Monthly Archives: October 2010

Shakespeare on “Honor-Shame”

    Pleasure and revenge
    Have ears more deaf than adders to the voice
    Of any true decision.

    Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act II, Scene 2, ll. 171-73

Hector’s rebuke to Paris’ “honor-shame” speech in defense of his abduction of Menelaus’ wife, the major babe, Helen.

Excellent article by Alice Shalvi, “‘Honor’ in Troilus and Cressida,” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 5, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1965), pp. 283-302

Tom Friedman and the Deep Superficiality of Western thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict

Tom Friedman’s latest effort to offer advice on the “peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority offers some in-depth insight into how superficial much of current Western thinking is on the matter. In it, he expresses some exasperation with Israel’s behavior – like a spoiled child – in refusing Obama’s request for an extension of the settlement freeze. In the process of laying out his case, Friedman reveals a curious tunnel vision which, I think, is symptomatic of many Westerners.

It’s not that Friedman’s approach, what I call the PCP1 (Politically Correct Paradigm) is necessarily wrong (which I think it is, at least right now). It’s that Friedman clearly doesn’t even consider that the other approach, the JHSP (Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm) might be more accurate for analyzing the situation and devising successful strategies to deal with it (which I think it is, at least right now). And it’s not that these paradigms are “scientific” in the sense that one’s right and the other’s wrong. They’re about people and cultures, and therefore much less pre-determined.

But since, if the JHSP is the appropriate one for this case at this time, and you apply strategies based on the PCP, the consequences are far more than simple failure. When post-modern masochism (it’s our fault) comes together with pre-modern sadism (it’s your fault), the marriage is not a very pretty sight.

As a prelude to fisking Friedman, let’s just for a moment, review how differently PCP and JHSP analyze the key issue he treats in this op-ed piece – Israeli settlements on the West Bank. For the Politically-Correct Paradigm (PCP) – which Friedman and the overwhelming majority of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) channel, as illustrated by Jim Clancy of CNN – they are the obstacle to peace. Settlements beyond the “Green Line” (’67 border) compromise the “land for peace” formula; they eat away at the land that Palestinians want to create their state side by side with Israel.

They are, from the PCP, illegal (or should be if they’re not); they create enormous friction with the local population; they’re troubling evidence of Israel’s expansive tendencies; they ruined the Oslo Peace Process; and it’s entirely understandable that Palestinians are deeply angered by them and demand their cessation. In order for the Peace negotiations to advance, it’s a minimal demand. Settlements have the power to drive “peace” advocates to call for  murdering “every last man, woman and child“, to drive Wikipedia to its least impartial entry. Obama reflected this thinking when he announced his intention to “solve this problem in a year or two” at the beginning of his presidency by pressuring Israel to call a freeze.

Of course, the evidence systematically contradicts the PCP belief that the solution is through settlement dismantling and “land for peace.” Since Israel has already twice agreed to dismantle settlements in the territory it cedes to the Palestinians (Barak 2000, Olmert 2007), construction in 95-97% of the West Bank (i.e., beyond the Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel blocks adjacent to the Green line), far from being an obstacle to peace, just means that the Palestinians will get to enjoy the fruit of Israeli labor. As for work in areas that even the PA has (in principle) agreed will stay in Israel, they’re not an issue. So why do the Palestinians make such a fuss over them?

For the Jihad Honor-Shame Paradigm (JHSP), most (if not all) Palestinians view all of Israel as a settlement; they do not want (the West Bank) land for peace; their definition of peace is “from the river to the sea.” Some – like Abbas – say what we want to hear about compromise in English, but all, in Arabic agree, and teach their children, to expect and demand it all, an effort which has born fruit in the current generation of irredentist Palestinians, 78% of whom feel that Palestine from the river to the sea is an essential goal.

From this perspective, Palestinian objections to building in the West Bank settlements (including East Jerusalem) is ploy to sandbag negotiations, and insistence on no building on any section beyond the Green line is a sign of how little they hold by their agreement to make border adjustments. In short, it’s a sign of bad faith.

Thus, settlements illustrate just how wrong-headed Obama’s approach has been in this regard. Taking Palestinian complaints that the settlements were intolerable to them, and the major obstacle to peace, Obama pressured Israel to put a freeze on building in them as a sign to the Palestinians that they were willing to make concessions for peace. Rather than bring on reciprocal moves from the PA, it made them more intransigent. It literally  created the current problem: for the first time in the history of the “peace process” since 1991, the PA refused to negotiate without a settlement freeze.

In other words, Obama’s strategy backfired. For those of us familiar with the dynamics of the JHSP, this was more than predictable. For those committed to the PCP – the vast majority of the policy makers and MSNM, this didn’t quite sink in. On the contrary, they continued to focus on the settlements as the problem, and demand a further extension of the freeze as a way to get the Palestinians to be more “reasonable.” No lesson learned.

But the problem goes much deeper, and its depth may explain the reluctance of the PCPers to register the failure of (civil) expectations. The very idea that the settlements need to be uprooted, every last one of them, clearly implies that the Palestinians plan a Judenrein state. This is hardly a good omen for Palestinian ability to establish a state that can recognize the human and civil rights of minorities, and presumably a violation of all those principles that progressive use to criticize Israel‘s lack of tolerance today. And yet the PCPers have no problem with this demand; indeed, it’s taken as axiomatic that Israel must accede. Apparently there’s not much appetite for facing the formidable obstacles to peace from the Palestinian side.

But this extremist demand that assumes no possibility of shared space under Palestinian sovereignty, and that excludes Jews from some of their most ancient holy places (among the oldest in human history), points towards a more serious problem: for many Palestinians, especially in their zero-sum political culture, it’s an occupation “from the river to the sea.” Indeed, Tel Aviv is occupied; all of it is to be “returned” or, better yet, seized violently. As the Arab proverb especially popular in the early Second Intifada holds: What was taken by force must be taken back by force!

So the settlement issue is indeed a central issue, but not the way PCP sees it. It’s not the cause of the hostility, but a symptom, and its importance to Palestinians reflects not their concern for getting a decent state, but rather their way to avoid negotiations that might lead to a decent state only on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is a perfect illustration of our cognitive egocentrism that the foundation of all our strategic thinking holds that the Palestinians will make peace if they get their own nation on the land Israel conquered in the ’67 war. And if, as so much evidence indicates, that’s the last thing they want?

As is so often the case with the Palestinians, moreover, what they don’t do is more important than what they do do. The real problem for the last two decades (since Oslo), has not been the plethora of Israeli settlements, but the dearth of Palestinian ones. Had Arafat and his fellows in the PA cared about their people, they would have been building settlements in Area A for Palestinian refugees who preferred living in dignity under Palestinian sovereignty rather than wait in a refugee camp till they can go back and be a minority in Israel.

Not every refugee would have chosen that path, but surely there were many who, given the option, would gladly have chosen to get out of the camps. I’m sure that Habitat for Humanity would have been delighted to help build those Palestinian settlements. Instead, the leadership assumed that the refugees should stay in the camps as a weapon against Israel, and the West looked the other way. Few things illustrate the Palestinian and Arab leadership’s irredentist mindset, and their contribution to the suffering of the Palestinian people, than how they treat their own refugees – what Gazan-born Nonie Darwish calls “an Arab-made misery.” If the Palestinian leadership really wanted peace, they’d be resettling refugees right and left in the land they control.

By reading the Israeli settlements the way they do, PCP not only overlooks all the evidence of Palestinian “bad faith” in negotiating a “secure peace,” it demands that Israel make both real and symbolic concessions to these bad faith demands. Consider such “peace gestures” from the point of view of the hard zero-sum players in the Palestinian camp (and others in the region), which views what Westerner’s consider acts of generosity – admissions of fault, concessions on the ground – as signs of weakness and opportunities for renewed aggression, and one begins to understand why there’s a good deal of hostility in Israel to the one-sided demands the US is putting on them. It’s a recipe not for peace, but for more violence. This strategy doesn’t just threaten Israel, it’s most likely outcome will be bad for anyone, like Friedman, who wants a “secure peace.”

Friedman’s PCP simple-mindedness fisked below.

NB: I’m not defending Netanyahu’s refusal to extend the settlement freeze; I’m criticizing the logic upon which the request – with its centrality and urgency – is based.

Just Knock It Off
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMANPublished: October 19, 2010
* COMMENTS (256)

Some of Israel’s worst critics are fond of saying that Israel behaves like America’s spoiled child. I’ve always found that analogy excessive. Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return. Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.

Of course, one might argue that Hizbullah and Hamas are spoiled by the West, by UNIFIL troops and by the EU, which seems determined to pour money into Gaza and the West Bank no matter what’s being done with it. As Romirowsky puts it, “Being Palestinian means never having to say you’re sorry.” As for Iran and Syria, Obama has spoiled them both by not punishing them for their direct participation in the war against NATO troops in Iraq. (A policy that Mearsheimer was only too happy to support with his assurances that “Iran [was] not at war with us… thankfully.”)

But the key statement in this paragraph is that Israel gave up land – as it did in the Oslo Process and the Lebanon withdrawal, and in every case, found that their concessions brought on not reciprocal concessions, but still more violence. This dynamic, understood, changes the way we should interpret the meaning of paths to peace, none of which will appear in the rest of this article.

And here’s another stubborn fact: Israel today really is behaving like a spoiled child.

Fact? This isn’t even a pre-post-modern use of the term. This is a judgment, and a harsh one at that. Does Friedman really think this is a “fact.” Does he consider his judgments so “objective” (another pre-post-modern term) that they have the status of “fact”? We’ll discuss where the spoiled childishness lies below. For the moment, just note the rhetoric.

From Holocaust Denial to Embracing the Holocaust

For those who bother to hold the Arabs and Muslims to basic standards of consistent reasoning, it’s something of a standing joke how they at once deny the Holocaust and then accuse Israel of acting like Hitler did (not). What lies behind such rhetoric is the demopath’s logic: you want to commit another genocide against the Jews, but the (Western) people you want to gull into letting you, into siding with you, could not possibly support you openly.

So you first deny that the Holocaust happened (take away from the Jews the protection that guilt over the Holocaust has gotten them), and then you demonize the Jews for engaging in Nazi-like behavior, in order to make them worthy of being wiped out.

But these days, it’s so easy to gull the dupes, that demopaths no longer even bother to hide their agendas. They can count on Westerners to ignore the evidence. It’s been like that ever since William Orme dropped the genocidal incitement from his article on incitement as an element in the intifada back in 2000.

Now view this talk given by Yigal Carmon of MEMRI, delivered at the UN. (Was anyone listening?)

Advertising in Lebanon: Ahmadinejad’s Visit overshadowed

As the line in Schiller’s Ode to Joy goes: Was die Mode streng geteilt (What fashion has torn asunder).

HT: Tom Gross

The Hypocrisies of “Post-Modernism”: On Silencing the Israeli Voice

One of the more striking lunacies of our day is the way that the Left has adopted the totalistic discourse of the Palestinians and decided that even allowing Israelis to defend themselves is a violation of their principles. As a result we get the ludicrous monopoly of “debates” about the Arab-Israeli conflict by anti-Zionist Arabs and anti-Zionists Jews.

In principle, the post-modern approach is to open oneself up to many (all?) narratives. Unfortunately, when one opens oneself to pre-modern totalistic narratives (what, again in principle, the pomos reject as “grand narratives”) one ends up shutting down the very openness and tolerance that supposedly animates the whole enterprise.

Three recent examples illustrate the phenomenon:

1) Charles Enderlin publishes a book on the Al Durah affair, full of misinformation and bad faith. He gets plenty of air time in France with no one who can contradict him invited to participate. (This is almost certainly at Enderlin’s insistence, given that he cannot and will not stand up to contradiction in these matters.) Nidra Poller has written about the curiously quiet nature of the book launch (a kind of bird-whistle to his side that he hopes others won’t notice); while Luc Rosenzweig has written about how anyone who can contradict is excluded from the “plateau.”

2) Gershon Baskin has organized a conference on the “From Camp David 2000 Until Today” in which no one is there to present the formidable case that making concessions to Palestinians under current conditions is a recipe for violence.

3) Professor Geoffrey Alderman, one of the few English academics still willing to defend Israel’s interests was invited and then disinvited to a panel discussion on “The Conflict in the Middle East” that has the likes of Avi “Arabs are always sincere in their peace offers, Israelis never” Shlaim and Beverly Milton “let’s talk with Hamas” Edwards. Below is a blogpost with the details from Jonathan Hoffman.

Professor Geoffrey Alderman has sent out the following Press Notice: “On 20 September 2010 I received an email from the Director of the Belfast Festival, Mr. Graeme Farrow, inviting me to join a panel convened to discuss “Conflict in the Middle East” as part of the 2010 Belfast Festival, held under the auspices of Queen’s University Belfast. Mr. Farrow’s exact words were: “I would be delighted if you would join our panel.” I was naturally pleased to accept this invitation. The panel discussion is due to take place on Monday evening, 18 October 2010, in Belfast. On Friday afternoon, 15 October 2010 I was shocked to receive an email from Mr. Farrow informing me that “a mistake” had been made in extending the invitation to me and that although I could join the audience the event was to go ahead without my panel participation. In effect, I was being “disinvited.”

In a series of email exchanges with Mr. Farrow I refused to accept this situation, and I have made it clear to him that I intend to travel to Belfast tomorrow and shall expect to participate fully as a member of the panel. I am frankly appalled at the way I have been treated, for which I hold Queen’s University, Belfast, responsible.”

On the Panel with Alderman were Avi Shlaim and Beverley Milton Edwards. The latter was a founder of Conflicts Forum and believes in a dialogue with Hamas.

I gather that Alderman is going to Belfast tomorrow anyway and will insist on being on the Panel.

Here is Farrow’s email, if you want to protest:
[email protected]

What are they afraid of? That people might, upon hearing the other side, not share their totalistic view. That the anti-Zionist side might get violent? Nothing bodes ill for the West more than this intellectual cowardice.

UPDATE: See Melanie Phillips’ take on the Alderman case; and Daphne Anson’s.

MSNM to Israel: We’re a force of nature, deal with it.

The latest developments from Silwan, and a brilliant spoof on the MSNM by Latma (below) prompt me to report a conversation I had last summer with a journalist who is the Middle East Correspondent for a major Western news outlet. I was speaking to him about my concern that the MSNM had behaved very badly over the previous decade, much to the detriment, not just of Israel but of the West and societies that try and guarantee the freedom of speech and the press. In particular I emphasized the skewed epistemology whereby they treated Palestinian claims as true until proven false, and Israeli claims as false until proven true, and when the evidence eventually favored the Israelis, they tended to fall silent.

His response was that Israeli complaints (whining) about the media being unfair is like a general who complains about rain on the field of battle. I didn’t bother pursuing the point that in no case does the rain only fall on one army alone. What interested me more was the implication of this (repeated) comment, namely that he (and apparently many others) saw the media as a force of nature, an unalterable force, immune to reason or rebuke. They would just do their thing, and let the Israelis deal with it.

I think that some of this comes from an attitude of sympathy towards the underdog. Bob Simon, in treating the Al Durah story, commented that “in the Middle East, one picture can be worth a thousand weapons.” Over time, a number of journalists (off the record) agreed with the formula: “The Israelis have all the weapons, so why not let the Palestinians have the PR victory? It’s a way of leveling the playing field.”

But what about fake stories? Like Muhammad al Durah? In subsequent years, I heard (especially European/French) journalists shrug and say, weapons of the weak, as if somehow that made it alright. In this sense, Enderlin’s response to my observation that most of the action sequences from Talal abu Rahmah were framed — “Oh, they do that all the time, it’s a cultural thing” — represents the journalist’s off-the-record Orientalist indulgence of a culture foreign to everything that Western journalism is supposed to be about.

Now, I can understand some journalists coming to this conclusion, deciding that somehow the underdog status of the Palestinians allowed them to invent what Nidra Poller has aptly called “lethal narratives” but not everyone.  And yet, my friend the journalist (who few would consider a particularly nasty anti-Israel writer) tells me that a majority of the journalists stationed in Israel would be far more harsh in their treatment of Israel were it not for their editors at home.

I think I understand why he presents the MSNM as a force of nature, impermeable to change: they’re going to handicap Israel by raining on their troop positions. It’s not only the “moral” thing to do (level the playing field, side with the underdog), but it’s also a show of power. They will be the Lilliputians that tie the giant Gulliver down.

Talking to him, listening to his reasoning, to his explanations for things (like explaining the precipitous drop in Hamas’ suicide bombings in recent years as a response to the disapproval of Muslims worldwide), to his disappointment that Israel is not more in line with his own liberal/progressive thinking (alas, they reacted to suicide attacks by becoming more right-wing), to his selective empathy, I begin to realize how tight the grip of what Charles Jacobs calls the Human Rights Complex is on our journalists, and their party-buddies, the UN workers and “Human Rights” NGOs who hang together in Jerusalem. It produces the “herd of independent minds” that characterizes today’s Middle East journalism.

And of course, if you adopt this point of view, you never have to deal with the problem of what happens if you report stuff that’s not acceptable to the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims. So they can, in all good conscience, look you straight in the eye and say, “There’s no intimidation here.” Try writing some stories on the culture of genocidal hatred that has pride of place in Palestinian pulpits and airways, and see if there isn’t some pushback.

But then, that would be supplying Israel with PR weapons, and we wouldn’t want that.

All of this is a long and rather elaborate introduction to a brilliant satire put out by Latma on precisely this subject. Enjoy. Imnsho, it’s right on.

Dilemmas of a fair journalist: Mackey of the Lede (NYT) uses Al Durah to distract from Silwan Pallywood

Robert Mackey of the Lede blog at the NYT did a piece on the Silwan incident in which he ventured into Al Durah territory and cited my work. I’ve occasionally read his work when it deals with the Middle East (e.g. the Flotilla), and have not been particularly impressed with his acuity. Here at least he exposes his readers to some Pallywood analysis even if he does try and take it back by changing the subject to Charles Enderlin and Al Durah.

[I recommend the FAQs for those unfamiliar with the Al Durah affair and Pallywood.]

October 16, 2010, 12:15 PM
‘Rashomon’ in East Jerusalem

According to an online preview, an episode of “60 Minutes” that will air on Sunday includes a report on the escalating conflict in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where 70 Jewish families have settled among about 55,000 Palestinians.

Last month, The Lede looked at how the shooting death of a Palestinian man by an Israeli private security contractor in the same neighborhood three weeks ago, and subsequent rioting, was covered by Israeli bloggers and international activists who oppose to the expansion of Israel’s settlements on the land it has occupied or annexed since 1967.

The “60 Minutes” report on the tension and clashes in Silwan includes images of a confrontation that took place there last week, when an Israeli settler, confronted by stone-throwing Palestinian boys on a street, drove his car into two of them, tossing an 11-year-old into the air.

While the boys reportedly avoided serious injury and were released from a local hospital the next day, graphic video of the incident was broadcast on Al Jazeera as well as Israeli television, and was posted numerous times on YouTube, where it has become the subject of fierce debate. (Be warned: viewers may find the clip distressing.)

This warning is one of the standard elements of the way the media handle Pallywood. Rather than warn that the images may be staged or manipulated, they assume they’re true, that the viewer will also see them as true and, appropriately be distressed. I’m not blaming Mackey for doing this. Within the framework the MSNM now have it makes perfect sense. I don’t know what should be done. Maybe:
“Viewers may find the clip distressing either because it is true, or because it is staged.”

As is the case with many pieces of video evidence in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, this clip has been taken to mean very different things by activists and bloggers on opposite sides of the political dispute over who has the right to live in East Jerusalem.