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Arendt, Israel, and Why Jews Have So Many Rules

by Corey Robin on May 13, 2015

For more than five decades, readers of Eichmann in Jerusalem have accused Hannah Arendt of being a self-hating Jew. In the current issue of The Nation, I turn that accusation on its head. Eichmann in Jerusalem, I argue, “is a Jewish text filled not only with a modernist sense of Jewish irony…but also with an implicit Decalogue, a Law and the Prophets, animating every moment of its critique.” The reaction against Eichmann in Jerusalem, on the other hand, often coming from Jews, “has something about it that, while not driven by Jew-haters or Jew-hatred, nevertheless draws deeply, if unwittingly, from that well.” What explains this reaction from Jews? Perhaps, I go onto write, it has something to do with the jump, within a relatively short period of time, “from the abject powerlessness of the Holocaust to the mega-power of the modern state” of Israel. That jump “not only liberated the Jew from his Judaism but also allowed him to indulge the classic canards against it.” Arendt was one of the earliest to spot that jump; the half-century-long campaign against her, which shows no signs of abating, is but one register of its consequences.

Along the way, I talk in my piece about the banality of evil, that moment in the 1960s when Norman Podhoretz wasn’t a fool, negative liberalism, the argument last fall between Seyla Benhabib and Richard Wolin, why Jews have so many rules, Matthew Arnold, and what the wrongness of Eichmann‘s readers reveals about the rightness of its arguments.

Read it here.

Some Responses to the Israeli Election

by Corey Robin on March 20, 2015

Yousef Munayyer in the New York Times:

This might seem counterintuitive, but the political dynamics in Israel and internationally mean that another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t.

Israelis have grown very comfortable with the status quo. In a country that oversees a military occupation that affects millions of people, the biggest scandals aren’t about settlements, civilian deaths or hate crimes but rather mundane things like the price of cottage cheese and whether the prime minister’s wife embezzled bottle refunds.

For Israelis, there’s currently little cost to maintaining the occupation and re-electing leaders like Mr. Netanyahu. Raising the price of occupation is therefore the only hope of changing Israeli decision making. Economic sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s increased its international isolation and put pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate. Once Israelis are forced to decide between perpetual occupation and being accepted in the international community, they may choose a more moderate leader who dismantles settlements and pursues peace, or they may choose to annex rather than relinquish land — provoking a confrontation with America and Europe. Either way, change will have to come from the outside.

The re-election of Mr. Netanyahu provides clarity….The two-state solution, which has seen more funerals than a reverend, exists today only as a talking point for self-interested, craven politicians to hide behind — not as a realistic basis for peace.

Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary.

[click to continue…]

Jews Without Israel

by Corey Robin on September 7, 2013

In shul this morning, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi spoke at length about the State of Israel. This is more surprising than you might think. I’ve been going to this shul since I moved to Brooklyn in 1999, and if memory serves, it’s only been in the last two or three years that the rabbi has devoted at least one of her High Holy Days talks to Israel.

Throughout the aughts, Israel didn’t come up much in shul. During flash points of the Second Intifada, you might hear a prayer for Jewish Israelis or nervous temporizing about some action in Jenin or Gaza. But I can’t recall an entire sermon devoted to the State of Israel and its meaning for Jews.

That’s also how I remember much of my synagogue experience as a kid. Don’t get me wrong: Israel was central to my Jewish education. My entire family—my five sisters, my parents, and my grandfather—visited there with our synagogue in 1977. Several of my sisters, as well as my parents, have been back. The safety of Israel was always on my mind; I remember spending many a Friday night service imagining a terrorist attack on our synagogue, so short seemed the distance between suburban New York and Tel Aviv. I wrote about Israel in school essays (I actually defended its role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre). I had a strong feeling for Israel (or what I thought was Israel): a combination of hippie and holy, Godly and groovy, a feeling well captured by Steven Spielberg in Munich. [click to continue…]

Asks “Jeffrey Goldberg”:http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/06/why-is-ireland-such-a-bastion-of-anti-israel-feeling/241067/, in a blogpost that relies in its entirety on a column by Irish opinionator “Kevin Myers”:http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/kevin-myers/kevin-myers-how-can-dogooders-possibly-think-that-gaza-is-the-primary-centre-of-injustice-in-middle-east-2804748.html. A cogent question, to be sure. But only one of a number of such questions which have been investigated by the indefatigable Mr. Myers. I look forward to future Myers-inspired Jeffrey Goldberg posts, asking the hard questions about why we give aid to Africa, “when Africa has given nothing to anyone – except for AIDS”:http://web.archive.org/web/20090422225329/http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/kevin-myers/africa-is-giving-nothing-to-anyone–apart-from-aids-1430428.html. After all, the “wide-eyed boy-child we saved, 20 years or so ago, is now a priapic, Kalashnikov-bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him.” Myers is indeed quite emphatic about the threat of African priapism, warning us about “violent, Kalashnikov-toting, khat-chewing, girl-circumcising, permanently tumescent layabouts,” and “an entire continent of sexually hyperactive indigents,” where politicians indulge in “voodoo idiocy” about “the efficacy of a little tap water on the post-coital penis as a sure preventative against infection.” And this is not even to mention the threat on the home front of “a welfare state”:http://www.indymedia.ie/article/82069?condense_comments=true which encourages teenage girls to “consciously embark upon a career of mothering bastards because it seems a good way of getting money and accommodation from the State.” I’m looking forward to Goldberg’s in-depth investigation of the “cash-crop whelping” scandal in a forthcoming issue of the _Atlantic Monthly._ Very likely, the Israel hating, handwringing politically correct liberals who have targeted Myers in the past will start to target Goldberg too. But I’ve no doubt whatsoever that he has the moral courage to withstand them.

Matthew Yglesias was kind enough to link to my Necrotrends post. In comments over there I explained that, in all false modesty, I actually hadn’t worked out whether I thought it was a seance story or a zombie story. Is it Mark Penn as the kid in “Sixth Sense” – ‘I poll dead people’. Or is it William McKinley stashed in a shed like the former roommate at the end of “Shaun of the Dead”? Unclear, is all I can conclude. (One commenter suggested BOTH: si se puede! Fair enough.) But mostly I bring this up because Bruce Bartlett showed up in comements over there. As there was considerable speculation in comments to my original post as to whether the man could say such things with a straight face … I report, you decide: [click to continue…]

Via Matthew Yglesias, this is enough to make a cat laugh. As I’ve argued elsewhere, although the Mearsheimer & Walt “Israel Lobby” does have a referent which is a real and definable set of groups and institutions, this lobby really doesn’t have all that much to do with Israel. Every time this slightly scary bunch of warlike, paranoid and rather right-wing people are asked to make a choice between the national interests of Israel and their own vanity politics, it’s Israel that gets shafted. Any concern over “divided loyalties” or what have you is completely misplaced – the “Israel Lobby” are nationalists of a completely imaginary state, one which has no meaningful politics of its own, no need to compromise with reality and no national interests other than constant war.

Note also that the well-known South Africa analogy, which has been pronounced to be intrinsically bigoted and anti-semitic by the wisest heads outside Israel, is considered normal politics by the head of government of that country. I begin to think that the Israeli state (which has, over the years, played its part in giving these nutters much more prominence and credibility than they deserve) has been lately finding the wingnuttier wing of American “pro-Israel” politics to be more trouble than it is worth. There are all sorts of reasons one might have to be less than happy with the human rights record of the State of Israel, but as far as I can see they don’t deserve to be blamed for the extremely negative contribution made to public debate in English-speaking politics by the political organisation trading under their name.

Jon Pike (Open U) has emailed me about an initiative he has launched to get the question of whether or not there should be an “academic boycott” of Israel put to the entire membership of the union. As CT readers will know, I’m opposed to the academic boycott. But even if I weren’t, the idea that this issue should be decided by a small group of activists strikes me as absurd and undemocratic. So I urge all British academics who are members of the UCU to support Jon’s initiative and “sign the petition”:http://www.ucu-ballot.org/ .

UPDATE: It turns out the whole question is moot, as the UCU has “acted”:http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2829 on advice that any boycott would be illegal.

Hitchens (no, the other one) on Israel

by Chris Bertram on June 18, 2007

“Matt Turner”:http://www.matthewturner.co.uk/Blog/2007/06/israel.html links to “an article on contemporary Israel and its future”:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=462445&in_page_id=1770 . It is a remarkably even-handed, interesting, and generally civilized piece of journalism. All the more surprising, then, that the author is Christopher Hitchens’s ultra-conservative brother Peter and that it appears in Britain’s most repulsive newspaper, the Daily Mail.

Academic boycott of Israel redux

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2007

I’m confused. According to the many media reports, the UCU, successor to the AUT and NATFE and the main trade union representing British academics, “has voted to reinstitute the boycott of Israeli universities”:http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/worldwide/story/0,,2091769,00.html that the AUT finally rejected last year. But in fact, _as far as I can tell_ , the UCU Congress has done no such thing. Rather it has passed some rather wooly pro-Palestinian resolutions and has ordered its executive to promote discussion of the boycott at branches over the next year or so. The practical effect of this in the world is at best close to zero. In fact it is almost certainly negative: no-one actually gets boycotted but the worst elements of the Israeli right (and the likes of Alan Dershowitz) get a renewed opportunity to portray themselves as victims.

Aside from the general stupidity of the boycott campaign (well “summed-up”:http://unspeak.net/exclusion-wall/ by Steven Poole last year), it promises to consume a lot of energy in fruitless arguments that go nowhere. Last time this happened “I stood up on my hind legs at my local AUT branch and opposed the pro-boycott motion”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/05/03/ariel-sharon-and-the-aut-boycott/ . I’ll vote against it again this time, when the opportunity presents itself. I have to say though, that I’m a lot less motivated to oppose the boycotters than I was. They are just as wrong as they ever were, but I’ve been sufficiently disgusted by Israeli conduct over the past year (especially in Lebanon) not to feel all that much enthusiasm for making a big effort. And then there’s the fact that when I did speak up against the boycott I received a load of offensive email. Normally, you’d expect to get such email from the people on the other side, telling you what a horrible sellout you’ve been. But I didn’t receive a single bit of hostile email from a pro-Palestinian persepective. Rather, I got a good deal from Likudniks and their American friends who mistakenly assumed that if I opposed the boycott I must share their vile perspective on Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular. (No thanks. Go away! I don’t want email from people like you.)

“Martha Nussbaum’s article in Dissent”:http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=811 puts the case against the boycott pretty well. However there’s one pro-boycott argument that she doesn’t address and which I’ve not heard a good reply to. It doesn’t, for me, outweigh the arguments against, but I do think it weakens the often-put “double standards” argument that anti-Israel measures unfairly discriminate against Israel since there are far worse countries in the world. (This is often accompanied by the further claim that because Israel is picked out whilst other countries are worse, the motive of the boycotters must be sinister and is probably anti-semitic.) The argument is this: that the Israeli perpetrators of injustice are far more vulnerable to outside pressure than, say, the Chinese or the Russians are. Measures taken against Israel therefore stand a better chance of being effective. The Russian treatment of the Chechens or the Chinese treatment of the Tibetans may indeed be worse than the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But we can take action _now_ to force the Israelis to negotiate and to end the injustice of the occupation, whereas we cannot act with similar prospect of success against Russia or China. Obviously that argument depends on a number of facts about the way the world is. And those facts are highly contestable. But it doesn’t depend (to the contrary!) on any claim that Israel is uniquely or even especially evil or unjust.

Bombs, Israel and Iran

by Henry on February 21, 2007

“Garance Franke-Ruta”:http://www.prospect.org/weblog/2007/02/post_2867.html#015583 accuses John Edwards of having no foreign policy principles.

Was it really just a month ago that John Edwards was speaking to an Israeli audience at Herzliya and saying [that Iran was at the top of the list of threats to the world and Israel]. … Because Variety’s Peter Bart reports that he has rather dramatically changed his tune [saying that perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities]. … How a serious presidential candidate could so rapidly go from taking a foreign policy position to saying that people who share that position are a grave threat to world peace is beyond me. … How is anyone supposed to trust that he means anything that he says now?

Now Edwards has been less than adept in talking about foreign policy issues, but not only is it clear to me that these points of view are compatible, but they arguably follow from each other. One of the arguments that I’ve heard repeatedly in informal discussions with Iran hawks is that the US needs to talk tough on Iran, and take direct action against it, because if it doesn’t, Israel will, perhaps provoking a major regional conflagration. In other words, you can both be in favour of (a) not taking the option of US bombing off the table, and (b) worry about what would happen if Israel decided to bomb Iran. To be clear, I’m vigorously opposed to bombing Iran myself (if nothing else, bombing is likely to be “useless in achieving its express aims”:http://www.columbia.edu/cu/siwps/images/newsletter3/Betts%20-%20Osirak%20Fallacy.pdf). I suspect that Edwards isn’t too keen on the idea either, and is more interested in rattling sabres to deter Iran’s nuclear efforts than in declaring war on Iran (although I suspect that his maladroitness has left some serious hostages to fortune if he gets the nomination and runs against a more hawkish Republican). But it’s clear to me that Franke-Ruta is flat out wrong in suggesting that this particular statement is evidence of untrustworthiness – it may attract political controversy (which is why the campaign seems to be back-peddling) but it’s a pretty unexceptionable claim. You don’t have to be either pro- or anti-Israel to recognize that Israeli action against Iran is likely to have pretty nasty consequences for the entire region. This is a broadly shared analysis, even if it isn’t often directly articulated; cf the first Gulf War, Hussein’s efforts to drag Israel in by lobbing Scuds, and Israel’s restraint, partly at the urging of the US, from retaliating.

Note to commenters: as usual, I will be policing comments and anything that drifts into a general discussion of the merits and demerits of Israel/Palestine etc will be ruthlessly deleted. I’ll be paying particular attention to the comments of past repeat offenders (yes, abb1; that means you).

Israel’s War Crimes

by Daniel on August 4, 2006

Following on from last week’s post on Hezbollah’s War Crimes, it would seem appropriate to follow up with a discussion of the actions of the state of Israel with respect to the Geneva Conventions. Human Rights Watch has an excellent and thoroughly-researched report on the subject of whether the civilian casualties in Lebanon have been the result of collateral damage to legitimate military actions, or whether there have been instances of illegitimate, intentional or excessive violence against civilians. It concludes that there is certainly a case to answer. There is also the issue of whether the war crime of “reprisals” has been committed – the carrying out of acts of violence against civilians in order to put pressure on their government to carry out some desired course of action, which is of course called “terrorism” when non-state actors do it.

I had prepared a post on this subject, but the Human Rights Watch report is so much more thorough that I think it’s better to base discussion on that (by the way, the comments on the Hezbollah war crimes post were very civilised and intelligent, let’s repeat that). My summary of the report’s conclusions would be that the proposition that the IDF “takes the utmost care to minimise civilian casualties” has been falsified to a high degree of certainty, and even the weaker claim that the IDF does not intentionally target civilians looks a lot less certain than one would previously have believed. The attacks on infrastructure such as the LibanLait dairy look not at all like legitimate attempts to shut down Hezbollah and very much like attempts to intimidate the Lebanese population; unless we are prepared to postulate a truly colossal series of blunders, it looks very bad indeed.

Israel has in the past been able to maintain, with some justification, that there can be no “moral equivalence” between its actions and those of the terrorists; an important point when the physical effects of the IDF’s actions have been so many more deaths than the physical effects of terrorism. Whatever the jus ad bellum, this issue of jus in bello matters a lot, and speculation about the long term genocidal aims of the President of Iran simply cannot justify war crimes now. The gradual disintegration of the clear distinctions between the conduct in war of Israel and that of its enemies, which are very important in maintaining Israel’s international diplomatic reputation, ought to worry the Israeli government a lot more than it apparently does.

Israel and Boobs

by Daniel on July 20, 2006

I thought I’d give this post a title which combines the obsession of the blogosphere with the obsession of the entire internet, because Max Sawicky has been complaining that some of our post titles have been a little bit off-putting of late, in particular, “Was Foucault a closet Habermasian?”. Max has a point; Foucault is all right but Habermas is ratings death. I actually own a book called “Hegel, Habermas and Hermeneutics” which I bought secondhand out of sheer admiration for the publisher’s gall at such a commercially suicidal title. It was standing next to a row of ten other copies, mint and unopened.

It got me to thinking though; what would be the most off-putting title in the world? So far, my suggestions are “Insurance Accounting in the Communist Countries”, “Comitology in the EU” and “The Role of Telecommunications Standards in the WTO Negotiations”.

The thing is, all three of these issues are actually rather interesting, and so was “Was Foucault a Closet Habermasian?”. It just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I suppose. Furthermore, I am in the mood to get all contrarian and say that off-putting titles can be a virtue. Henry’s title of the Foucault post might have scared off readers who didn’t care about Foucault and Habermas, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that it was about Foucault and Habermas. Certainly, the posts with popular and whizzy titles often seem to attract the most ferocious morons to their comments sections.

So what would be the most genuinely off-putting title for a potentially interesting post? Suggestions are welcome in comments with one proviso: I am not looking for fictitious posts. Anyone suggesting a post title had better be able and prepared to write 250 words on the subject without being boring (or even better – link to a real-world example on their own blog). I will be making a few quasi-randomly selected calls of “bullshit” to keep you honest.

Israel and the Arabs

by Chris Bertram on October 11, 2005

It is always dangerous to start a Middle East thread on CT. But I just wanted to react to the first episode of the BBC’s new series “Israel and the Arabs: The Elusive Peace”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/elusive_peace/default.stm , which British viewers saw last night [and some Americans on PBS, it turns out! H/T Nick in comments]. Others will undoubtedly disagree, but I thought nearly everyone depicted in the first episode, which centred on Clinton’s attempt to broker peace, came out of the documentary with credit. Both Barak and Arafat emerged as serious about peace, but as being too limited by their respective constituencies to deliver an agreement: Barak feared electoral defeat, Arafat assassination. The other players, especially Albright and Clinton, came across as the tough, competent and impressive people they are (such a contrast with their successors). And one was left with a sense of how recent all this was, and how distant it now feels (post 9/11).

I said nearly everyone emerged with some credit. There were two exceptions: Chirac and Sharon. Chirac for the way in which he let his absurd vanity interfere with a historic chance for peace, Sharon for his irresponsible and provocative grandstanding at the Temple Mount.

Oppose the Blacklist of Israeli Academics

by Eszter Hargittai on May 9, 2005

Jeff Weintraub has posted a petition calling on all academic and scholarly associations to join the AAUP in condemning the boycott of Israeli universities and academics. The American Sociological Association and the American Political Science Association are singled out as associations that should endorse the AAUP’s statement. You can add your signature to the petition here.

Crosses, crescents and another anti-Israel boycott

by Eszter Hargittai on May 4, 2005

Jeff Weintraub (via Normblog) writes a post I have been meaning to write forever. It relates to why I don’t donate [1] to the Red Cross: the International Federation’s refusal to grant the Israeli branch – Magen David Adom – full membership. The post is motivated by this editorial in The New York Times. The author of the editorial explains:

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies includes Red Cross organizations from North Korea, Iran and Cuba, but not from Israel. The reason it gives is that the corresponding Israeli society, Magen David Adom, uses the Jewish star as its emblem and will not adopt the red cross or red crescent, emblems that are recognized by the Geneva Conventions and the international Red Cross movement. Understandably, the Israelis do not want to adopt either of these emblems because they are heavy with religious meaning.

It seems like the issue is all about symbols. But as Jeff Weintraub notes, the opposition to admit the Israeli branch comes from particular countries and reflects more politics than a conflict over images.

Opposition by Red Crescent branches from Islamic countries, including but not restricted to the Arab world, has always been the decisive factor preventing the inclusion of Israel. It is now more than a half-century since the creation of Israel, and it is time for these countries to come to terms with Israel’s existence – not to endorse Israel’s policies, or even necessarily to make peace with Israel (if that seems too radical), but just to accept its existence. If they can’t bring themselves to do this, then at least the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization should do so.

The NYTimes editorial ends by explaining why it is ironic and troubling for the actions of an organization such as the ICRC to be so politically motivated:

Despite all the talk of emblems, it is politics that have impeded Israel’s entry. That situation puts the Red Cross movement in an unfortunate position. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the arm of the movement that works in conflict zones and visits prisoners, often finds itself urging nations to put politics aside and do the right thing, such as in its current work on behalf of the detainees at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay. It will be in a better position to make these moral appeals when it can show that it is part of a movement that does what is right, rather than what is politically expedient, when it comes to running its own shop.

1. Of course, my actions may well be unfair to the American Red Cross given that it has tried to pressure the International Red Cross to ending its boycott of the Israeli organization. Nonetheless, there are enough other organizations in need of donations that I will continue to channel my support away from ones with strong ties to such overt anti-Israel stances.