values….The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizenry cannot hide its changing (or changed) character. A political arrangement that limits democracy to a privileged class and keeps others behind military checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls does not define democracy. It defines its absence.”

“The claim that Israel is the incarnation and defender of Jewish values is contradicted by its treatment of an Arab population that has now lived for over two generations under Israel's military subjugation.  Israel's problem is not the Palestinian or Arab refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state. It is, rather, the increasing difficulty of Jews familiar with Jewish values to recognize it as a Jewish state.”

“Rather than demanding that Palestinians declaim on Israel's democratic and Jewish identity, or conjuring non-existent threats to Israel's existence, Netanyahu and his government would be better advised adjusting Israel's policies toward a people that has lived under its unforgiving military occupation in a way that honors their country's democratic and Jewish beginnings. That would contribute far more to its "legitimacy" and to its long-range security than its present undemocratic and very un-Jewish course.”

Standby while the indefatigable ignoramuses or breathtakingly dishonest Israeli and American Jewish rightwingers swing into full smear mode against Siegman.  They’ll have a tough time making the usual charge—but they’ll come up with something.   Hold your noses.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Half a Cheer for Haaretz. If That.

This morning’s Haaretz has an only too revealing editorial.  The editors are “troubled” by statements by the IDF’s chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, concerning the lessons of the Israeli attack on the ship carrying goods to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli siege and blockade, an attack that killed nine Turkish civilians.  It is worth quoting from the editorial at some length:

“Ashkenazi said that for him the main lesson from the operational aspect is that if the Israel Defense Forces confronts a similar scenario in the future, it will have to use snipers, which he says would prevent harm to soldiers. This is very serious and shows that the chief of staff and the IDF have not learned a single lesson from the flotilla affair and Operation Cast Lead.The implication of the chief of staff's words is that the IDF will not hesitate to hit civilians from a distance, using snipers firing live rounds….This was precisely the doctrine of Cast Lead: minimum military casualties at nearly any cost - sometimes harming civilians and ignoring the laws of war. For this Israel continues to pay a heavy international price, and now it turns out that the chief of staff is threatening to continue this doctrine.”

The editorial concludes:

“In the future, similar flotillas must be handled precisely the opposite way.  First, we should ask whether there is a need… [for] a forceful takeover, if we know that the passengers on the ships are not carrying weapons destined for the Gaza Strip.  Even if a forceful takeover is decided on, the IDF will have to find ways to ensure minimum casualties among both the soldiers and passengers….It’s not only about Israel’s image in the media, but also about the ethical profile of the state and its army.”

Note that even Israel’s most liberal newspaper, its acclaimed voice of what remains of Israeli reason, morality, and self-criticism, does not question whether Israel has any right at all to continue its occupation, repression and economic siege of the people of Gaza.  On the contrary, it starts from the premise that Israel has both the right and need to blockade even civilian goods—just that it shouldn’t use force in that case, or at least not if its soldiers enforcing the blockade are not in danger. 

And, by further implication, the restrictions on the use of force are even further relaxed if the ships are carrying weapons.  Weapons, that is, that are intended to fight the Israeli occupation.  You know, like the clandestine weapons flow to the Zionist movement during the 1940s,  designed to resist the British occupation and establish an independent Jewish state.

What accounts for this astonishing moral blindness, all the more painful considering its source as well as its concern about the “ethical profile” of Israel?   Two possibilities suggest themselves: either the editorialists share in the blindness, or they fear that if they question not only the methods but the purpose of the Israeli occupation and blockade, they will lose any chance of convincing their fellow countrymen to reconsider the Israeli occupation and blockade of the Palestinians.

Either way, it is hard to find reasons for optimism about the future of such a society.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Bad Can the Jewish Rightwing Get?

        Serious observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are familiar with the nastiest and most irresponsible of the “pro-Israel” American Jewish rightwing, which at any cost seeks to defend Israel against the indefensible: Martin Peretz, Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Goldberg, Abraham Foxman, David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, and the like. To this unillustrious list must now be added the name of Lee Smith, until now an obscure rightwing journalist. I don’t know if Smith is Jewish, but in the last two weeks Tablet, an online “magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture,” published two articles by Smith that have reached a new low: ”Mainstreaming Hate,” and “Playing With Fire”

        Because Tablet has a number of well-known editors and contributors, as well as because of the sensational nature of the Smith charges, the articles have received widespread publicity and notoriety. They are hard to read without feeling physically sick. Smith makes two charges. First, he asserts that the most important blogs critical of Israel—Phil Weiss’s Mondoweiss, Glen Greenwald’s regular blog on Salon, Andrew Sullivan’s commentary in Atlantic and, above all, Steven Walt’s blog at (Weiss and Greenwald are Jewish, Sullivan and Walt aren’t)—represent nothing more than “Jew-baiting.”

        Secondly, according to Smith the blogs he attacks are sponsored by mainstream media companies who, desperate to reverse their recent loss of readers, have decided that their prospects for returning to profitability depend on their “using the Internet to make anti-Semitism respectable…” He explains: “The Israel, or rather anti-Israel, market is one of the most attractive niche markets….If not quite as popular as adult-content sites, the anti-Israel blogosphere is a dirty little thrill that major U.S. media outfits have mainstreamed for the masses, the intellectual equivalent of the topless “Page Three” girls that British tabloids use to boost circulation.”

        In response to the outrage that greeted his first article, in his second article Smith elaborates on his charges. He denies, apparently with a straight face, that he had charged Walt and Sullivan with being personally anti-Semitic, or Weiss and Greenwald with being “of the hothouse flower variety of anti-Semite known as the self-hating Jew.” Even though “all four men openly engage in Jew-baiting,” he continues, and even though “plenty of credible voices” (copiously cited) have accused the leading critics of Israel of being anti-Semitic, he, Smith, would refrain from doing so because he couldn’t read their minds. Nor was he blaming the critics for allegedly anti-Semitic comments on their blogs, not at all: “Walt is not accountable for the rabble that hang on his every word….Even though a sewer follows Walt wherever he goes, he is not that sewer’s keeper.”

      The real point of his first article, Smith argues, was to “illustrate that these pundits, their audiences, and the major media companies hosting their blogs, are complicit in the common work of mainstreaming…anti-Semitic language, ideas, and discourseIf Walt and the others may be acquitted of responsibility for their cesspools, what blame lies with their employers?” He continues: “Walt’s readers live through his posts and feed off of the legitimacy bestowed on him by mainstream American cultural institutions—Harvard, which employs him; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which published his book, and and The Washington Post Company, which host his blog. Walt and his anti-Israel blogging colleagues have become the respectable face of Jew-baiting. They’re the cesspool’s avatars.

       As if it would verify his charges, Smith in several places quotes Jeffrey Goldberg: “Walt is a throwback to the 1930s,” says Goldberg. “In the ’30s the isolationists rode the Jews as a hobby horse. They tried very hard to marginalize American citizens of the Jewish faith by questioning their loyalty. These guys don’t even understand what ancient terror they’re tapping into. What’s original, what makes this period alarming, is that The Washington Post Company would give a Jew-baiter a platform.” Can there be any doubt that Smith and Goldberg hope to pressure the Washington Post, not exactly an exemplar of fearless liberalism these days, into silencing Walt?

      Even leaving aside the case of Lee Smith, the ugliness of his language, and his crackpot argument about the mainstream media’s decision to make more money by backing “Jew-baiting,” there are a number of things wrong with, and possibly even dangerous about, the Jewish rightwing’s screams of “anti-Semitism” when Israel is strongly criticized by the leading bloggers. Not only are the charges false and scurrilous, they risk provoking a genuinely anti-Semitic backlash; beyond that, they are bad for U.S. national interests and security, bad for Israel, and bad for the American Jewish community, especially since they violate our best traditions and values.

Are the Leading Bloggers Anti-Semitic?

To begin with, Walt, Sullivan, Weiss, Richard Silverstein, and Jeremiah Haber, along with many others, have ably defended themselves or their colleagues, for example by pointing out that the sole evidence Smith cites to support his ugly charges that they engage in “Jew-baiting” come not from anything—anything—that the bloggers themselves wrote, but from reader comments on their blogs! Of course it is the case that anything critical of Israel will appeal to a few genuine anti-Semites—but it is far more likely to generate equally enraged and vicious comments, along the lines of Smith himself, from the “pro-Israel” crackpots.

       Smith’s main target is Steven Walt and, by implication, John Mearsheimer, the co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007), which aside from Walt’s blog is the main focus of outrage by the Jewish rightwing. Mearsheimer (a chaired professor at the University of Chicago) and Walt (a chaired professor at Harvard, the former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government and Co-chairman of the Editorial Board of International Security, the most prestigious professional journal in its field) are two of the most eminent scholars and public intellectuals in the field of international politics, world renowned and deservedly so: in a recent survey of international politics scholars, Mearsheimer was ranked fifth on a list of scholars who have had the greatest impact on the field over the past twenty years, while Walt ranked twenty-second.

         Of course intellectual eminence might not always constitute definitive disproof of the charge of anti-Semitism, but you would think it would at least induce some caution and constrain guttersniping from the Jewish rightwing—typically called “pro-Israel,” but in terms of consequences, anything but. In any case, the important point is that a careful reading of The Israel Lobby as well as the subsequent work of both Mearsheimer and Walt (as well as that of Andrew Sullivan) would make it clear that far from being anti-Semitic, if anything they are philo-Semitic. That is, while being good realists who must first emphasize the national interest stakes for the United States, they are also deeply concerned about moral justice and the true national interests of Israel. Indeed, those of us in the same profession who have widely read the work of Mearsheimer and Walt, as well as being acquainted with them personally, know that both of them have close connections to the American Jewish community, and are rightly in disbelief if not despair at what the Jewish right is doing to that community and to the “Jewish moral values” that they have deeply admired.

The Israel Lobby Thesis

Even if The Israel Lobby was actually anti-Semitic, it would not relieve us of the necessity of evaluating on its merits the book’s central argument—that the Israel lobby, of course overwhelmingly Jewish, has great power over American foreign policy toward the Middle East in general and towards Israel in particular, and that it has exercised that power in a manner that is bad for both the U.S. and Israel. In my view, while the Mearsheimer/Walt book is a highly important work in a number of ways, it is by no means entirely persuasive. I will not go into detail here; I have written about it at length and Mearsheimer and Walt have responded

    In brief, for over sixty years the United States has provided nearly unqualified support of Israel, not merely for its existence and basic security, but for most of its policies in the Arab-Israeli conflict. How to account for this “special relationship” is complicated and subject to dispute. One of the problems that Mearsheimer and Walt faced in writing their book and in their subsequent defenses of it is that there is no doubt that a focus on Jewish financial and media power has long been one of the staples of anti-Semitism both in the United States and Europe; however, that doesn’t change the obvious fact that Jews do in fact have great financial, political and media power in the U.S. The only serious question is the extent of that power. In my judgment, The Israel Lobby overstates the case—although not whether that power, whatever its extent, is today being used wisely. My own answer—and I am certain that of Mearsheimer, Walt, and Sullivan as well--is that on all non-Israeli issues America is better off because of the prominence of Jews. On Israeli issues, however, both America and Israel are harmed by the power of the Israel Lobby, whatever its extent.

      In my view, the long-lasting and remarkably strong U.S. support of Israel is the result of the convergence of many factors, of which the existence of a strong pro-Israel lobby is only one, and in most cases probably not the most important. The initial reason—and one that remains important today--was the widespread and deeply felt belief among U.S. officials and the general public alike that the United States had a moral obligation to help Israel defend itself against its Arab enemies. In the early years, this obligation stemmed from a widespread sense of guilt about the consequences of centuries of Western anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust.

        Second, Israel captured the imagination and sympathy of the American public, which even today still generally views it (in however oversimplified a manner) as having created and maintained a Western liberal democracy in a region dominated by despotic autocracies. Third, during the cold war Israel came to be perceived as a strongly anticommunist, pro-American, and militarily powerful ally in countering the threat of Soviet or communist expansionism in the Middle East and even, to a somewhat lesser extent, elsewhere in the global struggle. A fourth set of factors are the felt cultural and religious affinities between the United States and Israel: the differences between Christians and Jews in the United States have come to be seen as increasingly irrelevant and have been replaced by a sense of solidarity between those who share the “Judeo-Christian heritage.” Finally, of course, Israel is seen by most Americans—however simplistically or even erroneously (as, in fact, Mearsheimer and Walt convincingly argue)—as an indispensable ally in the struggle against Islamic radicalism and terrorism.

       All that said, however, who can seriously doubt that domestic politics are also are important part of the explanation, or that the American Jewish community has long had considerable influence and power in the U.S. government policy-making process on Israeli issues? Perhaps more so than ever: witness Obama’s pathetic series of retreats-- especially as his domestic popularity wanes and the Congressional elections approach--from his initial attempts to press Israel into agreeing to a fair settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In short, while one may disagree about the extent of Jewish power, in no sense is the Israel Lobby, or the subsequent powerful foreign policy analyses of Mearsheimer and Walt, “anti-Semitic”—let alone that Walt, Andrew Sullivan and other critical bloggers are, in Smith’s nauseating language, “career Jew baiters.”

The Jewish Right and the Danger of an Anti-Semitic Backlash.

Rather than guarding against anti-Semitism, the insults, coarseness, irrationality and dishonesty of the Jewish rightwing risks setting off an anti-Semitic backlash. To be sure, I don’t think there is much likelihood of this at present, but being Jewish myself and with some personal experience with anti-Semitism in the past, I cannot dismiss the danger out of hand: coming of age in America in the 1940s, I heard about, saw, and personally experienced plenty of anti-Semitism.

       More importantly, it is well to keep in mind the historical experience of the Jews: in the past two thousand years Jews have frequently been a tolerated minority, and sometimes have even risen to powerful and respected positions in some of the most advanced and civilized states—like England, Spain, Portugal, France, and of course Germany—only to see their social standing, their accomplishments, their livelihood and often their very lives suddenly swept away by a deadly outbreak of anti-Semitism. In light of this history, the possible resurgence of anti-Semitism in the West cannot be entirely discounted, for it has never been definitively defeated and eliminated and has always survived, even if deep under the surface, as if lying in wait for some national political or economic crisis to once again burst out in full fury.

       With that in mind, it is one thing to label (explicitly or by unmistakable innuendo) the most prominent and brave of the Jewish critics of Israel—Norman Finkelstein, Phil Weiss, Glen Greenwald, Richard Silverstein, M.J Rosenberg, and so on—as “self-hating Jews,” a charge that is so preposterous and revolting that only fools take it seriously. It’s another matter altogether to continue assailing the serious, informed, and justifiably highly respected non-Jewish critics of Israel—Mearsheimer, Walt, Sullivan, Chas Freeman, Scott McConnell, Michael Desch, and others.

      The problem is not that these men themselves--all of them patient, of good will, and genuinely committed to the best interests of Israel--will get really angry at the supposedly “pro-Israel” Jews in general, let alone countenance an anti-Semitic backlash. Rather, the real concern is how ordinary Americans as well as unwise or unprincipled politicians will react, if or when they finally catch on to the fact that Israel’s policies and the still-strong support of them by a large majority of American Jews are inflicting serious damage on American foreign policy, and perhaps even basic national security. Although the Jewish rightwing blandly denies that there is any connection between the hatred of Islamic fanatics and terrorists for the United States and the history of the near-unconditional American support of Israel, the denial is preposterous, since Osama bin Laden and many other al-Qaeda or other terrorist leaders have repeatedly said that their primary motive for attacking this country—including 9/11-- is its support for Israel’s occupation and repression of the Palestinians.

Bad for Israel

As well as being bad for the United States, the American Jewish rightwing is bad for Israel. Israel today is in desperate straits. Even leaving aside the dangers to its national security or very existence created by its endless provocations of the Arab or Islamic world, whose fanatics will almost certainly eventually gain possession of nuclear weapons, the poison created by the stupidity and criminal behavior of the Israelis towards the Palestinians is rapidly seeping into the politics and society of Israel itself. Israel today is well on its way to making a mockery of its claim to be a civilized Western democracy—even if only for the Jews, let alone for the more than five million Arabs whom it effectively rules or controls, directly or indirectly. And with every passing day the news gets worse, as new signs emerge of the gathering descent of the Jewish state into authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, state repression, majority tyranny, and international pariahdom.

      A growing number of Israeli commentators openly express their fear that Israel—a Jewish state, who could have imagined it—is sliding into fascism, and desperately call on the United States to help save Israel from itself. In vain, I fear, given the domestic politics of the Israeli issue in this country, as well as (as Scott McConnell has astutely observed) the reluctance of so many Jews and Gentiles to speak out and subject themselves to the repugnant attacks of the Jewish rightwing.

Bad for the Jews

In the entire history of the Jews there has never been a state such as America of the last fifty years or so: certainly not anti-Semitic, and not even merely “tolerant,” but perhaps even philo-Semitic. Where else have we ever been more secure—certainly not in Israel—and, beyond elemental safety, more integrated, respected, prosperous, honored—and, yes, powerful? Even so, given our overall historical plight, as well as the fact that we constitute less than 2% of the American population, one might hope for greater wisdom and insult-free discourse from the Jewish rightwing.

        Beyond the potential dangers of fouling the nest, the Jewish rightwing is betraying what we have been pleased to think of as “Jewish values,” but which are really what is best in Western civilization as a whole: a commitment to reason, truth, and justice. The Jewish rightwing is making a mockery of these values: routinely lying, resorting to the tactics of the guttersnipe, and debasing rational and civilized discourse. Indeed, such a discourse would be essential even if the Jewish rightists had something of value to contribute to the debate over Israeli policies and U.S. support of them, and all the more so when they are devastatingly wrong about the true national interest, well-being, and moral standing of Israel.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Efraim Karsh, Defender of the Palestinians

     In the famous Jewish definition, the term “chutzpah” is best illustrated by the story of  the man who, having been convicted of killing both his parents, pleads for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.   That can’t be topped, but we now have a new second-best illustration: Efraim Karsh, one of the most infuriating and disingenuous of the rightwing Israeli historians,  shedding crocodile tears for the poor Palestinians, repeatedly betrayed by their Arab brethren.

      Here are just a few examples of Karsh’s chutzpah, in his oped in today’s New York Times, “The Palestinians, Alone”:

      *“It was common knowledge that the May 1948 pan-Arab invasion of the nascent state of Israel was more a scramble for Palestinian territory than a fight for Palestinian national rights.”  Karsh quotes the first secretary-general of the Arab League as having admitted that the goal of King Abdullah of Transjordan “was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine, with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to the Lebanon.”

        But if that is true, it serves to refute the standard Israeli claim that the purpose of the Arab invasion was to destroy the new state of Israel and “throw the Jews into the sea.”  Unsurprisingly, Karsh fails to point that out, since the myth of permanent and undying Arab hostility to the very existence of Israel is a staple of those who, like Karsh, find unending excuses for the demonstrable fact that Israel has repeatedly rejected clear opportunities for an overall Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

        *Writing about Arab violence against Palestinians,  Karsh says that Lebanese Christian militias “again slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in 1982 in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, this time under Israel’s watchful eye. None of the Arab states came to the Palestinians’ rescue.”

      “Under Israel’s watchful eye”—well, I guess that’s one way of putting it.  Most other accounts are more informative, however: it is common knowledge that the Sabra and Shatila massacres were a product of—at a minimum—the tacit collaboration, and much more likely the active encouragement of, the Israeli Army, then under the direction of Ariel Sharon.  Camped just outside the refugee camps, fully aware of what was happening, and with the military capacity to end the massacres, the IDF took no action—except, that is, for firing illuminating flares over the camps throughout the nighttime slaughter.  A subsequent high-level Israeli investigation found that Israel had “indirect responsibility”—and Ariel Sharon “personal responsibility”--for the massacre, which made him unfit to continue as Defense Minister. 

      *Karsh concludes that it’s a good thing for the Palestinians that the Arabs have now “apparently become so apathetic about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” for their previous “self-serving interventionism has denied Palestinians the right to determine their own fate….The sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel and to  understand the need for a negotiated settlement.”

        Can one find a more disingenuous “explanation” of why there has been no settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And, wearily, one must once ask again why the New York Times lends itself to such travesties?