Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Folly of Egocentric Empathy: Derfner does it again

I have a friend who thinks the JPost keeps Derfner on as a columnist is because they satifsy two needs at once: they get a “left-wing” columnist and comic relief. I admit that Derfner’s writing provides a fair amount of amusement, and I’ve long ceased to take him seriously. (He did do a good piece on a Druze honor-killing in 2005.) Now he surpasses himself in combining the lamest kind of cognitive egocentrism which he then presents as a courageous challenge to the meanest taboos of Israeli society. (HT:ALG)

Rattling the Cage: A taboo question for Israelis
By LARRY DERFNER
Dec 30, 2009 21:26 | Updated Dec 31, 2009 14:01

There’s a question we Israelis won’t ask ourselves about the Palestinians, especially not about Gaza. The question is taboo. Not only won’t anyone ask it out loud, but very, very few people will dare ask it in the privacy of their own minds.

However, I think it’s time we start asking it, privately and in public. If we don’t, I think there’s going to be Operation Cast Lead II, then Operation Cast Lead III, and each one is going to be worse than the last, and the consequences for Palestinians and Israelis are going to be unimaginable.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: If anybody treated us like we’re treating the people in Gaza, what would we do?

We don’t want to go there, do we? And because we don’t, we make it our business not to see, hear or think about how, indeed, we are treating the people in Gaza.

I’ll let either masochists or humorists continue to read his article at the JPost site. I just have two major comments to make on his premise.

1) If we behaved towards other people the way that the Palestinians under the benighted leadership of Hamas and Fatah have behaved towards us, there would be no end to the Israelis — Derfner included — who would say we were getting what we deserved. (They say it anyway.)

(The idea that Israeli treatment is the cause of the Palestinians’ behavior, that somehow we need to understand their hatred and violence as a direct function of our deeds [rather than mere existence], is a nice illustration of masochistic omnipotence syndrome. We can change it all by changing our behavior.)

2) We know how Jews have behaved with those who treat them badly. Without sovereignty they were largely meek and mild; and when they did fight back (e.g., the Warsaw Ghetto) against things far more vicious than anything Israel has ever done to the Palestinians, they never targeted German civilians no matter how weak and desperate they were. Even Sharon, from a position of overwhelming superiority of force, when he took over at the onset of the second intifada and its staggering wave of suicide attacks on civilians, waited two years before striking back.

To make this comparison is already to misunderstand profoundly. To think it’s a brave and penetrating mental exercise suggests that my friend’s theory may well be right: the man is a (bad) joke… and one that doesn’t begin to fathom his own people, even himself. (As commenter 417 put it: “You can be compassionate without being stupid.”) Where’s the still-living Palestinian Derfner? Too smart to open his or her mouth?

Interview with Mike Cohen on Israel Radio

Dr. Mike Cohen of Bar-Ilan University and the Galilee Institute sits in for Eve Harow and talks with guests about the Gilad Shalit dillema. Guests include Professor Richard Landes of Boston University and Pallywood fame, Danny Hershtal of Yisrael Beiteinu, and Uri Bank of the Ichud Leumi. Author D. Laurence-Young “Of Guns & Mules ” recently released by Gefen Publishing also makes an appearance.

“The Report oozes intellectual dishonesty”: David Matas on Goldstone

David Matas, an international human rights lawyer, has written a devastating legal analysis of the Goldstone Report, which he has allowed me to post at Understanding the Goldstone Report even though it has not yet been published elsewhere (it’s longer than most editors, with the exception of Barry Rubin at MERIA) would accept. Nonetheless, it bristling with incisive comments that only a lawyer with an extensive background in the subject might note. He focuses on 10 issues that should have appeared in the Report and did not. His conclusion:
“The Report oozes with intellectual dishonesty.”

The Goldstone Report: Stone or Gold?
by David Matas

Table of Contents

A. Introduction

B. Exclusions

1) The Human Rights Council mandating resolution

    a) The problem
    b) Preambular paragraphs
    c) Operative paragraphs
    d) The World Court precedent
    e) The Presidential mandate

2) The bias of Christine Chinkin

    a) The problem
    b) The answer
    c) The Report

3) The Hamas Covenant

4) Terminology

    a) Blockade
    b) Collective punishment

5) The blockade and Egypt

6) Standard of proof

7) The distinction between disproportionate and indiscriminate response

    a) The omission
    b) The differences
    c) The blending

8) Sources

9) Military expertise

10) The wings of Hamas

C. Conclusions

Read the whole report

Ireland vs. Israel: The Value of the Comparison

In response to one of my posts a medievalist colleague of mine posted a comment here and a thread on his own site in which he compared the situation in Ireland with that in Israel.

I confess that I’m not sure how he got from my post, on the cognitive dissonance that results from trying to pressure the Palestinians to behave rationally and, for example, during Operation Cast Lead, stop bombing Israel in order to stop the damage to their own people’s lives and infrastructure, to “Who is to blame in the Israel-Palestine [sic] Debate?,” but it certainly gave him the occasion to make a series of comparisons between the conflict in the Middle East and that in Ireland. I confess to feeling that his analogies were defective throughout, but didn’t quite know how to respond substantively.

One of my regular and valued commenters here at the site responded with an excellent essay on the historical differences which, I think, illustrates just how ill-informed the comparison. With his permission, I republish it here with some short comments of my own [in italics].

Historian Fails History Test
Ray from Seattle:

When I read comments like Paul Halsall’s, I am incredulous. How can any objective person possibly compare the Arab/Israeli situation to Ireland’s?

Protestants ruled the Catholic majority in Ireland for hundreds of years before the “troubles” – which were really a recent flareup in the ongoing struggle by the natives of Ireland over several centuries to divorce themselves of British rule and gain independence. The modern troubles are just another chapter in that long saga of Britain’s colonialism and its ultimate decline.

The state of Israel was created by deliberation of the UN, including all of the new Arab states whose membership required their legal commitment to honor all agreements reached by that body. It concerned the fair assignment of sovereignty over the stateless territory of Palestine – according to majority populations in those areas of the two main ethnic / religious groups living there. It was a generous attempt by the democracies that won WWII to avoid further war and genocide by fair and legally enforceable deliberation and negotiation of opposing interests as judged by that world body of nations.

Only in America, and Proverbs to Keep You Going

A friend regularly sends me jokes. Today he sent two that are well worth posting. Gotta lol sometime. (HT/YK)

Only in America:

Only in America

Proverbs to Keep You Going:

1. On the other hand, you have different fingers.
2. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates. It’s more like a jar of jalapenos. What you do today, might burn your ass tomorrow.
3. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
4. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
5. Remember, half the people you know are below average.
6. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
7. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
8. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap.
9. Support bacteria. They’re the only culture most people have..
10. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
11. OK, so what’s the speed of dark?
12. When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
13. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
14. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?
15. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
16. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering, ‘What the f*ck happened?’
17. Just remember — if the world didn’t suck, we would all fall off.
18. Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
19. Why do drive-in ATMs have braille?
20. Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

News Media, Arab Honor-Shame, and Operation Cast Lead: The Failures of Cognitive Egocentrism

A segment from a long essay on the Goldstone Report to appear in MERIA in January, with embedded video.

In some senses, it might be fair to argue that the news media believe that by emphasizing the humanitarian catastrophe, they contribute to peace. By putting pressure on the Israelis, they reason, they can help to stop the bombing. Christiane Amanpour quite un-self-consciously revealed the calculus in a question to Tony Blair:

Amanpour to Blair: “The civilian casualties in Gaza are obviously going to put a big pressure on Israel. How long can Israel withstand this pressure?”

Note that Amanpour asks the question with great confidence – this, she clearly feels, is a good, even shrewd question – unaware of what she reveals about her own thinking. Indeed, from her point of view, this isn’t even advocacy; it’s such a widespread attitude that it has the status of Realpolitik.

Now when such diplomatic dynamics are so obvious to the media, what’s to prevent them from thinking that the more they emphasize the humanitarian catastrophe, the sooner the violence will end?

Aside from the multiple, highly questionable, assumptions that underlie such apparently “self-evident” reasoning, the question also reveals a fundamental position of advocacy or bias – the “solution” will come from pressure on Israel, not on Hamas.

For a fascinating example of the cognitive dissonance that results from confronting Hamas, a journalist asking an Arab spokesman why Hamas doesn’t just stop the fighting, consider this exchange between “rational” BBC interviewer, Karen Ginoni, and the Arab League Ambassador to the UN, Yahya Mahmassani.

Reflections on the Global Conference for Anti-Semitism, Jerusalem, December 17-18, 2009

I attended most of the two days, but missed important events at the end of each day (including, alas, the final dinner). I missed the first day’s events at the Knesset so I could do the interview with IBA. So my remarks will be less “comprehensive.” Overall, it was well-planned, well-organized, but of limited scope. Repeatedly attendees complained about the problem of limited follow-through – there should be a dozen smaller meetings generated by the Global Forum during the year, rather than an annual meeting the inevitably has to play off “political speeches,” with informative material from researchers.

From my perspective there were two serious lacunae. First, I am now fully convinced that Israel’s (and therefore the West’s) problem is not a matter of hasbarah (explanation, clarification, PR, Public Diplomacy), but a cognitive war in which the physical battlefield (where Hamas/Hizbullah/Fatah will always lose), is an adjunct to the cognitive field (where, as every speaker attested in one way or another, the drive to delegitimate Israel is succeeding). This cognitive war must be recognized. As my guru on this subject, Stuart Green, puts it, “you can’t win the battle of the Midway if you don’t know you’re in a battle.” And it must be recognized for what it is, the systematic abuse of our hard-earned means of free communication, by people who have nothing but contempt for the principles they invoke – human rights, humanitarian concerns, “justice.”

As a result, there was a) too little on the role of the news media in this phenomenon; and b) a notable absence of Israeli military at the conference. This latter point is crucial because until the military realizes that its success on the battlefield has shifted the enemy’s strategy, and it adjusts its priorities – e.g., releasing very powerful information that could be used in the cognitive war, but which intelligence forces almost by default keep private – we will continue to lose the cognitive war. Indeed, every victory on the in the physical battlefield – Hamas’ rocket attacks have dropped steeply since Operation Cast Lead – produces a massive loss on the cognitive field. Maybe if key members of the IDF were present to hear about the disastrous situation world-wide, then they might begin to reorder their priorities. As of now, this is a MFA show, and most people think it’s their job and their job alone.

Second, there was virtually no attention to the problem of the Jewish contribution to the problem of anti-Semitism. If there is one major gaping hole in our defenses in this cognitive war, it’s the “useful infidels” like Goldstone who think they’re doing “good and right” and promoting “peace and the defense of civilians,” when they’re empowering the very forces that seek war and victimize civilians, friend and foe alike. Alvin Rosenfeld’s “Progressive Jews and the New Anti-Semitism,” remains the gold standard in this matter, taking to task Jews who, in their eagerness to perfect Israel, engage in indecent comparisons of Israel with apartheid and Nazism, that feed the forces of deligitimation the world over.

Unfortunately, the conversation has not advanced since his report was greeted by “progressives,” as an assault on “any criticism of Israel.” The inaccuracy (dare I say, dishonesty) of such a response (embraced by everyone from NYT reporter Patricia Cohen, to Lenny Pogrebin, to Michael Lerner, to Samuel Freedman, illustrates well how the ardent defense of “free speech,” no matter how indecent it might be, serves forces deeply hostile to any freedoms in this cognitive war. Anyone who can denounce Israeli apartheid, and not even mention Muslim apartheid especially against women and infidels, or talk about Israelis doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them, without noting the extensive and enthusiastic ties between the Nazis and the Palestinians to this day, is, in my book, dishonest.

This dishonesty contributes seriously to a massive epistemological crisis for everyone who does not know the situation on the ground (and ultimately none of us can know it all, we have to get it from the media in one form or other). How can outsiders, especially non-Jews who do not come from a culture in which self-criticism is learned with one’s mother’s milk, understand what it means when the Palestinians say, “It’s all Israel’s fault,” and most of the representatives of the Israeli side that the MSNM cherry picks, says, “They’re right.”

Of course, how to distinguish between legitimate, decent criticism of Israel – whether by Jews or by non-Jews – is a very delicate subject, and although the Jewish community is light-years away from the kind of suffocating intimidation that prevents Arabs and Muslims from public self-criticism, we certainly don’t want to engage in a slippery slope of squashing dissent. But rather than ignore the subject, we need to address it, seriously, with a sense of appreciation for how vital self-criticism, the ability to give and take rebuke (tochacha) is to Jewish culture, and explore what are the limits of decency.

Maybe next year…

They’re so smart cause we’re so stupid: Alterman on Peretz and the Stupefication of Liberals

The title of the post is the working title for the book I’ve subtitled: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century and am working on now.

The title came to me while reading about the Fort Hood Affair, and the following remark actually nailed it for me. Shades of Larry Derfner on my racism for saying the Palestinians staged al Durah: political correctness induced stupidity.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a long time. Here’s just a brief take on a remarkable essay by Eric Alterman, who clearly considers himself a spokesman for liberal thinking on why he thinks Marty Peretz is a racist.

Peretz regularly employs TNR’s website to publish what are inarguably racist rants directed toward Arabs and other adherents of Islam. A recitation of just his greatest hits on this score might fill this entire magazine, but here’s a representative example:

    I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) ‘atrocities.’ They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn’t comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do.”

What I like here is the juxtaposition of “inarguably racist” and an example of a perfectly legitimate and, I’d say, fairly obvious observation about Arab/Muslim indignation. The idea that we should take Arab/Muslim indignation at face value is one of the most foolish notions imaginable. It’s essentially saying, “we cannot, must not challenge hypocrisy.”

Several cases in point:
1) Abu Graibh: Arabs — Hamas and the PA in particular — engage in far more grotesque and vicious forms of torture. Who are they to denounce us?
2) The Danish Cartoons: The Arab and Muslim world are filled with far more vicious images of the West; why would we allow them to cow us with their indignation?
3) The Pope’s comments on Islam as a violent religion: their response? to riot; our response? denounce the pope for provocation. They should be the laughing stock.
4) Operation Cast Lead: read Understanding the Goldstone Report.
5-3000): fill in the blanks.

Alterman concludes the essay:

In the meantime, perhaps anyone who considers him- or herself to be a genuine friend of Marty Peretz or his magazine might suggest that he consider a long, restful vacation. It would be good for The New Republic, good for American liberalism and, believe me, good for the Jews.

So much for the embrace of a healthy atmosphere of contesting ideas. No. The opposition “smears” (not Alterman, who refers to the “neo-con dominated world of Jewish institutional politics”), and I [Alterman] know that Israel must “find[] a common ground for peace with the Palestinians… [and] withdraw from the West Bank,” therefore anyone who disagrees with me should shut up for the sake of peace. Anyone who doesn’t shut up, and continues to harp on such unpleasant aspects of the problem as the motivations and behavior of those nice people with whom we are to find “common ground,” is “hurting the Jews and Israel.”

And we thought it was mostly the Palestinians who engaged in mirroring.

Ron Radosh has an interesting meditation on this piece including some material on what would appear to be a more nuanced attitude by Alterman on these issues, which apparently don’t have much staying power in his short term memory.

Interview on IBA on Global Forum on Anti-semitism

For those who want, I have an interview up for the next 24 hours that ran live last night on Israel Broadcast Authority with Elli Wohlgelenter.

Not one of my more brilliant interviews… especially at the end.

No More Messiahs: Kerstein on Obama at Oslo

A provocative, well-written and thoughtful essay by Benjamin Kertsein on Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech with some very sharp perceptions on the human condition and the necessary limits of messianism. Comments welcome. HT/oao (who’s not commenting much these days here)

Obama in Oslo: No More Messiahs
by Benjamin Kerstein

There is a fairly well-known phenomenon among alcoholics referred to as the “moment of clarity.” It is the momentary lifting of the haze of intoxication and denial, giving the drinker a sudden and often shattering insight into the stark reality of their situation. There is a strong possibility that President Obama’s December 9 Nobel Prize acceptance speech has given us a glimpse into a remarkable and somewhat unprecedented variation on this phenomenon: a political moment of clarity — one taking place, or at least publicly announced, on a global stage.
It must be said at the outset that the speech was also unprecedented in the context of Obama and the Obama phenomenon. It was both the first time Obama has said anything of substance, and certainly the first time he has displayed anything resembling political courage. It should also be noted that much of the speech was all but guaranteed to alienate both the president’s far-left base (already incensed by his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan) and his bien-pensant Scandinavian hosts.

Indeed, a great many of Obama’s greatest admirers consider the war on terror to be a malicious imperial project whose purpose is to enforce American hegemony on the world. Obama, however, referred to Afghanistan, now once again the major front in that war, with refreshing accuracy as “a conflict that America did not seek,” and “an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.” He also emphasized that “I — like any head of state — reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation.” For a president who has often seemed disturbingly addicted to irrational adulation, this willingness to invite derision deserves, at the very least, some measured praise.

More tellingly, Obama’s speech also included several statements that cannot be described as anything other than thinly disguised restatements of the Bush Doctrine. Assertions like “as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation…. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world,” represent precisely the kind of unnuanced moral absolutism that the Bush Doctrine’s critics – including Obama himself – explicitly denounced and rejected.

Advice from a former Muslim terrorist to the West, to Israel

This is a must-see video. Hamid Tawfik, who has his own website, and wrote a book, Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Jihad, is interviewed in Israel and tells some of his own story (including the nice detail that the main enemy of the Islamists is “human rights culture,” as well as offers some advice to those who would fight Islamic radicals (don’t appease!). HT: Amos Ben-Harav

I’d love a transcription of this if anyone has the chance.

Leveling the Playing Field: An order of ten both ways

I have often tried to argue that the situation is the Arab-Israeli conflict is not only exaggerated by the media, but inverted, and that statistics play a critical role in this process.

Now we have two key pieces of evidence of how this works.

Exhibit A: Exaggerate Israeli-inflicted damage by an order of ten.

Palestinians constantly make wild statistical claims, as in when Mahmoud al Zahar of Hamas accuses Israel of killing 8000 in the first, “peaceful” intifada, when the Israelis and the Palestinians killed about 1000 each.

Or when al Zahar accuses Israel of imprisoning one quarter of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian “human rights” NGO, Adalah gives a number to the fraction: 700-750,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons since 1967. This figure, absurd by any careful statistical analysis – was cited by an Adalah representative who testitifed before the Goldstone Commission. Again the figure is off by an order approaching ten.

But the Goldstone Report took the figures and rounded them down by a mere 50,000 (making the real number of prisoners since 1967 a statistical error):

¶1444. It is estimated that during the past 43 years of occupation, approximately 700,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been detained under Israeli military orders. Israel argues that these detentions are necessary on grounds of security