Discussing Israel

by Henry on November 7, 2004

One of the things that I find most depressing about discussions on Crooked Timber and elsewhere is that it seems to be absolutely impossible to have a civil argument about Israel and the Palestinians. I’m now very reluctant to post on Israeli or Palestinian politics, as, I suspect, are my co-bloggers (and very probably bloggers elsewhere). For some reason, it seems to be difficult for supporters and critics of Israel’s policy to argue reasonably with each other – or at the least, the unreasonable voices very quickly swamp the reasonable ones. Why? And why do arguments on this issue become so much more heated more quickly than on other issues, given there is at least some potential for agreement (barring the crazies on both sides, most people seem to be prepared to accept some kind of two state solution)?

NB – lest this post become an example of what it’s seeking to criticize, I’m going to be especially ruthless in deleting comments that I think are unhelpful or that lay the blame all on one side in an overheated way.

Update: to be clear about my deletion policy for this post – if all you have to say is that (a) the treatment of Palestinians is part and parcel of the plot to oppress brown-skinned peoples everywhere, or (b) that Palestinians are inherently untrustworthy and all bent on destroying Israel, or anything even vaguely along these lines then please take your comments as already stipulated – whatever their intrinsic merits, they’re part of the dialogue of the deaf that I’m complaining about, and will be deleted.

{ 95 comments }

1

Adam Kotsko 11.07.04 at 7:35 pm

The phenomenon that you describe is likely partly due to the fact that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is tied up with world-historical and moral issues — the Holocaust, the US role in WWII and the Cold War, the religious element of the Israeli state, the legacy of colonialism, etc. — in a way that the Turkish/Kurdish conflict, for example, is not. Thus, support for one side or the other of the I/P conflict can never be the result of an objective weighing of the claims and faults of either side — it’s already too closely tied to “worldview” type issues.

2

Matthew Yglesias 11.07.04 at 7:44 pm

I would also say that the dispute involves an awful lot of accusations of bad faith directed against most of the major actors involved. The ostensible positions of the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli government, the USA, and the European Union are all very close. All envision a two-state solution, some kind of fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some kind of substitution of money for the right of return. The differences of opinion regard mostly minor details of the final settlement and a lot of disagreement about who needs to move first on which issue.

At the end of the day, whether Israel ought to start removing far-flung settlements first or whether the Palestinians ought to start disarming militia/terrorist groups first is not really the grandest clash of principles one can imagine. But people on the pro-Israel side think the Palestinians are lying about their ostensible position and really seek the destruction of Israel. People on the anti-Israel side think the Israelis are lying about their ostenisble position and really seek the destuction of Palestine. Both sides can marshall some non-trivial evidence for their point of view.

But it’s impossible to have a reasoned debate if you’re not willing to accept that the people on the other side really mean what they say they mean. The rules of the “civil discussion” game simply require that you take your opponent to be arguing in good faith and not acting as a screen for some other nefarious agenda.

3

dsquared 11.07.04 at 7:46 pm

Same reason why a lot of strange things happen in online discussions; the internet is a favourable environment for hacks. While the vast majority on both sides are in favour of a sensible negotiated settlement, some of the people who aren’t have spent a lot of money on ensuring that the common English phrase “pro-Israel” has acquired the connotation “pro-the least rational, most conservative and most insane political forces in Israel”, while the opposing side has repeatedly risen to the bait and adopted equally silly counterbalancing positions.

4

Cranky Observer 11.07.04 at 7:48 pm

20 years ago I had great sympathy for, and supported, Israel (Jewish Israel that is).

Today I no longer support Israel, and in fact think they are in the wrong on most of the key issues (settlements, Gaza, etc).

However, most who argue the Palestinian side simply ignore that the the ultimate goal of the Palestinians and most of their supporters is to utterly destroy (Jewish) Israel and kill or drive away all its citizens. This goal has been stated outright in so many words, as well as strongly hinted anywhere one cares to look, yet the discussion proceeds as if these things had never been said.

So I am left with one side I think is wrong and its opponent which if it can will commit ethnic cleansing. What should I do and/or whom should I support?

Also, the whole thing about being angry over something that was done to one’s ancestors 1000 years ago makes any reasonable solution to any issue just about impossible. As an American of Irish descent, my ancestors not having left Ireland of their own accord, should I still be angry at/fighting the English? I am not and don’t, but residents of the Middle East don’t seem to think that way.

Cranky

5

dsquared 11.07.04 at 7:57 pm

Irishmen of Irish descent living in Ireland certainly were angry at, and fighting the English until really very recently indeed.

(More generally, Cranky makes a lot of sense; one of the many things which made Northern Ireland so intractable was that nobody really engaged with the not necessarily well-grounded but certainly sincere fear of the Protestant Northern Irish that they would be ethnically cleansed).

6

P O'Neill 11.07.04 at 8:01 pm

I notice Henry that you are repeating here the threat to delete comments that you also invoked in your bin Laden post a little while back. Just as a matter of interest, did you have to delete any in that case?

7

seth edenbaum 11.07.04 at 8:01 pm

As I’ve said before, Zionist arguments are predicated on the assumption that the creation of Israel was just. Such reasoning is necessary in support of the continuing policy of the right of ‘return’. The state of Israel is still being built. It needs its illusions.

Anti-zionists can not accept the moral argument. It’s obscene. The religious fundamentalist argument is reactionary garbage, and the more modern nationalist one can be responsed to by stating simply that two wrongs do not make a right. No one on this page has ever responded to my questions about German expansion into western Poland. If the they had stopped after getting their little lebensraum, there be Polish terrorists to this day. And they would be blowing up German settlers, and their grandchildren.

There’s another argument that most anti zionists would accept, even most Palestinians. And that is that the population of Israel is not going to leave, any more than my family is going to leave the North American continent.* The new population of the middle east is here for good. Any discussion I could have that would not immediately dissolve into vitriol, on my part at least, begins there.

*After last tuesday my mother is threatening to move to western Canada.

8

Anarch 11.07.04 at 8:14 pm

If the they had stopped after getting their little lebensraum, there be Polish terrorists to this day. And they would be blowing up German settlers, and their grandchildren.

I’m not so sure about that. One of the other factors that feeds into the intransigence of the IP problem is that both sides — Israel and Palestine — are essentially fictions being willed into existence by determination and legal machinations. To be more concrete about it, neither the polity of Israel nor the polity of Palestine existed in any meaningful sense 70 years ago; as a result, any attack (physical or moral or legal) on one of the sides could be interpreted not just as saying that that side was unjust, but that it should be uncreated. You don’t really have this problem in Ireland, for example, nor would you have it in Poland or Germany.

In other words, the difference isn’t really between a larger or smaller Poland (to use your example), it’s the difference between Israel and not-Israel (and Palestine/not-Palestine), and that’s all the difference in the world.

9

Dan Hardie 11.07.04 at 8:16 pm

I also suspect that the anti-semitism problem comes into it. Before Sept. 11th 2001, I think I’d heard one or maybe two anti-semitic remarks in my life (speaking as a non-Jew who’d had a couple of Jewish girlfriends and a number of Jewish friends). I heard a bona fide anti-semitic remark on Sept 13th, (‘Rubin, eh? We know what side he’s on with a name like that’) and I’ve heard a good few since. So one reason is that at least some of those on the anti-Israel side are actual anti-semites. Some idiot recently left comments on a dsquared thread saying that whilst it wasn’t necessarily true that Israel was behind the genocide in the Sudan, it wasn’t necessarily untrue either, especially as so many people believed it. And there have been at least a couple of anti-semitic trolls on Oliver Kamm’s site. I told one such cretin, who pseudonymously called himself ‘Jabotinsky’ (nudge nudge), to rename himself ‘Gobineau’, after the originator of modern anti-semitism. The very next post he did just that, and, God help me, he still had defenders saying ‘oh, he’s not anti-semitic’.

The other side of the coin- and I’m sorry if this sounds like liberal equivocation, but there is another side of the coin- is that there is a rightwing echo chorus prepared to label any criticism of either the state of Israel, of American or other diaspora Jews, or of specific Jews in positions of authority, as ‘anti-Semitic’. These loonies mainly confine themselves to LGF and suchlike sites, but again, a good few used to show up when Oliver Kamm had comments.

You’ve got some people on one side of the debate motivated by the evil passion of anti-Semitism, and you’ve got people on the other side of the debate who, through cynicism, ignorance or emotional upset, are too eager to throw the accusation of anti-Semitism at those who don’t deserve it. End product- an appalling debate, all the more so because sensible people tend to back out of it and leave it to the loonies.

10

kevin donoghue 11.07.04 at 8:28 pm

I don’t pretend to any expertise on this but I suspect the solution to Henry’s puzzle may be to replace the statement:

“barring the crazies on both sides, most people seem to be prepared to accept some kind of two state solution”

with the statement:

“apart from a few moderates on each side, nobody is prepared to accept a two state solution (other than as a temporary truce).”

I hope I am wrong and I don’t have hard evidence for my view. But there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that even the moderates are not as moderate as you think.

11

bob mcmanus 11.07.04 at 8:31 pm

What Yglesias said.

However I have to say I found the post funny. To have a discussion specifically about why extremists talk past each other while deleting any comments that either side would find offensive should have created an empty thread.

Or you simply have the moderates engaging in ernest, reasoned and pointless mutual admiration.

12

Jason G. Williscroft 11.07.04 at 8:39 pm

I’m conducting an experiment that may offer a solution to the problem of posting on this kind of issue.

The inspiration for Unity actually came from an ongoing conversation over at another Crooked Timber post.

It’s a simple idea: Unity is a completely open-source blog. Anybody may upload posts and articles… and anybody may alter or erase them. It’s a place where you can punish deliberate falsehood or disrespect by the simple expedient of erasing it. The playing field is as level as it could possibly be.

Of course, right now it’s also a very empty playing field. :) I’d appreciate your support.

13

Keith M Ellis 11.07.04 at 8:39 pm

I grew up and formed almost all of my views outside the context of having a stake, so to speak, in this matter. Put another way, I approached this as a liberal without having had anyone previously tell me what to think. It is one of the very few benefits of ignorance.

And from that vantage point, what I see is that many of the people that have any strong interest in this matter have been, well, indoctrinated into a very biased and especially angry view. There’s almost no common ground for discussion. As someone says above, there’s the assumption by both sides of bad-faith on the part of the opposition.

I sometimes see, less these days, the same sort of thing with regard to Northern Ireland. My cultural context is completely alien to that conflict—I approached it, intellectually, only as an adult and from quite a bit of ignorance. And what I used to see a lot of, as I see often with the Palestine situation, are people that seem to be speaking completely different languages. And a lot of anger that precludes a productive discussion.

14

duus 11.07.04 at 8:40 pm

What I think is interesting is that there is some variety of opinion in Israel on these issues, too: movements against the settlements, etc. As an American, I know very well what it means for “America” to have positions of which I sincerely don’t approve; and for American patriotism to be used to mean support for politicies and positions of which I sincerely don’t approve.

Just a useful analogy, perhaps.

And, I assume the readership overlap between Crooked Timber and Informed Comment is large, but perhaps not complete, so here is a recent post of his regarding a professor at Columbia.

15

drapeto 11.07.04 at 8:43 pm

You’ve got some people on one side of the debate motivated by the evil passion of anti-Semitism, and you’ve got people on the other side of the debate who, through cynicism, ignorance or emotional upset, are too eager to throw the accusation of anti-Semitism at those who don’t deserve it.

to say this very nicely, i think a lot of people become very cynical when they notice that anti-semetism is taken seriously in the US, while the profound anti-muslim and anti-arab prejudice that exists is simply ignored by certain sorts of people. if you think the problem is anti-semetism v false accusations of anti-semetism, i’d suggest you are missing something.

16

Matt Duss 11.07.04 at 8:46 pm

However, most who argue the Palestinian side simply ignore that the the ultimate goal of the Palestinians and most of their supporters is to utterly destroy (Jewish) Israel and kill or drive away all its citizens.

Assertions such as this are part of the problem.

While it is true that a vocal Palestinian minority opposes any accomodation or negotiation with Israel (just as a vocal Israeli minority opposes negotiation with Palestinians), available survey research indicates that a significant majority of Palestinians support a two-state solution, even after four years of intifada. This inconvenient fact must be ignored if the settlements and occupation are to be continued under the guise of “security.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, Seth Edenbaum, but I think you’re referring to Generalplan Ost, Hitler’s plan for resettling ethnic Germans in Poland and the western USSR. The legacy of the Holocaust makes such comparisons very troubling, and I want to be very careful about this, but I think there is no denying that there are chilling similarities between the German plan and the Israeli settler movement, of which Ariel Sharon has been a vocal supporter for most of his political career. (indeed, it’s quite obvious at this point that Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan is merely cover for an effort to consolidate settlements and control in the West Bank, protestations of Sharon’s political “bravery” notwithstanding).

I understand political Zionism, in its abstract, to be about Jewish nationalism and the right of the Jewish people to exist within a clearly defined, self-governing state. While I support this right, the unfortunate fact is that in 1917 Jews did not exist anywhere as a majority, at least not anywhere that was acceptable to Zionism’s founders, and thus the objective reality of Zionism in Palestine has always necessarily involved the expulsion of an indigenous population and the expropriation of their land. The Jewish State is built upon Palestinian land: this is the inconvenient and unavoidable truth. The Palestinians were made to pay for the sins of Europe.

This isn’t to suggest that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist or the right to protect itself; it has both. But if common ground is to be found, and I believe it can be found, it will have to be found in practical politics, and not in zealous appeals to thousands-years old tribal religious texts.

17

Alex 11.07.04 at 8:48 pm

At some fundamental level – and, of course this involves an over-simplification – most positions on this debate are based on an assumption as to whether zionism is “right” or “wrong”. This transcends the praticality of discussing what the actual options are for resolving the conflict, one such example as outlined by Matt Yglesias above. Depending on which of these assumption one adheres to, the other side’s stance is ‘unacceptable’ and leaves little room for common ground.

18

Dan Hardie 11.07.04 at 8:50 pm

‘i’d suggest you are missing something.’ Drapeto- yes, you’re right.

But I wrote my post not mentioning anti-arab or anti-muslim prejudice because I simply don’t read LGF (or similar sites) more than once every two or three months. Literally. I feel dirty reading those sites, and so their day-to-day content doesn’t make much impact on me. No- there are lots of sincere anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bigots out there too, it’s just that most of them stay away from sites like this one.

Yup- change my post to read ‘you’ve got racial and religious bigots on both sides, and you’ve also got, on both sides, people too eager to level charges of racial and religious bigotry, because of the rhetorical advantage it gives them.’

19

Giles 11.07.04 at 8:53 pm

I think the main reason why people get cranky is simply that there is no rational reason to get that worked up about Palestine and Israel – its concerns less than 10 million people and the conflict is relatively low key – seldom accounting for more than 500 deaths per annum.

One therefore suspects that anyone who talks repeatedly about it has another point they’d really rather be making.

And I don’t really buy the religious conflict human rights angle either – after all in Thailand this year , a country of 60 mill, we’ve over 500 deaths by variously beheadings, bombings and police brutality in a country that lies on the border of Muslim and Buhdist Asia and hence has the potential spill over into regional conflict. And yet you hear hardly a peek about what’s going on there. Why?

20

karol 11.07.04 at 9:01 pm

Anarch writes, “To be more concrete about it, neither the polity of Israel nor the polity of Palestine existed in any meaningful sense 70 years ago; as a result, any attack (physical or moral or legal) on one of the sides could be interpreted not just as saying that that side was unjust, but that it should be uncreated. ….”

I’m never certain what this type of statement means. One thing that seems irrefutable to me is that there were people who were ancestors of the present day Palestinians living in the area 70 years ago, regardless of whether you think they were citizens of Egypt, or Transjordan, or the Ottoman Empire, or traveling Bedouin tribes. In the US, the fact that many Native American groups were not organized in the European tradition was often used as an early rationalization of why it was acceptable to “colonize”. But, 70 yrs ago this argument would no longer be considered legal or moral if, for example, the US govt wanted to take over the coal fields in the Navajo Reservation.

Clearly, the two cases have many dissimilarities, but if what you are actually saying is that no one was living in the area now called Israel, well, that is simply wrong.
The reason that this issue is still such a flash point is that, due to the horrors of WW2, the European powers, the early UN, ect., granted colonization privileges after the historical point where it was considered morally acceptable to colonize. Just after WW2 the Normans in Normandy would have been laughed at if the decided to reclaim their Scandinavian homelands. But, as is obvious, the utter tragedy of the Holocaust, the European complicity in it, the desire to give compensation by some and the desire to export the problem people by others, led to this situation we have now.

21

Mrs Tilton 11.07.04 at 9:01 pm

Henry, Daniel has a point. If you wonder at the tendency to irrational animus in online discussion of Israel/Palestine, just look up the road a bit.

Mick Fealty has his work cut out riding herd over Slugger (though adopting registration for comments might have helped). And I can recall years of time wasted on soc.culture.irish; wasted, before concluding that the signal-to-noise ratio on usenet would always remain unacceptably low and that the usual suspects would inevitably turn the place into taigs vs. jaffers instead of devoting discussion to the natural topic for an ‘Irish culture’ ng (I refer, of course, to the O’Leprosy brothers).

Perhaps this sort of disussion is likeliest to descend into unhelpfulness when both ‘sides’ have very legitimate grievances. As for the NI thing, I fully recognise the grievances of the ‘others’, and it is irrelevant to our present purposes which lot the ‘others’ are.

22

Russkie 11.07.04 at 9:09 pm

One reason for the difficulty of discussion is the diametrical lack of agreement that people have about the basic facts and parameters of the conflict…. For example, Matthew Yglesias writes:

All envision a two-state solution, some kind of fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some kind of substitution of money for the right of return.

Matthew presumably thinks this because people like Jimmy Carter and Robert Malley say that this is the Palestinian position.

Consequently there’s not much common ground for discussion with people whose perceptions of wholly uncompromising Palestinian attitudes and negotiating positions come from official PA statements such as the ones on their website ( http://www.nad-plo.org/howsummer.php ):

Palestinian refugees must be given the option to exercise their right of return (as well as receive compensation for their losses arising from their dispossession and displacement)…

What is important is that individual refugees decide for themselves which option they prefer – a decision must not be imposed upon them. ….

Israel has no legal right to any part of East Jerusalem since East Jerusalem was part of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. East Jerusalem is part of the territory over which the indigenous Palestinian population shall exercise sovereignty upon Israeli withdrawal.

23

simpleton 11.07.04 at 9:22 pm

In essence, I think some of us want the Jews to be more grateful for the colonization privilege by acting like model citizens. But, it makes us feel guilty for saying it because, well, how can you expect a group that suffered so horribly to be grateful? Then there is the nasty fact that they have been attacked by peoples in the area and we feel guilty about that too, because, well wouldn’t we have had the same type of reaction if we’d been colonized?

24

Kirk 11.07.04 at 9:43 pm

It seems to me that, like the issue of abortion here in the U.S., the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply cannot be debated on civil terms. You either know friends or family who have suffered loss during the conflict, or you can’t find Israel on the map. While animus and ignorance march hand-in-hand…they’re not exactly a constructive match.

The state of the conflict has deteriorated to such a degree that you could take a complete rube with no prior knowledge of the issue, present him with 10 historically gruesome and reprehensible actions, and he’ll be marching in rallies for your side – whether it’s pro-pal or pro-israeli. I saw this over and over again in my undergrad days.

25

Jason G. Williscroft 11.07.04 at 9:52 pm

Kirk, an inescapable corollary of your argument is that the issue won’t be resolved until everybody on one side or the other is dead.

I hope you’re wrong.

I also think you offer the key to the solution: “When animus and ignorance march hand in hand…”

Animus is a matter of choice. I can’t choose civility for you, but I can certainly choose it for me.

Ignorance, by contrast with stupidity, is a temporary ailment whose cure—truth—is uniformly effective. Provided the patient proves willing to swallow his medication.

Enter diplomacy.

26

laservisor 11.07.04 at 10:05 pm

Henry,

I would urge readers of this blog to take a close look at the December 2001 special issue of the Boston Review (http://bostonreview.net/BR26.6/contents.html), in which Lama Abu-Odeh makes the case for a binationalist single state solution.

As Arafat lies dying and with US troops are poised to attack Fallujah under a second Bush term, the elements are ripe for World War III to become fully manifest, with Israel-Iraq-Saudi Arabia becoming worse battlefields than we may yet have witnessed. A level-headed conversation on the Palestinian question is an essential first step to defuse the tension and it must cover a diverse set of options–including the one-state solution and a way to meet the humanitarian needs of the hundreds of thousands of passport-less refugees living in camps across the Middle East.

27

Nicholas Weininger 11.07.04 at 10:10 pm

Probably most people here know this already, but there is at least one blog, Jonathan Edelstein’s Head Heeb, which has been an oasis of unfailingly civil discourse on the I/P issue for quite some time now. And it’s sure not for lack of viewpoint diversity among the commentators.

What Jonathan has going for him, I don’t know exactly. Perhaps his own extreme fair-mindedness– he is far and away the most relentlessly calm commentator on these issues around, although certainly not neutral and in some ways not even moderate– produces a sort of civility-protecting force-field on the blog he owns. Or perhaps he has to delete a lot of garbage, though I’ve seen little if any of that in some months as a regular reader. Whatever it is, it’s worth trying to propagate.

28

abb1 11.07.04 at 10:24 pm

What irritates me most is a comment like Matthew Yglesias’ above that implies some kinda equivalence between the perpetrator and the victim.

Yes, sure, there are wingnuts on both sides, no doubt, but only one side has been occupying 3 million people for 37 years. Only one side is armed to the teeth and operating one of the most powerful military in the world, equipped with nuclear weapons. Only one side operates powerful propaganda machine.

A bunch of white Europeans landed in the middle of the Arab world and decided to settle there. They had reasons, good reasons perhaps. But wasn’t it their responsibility to bend over backwards, to go the extra mile, to do anything and everything possible to get accepted by their neighbors? If they haven’t been accepted, they have no one to blame but themselves.

And on the other side I see people living under military occupation for four decades or in exile for several generations. Is it really surprising that some of them snap?

Where’s the symmetry here?

29

David Velleman 11.07.04 at 10:28 pm

In my view, the reason why it is impossible to have a civil conversation about this issue is that — in the American context, at least — the topic is taboo. When discussion is inhibited by taboos, the only voices that break out into the open are those of extremists. And if the inhibitions are ever lowered, a flood of pent-up frustration and anger is then let loose.

30

Kirk 11.07.04 at 10:30 pm

Jason,

Couldn’t agree with you more…I also hope I’m wrong, but the trends don’t look promising.

We don’t exactly seem to be in an era that values civility or truth.

31

dsquared 11.07.04 at 10:36 pm

Yes, sure, there are wingnuts on both sides, no doubt, but only one side has been occupying 3 million people for 37 years. Only one side is armed to the teeth and operating one of the most powerful military in the world, equipped with nuclear weapons. Only one side operates powerful propaganda machine.

On the other hand, only one side puts bombs in nightclubs. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice. This is a matter of economic position, not any fundamental political morality; if the Palestinians had helicopter gunships, they’d use them.

32

seth edenbaum 11.07.04 at 10:40 pm

Matt Duss,
I was ignoring the holocaust, and talking only about colonization. And Karol’s response to Anarch suits me fine.

And why is there so little talk about the single state solution, expecially since Sharon’s policies are working towards achieving it?
Again we’re talking about maintaining the authority of one ethnic group over another. What’s the basis for maintaining a Jewish majority other than to weaken the minority? Is this ever moral?

33

se 11.07.04 at 10:44 pm

some charts here

34

Ethesis 11.07.04 at 11:31 pm

I think the main reason why people get cranky is simply that there is no rational reason to get that worked up about Palestine and Israel – its concerns less than 10 million people and the conflict is relatively low key – seldom accounting for more than 500 deaths per annum.

Well, I think people would understand the conflict better if it were routinely described with maps that compared the entire Israel/Palestine area to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, D.C. or similar areas.

Most Americans do not realize just how small the area is, or that the “settlements” are really “sub-urbs” (of sorts), with many other issues.

I think, that to have a proper outside world discussion, people need to first know what they are discussing.

35

Henry 11.07.04 at 11:42 pm

I’ve deleted a couple of comments that were tending distinctly towards slagging the Palestinians or slagging the Israelis. I’d have deleted abb1’s comment too – but dsquared’s response seems adequate enough.

I’ll continue to delete any comments that veer too far away from discussing why we can’t discuss this stuff in a civil fashion, and start using this thread as an excuse to bash one or the other side. Think of this as an experiment in seeing whether heavy moderation can work in keeping debate civilized.

36

Christopher H 11.07.04 at 11:51 pm

A bunch of white Europeans landed in the middle of the Arab world and decided to settle there.

Until recently (i.e. the immigration from the former Soviet republics), the majority of Israeli Jews were Sephardi, most of them refugees from Arab countries.

37

Thomas Dent 11.08.04 at 12:07 am

One reason for lack of informed/civil debate is lack of informed people. Like ‘giles’ who seems quite unaware of the fact that, say, Jaffa was a flourishing mostly Arab city on the model of many British colonies up till about 1947. And then suddenly and mysteriously, virtually the entire native population vanished away. Perhaps ‘giles’ might also consider where the people in the refugee camps came from and why Arabs formed such a small minority in the newborn Israeli state.

In other words, knowledge of the history of the area for at least the last 60 years is a prerequisite, but actually very rare.

There is also the question of words. Both sides have their own jargon (‘right of return’ – meaning quite different things for both Jews and Palestinians – ‘iron wall’ – etc) which makes it difficult to apply usual principles such as self-determination or property rights.

And the actual state of things is hardly amenable to exact description in words. To take one example apparently there used to be some sort of communal land ownership in mostly Arab communities in British Mandate Palestine. But the British required each parcel of land to be registered to a particular individual, and the official register bore very little relation to the actual state of things. Thus very few individuals who by rights owned the land they lived on and farmed actually had title deeds (etc.) for it. Now can you say ‘the land was owned by the native population’ or not?

And of course there is the ‘Jewish state’: what exactly does this mean – especially in areas which are majority Arab – and the ‘Jewish nation’… and hundreds of other phrases which are very amenable to twisting or misinterpretation.

And not least the fact that both sides are masters of propaganda and at bringing their case to the attention of the media.

38

bob mcmanus 11.08.04 at 1:11 am

Sometimes a lack of reasoned discourse and compromise comes about because of a lack of men of good will and good faith, as Yglesias describes. And sometimes the objective conditions preclude the possibility of such men arising.

One can imagine, barely, people of good will settling the differences and achieving compromise between Athens and Sparta, or the North & South prior to the civil war But most of us in hindsight generally agree the cataclysms were inevitable.

Now the answer to the question: “Why are there moderates at all?” has a fairly easy answer: fear and denial, hope, optimism, and compassion. But Buchanan was not a good man for postponing catastrophe, nor was Lincoln a bad one for taking an extreme position and accelerating one.

39

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.08.04 at 1:27 am

But it’s impossible to have a reasoned debate if you’re not willing to accept that the people on the other side really mean what they say they mean. The rules of the “civil discussion” game simply require that you take your opponent to be arguing in good faith and not acting as a screen for some other nefarious agenda.

This is an interesting problem, because it is not a physical impossibility for someone to actually have a position which is a screen for some other nefarious agenda. Once you get to the point where you can credibly suggest that the other side is just engaging in propaganda instead of real peace talks, it isn’t obvious that you shouldn’t point that out. Israel believesthat it got there with the Palestinians either two years after Oslo, or after the rejection of the Clinton proposals. Palestinians think they got there after Oslo and the things that they contest forced them to engage in the first intifada (especially the settlements).

Once the debate has broken down to that extent, the question is: what can you do (short of genocide on one side or the other) to bring it back?

My guess is that (whichever side you are on) you have to climb down from your own hugely divisive tactic AND do so at such a time where the other side does not or cannot immediately respond by increasing the potency of their hugely divisive tactic (which makes you look like a fool and contributes to the idea that the other side is really just proceeding after their nefarious agenda.)

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Luc 11.08.04 at 1:33 am

Someone referenced the “civilized” debate on the headheeb.blogmosis.com blog.

But that debate there is only civilized because the position of the author(s) and acceptable debate positions are effectively known in advance.

I don’t read it regularly, but a few clicks gave me the following comment

Leftist assaults on Israel spring from their hatred of Western Capitalism in general and the United States in particular. The End of the Cold War and the Collaspe of Communism has only served to embitter them and driven them to make common cause with Islamic Fundamentalism, which previously they would never have had any time for. It does not matter that the only thing the Western Left and the Islamists have in common is the hatred of Democracy and Freedom, for the Orphans of the Left, that is enough.

Further comments note that this is a bit out of line, but it is not removed, as Henry’s policy would dictate. But then since there is no one offended by those types of comment, the debate remains civilized.

What is happening on Crooked Timber is that there is no known position. And thus those kind of comments (which in my opinion are inevitable) do cause a more vehement reaction.

Those kind of reactions are inevitable because no one agrees upon a fixed storyline, or on some agreed upon facts about the I/P conflict.

As dquared writes only one side puts bombs in nightclubs. It provided balance, but to me it is pertinently wrong. It is all to easy to provide some links to the poor man’s MEMRI, with Israeli’s shooting up mosques and other comparable ugly stuff. But then that discussion is exactly the stuff that is unwanted here. Yet abb1 and dsquared (and I) couldn’t resist.

And it is not that all CT authors are that sensible on this issue. Recently
Belle Waring linked to an editorial dissin’ Arafat from which she excerpted a funny quote. Nothing wrong with that, but where do we cross the line when we as commenters are dissin’ Arafat and/or Sharon?

If you want to have a “civilized” debate you could limit the subject of discussion by choosing your topic carefully. Adding a disclaimer that you don’t want to discus say the political implications of a free birthright trip to Israel, isn’t exactly useful.

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Henry 11.08.04 at 2:23 am

bq. If you want to have a “civilized” debate you could limit the subject of discussion by choosing your topic carefully. Adding a disclaimer that you don’t want to discus say the political implications of a free birthright trip to Israel, isn’t exactly useful.

But sometimes it _is_ useful. Sure, birthright trips to Israel have an important political dimension. But it seems to me to be shallow and one-dimensional to require that discussions of birthright trips to Israel should always and everywhere focus on the political implications. It’s perfectly reasonable that people might want to discuss their experiences of birthright trips _qua_ trips sometimes, without getting their discussions hijacked by general disputes over the political legitimacy of Israel. Every time a post mentions Israel, even in passing, the discussion descends into a slanging-match. I don’t see that this is a good thing from anyone’s point of view – its end result is to discourage people from posting on Israel or Palestine related topics, because they know that the comments section is going to be dominated by people screaming at each other.

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Otto 11.08.04 at 2:24 am

Much of what has been said I agree with. I suppose my own contribution to why the I/P problem causes such heat in discussion could be interpreted as putting the “blame” on one side (in one respect only). But I think it’s a lot of the answer, so you may want to hear it. The answer I propose is that it is very difficult to justify continuing settler colonialism *right now* (as opposed to re-openning the question of the Mandate period, 1948 etc). There is just very hard in polite post-civil rights US or European society to justify the creation and expansion through the 1990s of privileged single-ethnicity settlements on occupied territory. (Settlement creation and expansion *right now* is therefore quite different from other aspects of Israel’s behaviour which draw criticism, including military responses to terror, which have both plusses and minuses, and can be better justified on their own merits).

Given that justifying continuing contemporary settler colonialism is so difficult, the old lawyers’ addage applies: if you are right on the law, bang on the law; if you are right on the facts, bang on the facts; if you dont have the law or the facts, bang on the table. When the issue of active current expansion of settlements comes up, many supporters of Israel bang on the table.

But you may disagree…

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Otto 11.08.04 at 2:31 am

I shd add that my comment above is made in the spirit of attempting to answer Henry’s question about why “it seems to be absolutely impossible to have a civil argument about Israel and the Palestinians” only. I shd be clear that it does not necessarily follow that issues which cause the most difficulty for civil argument (like the candidate that I have proposed) may not be the ones which cause the most human suffering or obstacles for peaceful coexistence.

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Jason G. Williscroft 11.08.04 at 2:43 am

Kirk, you said:

We don’t exactly seem to be in an era that values civility or truth.

I’m not sure that an era, as such, has the capacity to value anything. Only individuals do, people like you and me. I think this is a wonderfully empowering concept, because it allows us—it requires us, each of us—to take individual and personal responsibility for the character of our age.

I choose truth and civility. So do you. It’s not a bad start.

You know, I could use your help over at Unity

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Jacob T. Levy 11.08.04 at 2:57 am

Some of the unique traits of the conflict that spill over into a unique way of talking about it:

1) In a world full of ethnocultural and secessionist conflicts, this is the only one I can think of in which *each side* perceives the existence or nonexistence of its state as at issue. The conflict appears to be over sky-high stakes in both directions. As important as Kashmir is, neither Pakistan’s nor India’s existence as a sovereign state turns on it. But there is no Palestinian state, and whether there will be one or not does turn on outcomes of the conflict; and there is an Israeli state, but there are both actors who deny its legitimacy and would do away with it if they could, and security outcomes that would credibly threaten it. (The fact that westerners develop plans for an imposed unitary binational state doesn’t help, either; again, the basic outlines of sovereignty seem up in the air and provisional.) It’s exceptionally difficult to talk about the moral claims one side has in terms that don’t seem to wholly deny the claims of the other side– because 1948 and its consequences are always at stake, not just 1967 and its consequences.

2) I don’t know of any other fifty-five-year long state of formal war in the contemporary world– or even (if one takes 1967 rather than 1948 as the relevant start date) any thirty-seven-year lonf state of formal conflict. India and Pakistan have had numerous wars, but also periods of peace in between. Most Arab states have never granted diplomatic recognition to Israel, and the wars have only been paused by cease-fires. Permanent war isn’t especially good for building up trust, or scaling back stereotypes, or even getting provisional agreement on the meaning of historical events.

3) Israel’s supporters resent the sense that Israel is singled out for an extraordinary level of criticism and ostracism, far beyond that leveled at actively murderous and dictatorial regimes, or at states involved in much bloodier occupations (Russia-Chechnya, India-Kashmir), and gets no credit for being a basically-functioning democratic state whose Arab citizens have greater political freedoms than the citizens of any Arab state. This seems to them explicable only in terms of the longstanding tropes of unique Jewish evil, and anti-Semitism. Palestine’s supporters resent that Palestinians in the territories are uniquely subject to statelessness (Chechens are Russian citizens, Tibetans are Chinese citizens) and apparently-permanent military rule.

4) The collapse of Oslo, and the lack of agreement on how and why that happened, engendered a lot of bitterness all around. I don’t know of another conflict in which hopes were raised so high and then dashed so low. The Good Friday process has stumbled a lot, but not wholly collapsed; and the accord seemed to be met with suitably modest expectations all around, unlike the Oslo euphoria.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 11.08.04 at 3:06 am

“Palestine’s supporters resent that Palestinians in the territories are uniquely subject to statelessness (Chechens are Russian citizens, Tibetans are Chinese citizens) and apparently-permanent military rule.”

That is an interesting aspect that I hadn’t thought about. (Not that formally being Chinese citizens does Tibetans much good.)

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Donald Johnson 11.08.04 at 3:36 am

I’m not sure about Henry’s rules.
Can a post stay up if one agrees with many of the worst accusations made against each side?

Zionism (leaving aside the binationalists, if they are considered ZIonists these days) had to presuppose that Palestinians were going to be at best second-class citizens and if they couldn’t be made a small minority through real estate purchases, they’d have to be expelled. And in the end they were. Since then Israel has become an apartheid state in the West Bank and Gaza, not the worst human rights violators in the world, but pretty bad all the same.

Palestinians, on the other hand, reacted to the Zionist threat by resorting to loathsome acts of terrorism. If there’s been a Palestinian Gandhi he obviously hasn’t gotten much support and that’s a shame, because a Palestinian Gandhi surely couldn’t have done worse for his people than Arafat has and he wouldn’t have supporters blowing up children. If pacifism is too much to expect, why not a Palestinian Mandela? Not that I think the Israelis would be happy dealing with a Mandela, who might start demanding “one man, one vote.”

Then there’s America, the unsung villain of the story. I’d include Clinton in this. Having read Charles Enderlin’s book “Shattered Dreams”, I wouldn’t blame Arafat for the second intifada or Barak–I’d blame Clinton’s hamfisted efforts to pressure Arafat into accepting an agreement that wasn’t as good as the Taba talks were achieving in January. Blame Arafat in January 2001 and Clinton in August 2000. Save a little blame for Barak, who walked away from Taba and of course Sharon, who’d never dream of giving so much up anyway. But Sharon is evidently a force of nature, not someone to be held responsible for his actions.

And the American press, which habitually whitewashes the seamier side of Israel’s history. Or at least that’s true of the NYT.

Anyway, the point here is that I think it’s difficult to be honest about the I-P issue without bashing virtually everyone involved.

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Luc 11.08.04 at 3:49 am

But sometimes it is useful. Sure, birthright trips to Israel have an important political dimension. But it seems to me to be shallow and one-dimensional to require that discussions of birthright trips to Israel should always and everywhere focus on the political implications.

I tried to use the word ‘useful’ also/more in the sense that it doesn’t work to state that. You have a given audience on this blog. It doesn’t change instantly when an author changes the subject. And neither is it comparable to a classroom (or another moderated) situation where the subject of a debate can and needs to be controlled.

You have amassed an audience here that includes various people with explicit opinions about this subject. Asking them to shut up and put up isn’t going to work in my limited experience with these things. The (a bit too) obvious remark here is that you control your audience by what you write. And the audience fills the comments section. Try comparing the daily kos and the daniel drezner audience. The majority of the audience follows the author in his opinions. That is the power you have.

Put in a lighter context, try asking your audience not to discuss the sloppy statistics in a scientific article because it is “shallow and one-dimensional to require that discussions” of science “should always and everywhere focus on the” quality of statistics.

Not exactly an apt analogy, but just to state why it is useless to ask some things.

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No Preference 11.08.04 at 4:28 am

there is no rational reason to get that worked up about Palestine and Israel

There is the fact of Israel’s enormous political influence in the US, which is strong enough to affect US policy in vital areas such as the decision to invade Iraq.

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Jim Harrison 11.08.04 at 5:00 am

Debates about Israel and the Palestinians are like World War I battles, brutal and indecisive. Nevertheless, I get the sense that israel is gradually losing ground in this trench warfare despite their overwhelming, real-world military power . Where most people I know used to feel that Israel was somehow in the right in some fundamental way, now at most they think they should go on speaking as if they still felt Israel was in the right—it’s suble, but the rhetorical ground does seem to have a perceptible slope now.

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Mark 11.08.04 at 5:09 am

Just to add a historical point that seems missing from many of the earlier posts. In the 19th century the treatment of Jews in Arab lands took a violent turn for the worse as Jews adopted the enlightenment ideas taught at the influential Alliance Israelite Universale schools headquartered in France. Jews who had lived (separately) for many centuries in comparative peace in Arab lands were increasingly identified with the colonial powers. The conflict between Jes and Arabs predates 1967, 1948, the riots of 1929 and 1936, the Balfour Declaration and even the First Zionist Congress. The European face of Israel relects the temporal relationship between the Holocaust and the UN partition plan, the early Ashkenazi leadership of Israel (Sephardic Jews had little experience with democratic governance and suffered from the prejudice of their co-religionists)and the paradigm of western colonialism.

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Nonesuch 11.08.04 at 5:20 am

Ditto Jacob Levy’s points, with the exception that I do not think the reasons Oslo collapsed are all that mysterious.

I think those of us who are generally sympathetic to Israel in these discussions quickly despair at the crude dichotomy of motives that are attributed to each party:

1) The story of Israel is presented as the story of Zionism, which is, in turn, presented as an expansionist movement of ethnic colonialism (albeit one with some tenuous, retroactive political legitimacy due to “Holocaust guilt”).

2) The story of Arab opposition to Israel is presented as the story of Palestinian nationalism, which is, in turn, presented as a simple, indigenous anti-colonial movement (albeit one tactically hijacked by Islamism and other political pathologies of the Middle East).

I can’t see how the issues can be reasonably discussed under these presuppositions.

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one laura 11.08.04 at 5:23 am

I think no preference has a very important point about political influence within the US. I also think that, as far as exercise of that influence goes, a lot of people who support Israel have a great deal to be ashamed of. Within the last year or two, the college where I did my undergrad had an event talking about a lot of different things having to do with the Middle East and peace and so on. ONE of the speakers in a full day of workshops advocates right of return for Palestinians, and because of this the president of the college was flooded with emails solicited by some website calling the event a hate-fest. An intense debate followed among college faculty, with some sending out emails that had obviously been cribbed from the website opposing the event. A faculty member on leave in Israel wrote in noting that a similar event or set of discussions held in Israel would be unlikely to draw controversy — she was essentially accused of being a self-hating jew (not in so many words, but close enough).

When any attempt to discuss these issues draws such vicious attack from people who would otherwise be advocates of academic freedom, it is difficult not to become defensive and overwrought about it. I myself feel incredibly defensive about my opposition to Israeli policy toward Palestine, not least because I am not jewish. An awful lot of people seem to be awfully quick on the trigger with accusations of anti-semitism, and it is hard to know how to engage in conversation in that atmosphere. I try not to dig in and sound more extremist in my opposition to Israeli policy than I am, but I do find that the tone of the national discourse on this issue makes it difficult.

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kwijibo 11.08.04 at 5:37 am

As with Northhern Ireland, both sides have a reasonable claim to the same homeland. It’s home to people who have lived there for generations and centuries. It’s also home to people who were displaced centuries before and have been oppressed ever since. If the Jews can’t have Israel, where is their home? If the Palestinians can’t, where is theirs? It doesn’t help that it’s sacred ground to both. And it doesn’t help that both populations are growing. And (as you mentioned) there are all the moral implications of a first world country using modern weapons battling a third world country using suicide bombers, where either side can be cast as evil. I think we get hot about it because we want to take a stand for the right side, and they’re both right. We want an answer that’s fair and just, and we scream because we can’t find it.

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Ragout 11.08.04 at 5:47 am

Civil discourse about Israel is difficult on this blog because most poster are strongly anti-Israel, and they make many ad hominem attacks on supporters of Israel. Maybe in the broader world, the blame for vitriolic discourse is more equal but not on Crooked Timber.

Here are uncivil comments I’ve noticed in this thread about civility:

otto says supporters of Israel are “justifying continuing contemporary settler colonialism.” Some are, no doubt, but I’ve never seen such a statement on Crooked Timber.

Matt Duss speaks of “zealous appeals to thousands-years old tribal religious texts.” Again, these appeals may be made elsewhere, but I’ve never seen them on CT.

Abb1 says “Only one side operates powerful propaganda machine” and other offensive things.

Seth Edenbaum says the existence of Israel is obscene and compares it to the Nazi conquest of Poland. His comment is confusingly written, so perhaps I’m misinterpreting it, but I doubt it.

Thomas Dent says “One reason for lack of informed/civil debate is lack of informed people. Like ‘giles’ who seems quite unaware of the fact that, say, Jaffa was a flourishing mostly Arab city.” For the life of me, I cannot see how this claim that giles is uniformed is in any way related to anything giles said.

Cranky says “Also, the whole thing about being angry over something that was done to one’s ancestors 1000 years ago makes any reasonable solution to any issue just about impossible” Again, I see no supporter of Israel on CT talking about 1000 year old injustices.

One Laura writes “a lot of people who support Israel have a great deal to be ashamed of.”

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one laura 11.08.04 at 5:56 am

This discussion on this site is not taking place in a vacuum — most of the comments you cite seem to me to, quite fairly, refer to things outside this immediate discussion. I say “quite fairly” because they are not, as far as I can tell, mostly straw men but are reasonable characterizations of things that are said.

And it is a fairly strenuous standard of civility that would prohibit me from saying that people have something to be ashamed of.

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vernaculo 11.08.04 at 6:00 am

“I’d have deleted abb1’s comment too – but dsquared’s response seems adequate enough.”
That is an adequate enough map to the terrain. The venue itself and the subjective condition you bring to it make it impossible for anything more than the mildest criticism of the dominant actors in this. Polite discussions of atrocity are only rarely valiant, and far more often genteel cowardice.
There isn’t really a neutral spot available is there? Not anymore. Too many of you find your livelihood depends on an illusion of neutrality that doesn’t exist in the system that sustains it.
It’s too late for reasoned discussion isn’t it? Be honest now.
Where would a dissenting opinion have any effect, or even be heard? Congress? Parliament?
Fallujah’s going down tomorrow. Will you moderate a discussion of that, afterward?
Even if you somehow found the conviction to condemn it, where would you go to do that? Here?
That you’d equate those two posts the way you did says all that needs saying.

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Ragout 11.08.04 at 6:31 am

One Laura,

You wrote that “any attempt to discuss these issues draws such vicious attack.” I think your use of “any” suggests that you are referring to the current discussion. I think the implication is that there is a very large group of people who support Israel who ought to be “ashamed.”

Are those in this discussion who tar supporters of Israel as religious zealots or supporters of “settler colonialism” referring to posters on this thread? Perhaps, perhaps not. They certainly were not careful to make it clear at whom their attacks were aimed.

I could say that many opponents of Israeli policy are hateful people, anti-semites. I think this is indisputably true, but does little to advance civil discussion. And if I were not careful to say that I’m not referring to anyone in the present discussion (which I’m not) it would be little wonder if many took offense.

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Christopher H 11.08.04 at 6:45 am

Ha, ha. This is a game, right? How close to explicit conspiracy mongering can one get without getting banned… I guess we know what sort of “debate” CT attracts when Dsquared (!) has to intervene to redress the balance.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 9:42 am

Henry,
I’d have deleted abb1’s comment too – but dsquared’s response seems adequate enough.

With all due respect, I was trying to be as civil an possible explaining what I find unreasonable and depressing in these discussions.

Please clarify: am I guilty of pointing out that one side is the agressor and the other is the victim or is it the way I was expressing it?

Also, I don’t find dsquared’s response adequate enough. One side does have helicopter gunships and the other does not. This is a fact, this is asymmetrical and I think it does affect fundamental political morality. It’s easy to fire a missile from an unmanned aircraft and drive back to your wife and children living in your suburban house. Blowing up yourself in a night club entails desperation. You know, people accused of crimes in the US justice system can plead temporary insanity and they get acquitted; not always, but it does happen. A guy blowing himself up in a night club certainly has a more than fair shot at temporary insanity defense.

Ragout,
Abb1 says “Only one side operates powerful propaganda machine” and other offensive things.

But this is true, so how can it be offensive? The ADL and countless other organizations. Here: this is from just a few days ago.

I understand that my opinion can be offensive, but the facts? Real-life facts? When simple, obvious, irrefutable facts become offensive to you, what does it say about your side (or, at least, about you personally)? Think, man.

Thanks. I sincerely hope this post is not objectionable.

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dsquared 11.08.04 at 11:02 am

One side does have helicopter gunships and the other does not. This is a fact, this is asymmetrical and I think it does affect fundamental political morality

In fairness, Gerry Cohen thinks this too. Which leads me onto another subject …

Jacob Levy wrote:

Israel’s supporters resent the sense that Israel is singled out for an extraordinary level of criticism and ostracism, far beyond that leveled at actively murderous and dictatorial regimes, or at states involved in much bloodier occupations (Russia-Chechnya, India-Kashmir), and gets no credit for being a basically-functioning democratic state whose Arab citizens have greater political freedoms than the citizens of any Arab state. This seems to them explicable only in terms of the longstanding tropes of unique Jewish evil, and anti-Semitism.

Which is a fair enough summary of one big cause of the difficulty of discussing the whole issue.

What’s always interested me is that if you actually look at the Western critics of Israeli policy, and specifically if you look at those who single out Israel for criticism while not mentioning other states, you will see that there are an awful lot of Jews among them, and not a few Israelis. This issue is by no means one of Gentiles like me being motivated by the age-old anti-Semitism which lurks within us (in our blood?) and bashing Israel because it’s no longer PC to say what we really mean. If you decided to line up everyone who had written an article in a US newspaper in the last year on the Israel/Palestine conflict, I am by no means sure that the pro-Israel (by which I mean, I must emphasise “pro-the most reactionary forces within Israel”) side would have a higher percentage of Jewish people on it.

A large chunk of those who lead the debate in the Western media as seeming partisans of the Palestinian cause, are actually the Israeli opposition, carrying on domestic politics in the foreign media. A further large chunk are non-Israeli Jews who are “singling out” Israel because they feel a connection to (and understanding of) Israeli politics which they don’t feel with respect to the politics of Russia or Syria.

The (IMO disgusting) coinage of the “self-hating Jew”, of course, does not help even one little bit in this regard.

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Jack 11.08.04 at 11:07 am

Most of the debate on blogs and in hte press is between non residents of Israel or Palestine which means there is a strong tendency to reification on both sides and there is little sense of what is reasonable. The Israeli press is both more sanguine and more varied in its response to terror than is the foreign press for example.

I think it is possible to overestimate the good will of each side. My impression is that Netenyahu and until recently Sharon have had a sense of impunity meaning that they have not felt an immediate need for peace and thought they could probably get away with preserving the settlements.

On the other hand the Palestinians may have the sense that time is on their side from a demographic point of view and therefore have a higher expectation of what they can get in the end. A kind of “Tiocfaidh Ar La” policy.

In the baleful influence of expats, the current power of one side and demographic dynamics of the other the parallels with Northern Ireland are very close.

For most Western Democrats understanding the whole issue involves starting by denying what we hold most dear. Once the possibility of what would be the natural solution — namely the enfranchisement of the Palestinians — is off the table we are in uncharted territory. Debate is bound to be rather odd.

I think Daniel, unusually, is doing the journalist thing of imposing balance whether it exists or not. The crimes of both sides are measurable in numbers of bodies and the results aren’t actually even. I don’t believe that might is right and nor that posession of a helicopter gunship confers any kind of absolution and I don’t think Daniel does either but that is effectively his argument. It is also to fall into the trap of thinking that a solution is about simple justice. I think it is actually quite clear that the current position is unjust to the Palestinians. The problem is in fact that a good outcome requires a lot more than just the Israelis stopping being nasty. I think this might be a cause of people talking past each other — a misapprehension of the nature of the debate.

It may be that the curent situation is in some dismal sense Pareto optimal in that any shift from the current position involves one side giving up something that it values more than peace. The Palestinians would have to give up the West Bank while violence against Israelis has been well contained and security measures are effectively paid for by the US so peace is not that big a win in comparison with giving up the West Bank.

Of course the externalities are mostly born by others.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 11:53 am

Well, I think solution is about simple justice; why do you call it falling into a trap? This is the 21st century and the UN Charter says: WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED […] to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained… Why can’t it be simple as that?

Also, I think a good outcome does require the Israelis stopping being nasty. It may (or may not) require a lot more, but that’s certainly a prerequisite. Until Israeli government armed with helicopter gunships, remote-controlled bulldozers and nuclear bombs stops being nasty, how can you even start thinking about a good outcome?

Also,

…Palestinians may have the sense that time is on their side from a demographic point of view…

what does it mean? Palestinians on the territories don’t vote. Let’s say there are 100 million of them tomorrow – how does it change anything?

Thanks.

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Dan Hardie 11.08.04 at 12:34 pm

Shorter Cruella: to deal with the horrific armed conflict caused by relocating a stateless people to supposedly under-populated territory, we should relocate a stateless people to supposedly under-populated territory.

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mona 11.08.04 at 12:46 pm

Dan, but it was all said in a civil, non-heated, reasonable manner.
Wasn’t it?
I dont know, I lost track of what “reasonable” means.

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Jack 11.08.04 at 1:00 pm

I mean two things: that simply because the system is unjust doesn’t mean that an alternative will be better and that a realistic solution has to satisfy Israel that it’s future is at least acceptable and preferably actually desirable.

The demographic issue is that until a settlement is achieved it is reasonable to view Israel as the de facto government of the whole area. At the moment Jews form a majority of that poulation but by 2020 they will be a minority. That means that if Israel is to remain both Jewish and a Democracy it has to do something. This seems to be the motivation for Sharon pulling out of Gaza. At some point they will look too much like old South Africa to survive.

My ideal solution would be the enfranchisement of the Palestinians and the extension of Israeli democracy to all. It seems much more plausible that a middle eastern role model would spring from sophisticated palestinans and Israelis than in Iraq say. However that seems to live only in the realms of fantasy.

If the Palestinians put down their arms and fell under the sway of a Ghandi like figure of radical pacifism, what kind of two state solution would be achieved? If the Israelis lay down their arms and started turning the other cheek, how long would they last? I do think that Israel should stop being nasty.

One reason that the Israelis get so much western attention is that they get so much aid from the west and in particular the US so what they do with it is our business.

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Luc 11.08.04 at 1:08 pm

As for uncivilized debate, just this mornings news from an easy going, quiet, and otherwise livable EU country:

firebomb attack on mosque,
explosion in a Muslim school,
Jew painted in front of a house.

Nothing to worry, all will be normal in a few days.

But the dialectic of the I/P conflict has infiltrated the local discourse.

And only that is reason enough to find this conflict more important than other conflicts. More people are dying in Darfur and other places, but those conflicts don’t end up on my doorstep. This one does. (Along with the WOT and Iraq, but that is for another subject)

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fred lapides 11.08.04 at 1:12 pm

It is exactly for that reason that I quit posting at a communal pro-Israel site that turned pout to be very right wing and ignored other realities. Now I have opened my own site at http://www.IsraelPundit.blogspot.com

And here I post items of general interest: Islam, terrorism, Israel, Palestine–in hopes that a middle of the road approach can present a larger picture. That is, terrorism has now spilled over borders, and what might at one time have been limited is now globalized, outsourced…thus I try for a more comprehesnive view, though my focus is upon the middle east mess, in general.

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Donald Johnson 11.08.04 at 1:43 pm

Shorter version of my earlier post–

Of course Israel is ultimately to blame, but that’s not an excuse for Palestinians to kill children. (which Israel also does, but with more expensive US-supplied weapons and on a larger scale). The leaders on both sides are awful and always have been.

The US also stinks with its borderline-racist attitude towards Palestinians and Clinton’s little temper tantrum because he didn’t get an agreement on his time schedule made things much worse. What a creep.

I repeat myself because I’ve seen several one-sided posts since my last one clearing things up. There are at least three sides here people, and they’ve all been led by assholes.

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Henry 11.08.04 at 1:49 pm

Another couple of comments deleted – let me make it clear that I’m not deleting comments because they’re offensive, but because they’re wandering off the topic into blaming one side or another for the conflict. If this is your opinion, as I’ve said in the post already, you can take your opinion as already being stipulated. This is not the usual CT policy of course – but I’ve stated quite clearly what kinds of comments I’m prepared to have in here, and what kinds are going to get booted. I’m leaving a couple of comments which are borderline alone fo rthe moment – I may reconsider if the discussion begins to wander off into recriminations again.

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Gundara 11.08.04 at 1:55 pm

The only reasonable solution to the I/P standoff is pretty much as Matthew Yglesias outlined it near the start of this thread — a two-state solution, some kind of fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some kind of substitution of money for the right of return. The official positions of Israel, the EU and the US all agree on this. The PA’s bottom line for dropping an across-the-board right of return hasn’t yet been enunciated but most rational Palestinian observers realize that it will have to done. As for the settlements issue, though Sharon’s position has retreated from what Barak offered at Tabah, most Israeli observers figure that — given the right climate — he could offer something similar.

The real stumbling block is the lack of a “right climate”. Before September 2000, Israeli liberals and moderates were massively optimistic about reaching a negotiated settlement and polls showed a solid majority sharing that optimism. The 2nd Intifada destroyed that “climate”. The Israeli peace camp was decimated; they felt “tricked” by Arafat. Many prominent Israeli doves abandoned their positions. It was the Israeli left that first pushed for the security fence/wall — on the theory that it would reduce terrorist attacks and Israeli reprisals. The Israeli right were initially opposed; they were reluctant to create or discuss borders. In practice the fence/wall has been a great success from the Israeli point of view; in those areas where it has gone up, terrorist attacks have been reduced to near zero. Negotiations and political pressure may reroute it, but the fence/wall is unlikely to be removed any time soon. This doesn’t mean that other measures to improve the “climate” can’t succeed, especially with the imminent departure of Arafat. Mahmoud Abbas is tough but he is a pragmatist. He realizes that the Intifada has been a disaster for both sides and has said so publicly. It wasn’t only Arafat who sabotaged Abbas’ earlier stint as prime minister; Sharon refused to help Abbas build grassroots support by releasing Palestinian prisoners, and in the face of opposition from both sides, Abbas resigned. His reappearance offers a small glimmer of optimism.

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Jacob T. Levy 11.08.04 at 2:39 pm

Various of the comments here, including some now-deleted ones, made me think of the following two additional probblems for calm discussion.

1) Floating sizes of the parties. (This problem, the I-P conflict does have in common with many other ethnocultural and nationalist conflicts). Is it: one little sliver of a state against the whole Arab world? or a stateless and dispossessed population of Palestinians against a nuclear-armed regional superpower? This leads each side to view the claims of the other to feeling endangered and beleagured with incredulity. The same thing happens when you expand the circle of allies outward: one little sliver of a state and its one ally-protector against the whole world (as in the UN)? One stateless people against not only a regional superpower but the most militarily powerful state in the world, or in world history?

Relatedly:
2) Each side perceives the other to have some really distinctive control over the channels of (especially western) discourse and commentary. This is *not* shared by the other comparable conflicts, and is probably more pertinent to European and American discussions than to Israeli or Arab discussions. There’s the “Jewish media” theme, of course– Jews control the American press in particular, and therefore the American press is instinctively and unfairly pro-Israel. There’s also the “anti-Semitic media” theme– the suspicion that both aristocratic and populist press organs in Europe are biased, for reasons of longstanding prejudice on the part of the staffs or the readers/ listeners. And there’s the Edward Said/ MESA theme– the sense that Israel has been uniquely demonized, and the Palestinian struggle uniquely romanticized, among Anglophone academics and intellectuals who control the terms of discourse.

(I do have views about who’s in the right in each of these cases– but, in the spirit of Henry’s question, I’m just trying to diagnose the dialogue problem, rather than getting into an argument about the merits.)

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:46 pm

Not sure why my previous post was deleted. I hope Henry won’t object if I restate the entirely factual and hopefully on-topic part.

Luc mentions “firebomb attack on mosque” and “explosion in a Muslim school” as indications that the Israel/Palestinian conflict impacts life in Europe.

But these incidents (presumably he means in Holland) have no apparent connection to the Palestinian issue, so it is not clear why he thinks the incidents are pertinent.

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:47 pm

Not sure why my previous post was deleted. I hope Henry won’t object if I restate the entirely factual and hopefully on-topic part.

Luc mentions “firebomb attack on mosque” and “explosion in a Muslim school” as indications that the Israel/Palestinian conflict impacts life in Europe.

But these incidents (presumably he means in Holland) have no apparent connection to the Palestinian issue, so it is not clear why he thinks the incidents are pertinent.

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:48 pm

Not sure why my previous post was deleted. I hope Henry won’t object if I restate the entirely factual and hopefully on-topic part.

Luc mentions “firebomb attack on mosque” and “explosion in a Muslim school” as indications that the Israel/Palestinian conflict impacts life in Europe.

But these incidents (presumably he means in Holland) have no apparent connection to the Palestinian issue, so it is not clear why he thinks the incidents are pertinent.

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Otto 11.08.04 at 2:48 pm

Ragout

My point was:
1.that Israel is practising, *now* (1990s to current), settler colonialism.
2.that contemporary settler colonialism is difficult to justify in argument in a post-civil rights US or Europe.
3.that this combination of circumstances provides incentives for supporters of Israel to “bang on the table” or be uncivil in discussion.

You may disagree with 1., 2., or 3. (3. is the speculative part!) but this is politely put and a direct answer to Henry’s question.

You say: otto says supporters of Israel are “justifying continuing contemporary settler colonialism.”

On the contrary: my point is that supporters of Israel do *not* (cannot in a modern political world?) justify continuing contemporary settler colonialism, but since that is a significant part of what Israel is doing, this disjuncture puts supporters of Israel in a bind and gives incentives for incivility.

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:49 pm

Not sure why my previous post was deleted. I hope Henry won’t object if I restate the entirely factual and hopefully on-topic part.

Luc mentions “firebomb attack on mosque” and “explosion in a Muslim school” as indications that the Israel/Palestinian conflict impacts life in Europe.

But these incidents (presumably he means in Holland) have no apparent connection to the Palestinian issue, so it is not clear why he thinks the incidents are pertinent.

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:56 pm

Sorry about the multiple posts. It might have to do with using arrow keys in Firefox.

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Russkie 11.08.04 at 2:57 pm

Sorry about the multiple posts. It might have to do with using arrow keys in Firefox.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 3:01 pm

Jack,
If the Israelis lay down their arms and started turning the other cheek, how long would they last?

Oviously, as you sggested, binational state would be the best possible solution, but if that’s not realistic, what about a security fence along the legitimate 1967 border – as the first step, at least? And then they could start paying substantial reparations and make these payments conditional on absence of terrorist attacks along the border. Something like that.

You know, the good ol’ stick and carrot approach…

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Ragout 11.08.04 at 3:21 pm

I wrote: Abb1 says “Only one side operates powerful propaganda machine” and other offensive things.

Abb1 now replies by directing me to the site of a University of Michigan professor who is a vitriolic critic of Israeli policy, and of US supporters of Israel, who he likes to call “American Likudniks.”

The post he’s directing me to defends a Columbia University professor who is also a vitriolic critic of Israel and who says that “white American male sexuality exhibits certain sadistic attributes in the presence of non-white men and women over whom white Americans (and Brits) have government-sanctioned racialised power.”

Then Abb1 urges me to think!

Abb1, by bringing up these two professors from prestigious universities, I think you have proved my point. There is a powerful propaganda machine on the Palestinian side as well.

Abb1, the reason I find your “facts” offensive is because they are not true. Perhaps you should examine more sceptically the propaganda your side is putting out.

And perhaps you should stop suggesting that those who disagree with you are not thinking.

You’ve also helped proved my larger point: in secular, left-liberal discourse about Israel, and without a doubt on CT, it is the anti-Israel side that engages in uncivil, name-calling, personal attacks.

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Giles 11.08.04 at 3:46 pm

“Thomas Dent”

I went to Jaffa over the summer and you might be surprised to hear that its actaully still pretty arab even the its surrounded by Tel Aviv. In fact jaffa’s a pretty poor example of injustice in the Middle East since its probably the one area where settlement prrecedded smoothly and without a great deal of force – the Jewish settles built Tel Aviv in the dunes where no one lived and the Arabs carried on as before in Jaffa. And despite a few hicups this state of affairs continues to this day.

elsewhere the transition was not so smooth though!

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Sebastian Holsclaw 11.08.04 at 4:13 pm

The only reasonable solution to the I/P standoff is pretty much as Matthew Yglesias outlined it near the start of this thread — a two-state solution, some kind of fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some kind of substitution of money for the right of return. The official positions of Israel, the EU and the US all agree on this. The PA’s bottom line for dropping an across-the-board right of return hasn’t yet been enunciated but most rational Palestinian observers realize that it will have to done.

That has been obvious just under forever. But is there any reason to believe that reasonable/rational solution will be the acceptable solution? If that were all there was to it, this would have been resolved at one of the previous junctures.

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Giles 11.08.04 at 4:14 pm

Thomas Dent
I was in Jaffa over the summer and its still an Arab town. In fact it could be argued that its a microcosm of how Israel could have turned out in an ideal world – the Jewish settlers built a city in the Dunes North of Jaffa and left the Arabs to carry on as before.

But that obviously didnt happen everywhere – otherwise I’m not sure what your point is.

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Ragout 11.08.04 at 4:19 pm

Otto,

No doubt you’re offering your argument in good faith. But I see no bind.

One can logically believe that Israel should ultimately give up all the settlements that aren’t suburbs of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and also believe that the Palestinians are mostly to blame for the conflict. The Palestinians have made no secret of their desire to drive the Israelis into the sea, they launched the present conflict after Israel offered to make peace and give up most of the settlements, etc.

One can also believe that a lot of the settlements should ultimately be removed, but think that this would be a mistake in the absence of a peace agreement.

I’m decribing my view, of course, but there are many logically possible views that one could hold that involve supporting Israel but don’t imply support for “settler colonialism.”

(And, BTW, “settler colonialism” is a vague and unhelpful term. It’s not a clear statement of a position that might invite discussion. It’s just name calling.)

In any event, there’s no “bind,” and it seems pretty clear to me that you are suggesting that supporters of Israel have bad, hidden, motives that they aren’t willing to state.

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David Sucher 11.08.04 at 4:25 pm

“…why do arguments on this issue become so much more heated more quickly than on other issues,…”

Henry, perhaps what it might be impossible for non-Jews/non-Palestinians to grasp at a visceral level is that these are visceral issues?

This matter is perceived as (and is in fact) an existential issue; sand I think that is the simple answer as to why this matter is so heated.

The peoples — Jews at any rate, as I can’t possibly speak for Palestinians — view these matters as literal life-and-death issues. For Jews, in light of the Holocaust, that strikes me as a pretty accurate picture. And, I’d like to emphasisze, not only for Jews in Israel. That’s probably the hardest thing for non-Jews to grasp.

In my mind, there is a clear, positive, objective correlation between the existence of an Israeli Army and the tranquility in which Jews in the USA live. Putting it another, simpler way: to some unknowable degree, the existence of an Israeil state and army protects me as an American Jew. As you might imagine but probably cannot really understand, this makes the issue more than purely an intellectual pursuit.

I suspect that for Palestinians it is the same i.e. the struggle is seen as an existential one. (I am putting aside the attitudes of non-Palestinian Arabs for whom this struggle seems to be an issue of “humiliation” and historic anti-Semitism and in which the two are combined into a double horror of seeing Jews with guns.)

So my answer to Henry’s question — taken seriously and at face-value — is that this is a true life-and-death situation and it should be no surprise that it is a matter of intensity for the princpals.

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David Sucher 11.08.04 at 4:36 pm

And what is of course bizarre about the discussion (by people with no dog in the fight) is how they can come up with such weird equivalences. For example, one Cranky Professor says:

Israel is “… in the wrong on most of the key issues (settlements, Gaza, etc).

and then

“…..the ultimate goal of the Palestinians and most of their supporters is to utterly destroy (Jewish) Israel and kill or drive away all its citizens.”

He makes stupid Israeli policy equivalent to the goal of destroying Israel and seems puzzled about whom to support! (As if supporting one side or the other was particularly at issue.)

Henry, can you not understand why this discussion is so depressingly energizing?

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abb1 11.08.04 at 4:57 pm

There is a powerful propaganda machine on the Palestinian side as well.

Ragout,
I thought you were trying to refute (and categorize as ‘offensive’) my suggestion that Israeli right-wingers operate powerful propaganda machine.

Now it appears that you’re only disagreeing with the “only one side” part. Sorry, my mistake.

I don’t really agree that those professors are pushing propaganda. They are academics in the field of Middle-Eastern affairs; IOW, they are experts. But you certainly have a right to your opinion and obviously have thought about it a lot. So, FWIW, I do apologize for saying (uncivilly) “think, man” to you.

Cheers.

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Jonathan Edelstein 11.08.04 at 5:09 pm

But that debate [at The Head Heeb] is only civilized because the position of the author(s) and acceptable debate positions are effectively known in advance.

Since my comment policies have been called into question, I will state for the record that I have none; the only comments I’ve ever deleted are commercial spam. Nor do I enforce any kind of “acceptable debate positions,” although I am not and do not claim to be neutral in the debate. And I doubt that there’s any consensus among my commenters (who include Palestinians, right and left-wing Israelis, and interested bystanders) as to the narrative of the conflict.

I do, on the other hand, believe that it’s possible to disagree – even vehemently – without name-calling. People who can’t deal with that one ground rule don’t have their comments deleted, but everyone else tends to talk around them (hence the exchange you cited). It really doesn’t seem that difficult.

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SomeCallMeTim 11.08.04 at 5:13 pm

David:

Isn’t the existence of Israel pretty well founded at this point? Whether or not the Palistinians want to drive all the Israelis into the sea, it doesn’t (from the outside) look like they (or anyone they might get as an ally) are in much of a position to do anything about it.

To the extent that people discount the Palistinian vitriol, isn’t it b/c the Palistinians can’t really do anything about it? I mean, I’ve never really worried about UBL, b/c he can’t mortally wound the US and he is statistically unlikely to injure me and mine

Am I missing something here?

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Jack 11.08.04 at 5:26 pm

Ragout,
Professors at prestigious universities are hardly parti pris in this and are likely to be free to form their opinons as the facts suggest. To say that university professors with no obvious reason to favour the Palestinians are part of a propaganda machine is just not good enough. Juan Cole for example expresses himself extremely coolly. If you don’t agree, convince someone he is wrong if you can. What you have said would have got you challenged to a duel in earlier times.

ABB1,
I think building the wall on 1967 borders would have been an excellent thing — security and the moral high ground in one fell swoop. However I imagine it was not possible even if Sharon had been so inclined because of the settler vote.

I am surprised at how little pressure Sharon gets over the settlers however. US aid means there isn’t much of a peace dividend for Israel and the imbalance of power makes thes tatus quo sustainable and the settlers have votes. In combination there isn’t much political incentive for Israel to remove the settlers and the situation goes on.

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Ragout 11.08.04 at 6:08 pm

Jack,

Abb1 set the context for the use of the term propaganda when he explicitly suggested that the Anti-Defamation League was engaged in propaganda and implicitly suggested the same of the critics of Prof. Massad at Columbia. Massad’s most prominent critics are NY newspapers, a US Congressman, and some documentary filmmakers. All are perfectly free actors, and if they’re engaged in propaganda, then so are Cole (at U of M) and Massad.

“Cole expresses himself extremely coolly.” That’s absurd, and just shows how debased the discourse has become. I gave one example: Cole’s frequent charge that supporters of Israel are “American Likudniks.” Based on Cole’s writings, I take this to be an accusation of dual loyalties and treason.

Here is Cole charging a Pentagon official with treason:
“I believe that Doug Feith, for instance, has dual loyalties to the Israeli Likud Party and to the U.S. Republican Party. He thinks that their interests are completely congruent. And I also think that if he has to choose, he will put the interests of the Likud above the interests of the Republican Party.”

I’ve also criticized Cole at length on my blog. I’ve gotten discouraged, though, since these criticisms are always met with personal insults. I believe that last time I was called a “moral imbecile,” or something.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 6:15 pm

…I imagine it was not possible even if Sharon had been so inclined because of the settler vote.

I dunno. Certainly not possible for the Sharon’s right-wing government, because the settleres is their core constituency. But for a center-left government – why not? It’s true, though, that the left there is in a very bad shape these days.

According to this BBC item about the “Geneva Accord”:

…A few weeks ago, a copy of the agreement was sent to every home in Israel. It was also printed in Palestinian newspapers.

A poll published shortly after suggested that 55.6% of Palestinians and 53% of Israelis backed the principles of the Geneva accord.

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abb1 11.08.04 at 6:29 pm

Cole’s frequent charge that supporters of Israel are “American Likudniks.”

I believe the term “American Likudnik” is applied to only American supporters of Israeli right-wingers (BTW, depending on his/her POV, one might also describe them as enemies of Israel), as opposed to such genuine supporters of Israel as, say, Michael Lerner or Yossi Beilin.

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Henry 11.08.04 at 7:09 pm

Discussion is now closed – unfortunately it has demonstrated to my satisfaction the impossibility of having a reasonable conversation about Israel/Palestine, even with strong moderation. Self-evidently ridiculous comments along the lines of “in secular, left-liberal discourse about Israel, and without a doubt on CT, it is the anti-Israel side that engages in uncivil, name-calling, personal attacks,” and their equivalent from people on the other side, make it impossible to talk seriously. I suspect that with a blog with as much readers and commenters as CT, it will be impossible to discuss this sort of thing civilly – certainly, if I post on this set of issues again, I will be turning comments off.

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