Sunday, March 28, 2010
By ROBERT WRIGHT
Are you anti-Israel? If you fear that, deep down, you might be, I have important news. The recent tension between Israel and the United States led various commentators to identify hallmarks of anti-Israelism, and these may be of diagnostic value.
As you’ll see, my own view is that they aren’t of much value, but I’ll leave it for you to judge.
Symptom no. 1: Believing that Israel shouldn’t build more settlements in East Jerusalem.
President Obama holds this belief, and that seems to be the reason that Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, deems Obama’s administration “the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history.” Bauer notes that the East Jerusalem settlements are “entirely within the city of Jerusalem” and that Jerusalem is “the capital of Israel.”That’s artful wording, but it doesn’t change the fact that East Jerusalem, far from being part of “the capital of Israel,” isn’t even part of Israel. East Jerusalem lies beyond Israel’s internationally recognized, pre-1967 borders. And the common assertion that Israel “annexed” East Jerusalem has roughly the same legal significance as my announcing that I’ve annexed my neighbor’s backyard. In 1980 the United Nations explicitly rejected Israel’s claim to possess East Jerusalem. And the United States, which normally vetoes U.N. resolutions that Israel finds threatening, chose not to do so in this case.
By never criticizing Israel, we’ll all be “pro-Israel.” And that’s a good thing, right?
In short, accepting Gary Bauer’s idea of what it means to be anti-Israel seems to involve being anti-truth. So I don’t accept it. (And if you’re tempted to accept the common claim that Israel is building only in “traditionally Jewish” parts of East Jerusalem, a good antidote is this piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann, published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s excellent new Middle East Channel.)
Symptom no. 2: Thinking that some of Israel’s policies, and America’s perceived support of them, might endanger American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (by, for example, giving Jihadist recruiters rhetorical ammunition). This concern was reportedly expressed last week by Vice President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. And General David Petraeus is said to worry about the threat posed to American troops — and to America’s whole strategic situation — by the perception of American favoritism toward Israel.
Identifying threats to American troops is part of a general’s job, and it seems to me Petraeus could honestly conclude — without help from dark “anti-Israel” impulses — that some of those threats are heightened by the Israel-Palestine conflict and America’s relationship to it. But Max Boot, writing on Commentary’s Web site, seems to disagree; if Petraeus indeed holds such opinions, that’s a sign of “anti-Israel sentiment,” in Boot’s view.
Now, for a lionized American general to even hint that America’s stance toward Israel might threaten American troops is a serious public relations problem for Boot’s ideology. That, presumably, is why Boot tries to show that this “anti-Israel” view, though attributed to Petraeus, is not in fact Petraeus’s view. Specifically, Boot aims to discredit journalists who attributed this quotation to Petraeus: “The [Israel-Palestine] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel … . Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”
Boot assures us that this passage, far from being a good guide to Petraeus’s thinking, was just “pulled from the 56-page Central Command ‘Posture Statement’ filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee.” Well, I don’t know who did the filing, but the document itself is titled “Statement of General David H. Petraeus … Before the Senate Armed Services Committee.” So I’m guessing it’s a fair guide to his views — in which case, by Boot’s lights, Petraeus is anti-Israel, right? And in which case I’ll reject Boot’s criterion for anti-Israelism.
Boot has an ally in Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman said the perspective attributed to Biden and Petraeus “smacks of blaming Jews for everything.”
America’s perceived support of Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad and civilians at home.
Foxman’s claim may seem hyperbolic, but look at it this way: If he can convince us that blaming any Israeli policy for anything is akin to blaming Jews in general for everything, then anyone who criticizes an Israeli policy will be deemed anti-Semitic — and fear of that label will keep everyone from criticizing Israel. And by virtue of never criticizing Israel, we’ll all be “pro-Israel.” And that’s a good thing, right?
Actually, it seems to me that if we were all “pro-Israel” in this sense, that would be bad for Israel.
If Israel’s increasingly powerful right wing has its way, without constraint from American criticism and pressure, then Israel will keep building settlements. And the more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be.
As more and more people are realizing, the only long-run alternatives to a two-state solution are: a) a one-state solution in which an Arab majority spells the end of Israel’s Jewish identity; b) Israel’s remaining a Jewish state by denying the vote to Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, a condition that would be increasingly reminiscent of apartheid; c) the apocalypse. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday: “A two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”
So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by Bauer, Boot and Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel. It’s also anti-America (in the sense of ‘bad for American security’), because Biden and Petraeus are right: America’s perceived support of — or at least acquiescence in — Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad. In the long run, it will also endanger American civilians at home, funneling more terrorism in their direction.
The flip side of this coin is that policies that would be truly good for Israel (e.g., no more settlements) would be good for America. In that sense, there’s good news for Bauer and Boot and Foxman: one of their common refrains — that Israel’s and America’s interests are essentially aligned — is true, if for reasons they don’t appreciate.
Sadly, the Bauer-Boot-Foxman definition of “pro-Israel” — supporting Israel’s increasingly hard-line and self-destructive policies — is the official definition. All major American newspapers, so far as I can see, use the term this way. AIPAC is described as “pro-Israel,” but the left-of-AIPAC J Street isn’t, even though its members, like AIPAC’s, favor policies they consider good for Israel.
No doubt this twisted use of “pro-Israel,” and the implied definition of “anti-Israel,” keeps many critics of Israeli policies from speaking out — Jewish critics for fear of seeming disloyal, and non-Jewish critics for fear of seeming anti-Semitic.
So, if I’m right, and more speaking out — more criticism of Israel’s current policies — would actually be good for Israel, then the newspapers and other media outlets that sustain the prevailing usage of “pro-Israel” are, in fact, anti-Israel. I won’t mention any names.
Postscript: It has been reported that, notwithstanding accounts in Israel’s media, Biden did not, in fact, complain to Netanyahu in private about the threat of Israel’s policies to American troops.
Perhaps predictably, the journalist who first reported this is the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been described by one New York Times columnist as Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer.” I don’t doubt that Goldberg found an administration source who downplayed Biden’s remarks to Netanyahu; obviously, once tensions started to subside, and the goal of both America and Israel was to smooth relations, it wasn’t going to be hard to find an administration official who would do that, regardless of the truth about what Biden said. So I attach little significance to the administration’s revisionist account of what transpired between Biden and Netanyahu — especially given the heat the administration no doubt took over the original account of what transpired.
Update: A response from Gary Bauer, whose views I critique in this column, and my subsequent reply, can be read here.
Bauer says that Ramat Shlomo — the part of East Jerusalem where Israel’s controversial 1,600 housing units are scheduled for construction — is “not a settlement” and “not in a Palestinian neighborhood” and “not a neighborhood that the Palestinians have ever had any intention of taking control of” until Obama turned it into an issue.
A useful supplement to Bauer’s perspective is this paragraph from the piece by Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann that I cite (and link to) above: “In 1993, when the peace process was taking off, the settlement of Ramat Shlomo — which last week caused such a headache for Vice President Biden — didn’t exist. The site was an empty hill in East Jerusalem (not “no man’s land,” as some have asserted), home only to dirt, trees and grazing goats. It was empty because Israel expropriated the land in 1973 from the Palestinian village of Shuafat and made it off-limits to development. Only later, with the onset of the peace process era, was the land zoned for construction and a brand-new settlement called Rehkes Shuafat (later renamed Ramat Shlomo) built.”
And here is a relevant paragraph from a Jan 26, 1994 Washington Post article (not available online) by David Hoffman titled “Israel Constructing a Jewish Cordon Around Jerusalem”: “The Jerusalem municipal boundary was enlarged after the ‘67 war to include Arab East Jerusalem… . For a quarter-century, Palestinian building has been sharply restricted, while Jewish building has expanded. Recently, the Jewish population in the annexed portion of the city surpassed the Arab population for the first time, boosted by construction of new Jewish neighborhoods there.”
Posted By Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann Friday, March 19, 2010 - 11:43 AM
Throughout the past week the world has heard Israeli government officials and their allies in the US --particularly among the pro-settler crowd -- defending construction in East Jerusalem settlements on the grounds that "everybody knows" these areas will always be part of Israel.
The "everybody knows" argument is familiar. Those in the peace camp often say that everybody knows what an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status agreement looks like. Their point being: all that is needed is the political will of courageous leaders to work out the final, hardest details and sign the treaty.
But today the "everybody knows" meme has been cynically appropriated by Netanyahu and his supporters. "Everybody knows these areas in East Jerusalem will always be Israel," they say, "so when the Palestinians (and the Americans) make a fuss about new construction plans, it is just for political purposes, not because there is any real issue."
Those peddling this rubbish are guilty of transparent manipulation. Those buying it are guilty of having short memories and an excess of credulity.
In 1993, when the peace process was taking off, the settlement of Ramat Shlomo -- which last week caused such a headache for Vice President Biden -- didn't exist. The site was an empty hill in East Jerusalem (not "no man's land," as some have asserted), home only to dirt, trees and grazing goats. It was empty because Israel expropriated the land in 1973 from the Palestinian village of Shuafat and made it off-limits to development. Only later, with the onset of the peace process era, was the land zoned for construction and a brand-new settlement called Rehkes Shuafat (later renamed Ramat Shlomo) built.
If in 1993 you had asked what areas "everybody knows" would stay part of Israel under any future agreement, the area that is today Ramat Shlomo -- territorially distinct from any other settlement and contiguous with the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat -- would not have been mentioned.
The same can be said for the massive settlement of Har Homa, for which Israel issued new tenders in the past few days (sometime after the Ramat Shlomo-Biden fiasco). Here, again, the argument is that "everybody knows" this area will forever be part of Israel. But here again, we are talking about an area that at the outset of the peace process was empty land -- devoid of Israelis, belonging mainly to Palestinians, and contiguous entirely with Palestinian areas -- that anybody drawing a logical border would have placed on the Palestinian side.
American pundits and members of Congress may be unfamiliar with or may have forgotten these inconvenient facts, but the Palestinians -- who have watched Israel eat away at East Jerusalem at an increasing pace -- have not.
Some will argue that these are the facts on the ground today, and the fact is that Israel will never part with the big East Jerusalem settlements. So regardless of sins of the past, why make a fuss about new construction in them?
The answer lies in a closer look at what Netanyahu means when he talks about what "everybody knows."
Because if he meant that everybody understands what will be Israeli and what will be Palestinian in Jerusalem, this would potentially be great news: it could mean an agreement is possible, at least on Jerusalem, tomorrow. And if that were what he meant, then just as he suggests that Israel can build without restrictions in the areas that "everybody knows" will stay Israeli, he would have no problem with Palestinians building without restrictions in the areas that everyone knows will be Palestinian.
But there's the catch: for Netanyahu, there is no place in Jerusalem that "everybody knows" will be Palestinian.
What Netanyahu really means is that East Jerusalem land falls into two categories: areas that "everybody knows" Israel will keep and where it can therefore act with impunity, and areas that Israel hopes it can keep, by dint of changing so many facts on the ground before a peace agreement is reached that they move into the first category.
It is an approach that can be summed up as: "what's mine is mine, and what you think is yours will hopefully be mine, too." It discloses with stark clarity the underlying principle of Netanyahu's Jerusalem policies: the status of Jerusalem and its borders will be determined by Israeli deeds rather than by negotiations. More bluntly, who needs agreement with Palestinians or recognition of the international community when "everybody knows"?
And it is an approach that we see today on the ground, where Israel is doing its best -- through construction, demolitions, changes in the public domain -- to transform areas of East Jerusalem that have always been overwhelmingly Palestinian into areas that everybody will soon recognize as Israeli, now and forever. This is happening in the area surrounding the Old City, in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods like Ras al Amud and Jebel Mukabber, and it is now starting to target areas like Shuafat and Beit Hanina.
The notion that a peace process can survive such an Israeli approach in Jerusalem is not rational. The notion that Israel can be taken seriously as a peace partner while acting this way is farcical. And the notion that the United States can be a credible steward of peace efforts while tolerating such behavior is laughable.
Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now. Daniel Seidemann is the founder of the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem.
Hobby or Necessity?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
If you think this latest Israeli-American flap was just the same-old-same-old tiff over settlements, then you’re clearly not paying attention — which is how I’d describe a lot of Israelis, Arabs and American Jews today.
This tiff actually reflects a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations. I’d summarize it like this: In the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for Israel — has gone from being a necessity to a hobby. And in the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for America — has gone from being a hobby to a necessity. Therein lies the problem.
The collapse of the Oslo peace process, combined with the unilateral Israeli pullouts from Lebanon and Gaza — which were followed not by peace but by rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel — decimated Israel’s peace camp and the political parties aligned with it.
At the same time, Israel’s erecting of a wall around the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel (there have been no successful attacks since 2006), along with the rise of the high-tech industry in Israel — which does a great deal of business digitally and over the Internet and is largely impervious to the day-to-day conflict — has meant that even without peace, Israel can enjoy a very peaceful existence and a rising standard of living.
To put it another way, the collapse of the peace process, combined with the rise of the wall, combined with the rise of the Web, has made peacemaking with Palestinians much less of a necessity for Israel and much more of a hobby. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot more Israelis seem to believe they really can have it all: a Jewish state, a democratic state and a state in all of the Land of Israel, including the West Bank — and peace.
Why not? Newsweek’s Dan Ephron wrote in the Jan. 11, 2010, issue: “An improved security situation, a feeling that acceptance by Arabs no longer matters much, and a growing disaffection from politics generally have, for many Israelis, called into question the basic calculus that has driven the peace process. Instead of pining for peace, they’re now asking: who needs it? ... Tourism hit a 10-year high in 2008. Astonishingly, the I.M.F. projected recently that Israel’s G.D.P. will grow faster in 2010 than that of most other developed countries. In short, Israelis are enjoying a peace dividend without a peace agreement.”
Now, in the same time period, America went from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in the Middle East to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With U.S. soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of U.S. diplomats to being a necessity.
Both Vice President Joe Biden and Gen. David Petraeus have been quoted recently as saying that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region. I wouldn’t exaggerate this, but I would not dismiss it either.
The issue that should make peacemaking a necessity rather than a hobby for both the U.S. and Israel is confronting a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, Israel sees the question of preventing Iran from going nuclear as overriding and separate from the Palestinian issue, while the U.S. sees them as integrated. At a time when the U.S. is trying to galvanize a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-U.S. Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.
Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week argued that Israel should adopt a more integrated view — which he calls a “Palestine-Iran-Palestine” strategy: Israel should take the initiative with an overture to the Palestinians, which would make progress on that front easier, which would strengthen the U.S. coalition against Iran, which could ultimately weaken Tehran and its allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, which would open the way for more progress on the Palestine-Israel front. He suggests that Israel reach an interim agreement with Palestinians on the West Bank or even consider a partial, unilateral withdrawal there.
“One way or another,” said Shavit, “Netanyahu should have made a genuine move on the Palestinian front that would have made genuine moves on the Iranian front possible, that would have made dealing with the core of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute possible at a later stage.”
Indeed, Jerusalem, settlements, peace, Iran — they’re all connected and pretending you can treat some as a hobby and one as a necessity is an illusion.
2. Counterpoint: Joe Klein: http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/03/27/sound-and-fury-signifying-very-little/
3. Noah Pollack (very weak imho)http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/pollak/268061
Friday, March 26, 2010
March 17, 2010 4:23 pm
Recently I was rummaging through the living mess of papers in my office--my nachlass, however hard-driven, will not be a hard drive--when I discovered a fading sheet I had not seen in decades. It was a copy of a letter that was given to me by a little man in the municipal hall in Hebron in 1980. I had traveled to Hebron to look into an incident that occurred a few days earlier on Purim, a triumphalist holiday on which Jews are enjoined to revel in inversions and to drink themselves out of their capacity to distinguish between good and evil. In the course of their bacchanal, some of the settlers at Beit Hadassah, the formerly Jewish house in the center of town that they were claiming for themselves, had opened their windows and urinated on Palestinians in the street below.
The mayor of Hebron convened a public meeting for the victims of the abuse to tell their stories. It was there that the little man rose to express his grievance. To demonstrate the ugliness of what was done to him, he read from an old letter written in Hebrew on the stationery of a metalworking company in Jerusalem. It stated (this is my translation): “To Whom It May Concern: I the undersigned, Moses Joseph ben Jacob Ezra, born in Hebron, hereby declare that the family of Rajib Hassan Al Badr, with whom we lived in the same quarter in Hebron, protected my family in [the riots of] 1929 and again in [the riots of] 1936, and until 1947, while we were still in Hebron, we enjoyed good neighborly relations and constant protection by the Al Badr family generally. I would be deeply grateful for any human assistance that might be extended to them.” So it was the scion of that good and brave family whom the yarmulked hooligans had soiled.
I remembered this wrenching document a few weeks ago when Yedioth Ahronoth posted a video on its website of a Purim party in Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, at which religious militants boorishly sang a song of praise to the memory of Baruch Goldstein, who slaughtered twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: “Dr. Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein, there is no one like you in the whole world.” The stone house in which the punks dishonored their tradition with an anthem to murder had recently belonged to the El Ghawis, a Palestinian family that was expelled from it last August.
Sheikh Jarrah is a place with a run-down but real magic, rather like Naples. You can still see the glory beneath the grime, the fine imperial picturesque--the porticos and the gardens of old Palestine, the material elegance of the Muslim gentry in the calm between the storms. There is a mosque at the tomb of a medieval Muslim saint named Hussein ibn Isa Al Jarrah, and nearby it is the tomb of Simon the Just, the high priest in Jerusalem around 200 B.C.E. and according to legend the founder of the Jewish liturgy, whose sacerdotal splendor was described swooningly by Ben Sira; and there is the Shepherd Hotel, a grand villa built by the mufti of Jerusalem, once inhabited by George Antonius, and in the 1980s acquired by a rich Jewish bingo-king in Florida for the purpose of expelling Palestinians from the area and installing Jews; and there is the American Colony Hotel, whose bougainvillea has often given me asylum from the respective fervors of my brothers and sisters in the western part of the city. In 1948, Arab forces in Sheikh Jarrah ambushed a convoy of Jewish doctors and nurses on their way to the hospital on Mount Scopus and committed a massacre.
Sheikh Jarrah came under Israeli control in 1967, and a few years later Jewish groups went to court with old Jewish deeds to various properties, even though no Jews had lived there since 1948. The court upheld their ownership, but ruled that the Palestinians who resided there could remain as long as they paid rent. The Palestinian families disputed the authenticity of the Jewish documents, and refused to pay. They were finally evicted this past year, and the drunken disciples of Dr. Goldstein moved in.
The dream of reversing history has been a cause of both greatness and depravity. It is right for people not to acquiesce in their own wretchedness, to reject all the quietisms and the fatalisms that teach them to do nothing for themselves. Zionism owed its moral and historical force in large measure to its refusal to accept the irreversibility of Jewish exile, and its attendant misery; and the national self-reliance now exemplified for the Palestinians by Salam Fayyad--in a culture of jusqu’au-boutisme, the technocrat is the revolutionary--represents a similar refusal of historical passivity. But not everything can, or should, be reversed.
Sometimes there is wisdom also in acceptance, and in the power that it confers to move on. In the name of justice, one may destroy peace, and forget that peace, too, is an element of justice. The idea of beginning again is often a savage idea. Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews.
When Jews fled Sheikh Jarrah, they fled to a Jewish state, which should have been worth the loss of their property; and the same would have been true of the Palestinians, if their Arab brethren had allowed the state of Palestine to come into being. But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established. Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers? Whatever arrangements about Jerusalem are eventually made in a peace agreement, and I no longer expect to see one in my lifetime, Jerusalem will remain both the capital of Israel and a demographically mottled city.
It makes no sense to show contempt for the people with whom you are destined to live. It is not only cruel, it is stupid. So the dispossession of the El Ghawis is a disgrace. And a Jewish disgrace, because it was Simon the Just, the legendary leader buried in an ancient cave not far from the El Ghawis’ house, who famously taught that one of the things which supports the world in existence is the practice of kindness.
Wieseltier's article is a perfect illustration of the anti-Semitism of the left in- its imposition of a radically different standard upon Jews than upon the rest of the world- its grossly disproportionate treatment of offenses committed by Jews compared to offenses commited against them.
TNR.Reader, respectfully, you may want to take a whack at at being a rereader.
It misunderstands Wieseltier and misconceives what he wrote to think, if you do that he is of the left, and if you don't think that, that his piece exemplifies anti Semitism of the left. He is making no claims of moral equivalence, no equating of respective evils. Rather, his is, finally, a Cri de Coeur, a plea for decency and kindness, a wish to encroach on demonization and otherness.
There is plenty to criticize in Settler Messianiasm; and what Wieseltier describes instances patterns of some appalling conduct and attitudes, which see Palestinians as the easily dispensable other. This s not answered by citing greater instances of injustice leveled against Jews by Arabs. The issue is not a balance sheet of comparable rights and wrongs: the issue is kindness trumping otherness as an irreducible human starting point.
For such little hope as there is for a resolution as opposed to an outcome, without that starting
point, there is no hope at all.
"In my opinion, AsAJews like Wieseltier encourage Arab intransigeance and exaggerated sense of grievance and so further the bloodshed."
Wieseltier's piece is not intended for an Arab audience. It is meant to re-assert his credentials as a leftist writer and thinker so as to reassure such TNR readers as we sometimes encounter here that he knows who a good Jew is and why.
He is not antisemitic by any means but his article here does serve some of their vital concerns.
TNR Reader makes a very valid point about the absence of any concern for the injustice done to Oriental Jews in this piece. It might be a reflection of a certain intra-Jewish bias on the part of Wieseltier. Mizrahim in Israel often wonder why Ashkenazi elite intellectuals in America can show such dogged and principled and vociferous compassion and caring for poor Palestinians while they maintain almost complete silence about Mizrahi history.
Noga, how do you know what Wieseltier’s is meant to do other than say what he said? You don’t of course. And the absurdity of your comment that he is trying to shine up his “good Jew” credentials as a is as unbelievable as it offensive.
That absurdity is made blastingly evident by the fact you cannot know what his motives are. He, in fact, devastatingly took Andrew Sullivan apart for doing the very thing you assign to him: essentializing –read objectifying--Jewishness and saying that there are good/acceptable/right thinking Jews and bad/unacceptable/wrong thinking Jews.
You fall into the same fallacy as does TNR Reader. Look at the reductio ad absurdum your line of reasoning, premised on the same misreading of this piece as that of TNR Reader, leads to. Wieseltier is to be faulted for not mentioning unjust conduct x: but then what about unjust conduct y and z and x1, y1 and z1? Where does it end?
To repeat the obvious that I’m surprised you misconceive : the point is the fundamental one of a plea for human decency and kindness amongst people destined to be neighbors, not an enumeration of their comparative wrongdoing.
Finally this is just weird and virtually paranoid: “He is not antisemitic by any means but his article here does serve some of their vital concerns.” This is functionally analogous to the ridiculous notion that any criticism of Israel or Israelis is tantamount to anti Semitism.
Basman: "He is making no claims of moral equivalence, no equating of respective evils."
The equation is done not in commission but in omission. Wieseltier wrote an article of hundreds of words to describe what are minor offenses to Arab dignity, with not a single reference to the bloody or even murderous "indignities" visited by Muslims upon the Mizrahim for the past 14 centuries, nor to the eliminationist threat some Muslims (including some Palestinians) still intend today, nor to the eliminationist past (such collaboration in the Shoah).
Every minority in every country will endure some indignities. It is absurd (and indeed anti-Semitic) to expect perfection of Jews, and Jews only.
Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers?
What does Wieseltier know of heartless revanchism? Heartless revanchism would be- de jure formally relegating the Arab on that sole basis to subordinate legal status, a reverse dhimmitude- forced conversion to Judaism of Muslim orphans- a systematic pogrom or farhud whenever one or another Arab deigned to rise above his station, such as aspiring to a seat on the Supreme Court or in the Knesset- requiring that Muslim schools be headed by a Jew, the inverse of Iran or Turkey- requiring Arabs to step off the pavement when a Jew passes- blood libel trials of Arabs- designation of the Arab as inherently unclean to contact Jewish food, the inverse of Yemen- forcing the Muslim to wear identifying, humiliating clothing- murder or religious edicts to murder any Muslim who "insults" Judaism- declarations of intent to eliminate Muslims world-wide.
religious militants boorishly sang a song of praise to the memory of Baruch Goldstein
So far as I know, singing a song, no matter how poor the taste, is not criminal. Indeed, there are millions of Jews who would have thanked God had the worst Islam (and Christianity) done to them, were the occasional boorish song.
The anti-Semitism of Wieseltier's article is the same as that expressed by those of the Islamist-leftist alliance who compare modern "Islamophobia" in western Europe to the treatment of Jews in Germany; it is such a gross distortion of proportion as to figuratively piss on the memory of the many Jews murdered by Muslim and Christian mobs.
Noga, I am familiar with the Jewish Refugees blog. Wieseltier ought to spend more time reading it.
TNR Reader: you have exhausted my interest and my patience.
You have merely "doubled down" on what you said before and I see nothing productive in essentially repeating myself.
Believe what you want including that Wiesltier has written an anti Semitic screed.
But great defence of the singers of the song praising Baruch Goldstein, btw.
Your rabidity is showing.
basman, I air my intuitive understandings here based on my personal encounters and experience. I am very interested in your lawyerly logic but that type of thinking often falls short of covering all aspects of the human mind. There is little doubt in my mind that Wieseltier's piece here appeals to those who had not words enough to pillory him for his Sullivan piece. That bothers me.
In the story W. tells opens with Jews urinating on Palestinians, followed by a tale of a very virtuous Palestinian who has a letter attesting to the historical righteousness of his family. Ugly drunk vulgar Jews urinating from high up on noble, long suffering Palestinians. Notice that the virtuous Palestinian is a "little man". People who have very tenuous grasp over the historical facts, the events submereged in that letter of good character, are left with this gist of the story. That's the Palestinian narrative, fully-digested.
I stand by what I said about Wieseltier's piece. Of course I cannot prove what his intention was, I doubt he himself is fully aware. But that tone, that selectiveness, that incontinent need to find the most graphic images by which to describe ugly Jews behaving badly, all these suggest the he is writing a defensive piece here. And who is he defending himself against?
...Jews need to see themselves as merely human beings with a right to live in peace in their own country and not be held to a higher or lower standard.
Wieseltier's article (while I agree with his criticism of the unseemly behavior of some of the settlers) unfortunately tries to hold the Jews to a higher standard. This isn’t helpful. Jews are just human being and will do as good and as bad human being do. Here he is merely whistletiering in the dark...
I agree with Jdyer's posts...except that I read Wieseltier's piece differently and don't think he's trying to hold Jews to a higher standard and don't see what in the text supports that reading of it. My contention is that he expects from Jews behaviour no different than he would expect from others. That expectation does not obviate a plea for, and heart felt appeal, to our common humanity.
It was not "incontinent" as such for Wieseltier to briefly depict the urination. That was a self conscious and self assured writing choice. And if I was teaching his piece to a class I would talk about how rivetingly and concretely and heart breakingly Wiesletier developed his theme, how he brought it home to his readers, in contrast to the abstractions of otherness. He shattered otherness.
“So the dispossession of the El Ghawis is a disgrace. And a Jewish disgrace, because it was Simon the Just, the legendary leader buried in an ancient cave not far from the El Ghawis’ house, who famously taught that one of the things which supports the world in existence is the practice of kindness.” Wieseltier
Well, Simon the Just was a saintly, man who did hold Jews to a higher standard.
There is no need to appeal to saintly man in order to make the point that one should treat one’s neighbors with kindness.
"He shattered otherness."
Not the way I see it.
I agree that he used highly effective and affective language in describing a moment in time in which, according to his story, the balance of power between oppressor and oppressed was crystallized. Here are the Jews, the oppressors, urinating on Palestinians, the suffering oppressed. And not only are they oppressed but they are also virtuous. And here comes the proof for that virtue: the Palestinian who has a bona fide testimony that his grandfather helped to save a family of Jews. Thereby the outrage W excites is doubled and tripled: The virtuous, oppressed Palestinian contrasted with the ingrate Jew oppressor urinator on other human beings.
And the effect of this article is to re enforce the image that these urinators represent all settlers and that settlers are a stand-in for Israel, and by extension, for all Jews.
I don't see any shattering of otherness in this piece. If anything, it contributes its share to the obfuscation of both history and moral principle.
History, that hides the extent of the horror of the event that the letter refers to, the massacre of 67 completely innocent Jews, the result of incitement and relentless hammering of hate propaganda. The definitive aspect of that event was not that an Arab gave shelter to a Jewish family. The definitive aspect of the event is the massacre (which btw the Arab world knows nothing about). But you don't get that information in W's piece; you get the impression that this was the norm.
Moral principle: that the oppressed should not be urinated upon, not because it is simply wrong to do so, but because they are virtuous. I disagree. It should not matter that those very Palestinians might have celebrated the bombing of buses and pizzerias. It does not matter whether they admired their terrorists or not, as far as their human dignity is concerned. Human beings should not be urinated upon, whatever they feel or think about you and your dead.
W seems to believe that Palestinians should not be urinated upon because in the past someone did something to help a Jew.
Shattered otherness? I don't think so.
"Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers?"
Does it? Does W think that the Israeli government should arrest those people who were singing their praises to Goldstein?
Is this song taught in schools, kindergartens? Is it sung in the media? Is it sung on TV? Is there a public square in Tel Aviv named after Goldstein? Does the government of Israel encourage the cult of Goldstein?
W looks at Israel and sees "the drunken disciples of Dr. Goldstein". This is what he reports about it. This is how he contributes his little bit to the entrenchment of Palestinian narrative.
Jack, thanks for responding. And Noga you as well, and this is by way of response to you as well.
I don’t see how quoting Simon the Just’s cardinal and universal injunction to practice kindness—“which supports the world”—goes to a reading of this piece as urging a higher standard of behavior on Jews.
As a Jew himself, Wieseltier lends his writing resonance by laying down the bitter irony of the disgraceful dispossession occurring in the mytho-historical shadow of Simon the Just who taught so much better. I can’t see how the laying down of that resonance sets out a higher standard of conduct for Jews. Where they act objectionably or horribly, they act objectionably or horribly. But the conduct Wieseltier particularizes is of a piece with the Settler Messianism he laments and cries out against. That Messianism, Wieseltier is saying is a particular and tragic making Israeli burden that will need to be surmounted for any possibility of a two state solution.
There is in this no particular demand of Jews not demanded of the Palestinians.
The moral and overarching –and implicitly geopolitical—analysis and prescription is even handed:
....The dream of reversing history has been a cause of both greatness and depravity. It is right for people not to acquiesce in their own wretchedness, to reject all the quietisms and the fatalisms that teach them to do nothing for themselves. Zionism owed its moral and historical force in large measure to its refusal to accept the irreversibility of Jewish exile, and its attendant misery; and the national self-reliance now exemplified for the Palestinians by Salam Fayyad--in a culture of jusqu’au-boutisme, the technocrat is the revolutionary--represents a similar refusal of historical passivity...
...The idea of beginning again is often a savage idea. Since the Palestinian right of return, and its premise that restoration is preferable to reconciliation, would undo the Jewish state, Israel is right to deny it. But if, in the name of moral realism, and so that they do not delude themselves with catastrophic fantasies of starting over, Palestinians are not to be granted a right to return to what was theirs before 1948, then neither should such a right be granted to Jews...
One focus of his piece is this:
...But the lunatic Jews who insist that a Jew must live anywhere a Jew ever lived do not see that they, too, are re-opening 1948 and the legitimacy of what it established. Why does the Israeli government allow the argument for a unified Jerusalem to be mistaken for the heartless revanchism of these settlers...
So as I say, I don’t understand a higher standard of conduct being set for Jews in any of this. For any resolution that might come by way of a two state solution Israel, and therefore Israelis, Wieseltier says, will need to come to terms with both Palestinian peoplehood and statehood. Do you think he is any less conscious of, or demanding of, what Palestinians must do, and come to understand, for any possibility of that resolution? What he does, I suggest (writing as a Jew, for an enlightened audience, made up not insignificantly of Jewish readership) in setting out the loutish, vulgar and unjust behavior he describes is to lay a heartfelt, heart breaking and vivid predicate on the Israeli side for his plea.
Jews and Palestinians, he says, if they are ever to live in peace will necessarily bear inextricabilities. In that their common humanity must compel their mutual respect. In this, there is no assertion, I argue, of a higher standard of conduct. If there is what is it? If it’s present in what Wieseltier has written it eludes me.
Finally, for me, Wieseltier is speaking obviously of something more profound than treating one’s neighbors with kindness—though he is surely saying that. He is indentifying the common humanity, the predominance of the other’s humaness over their otherness, as the true meaning and basis of that kindness.
After all, piss on a man, you eviscerate his humanity. Stand up for a man so pissed on, who with his family once gave you and your family life and succor, you in action help revivify his humanity, as in action you personify the common humanity exemplified in kindness, just as “kind” itself means “class or type of people or things having similar characteristics”.
Jack: one small further note:
...Well, Simon the Just was a saintly, man who did hold Jews to a higher standard...
I missed the point of *your* noting that Simon the Just held Jews to a higher standard. I focused on his injunction. Noting that though, I don't see how it helps your claim.
Assuming it's so, it seems a fairly specialized bit of knowledge that Wieseltier makes no specific reference to--ie not readily apparent to his readers, I don't think. So, again, I see nothing in his text that calls for a higher standard of conduct for Jews.
If there is, where is it, and what does it call for, not expected of others?
Monday, March 22, 2010
Some thoughts on the meaning of the passage of yesterday’s health-care bill.
1. It is without question a landmark bill, among the most far-reaching pieces of social legislation in our history. For President Obama to be able to have resurrected it in the midst of enormous public opposition and deep concerns among Democrats, especially in the aftermath of the Massachusetts Senate race in late January, is politically quite impressive. When he was being told to pare down his plan, Obama instead doubled down and, in terms of winning passage of his signature domestic initiative, he won. As a result, the media coverage will be overwhelmingly favorable to Obama and Democrats. Among the political class, he instantaneously goes from being seen as a weak president to being seen as a strong president, from inept to imposing. Barack Obama has certainly left his stamp on history.
2. This legislative victory, though, comes at quite a high cost. Among other things, the health-care debate has utterly shattered the impression of Obama as a post-partisan, fresh, unifying, and attractive political figure. All his talk about “turning the page” in American politics was cynical nonsense. The deals that were cut to pass this legislation were tainted and ugly. The deceptive and misleading arguments used by proponents of health-care reform was extraordinary. And the level of disgust that this whole effort has created among Americans may be unprecedented in our lifetime. The means used to pass ObamaCare will, for many Americans, become shorthand for political corruption. That impression will not soon fade away.
3. The operating assumption for Democrats is that people will forget the ugly process once they come to understand the wonders of the legislation. Republicans argue the opposite; what until now have been merely theoretical concerns about ObamaCare are about to become real-world and deeply personal ones. And opposition to the plan, which has grown since the summer, will get more, not less, intense, as they feel the harmful effects of what Obama and the Democratic party have done (in taxes, premiums, rationing, the quality of care, doctor shortages, government spending, and more).
4. The substance of this legislation will determine whether what happened yesterday is historic and laudatory -- or historic and calamitous. Those of us who are conservative are in the latter camp. Time will tell who is right and who is wrong. But we do know this: the nationalization of American health care has set up a debate about first principles unlike any we have seen since 1980. The political swords are drawn; the fight will be intense and protracted, and it will offer the country two fundamentally different views of the relationship between the individual and the state.
The Democratic party is now, more than ever, the party of big government, at a time when trust in government is near historic lows. Democrats engineered a federal takeover of the American health-care system at a moment when confidence in Washington is virtually nonexistent. And at a time when the deficit and debt are white-hot concerns with the public, the Democrats -- with the stroke of Barack Obama's pen -- will claim ownership for the fiscal wreckage that awaits us.
5. Some of us have been arguing that passage of ObamaCare would do even more damage to the Democratic party than its failure. This view is predicated on the belief that when you take extremely unpopular legislation, pass it through means that are widely seen as corrupt, and make the health-care system worse rather than better, you will pay a high political price. Democrats already have, simply during the debate about health-care reform. But ObamaCare has now landed. It is what the Obama presidency and the Democratic party now stand for. And I suspect what they have experienced so far, in races in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, will seem like glory days compared to what will happen to them on the first Tuesday of November, and beyond.
Me by email to Wehner:
A fair and balanced and gracious assessment from a fixed philosophical perspective: but I see the matter differently. Passing this legislation is a hinge for a positive turnabout in Democratic fortunes I'd think. The Democrats now look like the party of "yes" that has done something of great significance, that fought for something it stood for and won. The opposing party looks small and nay saying and truculent in defeat. The Tea Party's curfew seems up and its party balloon deflated. I wouldn't be so quick to write off the Democrats in the mid terms. As I see it, passage of the reform package is an electoral game changer.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
real sharing of Jerusalem;
no right of return for the Palestinians;
a return to the 1967 borders, with mutual adjustments to allow for big Israeli settlement blocks;
and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Every negotiation for the past four decades has converged toward those parameters.
Sounds goood to me.
The Israeli Prime Minister says his nation's security is his top priority. Too bad he's undermining it.
By Fareed Zakaria NEWSWEEK
Published Mar 19, 2010
In international relations, whenever you hear the term "confidence-building measures," you can be sure that someone is trying to kick a can down the road. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu has now promised to offer such measures to the Palestinians. He has also urged that everyone "calm down" about the diplomatic row between his government and the United States.
But this crisis hasn't been caused by just one event—the announcement, while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, to approve new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem. It caps a year of increasingly strained relations between Washington and Tel Aviv. And while he's apologized for the ill-timed announcement, Netanyahu remains unyielding. In fact, the Israeli press has reported plans to build not merely the 1,600 units announced last week, but 50,000. "We will act according to the vital interests of the state of Israel," Netanyahu said last week.
What are those vital interests? If you have listened to Bibi Netanyahu over the past few years, it's clear what tops the list—Iran. In fact, the prime minister has described the Iranian threat as an existential one for Israel, and a grave one for the world. He sees combating it as the central challenge of our times. "We are faced with security challenges that no other country faces, and our need to provide a response to these is critical, and we are answering the call," Netanyahu told his Likud faction in May 2009. "These are not regular times. The danger is hurtling toward us. My job is first and foremost to ensure the future of the state of Israel."
But after watching Netanyahu's government over the past year, I have concluded that he is actually not serious about the Iranian threat. If tackling the rise of Iran were his paramount concern, would he have allowed a collapse in relations with the United States, the country whose military, political, and economic help is indispensable in confronting this challenge?
If taking on Iran were his central preoccupation, wouldn't he have subordinated petty domestic considerations and done everything to bolster ties with the United States? Bibi likes to think of himself as Winston Churchill, warning the world of a gathering storm. But he should bear in mind that Churchill's single obsession during the late 1930s was to strengthen his alliance with the United States, whatever the costs, concessions, and compromises he had to make.
In a smart piece of analysis in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, Anshel Pfeffer, no fan of the Obama administration, writes, "When senior ministers or generals list Israel's defense priorities, there is always one point on which there exists total consensus: The alliance with the United States as the nation's greatest strategic asset, way above anything else. It is more crucial than the professionalism of the Israel Defense Forces, than the peace treaty with Egypt and even than the secret doomsday weapons that we may or may not have squirreled away somewhere…But [Netanyahu] has succeeded in one short year in power to plunge Israel's essential relationship with the United States to unheard of depths."
Iran's rise has also placed Israel in the unusual position of being on the same strategic side as the major Arab states, as well as the United States. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan are all deeply worried about the hegemonic ambitions of Iran, particularly if it obtains nuclear weapons. A core Israeli objective should be to strengthen this tacit alliance. What the moderate Arab states ask for, again and again, publicly and privately, is that Israel make some progress—even if only for appearances' sake—on the peace process. The single biggest challenge for these countries is that Iran has appropriated the Palestinian cause, which makes it difficult for, say, the Egyptian government to take a public stand that is hostile to Tehran. Lowering the temperature on this issue would benefit the Arab states, strengthen their will to stand up against Iran, and contribute directly to Israeli security.
But Israel right now appears to be largely unconcerned about the dangers that gather, or at least unwilling to make any real concessions to deal with them. And on first glance, it's easy to be sanguine. The construction of the security barrier between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank has largely solved the day-to-day problem of terrorism for Israel. (I was one of the first American commentators to write in support of Ariel Sharon's decision to build the wall because it would put to an end the Palestinian fantasy that they could achieve anything meaningful through terrorism.) Israel's war with Lebanon and its devastating attack on Gaza have crippled the military arms of its two adversaries, Hizbullah and Hamas.
Israel's economy is booming. Economic reforms, many of them championed by Netanyahu when he was finance minister between 2003 and 2005, have accelerated an entrepreneurial revolution in the country. Wise monetary policy—Israel's central banker is the former MIT economist Stanley Fischer—has stabilized the country's broader economy. The result has been dramatic. Israel was growing in the 5 percent range before the global economic crisis and it shrank only slightly in 2009, even when almost all the world's economies plummeted. Israel has become a rich country, with a median income around $37,000 (adjusted for purchasing power), which is higher than Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, and some U.S. states, and just below the United Kingdom and Switzerland. As Dan Senor and Saul Singer point out in their book, Start-Up Nation, Israel has more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country other than the United States—more than China or India or Britain.
This is great news and proof of the capacity, talent, and drive of Israelis. But it is also lulling the country into a false sense of complacency. Israel continues to live in a terrible strategic environment, with radical groups eager to combat it, most of its neighbors unwilling even to recognize its existence, and a broader world that is increasingly dismayed by or hostile toward it.
Many of these problems and attitudes stem from a deep-seated rejection of Israel. But much has changed in that regard. The Arab states have had to accept that their goal of defeating Israel has crumbled. Over the past decade, in various public forums, Arab statesmen led by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have declared that they would be willing to normalize relations with Israel if the Palestinian problem were resolved.
The Palestinians in the West Bank have extremely good leadership, with President Mahmoud Abbas committed to a peaceful path to a two-state solution and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad committed to a competent, clean, and effective Palestinian government that focuses on economic growth, not violence. Yes, there are problems—Hamas being the central one—but compared with any previous point in their history, the Palestinians are being led wisely.
Meanwhile, the central problem persists: Israel rules more than 3 million Palestinians who will never become citizens of Israel and yet do not have their own state. As they multiply, Israel's status as a democracy becomes more and more complex; the country looks more and more like an island of rich Israelis set in a sea of Palestinian serfs. If gradually the two-state solution becomes impossible to implement—because of Israeli settlements, Palestinian rejectionism, whatever—Israel's own Arab population will threaten the state's Jewish character, and be even further radicalized. Israel will be left with only the institutions of government, having undermined both its democracy and its Jewish character.
The traditional threats also persist. Hizbullah's rockets will gain range and power; explosives and chemicals will become easier to deploy; terrorists will eventually be able to breach high walls and strong air defenses. Israel has adopted a purely military response to these security threats but throughout history, the most durable security has come from political arrangements that reduce or eliminate external threats.
Bibi Netanyahu makes bold speeches about protecting Israel but when it comes time to act, he has cobbled together a coalition of extreme parties, made concessions to them on crucial issues, given them free rein to undermine Israel's broader security, and pandered to his public's most populist instincts—all to ensure than he can sit in the prime minister's chair. Little that Netanyahu has done suggests he has prioritized the Iranian threat—or these deeper, long-term threats—and made difficult decisions to address them. Forget Winston Churchill, Bibi Netanyahu looks more like a local ward boss, concerned only with keeping himself in power while the dangers to Israel mount from all sides.
Here is one of the typical holes in Zakarias's argument:
".... If gradually the two-state solution becomes impossible to implement—because of Israeli settlements, Palestinian rejectionism, whatever—Israel's own Arab population will threaten the state's Jewish character, and be even further radicalized. Israel will be left with only the institutions of government, having undermined both its democracy and its Jewish character..."
"...Hizbullah's rockets will gain range and power; explosives and chemicals will become easier to deploy; terrorists will eventually be able to breach high walls and strong air defenses. Israel has adopted a purely military response to these security threats but throughout history, the most durable security has come from political arrangements that reduce or eliminate external threats...."
Note the "Palestinian rejectionism, whatever..."; and note the contradiction between saying how dangers to Israel's security will grow and pinning hopes on conducive-to-peace political arrangements. Where has there ever been reciprocal gestures from the Palestinians when to this day Abbas will not forgo the right of return nor recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
Zakaria is all too ready to make airy imprecise pronouncements which in reality prove hollow. The better, feet-on-the-ground approach, in a nutshell, comes from Yossi Halevi Klein who said:
…To achieve eventual peace, the international community needs to pressure Palestinian leaders to forgo their claim to Haifa and Jaffa and confine their people's right of return to a future Palestinian state—just as the Jews will need to forgo their claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and confine their people's right of return to the state of Israel. That is the only possible deal: conceding my right of return to Greater Israel in exchange for your right of return to Greater Palestine. A majority of Israelis—along with the political system—has accepted that principle. On the Palestinian side, the political system has rejected it.
In the absence of Palestinian willingness to compromise on the right of return, negotiations should not focus on a two-state solution but on more limited goals.
There have been positive signs of change on the Palestinian side in the last few years. The rise of Hamas has created panic within Fatah, and the result is, for the first time, genuine security cooperation with Israel. Also, the emergence of Salam Fayyad as Palestinian prime minister marks a shift from ideological to pragmatic leadership (though Fayyad still lacks a power base). Finally, the West Bank economy is growing, thanks in part to Israel's removal of dozens of roadblocks. The goal of negotiations at this point in the conflict should be to encourage those trends…
Zakaria is big on empty talk.
2. liberal reformer:
You have got to be kidding, Mr. Peretz: Podhoretz fils is "producing a fine and fresh Commentary?" More like a stale and mediocre Commentary. I read Commentary back in the glory days of the 1970's and 80's and I can assure the readers of TNR that there is nothing fine and fresh about that magazine these days. John Podhoretz is a poster child for the lectures I like to give on regression to the mean and on nepotism. Virtually all of the neoconservative progeny are inferior products compared to the Irving Kristols, the Midge Decters, the Norman Podhoretzs, et al. What Mark Lilla has written about the now-defunct Public Interest, that it was a bang-up publication at the outset but all too soon became a home to the likes of the supply-side ideologues goes double for Commentary under J. Podhoretz. Yes, they are more realistic on the Mideast than many commentators are and this must be the only reason that you heap accolades on this tired periodical. About the only thing worth reading in Commentary, besides some of the coverage of the Middle East, is the excellent Terry Teachout and occasionally, a book review or two. The New Republic is a far superior magazine to Commentary but thirty years ago it was a much closer call
libref: agree and disagree with you.
On the agree side: It says something that Peretz can be so benign about Jennifer Rubin being "over the top”. That phrase is euphemistic and rationalizing--as in "There goes Jennifer just being Jennifer. What are you going to do?"--of a multitude of intellectual sins.
She's smart and writes well and is unrelenting. I'll grant her that. But on the blurry line between polemics and propaganda she has both feet clearly planted on the propaganda side. "Over the top" is insufficient to characterize her egregious, unrelenting and, finally, rabid hatred of Obama and the Democratic--read Liberal--agenda. She cuts him not an ounce of slack and she is patently unfair in laying all criticism at his feet in the most supercilious, one sided and circular manner imaginable. Reading her, you'd think he is the worst president in the history of your republic and has not done a single good thing.
Blogging is in part the art of translating the idiosyncratic into the interesting and persuasive. For me, it's, at its heart, a polemical art. But that it is that does not of course justify intellectual disreputability, which in Jennifer Rubin is manifest, and in which Peretz unwittingly steeps himself by equating her being over the top to that in himself.
In fact, he's not as bad as her but it’s revealing of an ocean of self unknowing and poor judgment that he does not see what a terrible equation it is for him.
What he should answer for himself is, given that he favors the passage of health care reform and given his criticism of ideologically demented Republican resistance to it, how can he cite her quality and strength as a blogger when she is, on the question of health care reform, the poster woman of such ideological extremism. That extremism is not to be dismissed as "over the top"; it's to be seen as viral, virulent, bad faith, anti intellectual disreputability.
Here's a kind of irony: Wieseltier's well taken, recent and highly controversial criticism here of Andrew Sullivan applies to Peretz as well. The hinge of Wieseltier’s criticism as I read him was not anti Semitism but, rather, intellectual disreputability.
Disagree: I subscribe to Commentary having done so from the late sixties, when it was beginning to leave its liberalism behind, to date. I was about to give up its ghost before John Podhoretz gussied it up. Before that, save for occasionally good articles, it was like wading through the repetitive sludge each time I read it.
But its new iteration, though I find the content predictable, it’s spritely and varied with newer, younger, better writers, expert in their areas, though they write out of a fixed perspective.
don't know really how to engage with you on the new Commentary save for trading subjectivities. But I'd be happy, if you’re interested, to take, say, the March issue and tell you why I think it’s pretty good.
I'd say generally though as against Jennifer Rubin's blogging propaganda, it's by and large on the polemical side of that line (even though she contributes articles to it as well. Nothing, after all, is perfect or close to it.)
Friday, March 19, 2010
March 18, 2010 5:00 P.M.
The Biden Incident
Obama’s response to a gaffe during the VP’s visit has revealed how one-sided his Middle East policy is.
Why did Pres. Barack Obama choose to turn a gaffe into a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations?
And a gaffe it was: the announcement by a bureaucrat in the Interior Ministry of a housing expansion in a Jewish neighborhood in north Jerusalem. The timing could not have been worse: Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, Jerusalem is a touchy subject, and you don’t bring up touchy subjects that might embarrass an honored guest.
But it was no more than a gaffe. It was certainly not a policy change, let alone a betrayal. The neighborhood is in Jerusalem, and the 2009 Netanyahu-Obama agreement was for a ten-month freeze on West Bank settlements excluding Jerusalem. Nor was the offense intentional. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not know about this move — step four in a seven-step approval process for construction that, at best, will not even start for another two to three years.
Nonetheless the prime minister is responsible. He apologized to Biden for the embarrassment. When Biden left Israel on March 11, the apology appeared accepted and the issue resolved.
The next day, however, the administration went nuclear. After discussing with the president specific language she would use, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Netanyahu to deliver a hostile and highly aggressive 45-minute message that the Biden incident had created an unprecedented crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. Clinton’s spokesman then publicly announced that Israel was now required to show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace.
Israelis have been looking for peace — literally dying for peace — since 1947, when they accepted the U.N. partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. (The Arabs refused and declared war. They lost.)
Israel made peace offers in 1967, in 1978, and in the 1993 Oslo peace accords that Yasser Arafat tore up seven years later to launch a terror war that killed a thousand Israelis. Why, Clinton’s own husband testifies to the remarkable courage and vision of the peace offer made in his presence by Ehud Barak (now Netanyahu’s defense minister) at the 2000 Camp David talks. Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered equally generous terms to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel. They insist instead on a “peace process” — now in its 17th post-Oslo year and still offering no credible Palestinian pledge of ultimate coexistence with a Jewish state — the point of which is to extract preemptive Israeli concessions — such as a ban on Jewish construction in parts of Jerusalem conquered by Jordan in 1948 — before negotiations for a real peace have even begun.
Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its GDP is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called “unprecedented.”
What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one.Indeed, long before the Biden incident, Abbas refused even to resume direct negotiations with Israel.
That’s why the Obama administration has to resort to “proximity talks” — a procedure that sets us back 35 years to before Anwar Sadat’s groundbreaking visit to Jerusalem. And Clinton demands that Israel show its seriousness about peace?Now that’s an insult. So why this astonishing one-sidedness? Because Obama likes appeasing enemies while beating up on allies — therefore Israel shouldn’t take it personally (according to Robert Kagan)?
Because Obama wants to bring down the current Israeli coalition government (according to Jeffrey Goldberg)?
Or is it because Obama fancies himself the historic redeemer whose irresistible charisma will heal the breach between Christianity and Islam or, if you will, between the post-imperial West and the Muslim world — and has little patience for this pesky Jewish state that insists brazenly on its right to exist, and even more brazenly on permitting Jews to live in its own ancient, historic, and now present capital?
Who knows? Perhaps we should ask those Obama acolytes who assured the 63 percent of Americans who support Israel — at least 97 percent of those supporters, mind you, are non-Jews — of candidate Obama’s abiding commitment to Israel.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Liz Cheney: Guilty ’til proven innocent.
March 17, 2010 1:48 pm
Earlier this month,the conservative organization Keep America Safe launched a p.r. fusillade against Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys who represented Guantánamo detainees. “The crux of the matter,” says Liz Cheney, chair of the organization, “is the American people have a right to know whether lawyers who used to represent and advocate on behalf of terrorists” are working at DOJ. They just want to know who the terrorist lawyers are. An innocent question, to be sure.
Bill Kristol, a board member for Keep America Safe, chimes in that another question is “whether former pro bono lawyers for terrorists should be working on detainee policy for the Justice Department.” Perhaps the terrorist lawyers should have more harmless roles--say, advocating for low-income tenants over at HUD.
The important claim here is not the stated argument that terrorist lawyers should be publicly revealed, or that they shouldn’t be working for the DOJ. It’s the assumption that they are representing terrorists. The assumption permeates conservative rhetoric on issues of torture and detainee rights. Consider some brief passages from a recent column by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen:
...Unless they have been charged before military commissions or civilian courts, the al-Qaeda terrorists held at Guantánamo do not have a right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. They are not accused criminals. They are enemy combatants held in a war authorized by Congress. ... Yet thanks to the habeas campaign, al-Qaeda terrorists who violate the laws of war now enjoy all these privileges. ... [The DOJ lawyers] have reached outside the judicial system and dragged the terrorists in. ... The same is true if they choose to devote their time to freeing America’s terrorist enemies from lawful confinement under the laws of war [emphasis added]...
Thiessen makes explicit the position that the rhetoric about “terrorist lawyers” is meant to imply--namely, that terrorists should not have lawyers at all. The conclusion flows naturally when you begin by defining the defendants as “terrorists.” The truth, though, is that a good number of these “terrorists” are not terrorists at all. One CIA intelligence analyst well-versed in Islamic extremism who interviewed detainees at Guantánamo determined that one-third had no connection to terrorism at all. A subsequent study by Seton Hall University Law School found that over half of the detainees were not determined to have committed any hostile act against the United States, and only 8 percent were characterized as Al Qaeda fighters.
The vast majority of the detainees were turned in not by U.S. forces but by Pakistani or Afghan locals, many of whom received financial bounties. And some of the detainees were hardly caught red-handed on the battlefield. The process for screening detainees was “horrible,” a former Pentagon official told McClatchy newspapers. “‘Captured with weapon near the Pakistan border?’ Are you kidding me?” This, of course, is why lawyers were needed in the first place.
The strongest conservative argument against providing legal counsel to military detainees relies upon precedent. “In the 234 years since [John] Adams and his compatriots fought for our independence,” writes Thiessen, “the United States has held millions of enemy combatants--and not one had ever filed a successful habeas corpus petition until the habeas campaign on behalf of Guantánamo detainees began.”
Maybe the U.S. government has never previously granted such due process to captured enemy combatants. This is because, as Republicans point out ad nauseam in other contexts, this war is unlike previous wars. The enemy wears no uniform, obeys no international conventions of warfare, and so on. We didn’t need to provide habeas corpus rights during World War II because, when we captured a man in a German army uniform, we could be pretty confident that he was actually a German soldier, not some hapless goatherd sold into our custody by a jealous village rival.
The reality that numerous detainees were not a threat to the United States is one of those inconvenient facts that the conservative movement has sealed out of its information loop. You could spend days reading right-wing commentary without coming across any suggestion that the clients of these lawyers were anything but “terrorists.” In fact, this attitude simply carried over from the Bush administration itself. In her book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer recounts how Bush administration officials came across disturbing evidence that the Guantánamo prison held perhaps 200 innocent people. But, when they brought the information to the West Wing, David Addington, Dick Cheney’s legal counsel, said, “No, there will be no review. The President has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it!”
From this premise, it’s not such a leap to conclude that the lawyers representing the detainees must actually sympathize with terrorists. The charge that the Department of Justice employs actual Al Qaeda sympathizers has received a wide hearing in respectable forums. Wall Street Journal editorial writer Dorothy Rabinowitz repeatedly insinuated as much (“Can you really say that this was done without political sympathy?”) during a recent televised discussion. National Review’s Andy McCarthy avers that “many of the attorneys who volunteered their services to al Qaeda were, in fact, pro-Qaeda or, at the very least, pro-Islamist.”
The proprietors of these charges see themselves as victims of a double standard. “You can say or do anything when it comes to the Bush lawyers who defended America against the terrorists,” complains Thiessen, “but if you publish an Internet ad or ask legitimate questions about Obama administration lawyers who defended America’s terrorist enemies, you are engaged in a McCarthyite witch hunt.”
Imagine! The liberals will call you a McCarthyite merely because you’re accusing an opposing presidential administration of harboring conscious supporters of a totalitarian movement aimed at destroying America, and you conflate support for basic civil rights with opposition to the defense of democracy, and among your chief spokesmen is an unhinged paranoid named “McCarthy.” Have these liberal accusers no decency? At long last, have they no decency?..
me (in agreement):
I think this is a very good article.
It lays bare the hole in the conservative position on the issue--that calling detainees enemy combatants by administrative fiat begs the question of their status. Rights minded lawyers righteously pitched in to provide legal assistance to those whose status was so circularly determined. When I saw the Cheney add I took it as unsubtly saying that to represent a "terrorist" is to have your client's paint on you from the terrorist brush. The conservative lawyers and others who protested the add were exactly correct to attack that smear. It's despicable.
And Andrew McCarthy arguing for the righteousness of the smear more subtly perpetuated it by attaching these lawyers and the left (where he locates Obama) to jihad as follows:
...Jihadists believe it is proper to massacre innocent people in order to compel the installation of sharia as a pathway to Islamicizing society. No one for a moment believes, or has suggested, that al-Qaeda’s American lawyers share that view. But jihadist terrorists, and Islamist ideology in general, also hold that the United States is the root of all evil in the world, that it is the beating heart of capitalist exploitation of society’s have-nots, and that it needs fundamental, transformative change...
...This, as I argue in a book to be published this spring, is why Islam and the Left collaborate so seamlessly. They don’t agree on all the ends and means. In fact, Islamists don’t agree among themselves about means. But before they can impose their utopias, Islamists and the Left have a common enemy they need to take down: the American constitutional tradition of a society based on individual liberty, in which government is our servant, not our master. It is perfectly obvious that many progressive lawyers are drawn to the jihadist cause because of common views about the need to condemn American policies and radically alter the United States....
The assimilation of those on the left , and, even more attenuated, lawyers offering detainees legal services, to some of the beliefs of Jihadists is as specious as it is scurrilous, as is the assertion of some common cause between them both. The left by and large does not think America is the root of all evil; nor does it seek to overturn American ideals and creedal beliefs.
There is a different issue when it comes to wanting to know where a Justice policy making lawyer stands philosophically with respect to the policy he or she is helping to make. It may be that positions such lawyers took in litigation and in particular circumstances may cast some light on their point of view. And from that perspective, the bright line between a disinterested lawyer and his or her client may not be so clear. So I think that public information about who department lawyers are and the circumstances of their litigational or other legal efforts will, being public, perforce be available, and may be relevant.
But relevant to what?
Not being an American I don't know whether there is non executive oversight as to who the Attorney General staffs himself with. I can't imagine there is. Assuming there isn't, the only relevance I can see of such public information is to the political argument next election time round over the legal regime the administration has brought in as a piece of its whole administrative cloth.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Was Obama's confrontation with Israel premeditated?
Yossi Klein Halevi
March 16, 2010 7:13 pm
JERUSALEM—Suddenly, my city feels again like a war zone. Since the suicide bombings ended in 2005, life in Jerusalem has been for the most part relatively calm. The worst disruptions have been the traffic jams resulting from construction of a light rail, just like in a normal city. But now, again, there are clusters of helmeted border police near the gates of the Old City, black smoke from burning tires in the Arab village across from my porch, young men marching with green Islamist flags toward my neighborhood, ambulances parked at strategic places ready for this city's ultimate nightmare.
The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. Such announcements and building projects have become so routine over the years that Palestinians have scarcely responded, let alone violently. In negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, the permanence of Ramat Shlomo, and other Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, has been a given.
Ramat Shlomo, located between the Jewish neighborhoods of French Hill and Ramot, will remain within the boundaries of Israeli Jerusalem according to every peace plan. Unlike the small Jewish enclaves inserted into Arab neighborhoods, on which Israelis are strongly divided, building in the established Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem defines the national consensus.
Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas's "day of rage" over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority's call to gather on the Temple Mount to "save" the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City's Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident?
The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.
Astonishingly, Obama is repeating the key tactical mistake of his failed efforts to restart Middle East peace talks over the last year. Though Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze to help restart negotiations was legitimate, he went a step too far by including building in East Jerusalem. Every Israeli government over the last four decades has built in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; no government, let alone one headed by the Likud, could possibly agree to a freeze there. Obama made resumption of negotiations hostage to a demand that could not be met. The result was that Palestinian leaders were forced to adjust their demands accordingly.
Obama is directly responsible for one of the most absurd turns in the history of Middle East negotiations. Though Palestinian leaders negotiated with Israeli governments that built extensively in the West Bank, they now refused to sit down with the first Israeli government to actually agree to a suspension of building. Obama's demand for a building freeze in Jerusalem led to a freeze in negotiations.
Finally, after intensive efforts, the administration produced the pathetic achievement of "proximity talks"—setting Palestinian-Israeli negotiations back a generation, to the time when Palestinian leaders refused to sit at the same table with Israelis.
That Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur. But he has now taken his failed policy and intensified it. By demanding that Israel stop building in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere in East Jerusalem—and placing that demand at the center of American-Israeli relations—he's ensured that the Palestinians won't show up even to proximity talks. This is no longer amateurishness; it is pique disguised as policy.
Initially, when the announcement about building in Ramat Shlomo was made, Israelis shared Vice President Biden's humiliation and were outraged at their government's incompetence. The widespread sense here was that Netanyahu deserved the administration's condemnation, not because of what he did but because of what he didn't do: He failed to convey to all parts of his government the need for caution during Biden's visit, symptomatic of his chaotic style of governing generally.
But not even the opposition accused Netanyahu of a deliberate provocation. These are not the days of Yitzhak Shamir, the former Israeli prime minister who used to greet a visit from Secretary of State James Baker with an announcement of the creation of another West Bank settlement. Netanyahu has placed the need for strategic cooperation with the U.S. on the Iranian threat ahead of the right-wing political agenda. That's why he included the Labor Party into his coalition, and why he accepted a two-state solution—an historic achievement that set the Likud, however reluctantly, within the mainstream consensus supporting Palestinian statehood. The last thing Netanyahu wanted was to embarrass Biden during his goodwill visit and trigger a clash with Obama over an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Nor is it likely that there was a deliberate provocation from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which runs the interior ministry that oversees building procedures. Shas, which supports peace talks and territorial compromise, is not a nationalist party. Its interest is providing housing for its constituents, like the future residents of Ramat Shlomo; provoking international incidents is not its style.Finally, the very ordinariness of the building procedure—the fact that construction in Jewish East Jerusalem is considered by Israelis routine—is perhaps the best proof that there was no intentional ambush of Biden. Apparently no one in the interior ministry could imagine that a long-term plan over Ramat Shlomo would sabotage a state visit.
In turning an incident into a crisis, Obama has convinced many Israelis that he was merely seeking a pretext to pick a fight with Israel. Netanyahu was inadvertently shabby; Obama, deliberately so. According to a banner headline in the newspaper Ma'ariv, senior Likud officials believe that Obama's goal is to topple the Netanyahu government, by encouraging those in the Labor Party who want to quit the coalition.
The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis' initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. (Another 17 percent blame Shas leader Eli Yishai.)
In the last year, the administration has not once publicly condemned the Palestinians for lack of good faith—even though the Palestinian Authority media has, for example, been waging a months-long campaign denying the Jews' historic roots in Jerusalem. Just after Biden left Ramallah, Palestinian officials held a ceremony naming a square in the city after a terrorist responsible for the massacre of 38 Israeli civilians. (To its credit, yesterday, the administration did condemn the Palestinian Authority for inciting violence in Jerusalem.)
Obama's one-sided public pressure against Israel could intensify the atmosphere of "open season" against Israel internationally. Indeed, the European Union has reaffirmed it is linking improved economic relations with Israel to the resumption of the peace process—as if it's Israel rather than the Palestinians that has refused to come to the table.
If the administration's main tactical error in Middle East negotiating was emphasizing building in Jerusalem, its main strategic error was assuming that a two-state solution was within easy reach. Shortly after Obama took office, Rahm Emanuel was quoted in the Israeli press insisting that a Palestinian state would be created within Obama's first term. Instead, a year later, we are in the era of suspended proximity talks. Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks--as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.
To insist on the imminent possibility of a two-state solution requires amnesia. Biden's plea to Israelis to consider a withdrawal to an approximation of the 1967 borders in exchange for peace ignored the fact that Israel made that offer twice in the last decade: first, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak accepted the Clinton Proposals of December 2000, and then more recently when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert renewed the offer to Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, says Olmert, never replied.
The reason for Palestinian rejection of a two-state solution is because a deal would require Palestinians to confine the return of the descendants of the 1948 refugees to Palestine rather than to Israel. That would prevent a two-state solution from devolving into a bi-national, one-state solution. Israel's insistence on survival remains the obstacle to peace.
To achieve eventual peace, the international community needs to pressure Palestinian leaders to forgo their claim to Haifa and Jaffa and confine their people's right of return to a future Palestinian state—just as the Jews will need to forgo their claim to Hebron and Bethlehem and confine their people's right of return to the state of Israel. That is the only possible deal: conceding my right of return to Greater Israel in exchange for your right of return to Greater Palestine. A majority of Israelis—along with the political system—has accepted that principle. On the Palestinian side, the political system has rejected it.
In the absence of Palestinian willingness to compromise on the right of return, negotiations should not focus on a two-state solution but on more limited goals.
There have been positive signs of change on the Palestinian side in the last few years. The rise of Hamas has created panic within Fatah, and the result is, for the first time, genuine security cooperation with Israel. Also, the emergence of Salam Fayyad as Palestinian prime minister marks a shift from ideological to pragmatic leadership (though Fayyad still lacks a power base). Finally, the West Bank economy is growing, thanks in part to Israel's removal of dozens of roadblocks. The goal of negotiations at this point in the conflict should be to encourage those trends.
But by focusing on building in Jerusalem, Obama has undermined that possibility too. To the fictitious notion of a peace process, Obama has now added the fiction of an intransigent Israel blocking the peace process.
The administration, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Yedito Aharonot, is making an even more insidious accusation against Israel. During his visit, wrote Yediot Aharanot, Biden told Israeli leaders that their policies are endangering American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report has been denied in the White House. Whether or not the remark was made, what is clear today in Jerusalem is that Obama's recklessness is endangering Israeli--and Palestinian--lives. As I listen to police sirens outside my window, Obama's political intifada against Netanyahu seems to be turning into a third intifada over Jerusalem.