Archive for March, 2013

The logic of pigs with wings

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Winged pigs

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to teach elementary logic. One of the first topics was compound truth-functional statements, in which the truth of the compound is dependent on the truth of the components. So for example, the compound statement ‘p or q’ is true if and only if either or both of the components, p and q are true.

The definition of the ‘if p then q’ (called a ‘conditional’, and sometimes written p->q) statement seemed counter-intuitive to some students. It is true if and only if either p is false or q is true. That may seem strange, but think about it: suppose I assert that “if I drink 3 cups of coffee then I will have insomnia.” What could falsify this statement? Only one situation: I drink the coffee but still sleep normally.

This definition can be expressed as a “truth table” which tells us what the result will be for every possible combination of truth and falsehood of the antecedent (p) and the consequent (q). Here it is:

p

q

p->q

True

True

True

True

False

False

False

True

True

False

False

True

Not every conditional statement that we make is a simple function of the truth of its components, but many of them are.

Here is one that I see a lot:

“A majority of Jewish Israelis would give up most of Judea and Samaria, even evacuate settlements, for peace.”

Another way of saying this is that most Jewish Israelis agree with this conditional statement:

“If it would result in a lasting peace, I would support withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.”

The only case in which this statement is false is the one in which the speaker does not support withdrawal despite believing that it would result in peace. So no wonder a majority agrees with it.

It is perfectly rational to accept the truth of the if-then statement, but not support withdrawal because one does not believe that peace would result. For example, many Israelis believe that a withdrawal would result in a Hamas takeover and a Gaza-like situation a few miles from Israel’s population centers. Some point to the PLO’s refusal to recognize a Jewish state with any borders. Others compare the ease with which the Arabs could tear up a peace agreement to the difficulty of repossessing the land after it is ceded.

So clearly the truth of the statement does not imply a readiness on the part of the Israeli public to withdraw; rather it points to a strong desire to finally have an end to the conflict.

But there is more. The truth table above tells us that a conditional is always true when the antecedent is false. In this case, the truth of the consequent is irrelevant. This means that if the antecedent is contradictory or in some way impossible, then the whole statement is always true — but in a trivial sense.

This is what I call a “winged pig conditional.” And that’s what this statement actually is — a trivial one whose assertion commits the speaker to nothing.

I am prepared to bet $1,000 on the truth of the conditional statement “if pigs had wings, then they could fly” (with proper safeguards prohibiting bionic wings, etc.). This is because the antecedent “pigs have wings” is so unlikely as to be considered impossible. So I am not risking any money.

And based on my understanding of the oft-stated intentions of the PLO and Hamas, of Palestinian Arab public opinion, of PA and Hamas media, I can say that the proposition that withdrawal would lead to peace is just as unlikely.

To a great extent, the whole idea of a two-state solution as presented by President Obama, Shimon Peres, etc. is a winged pig. Of course it would be wonderful if Israelis and Arabs could live side by side in peace, but since the idea of a Jewish state is so consistently rejected by the Arab side, the questions of “how do we get there” so beloved by Dennis Ross, for example, are so irrelevant as to be uninteresting.

Some years ago, PM Netanyahu made news when he announced (under US pressure) that he supported the idea of a Palestinian state in the context of a “two-state solution.” What he meant, of course, was a kind of winged-pig conditional: if the Arabs would agree to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, if the state could be demilitarized, if various security requirements could be met, then

Of course the response from Mahmoud Abbas was predictable: Netanyahu is lying! He doesn’t support a “two-state solution” because a two-state solution includes right of ‘return’ to Israel for 5 million ‘refugees’, and no recognition of Jewish ownership of Israel. Not to mention that ‘Palestine’ deserves an army.

This is why the whole “peace process” discussion is so unutterably boring. It is unconnected to reality.

I think that we need to go farther than asking “what do we need to do to get peace?” and even “what do we need for security?” Rather, we must ask “what should the state of the Jewish people be?”

Perhaps those who believe that there is a value to Judea/Samaria that transcends its use as a bargaining chip, and indeed transcends its importance to security, a value that comes from its being the historical homeland of the Jewish people — maybe they have a point?

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Win friends and influence people with emotional appeals

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Yesterday, I attended several events here in Fresno with the regional Consul General of Israel, Dr. Andy David.

He discussed various topics, including one very close to my heart, the ongoing information war against Israel (my words, not his). In response to a question about how American friends of Israel can help, he said  that we should do what we can to change the way people envision Israel, from a site of conflict to a “normal country.”

It’s better for people to think of Israel as a beautiful country with a high-tech economy and a cultured population than as a target of terrorism and war. Americans are simply not interested in things that they can’t relate to their everyday lives, so we should stop talking about rockets and start talking about how much fun it would be to spend a few weeks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We should send our kids on Birthright trips, etc.

There is no doubt that he has a point. For example, a college student tells me that he supports BDS (boycott-divestment-sanctions) against Israel because “they stole the Palestinians’ land.” I respond, “no, let me explain about the Mandate, Arab immigration into Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Mufti, resolution 242 … instant glazed eyes.

But if he had visited Israel, perhaps studied there, if he knew Israelis and understood that they are normal people with normal aspirations, it would be harder for him to accept that these people were actually vicious oppressors and thieves; he would perhaps be more prepared to listen to their side of the story.

It doesn’t help to bombard Americans with stories about terrorist atrocities, said David. They don’t relate to them, and the other side is doing the same. They are lying and we are not, but the listener doesn’t care. He tunes out.

As I said, he has a point. Nothing is more important than letting our young people see Israel for themselves, because, as he said, for a Jew or a Christian it is a powerful, sometimes life-changing, experience.

But there is another point of view. Not exactly a contradictory one, but perhaps another aspect. Orit Arfa starts with a similar premise — that Israel is losing the information war — but has a different prescription:

At almost every pro-Israel lecture I attend, someone feels compelled to ask an unrelated question at the end: “Why does Israel have such bad PR”? …

Part of the problem with Israel’s PR is the fact that we even refer to an intellectual defense of Israel as “public relations.”It’s not a matter of mere PR or image. It’s a matter of our core values and our willingness to stand up for what we believe and know is right and true, no matter what the cost. We could have exponentially more effective PR if we spent less money, but tapped into our other hidden treasures: our conviction, passion, honesty, and fearlessness.

Israel’s enemies are good because they offer “black and white” messages, using humanitarian language that makes Israel’s enemies sound like the oppressed and downtrodden. They do not sugarcoat their lies. They say:

  • Israel is an apartheid State
  • Israel is an occupying power
  • IDF soldiers are war criminals

And how do Israel’s spokespeople—both in and out of the Israeli government–fight these lies?

  • They give long, arduous facts to debunk those claims
  • They assert that Israel simply wants peace
  • They assert that “it’s complicated/complex”
  • They boast that Israel is a leader in hi-tech. (Without Israel, you wouldn’t have cell phones!)

I’ll tell you why these strategies rarely make a dent. The general population doesn’t care about drawn-out facts, especially in this television/Facebook obsessed, fast food/fast consumption culture. We need to answer such claims with strong messages as simple and pure as the ones that Israel’s enemies use – except ours will be honest. You can’t fight lies with “it’s complicated.” You have to throw the intellectual attacks back in their court, with statements like:

  • The Arab world consists of apartheid states
  • “Palestine”is a made-up nation and the “Palestinians” are a made-up people
  • Palestinian leaders are war criminals

Hit them hard, don’t be afraid of being called an ‘extremist’, and above all, be consistent, she says. People are not influenced by rational argument, but rather by emotion, so make your appeals powerful and emotional.

Anti-Zionists understand this. They use art, theater and even physical intimidation (I am not recommending this last, but you have to admit it is a powerful emotional tool). We present legal briefs tracing Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria to the San Remo conference of 1920, and they make up stories about ‘settlers’ uprooting Palestinian olive trees.

Interestingly, both David and Arfa point to the same phenomenon — that emotion is the key to influencing opinion. And of course there is more than one way to trigger an emotional response. So by all means, let’s continue to send our Jewish kids on Birthright trips, and make it possible for the Christian ones to walk where Jesus walked.

Arfa mentions the fact that anti-Israel views permeate the artistic and academic community. She suggests that we need to develop a “new generation of Zionist artists and academics.” For example — a particularly painful one in view of the two Israeli films nominated for Academy Awards this year — where are the Zionist filmmakers? Give them grants! And let’s fund pro-Israel academic programs to counteract the Saudi-paid “Middle East Studies” departments.

And finally — let’s not pretend that we don’t understand what our enemies are, and let’s make sure everyone knows it.

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Show me the money!

Monday, March 11th, 2013
Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal speaks at Harvard, 2012

Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal speaks at Harvard, 2012

Rob Vincent is back, with a follow-on to his previous piece, “How the heck we got here.” This time he asks the question “how come we don’t know where we are?”

The corruption of public discourse over Israel
By Robert K. Vincent

Ideally, here in the U.S. and also in other Western societies, one would expect a relatively free and open forum of discussion for competing points of view, in what some have called the “marketplace of ideas”.  In this realm, the venues for discussion are academic institutions, and for the public at large, national-level print and broadcast media organizations.  These venues – which I would collectively term as the “organs of thought control” – define the acceptable parameters of debate on any issue. Points of view that are deemed unacceptable in these realms, rightly or wrongly, are relegated to the fringes of public discourse, and thus have little chance of influencing public opinion or policies where relevant.

Inherent in the concept of being a “marketplace” of ideas, the relative competitiveness between various points of view should be measured in terms of who has the better command of facts, of logic, and pertinent history.

But what if this “marketplace” were corrupted, in a manner analogous to the “fixing” of actual marketplaces?  What if, as was the case during the “robber baron” days of 19th century America, a “Standard Oil” could buy out or otherwise shut down any form of competition?  From there, a narrative of questionable veracity and authenticity could nonetheless dominate public discourse unopposed, leading to negative policy outcomes.

On the international stage, we have already seen this dynamic play out in at least one successful instance.  Consider the course of the Vietnam War.  In this conflict, the U.S. had every material advantage as these are normally calculated in warfare.  Yet, in unprecedented fashion, despite winning every battle, we lost the war.  Though many cite the failure of American will as the primary reason for American defeat, this only tells half the story.  American failure of will was brought about as a result of deliberate calculation and tactical genius by our foes.

Without delving too greatly into the specific history here, it can fairly be said that while the U.S. concentrated on a two-dimensional battlefield focused on the clash of arms, Vietnamese leaders recognized the impact that could be brought to bear by a clash of perceptions that were vulnerable to manipulation in the modern media age.  This was a revolutionary development, on a par with the groundbreaking historical significance of Nazi Germany’s “blitzkrieg” tactics of WW2.

Indeed, everything of this nature that was done to the U.S. during the Vietnam War is being done to Israel today.  Terrorism, combatants routinely disguised as civilians, the deliberate use of civilians as human shields for media impact, child warriors, suicide bombers, and agitation on college campuses, all of these tools which sound so familiar to those of us involved in the defense of Israel were pioneered, in their modern form, by the Vietnamese communists.

That we see these very same tactics used against Israel is no coincidence:  Yasser Arafat traveled to Hanoi during the late 1960s in order to glean wisdom from North Vietnamese leaders regarding the methods by which he could defeat a materially superior foe.  Here, he was exposed to the techniques North Vietnam used in order to change the terms of the debate regarding the conflict in question, of manipulating public opinion to one’s own advantage.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, consider the Cold War.  During this time, starting most noticeably in the 1970s, the Soviets employed what they called “active measures” aimed at swaying opinion in Western countries so that the threat they posed would be minimized in the minds of Western publics.  They admitted to spending some $50 million annually on such efforts.  Although the recipients of such funds would not be publicly acknowledged for obvious reasons, as a student at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s, it was easy for me to spot the campus agitators and activists who promoted the Soviet line.  In the national media of that era, it was almost as easy to spot the various journalists, syndicated columnists, etc., who reflexively blamed the West in general or the U.S. in particular for every issue of contention between the West and the Soviet Bloc, who opposed every major American weapons program while remaining utterly silent about the Soviet arms industry, and so on.  Some of this “noise” might have been arrived at independently and honestly by those who made it, but the Soviets admitted to paying for at least some of it.  $50 million might have only bought a squadron of fighter jets in those days (it would buy maybe one today), but it would certainly grease a lot of palms.

With all of the above in mind, let us return to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  There could not be an issue for which debate and reportage over the same, in the “organs of thought control”, has become more outrageously one-sided.  Finding a professor at a major university who will openly take the side of Israel is harder than finding a bag of pork rinds in the Rabbi’s pantry. With the partial exceptions of FOX and the Wall Street Journal, finding a major national or international-level print or broadcast news organization that does not take the Arab side against Israel in nearly every instance is also next to impossible.

The “marketplace of ideas”, where this issue is concerned, simply does not exist.  Here, there is only one “product” for sale and the consumer can either accept it or ignore it, but it is amazingly resistant to any challenge in the form of genuine debate.

This phenomenon is so pervasive and comprehensive, it beggars belief that it could simply come about as mere coincidence.  Could so many legions of professors and journalists be so willfully and consistently ignorant to such an enormous degree, on the same issue, all at once?

Remember the Soviet’s “active measures” program:  What if a smear campaign aimed at demonizing Israel and promoting the Palestinian narrative, while at the same time, obscuring the true medieval, barbaric nature of Israel’s foes, wasn’t supported by a paltry $50 million per year…but instead by hundreds of millions of dollars every year, year in and year out, for literally decades?  That would grease many, many palms, wouldn’t it?

Precise figures are impossible to come by, but we know they are doing this.  Reports of multimillion dollar Saudi grants to major universities are legion.  In 2005 alone, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal – the nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and reportedly the fifth richest man in the world today – awarded grants totaling $40 million to Harvard and Georgetown universities in order to “advance Islamic studies and further understanding of the Muslim world”…even as many of his own subjects are mired in poverty and illiteracy. Where media organizations are concerned, it has been reported, this very same Saudi prince owns a 7% stake in NewsCorp, the parent company of both FOX and the Wall Street Journal.  This is the second largest share of any investor.  This does not tell the whole story; his stake consists of special “preferred” stock that gives him the equivalent of 40% voting rights on their board of directors.

Now, consider what happened to Glenn Beck in 2011.  Whatever you may think of him, there was no question but that he was an incredibly staunch and courageous supporter of Israel.  His special program on that subject, scheduled to air in early April of that year, was abruptly cancelled for no stated reason.  Speculation was rife in many quarters that weekend that he was being taken off the air, and eerily, in classic Stalinist style, columnists such as Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post, were already writing his journalistic obituary, incredibly accusing Beck of being an “anti-Semite”!  His Israel special aired the following week anyway, but his show was ultimately cancelled in June of that year, even though his contract had him running until December.  But he had scheduled his “Restoring Courage” event in Israel for later that summer; some “coincidence”.

Stop and consider the implications of this.  What could be so controversial about someone coming out in support of one of America’s most important and staunch allies?  Why was this so objectionable, when the solid majority of Americans support Israel in any event?

Academia and the media are not the only places petrodollars are finding their way so as to influence public perceptions of Israel.  Churches are also being targeted.  For example, in 2012, the Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly Mission Committee endorsed a resolution that would require that church to divest from holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard due to the relationships these firms have with Israel.   What possible interest could a Christian church of any denomination have in punitive actions against Israel, the only Middle Eastern country where Christians can freely practice their faith?  Can leaders of these churches be so completely ignorant of the growing violent persecution of Christians throughout much of the Muslim world?  In Egypt alone, since the overthrow of Mubarak, Islamist persecution of Coptic Christians there – to include Church burnings and deadly mob violence – has led some 100,000 Coptic Christians to flee that country so far.

Yet, even in the face of this propaganda juggernaut, arguing the case for Israel is not a waste of time.  We need to make every effort in this regard for the sake of strengthening the convictions of our friends and enlightening the genuinely curious and uninformed.  We have one important advantage:  The other side has to convince the public that 2+2=5, whereas we only have to remind people that 2+2=4, a far easier task.

After all, what are Israel’s detractors supporting?  Israel does not exist in a vacuum, in isolation.  She is engaged in a state of war at one level or another with most of her neighbors, who make no secret of wanting to see her destroyed.  By casting Israel as being “bad”, this, by logical extension, by default, casts her adversaries as “good”.  Let us take a moment to remind ourselves – and resolve to remind anyone we debate or inform – just who Israel’s adversaries are.  I would submit to you that the political and philosophical gulf between the West and Muslim SW Asia is greater than between the West and the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War, or even between the Western allies and Nazi Germany.  At least in the USSR or in Nazi Germany, a woman could drive a car or get a job.

Consider Saudi Arabia.  This is a society where there is no free press, no freedom of religion, no labor rights, and no women’s rights as we understand these.  But it gets much worse than that.  In Saudi Arabia, the courts have sentenced women to death – to death – for allegedly casting a spell on their husbands that made them impotent.  This is a country where pre-adolescent girls are routinely forced into marriages with grown men in their thirties, forties, or even fifties.  Here, 19-year-old rape victims are flogged for the “crime” of being in the company of an unrelated male.  And these pathologies are hardly limited to Saudi Arabia; in various forms, they are rampant throughout the region.  I sometimes wonder if this entire fantastic charade of demonizing Israel is not really some giant smokescreen intended to distract the rest of the world from the horrific nature of their own societies, to “keep the closet door closed”, so to speak.

Make no mistake, however.  The Saudi-led propaganda campaign against Israel is not simply wanton hatred for its own sake.  This has a very calculated objective.  The Saudis and their friends mean to inflict upon Israel what was carried out against Rhodesia in the 1970s.  Unable to defeat Israel on the battlefield, unable to compete with her economically, this is the only effective weapon in their arsenal.  Israel is to be branded a pariah state and strangled through political, diplomatic, and economic isolation.  The immediate objective in this campaign at the present time is to deprive Israel of her most important major power ally and strategic partner for the past four decades, the U.S.

When American Jews advocate for Israel, some even among our own criticize our efforts as amounting to “single-issue” politics, as if this were somehow unacceptably selfish to engage in.  But at this point in history, in view of the very real possibility that we stand to lose the anchor of our claim to people hood, with all the attendant consequences, I would implore you all to ignore such criticisms.  We can still care about the disadvantaged, about education, about the rights of those who are discriminated against, as we always have.  As a people, we have done so much for so many others outside of our community, that I submit to you that we have earned the right in the present moment to put ourselves first as that is expressed in the defense of Israel.

We must never allow ourselves to be intimidated or silenced.  We must do all we can to speak with as loud and unified voice as we can muster as a people.

As daunting as this task may seem, remember that the Soviet Union collapsed anyway, even as the government there had total control of the ‘organs of thought control’.  The Vietnamese communists may have won their war, but it turned into a hollow victory.  The Maoist ideal of Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam has never been realized.  Their leaders now come begging to their former capitalist, “imperialist” foes for trade and investment.  Most ironically, Vietnam today is aggressively courting Israel as a source of such support.

Beyond our own grassroots efforts, my greatest hope is that more will be done to publicly expose the petrodollar propaganda machine.  I would compare this enterprise of theirs to “The Wizard of Oz”:  An impressive show of noise, light, and power, all based on illusion, all controlled by some little old man hiding behind a curtain, pulling levers and pushing buttons.  We must tear that curtain away and expose that little man for the pathetic wretch he is, expose his corrupt friends for what they are, and in this way, ensure our place as a people, in the eyes of all other peoples in the world.

Robert Vincent, a U.S. Army veteran, obtained his BA in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Michigan, his MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and his MBA from the University of Findlay.  He lives and works in Northwest Ohio.

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A Jewish state can be democratic and moral

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he has published an essay in (where else?) the New York Times, in which he argues that the proposition ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’ is false.

There are many things in the article to complain about, but I am going to content myself with pointing out the single massive howler by which his argument collapses.

He makes the distinction between “a people in the ethnic sense” and in the “civic sense,” which means either residents of a geographical area or citizens of a state. He generously grants that there is a Jewish people in the ethnic sense who live in Israel, but only an ‘Israeli people’, which includes Arabs, in the civic sense. Then he tells us,

…insofar as the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination entails the right to a state of their own, it can apply to peoples only in the civic sense…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall…

Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group. [my emphasis]

His exposition is much more lengthy and you should read it. But I think I have extracted the gist of it.

Interestingly, while he explains what he means by ‘a people’ and draws a distinction between two senses of the expression, he does not even hint about his understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ and especially “the core democratic principle of equality,” the violation of which he believes disqualifies Israel from continued existence as a Jewish state.

Levine explains how Israel violates these principles:

The distinctive position of [a favored ethnic people] would be manifested in a number of ways, from the largely symbolic to the more substantive: for example, it would be reflected in the name of the state, the nature of its flag and other symbols, its national holidays, its education system, its immigration rules, the extent to which membership in the people in question is a factor in official planning, how resources are distributed, etc.

Actually, concerning the “more substantive” things, Arab citizens of Israel are doing quite well: they have the right to vote, to hold political office, and a large degree of control of their educational system; there are rules against discrimination in housing and employment (with exceptions related to national security), etc. In other words, they have full civil rights.

Naturally there are differences in the treatment of Jews and Arabs. Some are due to cultural differences — Arab towns are governed by Arabs and distribute resources differently — some are related to security, and some to anti-Arab prejudice. But the degree of prejudice in Israeli society is not particularly great compared to other advanced nations like the US, and nobody is suggesting that the US does not have a “right to exist” unless all discrimination can be eliminated.

In any event, discrimination in what he calls “substantive” ways are not essential to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and there is a general consensus that such discrimination is wrong and should be eliminated.

Israel’s immigration rules are certainly unequal. But immigration rules by definition do not apply to citizens; and few — if any — of the world’s nations permit free immigration.

Levine also does not consider security issues at all. If Israel ignored them it would cease to exist without philosophical arguments. This would be bad both for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (just ask any of them if they would prefer to be citizens of Israel or the Palestinian Authority).

Levine is quite correct, though, that symbolic items like the name of the state, the flag, and the national anthem belong to only one group of citizens. But are these included in the “core democratic principle of equality?” Why should they be?

After all, many states with ethnic or religious symbolism associated with them have been called ‘democratic’ since the word was invented by the ancient Greeks (incidentally, most of the residents of Athens, the paradigm of democracy, weren’t even citizens).

I could argue strongly that only civil rights are essential to democracy, and that “equality” in many senses is not. And Arab citizens of Israel have civil rights, even if they find the national anthem — which they are not required to sing — offensive.

And here we come to the fallacy in Levine’s argument. Can you say petitio principii? No? Then how about “assuming what you purport to prove?”

Because that is exactly what this Professor of Philosophy has done. He has built the negation of the fundamental idea of an ethnic nation-state — the expression of the beliefs, yearnings and fellow-feeling of an ethnic group in the symbols and moral principles of a state — into his definition of ‘democracy’, and then ‘proves’ that no such state can be democratic, and therefore ought not to exist in that form!

Another way of looking at it is that there is a hidden premise that is not true. In this case, that would be that democracy entails “group political equality” in which every group, whether a majority or minority, has an equal vote on all matters. But the usual idea of democracy is that each individual has a vote, as long as the civil rights of minorities are maintained. This is quite different.

There is another hidden premise, which is that if a state is not completely democratic, it is morally defective. This is also not self-evident; indeed, both Plato and Aristotle thought the opposite.

Many years ago, I had a short career as a college teacher of Philosophy. This is an undergraduate error; Levine should be embarrassed.

***

But now I have further questions for Professor Levine:

Why did you not write an article about whether Saudi Arabia has a right to exist as a Kingdom, or indeed whether any of the kingdoms, dictatorships, Islamic ‘republics’ or other undemocratic entities have a ‘right to exist’ as such?

Why did you not argue that the Kingdom of Jordan should not exist as such, not only because is it an undemocratic monarchy, but because a minority of Bedouins there rule over a majority of other Arabs? This is especially relevant, because Transjordan was created from the territory called ‘Palestine’, precisely to create an Arab state that would be a counterpart to the Jewish National Home that Britain was supposed to nurse into existence in Western Palestine.

Why do you find the relatively mild discrimination against Arab residents of Israel — especially in the context of the security situation — important when so many other Middle Eastern states with ethnic or religious minorities completely disenfranchise, even viciously oppress them (e.g., the Kurds or the Palestinians in Lebanon)?

You will say that this is because the question of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is much-discussed today, and as a philosopher you are equipped to add clarity to the discussion.

But it is discussed today precisely because those who deny it primarily do so not as an academic exercise, but in the context of a desire to end Jewish sovereignty, to establish insecure borders, and to allow the almost 5 million claimants to ‘Palestinian’ nationality (an absurdity if there ever was one) to enter the territory, which would result in the re-dispersal  of the Jewish people and quite probably the deaths of many of them. If this isn’t an antisemitic enterprise, I don’t know what is.

So your focus on Israel among states, your hypersensitivity to its perceived (by you) moral defects, your fallacious attempt to lend support to those who would destroy it, is de facto antisemitic, even if some of your best friends (and relatives) are Jews.

The antisemitic shoe fits. Wear it proudly.

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The Samira Ibrahim affair

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Samira Ibrahim in Tahrir Square. Not afraid of Zionists

Samira Ibrahim in Tahrir Square. Not afraid of Zionists

This isn’t a big story, but it has some interesting aspects.

In observance of International Women’s Day today, Michelle Obama and John Kerry will be recognizing 9 International Women of  Courage, including — posthumously — the anonymous victim of the infamous Delhi rape.

There were to be ten honorees, but one of them, Samira Ibrahim of Egypt was caught sending several vicious tweets, one calling the terrorist bombing of a bus full of Israelis in Bulgaria “sweet news,” one quoting Hitler approvingly, and even one celebrating the anniversary of 9/11. When the State Department put her award on hold, she at first (unconvincingly) claimed her account had been hacked, and then said “I refuse to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America regarding my previous anti-Zionist statements under pressure from American government therefore they withdrew the award.”

Despite hating Jews and the United States, Ibrahim certainly was courageous. She was originally picked because she sued the Egyptian government when they performed a degrading “virginity test” on her after she was arrested for protesting in Tahrir Square, and forced them to end the ‘tests’. And of course, she is not  afraid of the “Zionist lobby” either.

If we include Ibrahim, five out of the ten women selected are Muslims, possibly illustrating the importance the State Department attaches to establishing good relations with the people who, more than anyone else in the world, want to kill Jews and Americans.

But it is not surprising that — especially in Egypt — they had a hard time finding someone who did not share the common prejudices.

Let’s understand that Egypt, which has rendered itself almost entirely free of Jews (it’s estimated that there were less than 100 in 2004), is nevertheless a nation obsessed with hatred of Jews.

When non-Jewish journalist Lara Logan was swarmed and sexually attacked in Tahrir Square in 2011, the crowd shouted “Jew!” They also decorated pictures of Hosni Mubarak with the star of David. Egyptian TV often casts Jews as villains, and recently presented a series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in Arabic, is a bestseller in Egyptian bookstores (I mentioned that one of Ibrahim’s tweets quoted Hitler).

It isn’t just Egypt. They would have had a hard time in the ‘advanced’ nation of Turkey, too:

A study by Turkey’s Hrant Dink Foundation has found that Jews have become the main object of hate speech in the country, followed by Armenians, Christians, and Greeks.

I bet it would have been much easier to find a courageous Israeli woman, perhaps one who lives in the southern part of Israel and who has been subjected to rocket bombardments day after day and year after year, who doesn’t hate Arabs, Egyptians or Turks. But that wouldn’t help the message, which is that the US is a friend to the oppressed; and by definition an Israeli can’t be oppressed, she can only be an oppressor.

One more interesting connection: The New York Times blogger Robert Mackey, known for his anti-Zionist take, asked Samuel Tadros, who originally broke the Ibrahim story, whether he was a Coptic Christian and if this could have influenced his reporting.

The mind boggles. If a Coptic academic sees and translates a Jew-hating or anti-American tweet, is his reporting thereof invalid? Is everything now ethnically relative?

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