Archive for February, 2010

Brant Rosen, rejectionist

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’m still thinking about the phenomenon of left-wing anti-Zionist Jews.

Let’s skip the doctrinaire Marxists stuck in their closed system like Noam Chomsky, the opportunists like Jeremy Ben-Ami, the mentally unbalanced like Norman Finklestein and those obsessed by hatred like Philip Weiss (note that some of the above fall into more than one category).

Let’s talk about the non-pathological ones who have nevertheless come to think that the existence of a Jewish state is fundamentally unjust. Sometimes they even say that Jewish ethics precludes Zionism.

A good example is Rabbi Brant Rosen. A reconstructionist rabbi, he calls himself a member of the “co-existence community.”  This sounds like a good thing; Jews and Arabs should co-exist. But Rosen’s approach turns out to be one-sided.

He stopped celebrating Yom ha’Atzmaut last year because, in his words,

As a Jew, as someone who has identified with Israel for his entire life, it is profoundly painful to me to admit the honest truth of this day: that Israel’s founding is inextricably bound up with its dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. In the end, Yom Ha’atzmaut and what the Palestinian people refer to as the Nakba are two inseparable sides of the same coin. And I simply cannot separate these two realities any more.

Obviously there are some serious historical issues buried here. ‘Indigenous’ carries a lot of freight. Were Arabs who came to Ottoman Palestine in the 1830’s from Egypt with Muhammed Ali so much more ‘indigenous’ than the Zionists of the 1890’s? What about Arabs who arrived after the turn of the 20th century to take advantage of economic development fertilized by Jews? What about the Jews who had been in ‘Palestine’ since the exit of the crusaders?

Another important word is ‘dispossession’. We know that some Arabs were forced from their homes in 1948; but we also know that some villages were centers of murder and terrorism waged against the nearby Jewish communities for decades. We know also that the Arab leadership of the time was not prepared to compromise over territory, choosing war instead. And the Jews were up against the wall with nowhere else to go.

For Rabbi Rosen, the sin of the birth of the state was that the Jews won that war, with the consequence that many Arabs left their homes and could not get back — some because they were expelled, many simply to escape the war zone. Objectively there were few massacres. What do you think would have happened had the Arabs won?

Rosen also seems to stop at the nakba. He doesn’t discuss the weaponization of the refugees by the Arab states, abetted by the West in the form of UNRWA, or the viciousness of Arab ‘resistance’, usually taking the shape of terrorism aimed at the civilian population of Israel. He ignores the “Three No’s.” He doesn’t talk about Yasser Arafat’s use of terror throughout the Oslo period, his building an educational and media system designed to create hatred and prevent reconciliation, his misrepresentation of the Camp David and Taba offers, and his rejection of them in favor of still more death and destruction. In general, Rosen doesn’t hold Arabs responsible for bad decisions and wrong actions.

I think this is a key point. He sees these things as irrelevant because in his view the nakba was so unjust that any means are permitted to reverse it. The crime was committed by the Jews in 1947-8 and must be atoned for before there can be co-existence.

But how to atone? Rabbi Rosen quotes approvingly from an article by Amaya Galili of Zochrot, which I’ll talk about another time. Galili says,

Accepting responsibility for the nakba and its ongoing consequences obligates me to ask hard questions about the establishment of Israeli society, particularly about how we live today. I want to accept responsibility, to correct this reality, to change it. Not say, “There’s no choice. This is how we’ve survived for 61 years, and that’s how we’ll keep surviving.” It’s not enough for me just to “survive.” I want to live in a society that is aware of its past, and uses it to build a future that can include all the inhabitants of the country and all its refugees.

Galili and Rosen want Israeli Jews to ‘correct reality’. It’s funny; it would seem to me that Oslo was just such an attempt. But of course it was not enough, just like Olmert’s 2008 offer wasn’t enough, because only reversing the nakba — which means granting an Arab right of return and ending the Jewishness of the state — could be. Only Israel’s un-winning the War of Independence would be enough for them.

So despite Rosen’s attempt to suggest that he wants justice for both sides, he allows just one side to define ‘justice’. While he is capable of seeing the nakba as a disaster for the Arabs, he can’t seem to see the years of terrorism against Jews in the Mideast — before and after 1948 — as a disaster for the victims. When he asks the Jews to ‘take responsibility’, he wants them to take all the responsibility, as if the Arabs have been entirely passive for the last 100 years.

This is not the position of someone who thinks that both Jews and Arabs have similar rights as humans and that fairness is the highest virtue. This is the position of a partisan of one side, who will be satisfied with nothing less than complete, total victory. It is identical with the Arab rejectionist point of view that has prevented co-existence for all of these years.

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Chance of Mideast war not as great as it may seem

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Many commentators (including me) have been worried about the possibility of a new regional war in the Mideast, possibly triggered by a US or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, or by Hizballah launching its massive rocket collection at Israel. But recently I’ve come to think that war is unlikely in the near future.

Everyone pretty much agrees that a preemptive US attack is not in the cards.

Anne Applebaum, in the Washington Post, writes:

[Barack Obama] will not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations for precisely the same reasons that George W. Bush did not bomb Iran’s nuclear installations: Because we don’t know exactly where they all are, because we don’t know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran’s threatened response — against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon — isn’t one we want to cope with at this moment. Nor do we want the higher oil prices that would instantly follow. No American president doing a sober calculation would start a war of choice now, while U.S. troops are actively engaged on two other fronts, and no American president could expect public support for more than a nanosecond.

She left out one other important point: the US is relatively low on the list of those who are directly threatened by the Iranian bomb. Said list looks something like this:

  1. Sunni Arab regimes (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, Jordan), Lebanese Christians, etc.
  2. Israel
  3. Europe
  4. The US

So while a nuclear Iran will be very bad for us in the long run — we’ll get those high oil prices anyway — we are not digging up our backyards to build shelters, as they are (figuratively) doing in Israel.

Note that I put the conservative Arab regimes first on the list. Barry Rubin explains, here, that that the Arabs correctly think that whatever happens, they will be losers:

If the United States … or Israel attacks Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons’ facilities, Iran and its allies will unleash a wider conflict … that will suck in the Arabs. But if no one stops Iran from getting weapons, the Arabs will suffer even more from Iranian imperialism, both direct and through fomenting revolutionary upheaval.

What about a preemptive Israeli attack? It’s also unlikely at this stage. Israel knows that an effective attack would be difficult and uncertain, and the Iranian retaliation painful, so it will act only to prevent a direct nuclear threat from Iran. Most analysts do not believe that there is such a threat yet, and there will not be for at least another year.

The warlike talk coming from Ahmadinejad and his proxies has lately been increasing in volume. But this could have two very different meanings:

  • Ahmadinejad may think the time is actually ripe for a regional war to eliminate Israel, or
  • he is trying to scare the US and Israel in order to deter them from taking military action against his weapons program.

I think the latter is more likely. My reasoning is as follows:

Hizballah could attack Israel, if it gets a green light from Iran. But Israel has made clear to Iran and Syria that they would not get off unscathed if this happens. Since it would not have anything to lose once the rockets start flying, Israel would certainly make a point of hitting Iranian nuclear facilities, which Iran very much wishes to preserve.

More important, if Iran were forced to respond in turn by taking actions that would affect the oil supply like blocking the strait of Hormuz, or if it were to attack American troops in the Mideast, it would be very hard for the US to keep from responding, no matter who is President. While the US would never invade Iran, a sustained bombing campaign against nuclear and other military targets — which the US, unlike Israel, is very capable of waging — would set the Iranian program back years and possibly bring about regime change.

Ahmadinejad understands all this. He also knows that Hizballah, Syria and Hamas together could do a lot of damage but probably do not represent an existential threat to Israel.  So it is not in his interest to initiate a conflict at whose end he will find himself much weaker and maybe out of power. Iran controls Hizballah tightly. So, barring accidents, he will keep the reins tight.

What I think is that the Iranian regime’s present goal, above all else, is to obtain the nuclear capability that will enable it to dominate the region, through aggression and subversion under the nuclear umbrella. This is the main fear of the Arab regimes that Rubin alludes to. Therefore a war with Israel — or worse, the US — is not to Iran’s advantage today.

I also don’t think that the peripheral players, like Russia, want to see it either. Russia continues to temporize about delivering the A-300 antiaircraft system that it has sold to Iran, probably because its delivery would make an Israeli attack more likely.

Of course, once Iran has attained its goal of becoming a true nuclear power, everything changes. But that won’t happen this year.

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On being pro-Israel

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Somewhere in the discussion about what it means to be pro-Israel (in the context of J Street, the New Israel Fund [NIF], etc.) I heard the following:

Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean supporting Israel no matter what it does

I get it. I understand where they’re coming from.

Suppose my neighbor is arrested and charged with stealing a car. Would I support him? Would I bail him out of jail? Well, that would depend on my judgment of his character and his motives. Maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t.  I’d try to be fair; after all, he has the same rights as anyone else. This is the attitude of the ‘progressive’ Jew toward Israel.

Now suppose someone is arrested and charged as above. Only this time it’s my son. Everything changes. Would I support him no matter what he does? Of course not, but I would try much harder to understand him. I would give him the benefit of the doubt. I would listen to his story. I would give his explanations at least as much credence as those of his accusers, maybe more. This is the attitude of the Zionist Jew.

Zionists among the Jewish people gave birth to the modern state of Israel, sacrificed for it and supported it in its childhood.  The Zionist feels differently about Israel than he does about, say, Japan. The best analogy is to say that he feels a family relationship.

The ‘progressive’ Jew that sees himself as a post-nationalist world citizen doesn’t feel that. He imagines that he’s gone beyond the narrow family of the Jewish people and joined the wider circle of humanity. For him, Israel is “just another country“.

“No,” the J Streeter says, “we really love Israel. But we believe in Tough Love.”

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Tough love is what you get to after years of trying regular love, what you do when you have no other choice, when your family member is so bad or destructive that you have to protect yourself. The slick, cool con men of J Street never had a love relationship with the Jewish state.  The person or group at NIF that could choose Adalah to receive more than $1 million could not have loved the Jewish state, if they had read Adalah’s position papers.

This really isn’t a question of Left and Right. Amos Oz is a leftist who loves Israel, and he’s not the only one. I disagree with the Zionist Left the way I disagree with family members. There’s a bottom line that unites us, a bottom line of belief in Jewish self-determination, which presupposes a belief that it makes sense to talk about a Jewish people that we both belong to.

When Michael Oren refused to meet with J Street because it took positions — on Iranian sanctions, on calling for an immediate cease-fire in Operation Cast Lead, on the Goldstone report — that were damaging to Israel’s interests, he was in effect saying that J Street had gone beyond the bottom line. And I think we can see that this could happen because their staff’s idea of their ‘people’ is only secondarily, if at all, the Jewish people.

James Traub wrote an article in the NY Times Magazine about J Street, which, while it contained some of the usual nonsense about the Mideast, was revealing about J Street. It included this:

The average age of the dozen or so staff members is about 30. [J Street Executive Director Jeremy] Ben-Ami speaks for, and to, this post-Holocaust generation. “They’re all intermarried [see update — ed.],” he says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” They are, he adds, baffled by the notion of “Israel as the place you can always count on when they come to get you.”

I think they are probably also baffled by, or at least see themselves as having transcended, the idea of the Jewish people — although I wonder how they would respond if asked if there is a ‘Palestinian people’?

Update [24 Feb 0803 PST]: I’ve been informed that in an interview Ben-Ami clarified that he did not mean that his staff was all intermarried, but rather that the young generation of Jews was “different”.

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The myth of Jewish self-hatred

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Barry Rubin has a fascinating post (here) about recognizing antisemitism, and how so many otherwise smart people can’t do it.

Almost at the end he makes a significant point in an offhand way. Talking about some Jewish communists who displayed great antipathy to Judaism and were “more loyal than the king” in attacking anticommunists, he suggests that they are motivated by “ideology and selfish self-promoting … interests” rather than self-hatred, which he calls “a major myth.”

Of course. Most of the Jewish Israel-haters, from the ones who are out front about it, like Max Blumenthal, to the ones who claim to be “pro-Israel” while they do their best to subvert it, like Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street, do not have a strong enough connection to Judaism to hate themselves over it.

They are probably quite honest in expressing the bemusement they feel when they are called “self-hating Jews.” In truth, they are barely Jews at all. What’s to hate?

Marcy Winograd, a candidate for Congress in Los Angeles, gives us this perfect example:

Though I identify with persecuted Jews, I grow up longing to be part of the dominant culture. I hang little red and green lights on plastic Christmas trees and rarely visit temple except to hava nagila at the boys’ bar mitzvahs or to pray on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we never atone for the sin of theft, slaughter, or occupation.

No hate here, just indifference. Rubin’s suggestion is much more straightforward: Jewish anti-Zionists use their Jewish ethnicity to increase their power and importance, to draw attention to themselves and to gain credibility, because in the ceaseless din of the arena of anti-Zionist activism, it’s hard to stand out without a unique shtick.

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The case for whacking Bin Laden

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’ve heard speculation that recent events in Pakistan — the arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and others — may finally make it possible for the US to locate Osama Bin Laden.

Assuming that theories that the US doesn’t really want to capture or kill Bin Laden because of connections to his powerful family are false (I honestly have no opinion about this), the question arises:

If we get him, what should we do with him?

Some will undoubtedly want to put him on trial, while others would like to publicly throw him off a tall building. Some will claim that our behavior must be based on our commitment to universal principles of morality and law, while others will point out that he didn’t treat the 3,000+ victims of 9/11 morally and he shouldn’t be treated any better.

There will be the usual statements that “it would be bad to make him a martyr”. Let’s dismiss this right away: his supporters are already fanatical enough to commit suicide in order to advance their goals. So it really doesn’t matter if they have one more picture of a dead guy to hold up.

My point of view is beginning to show: a war-crimes trial would be incredibly expensive and provide a long, drawn out opportunity for his supporters to present their point of view to the world. This point of view is not something that can be debated alongside our Western one; it represents a wholly different paradigm. There’s nothing to talk about.

Indeed, if we do anything other than kill him, we will be sending a message to the other side. It will not be the message that we are moral and strong enough to treat him ‘fairly’, it will be the message that we are too weak and cowardly to fight back.  The message we might want to send won’t cross the barrier between our disparate conceptual schemes.

Don’t even bother arresting him, even if the goal is to electrocute him after due process. Just find him and blow him to bits in the cheapest way possible.

The other side will understand.

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