Monthly Archives: October 2011

LCE and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Arab mothers are just like everyone

This post has been updated with material from an Facebook exchange with Paul Halsall.

In an article in Ha-Aretz, where he argues a stylish pomo-poco case that the prisoner exchange reveals Israel’s racism, Alon Idan makes a number of statements that reveal the counter-empirical assertions that necessarily underly his argument:

Yet behind this feeling of superiority [at how much Israelis value life more than Palestinians] lurked a murky, inverted truth. The fact is, the release of one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners is not normal; certainly it does not represent an inferior love felt by a Palestinian mother for her son compared to an Israeli mother…. This equation derives from the way we, not Hamas, view reality: 1,027 Palestinians are worth one Jewish life not because the Palestinians minimize the importance of their own lives, but because we diminish the value of their lives.

Certainly. I remember hearing the same from Ted Koppel at the outbreak of the intifada. Hosting a program in which he had to have the Israelis separated from the Palestinians – on the insistence of the Palestinians – he responded to one Israeli claiming that the Palestinians wanted war: “I don’t believe that for a minute. A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.”

It was indeed these dogmatic kinds of politically correct statements that led me to formulate the expression “liberal cognitive egocentrism.” This kind of thinking, which Edward Saïd insisted we – not the Arabs – adopt, is a major element in the cognitive war that Islam wages against us, and creates an extensive epistemological confusion in which we cannot identify the problems or analyze how to resolve them. The editors of the NYT, and their major columnists like Friedman, Kristof, and Cohen, all participate in this liberal, PC dogma, and accordingly, find themselves constantly ignoring reality and coming up with ludicrous solutions. (As Pierre Taguieff pointed out long ago, when all the fishes swim in the same direction it’s because they’re dead.”)

Indeed, as long as you believe that the Palestinians are “just like us” and all they want is a state of their own, and their terror is a sign of the desperation at not getting what everyone else has (rather than aspiration to destroy someone else’s), then obviously, Bibi  (and any other Israeli leader who doesn’t retreat to the 67 boundaries) is responsible for the impass which – everyone knows – could be resolved, in the words of one BBC commentator, by email. Never mind that in the real world, people who pursue these satisfying if fantastic solution end up looking – at best – like keystone cops.

Elder of Ziyon catches the latest of the depressingly long list of examples that say something radically different about Palestinian culture.

 The Islamic Jihad website Saraya has an article about Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil, a Gaza mother who has had five of her terrorist sons killed “in martyrdom.” She is looking forward to joining her sons in paradise. The article says that she did not cry for more than five minutes upon news of her son Ahmad’s death on Saturday. She expressed joy and praised Allah for what happened, and expressed hope that her sons are all accepted into Paradise where they would be, presumably, happily screwing a bunch of virgins for eternity. Khalil also expressed her fervent wish that Islamic Jihad continue to create Jewish widows and orphans. She called on Allah to grant success to the “resistance” and to defeat the Jews for “our land.” She has two more sons left, as well as two daughters. Ahmed also leaves behind three wives. One of Ahmad’s remaining brothers said “we always expected him to be killed.”

Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil and her dead sons (in heaven, for sure)

Now will someone please show me a mother in Israel today (cf. 2 Maccabees, 7) who would be proud about not crying for her dead children, and eager to send more to their death if only she could create widows and orphans among the Arabs? Even if some mother felt so, she would not express such emotions openly: for Israelis such overriding desire for revenge is shameful.

And if you wish to argue that this mother doesn’t really feel these things, she’s just responding to social pressures, from a moral point of view you’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire: what culture demands that its mothers not mourn their dead children, indeed, that in some cases, mothers kill their own daughters?

Amira Qaoud who killed her daughter (raped by two of her sons) so that the community would accept the family.

The problem here runs deep. Ever since I debated some ISMers in 2002, I’ve become familiar refrain that if you talk about what’s wrong with the Palestinians you’re a racist. But I’ve come to realize that it’s the liberals who don’t think Palestinians (or Arabs, or Muslims) can handle serious criticism, who are the racists, and they defend themselves by pretending that “they’re just like us” and demonizing anyone who disagrees. In the words of Simon Deng, a freed Sudanese slave, it’s not only “absurd, it’s immoral.”

We need a spatial term to correspond to the chronological term anachronism. Just as we tend to project our contemporary experience and attitudes on people who lived in the past, so we do that to people who live in other cultures. It may make us feel good for not passing judgments on others, for cleaving to moral equality, but one has to wonder at what price we are willing to indulge. It makes us easy marks for demopaths.

Better dead than [considered a] racist?

How… honor-shame, and how utterly wasteful!

In an exchange with Paul Halsall at Facebook, he encouraged me to make the following clarification.

Paul wrote: “I think your problem is that that you have got into some sort of circular thought pattern, and are now not showing that you are able to see the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians.”

I respond: I have no problem seeing the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians. I’m all for those kinds of friendships, and it’s clear that a real friendship with Arabs is not a dull affair. My problem is with Palestinian culture right now, with what’s permitted and encouraged in the public sphere. Are there mothers who secretly grieve? I’ll bet many, most. But they can’t show it because of a dominating, disgusting political culture that runs right down from the religious and secular tyrants to the alpha males who dominate their women – daughters and wives – with death threats in the service of their honor. That’s what we should be criticizing as progressives, not reinforcing that predatory patriarchal elite by buying into their scapegoating of Israel to distract from their terrible deeds (eg the Palestinian refugees).


The Dangers of a Premature Palestinian State: Lee Hiromoto’s Reflections

Readers of this blog may recall Lee Hiromoto’s reflections on Operation Cast Lead. This is his latest:

The Dangers of a Premature Palestinian State

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By Lee Hiromoto –

Contrary to the pessimism of some, the Arab-Israeli peace process has come quite far since Israel won its independence in 1948. In 1967, the Arab League declared in the Khartoum Resolution that there would be “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, [and] no negotiations with it.” The Palestinian National Charter of 1968 set out to “destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence” and declared that Israel’s establishment was “entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time.”

Yet by 1993, Yasser Arafat, in a letter to Yitzhak Rabin, clearly stated that the Palestine Liberation Organization “recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” In 2002, the same Arab league that emphatically enunciated the three no’s in 1967 embraced a peace plan that would provide for “normal relations with Israel.”

This progress, while neither perfect nor uniformly linear, has brought tangible good to the Palestinian people. The process initiated by Arafat and Rabin led to the creation of autonomous areas in the West Bank where Palestinians were—for the first time in modern recollection—allowed to govern themselves under the aegis of an internationally recognized proto-sovereignty.

Once unthinkable, Israeli and Palestinian security forces now cooperate to fight terror in the West Bank. Formerly ubiquitous military checkpoints have been removed, and the Palestinian economy has enjoyed a boom in recent years. From a new movie theatre in Nablus (the first to open in a Palestinian city this millennium) to a five-start hotel in Ramallah, the tangible gains brought by Arab-Israeli engagement speak to the power of dialogue.

But the sudden and unilateral imposition of a Palestinian state onto Israel by the U.N. (as sought by President Abbas) could end up destabilizing the region and undoing the substantial gains made thus far in the process of Arab-Israeli reconciliation. The danger presents itself on two levels:  the possibility of Islamist terror originating from a Palestinian state and the increased risk of regional conflict between Israel and its neighbors.

The Danger Of A Failed Palestinian Terror State

First, a hasty Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank (Gaza, the other major Palestinian population center, has been devoid of an Israeli presence since 2005) under international pressure would embolden the extremist elements that have been kept in check by Israeli security forces. At the moment, the Israeli presence keeps the peace to the benefit of both Palestinian and Israeli communities in the region by arresting West Bank terrorists and stopping the trafficking of illegal weapons.

New Book on Goldstone available at Amazon



NGO Monitor and the JCPA have published The Goldstone Report “Reconsidered” – A Critical Analysis, a collection of essays on theReport and its impact on international law and principles of universal human rights, in particular in the context of asymmetric warfare.Reconsidered is the essential volume for analyzing the origins and background of Goldstone’s “fact-finding mission”, its activities and failures, and the wider implications.  

The book is available on Amazon: 


Foreword: The Dangerous Bias of the United Nations Goldstone ReportDore Gold, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

From Durban to Goldstone: Abusing Human Rights for Political Warfare, Gerald M. Steinberg, Bar Ilan University/NGO Monitor

The Goldstone Mission  –  Tainted to the Core, Irwin Cotler, Canadian Member of Parliament

The U.N.’s Book of Judges, Ed Morgan, University of Toronto

Goldstone’s Gaza Report: A Failure of Intelligence, Richard Landes, Boston University

NGOs & the Goldstone Report, Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor

Report of an Expert Meeting which Assessed Procedural Criticisms made of the U.N. Fact-finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (The Goldstone Report), Chatham House

The Case Against the Goldstone Report  –  A Study in Evidentiary Bias, Alan Dershowitz, Harvard University

Letter to Justice Goldstone, Trevor Norwitz, Columbia University

The Goldstone Report and International Law, Peter Berkowitz, Stanford University

The Application of IHL in the Goldstone Report: A Critical Commentary, Laurie Blank, Emory University

A Critique of the Goldstone Report and its Treatment of International Humanitarian Law,Avi Bell, Bar Ilan University/University of San Diego

The Goldstone Illusion, Moshe Halbertal, Hebrew University

Some of these articles are already available at Understanding the Goldstone Report. But even if you don’t need a copy yourself, buy one to give to your favorite liberal cognitive egocentrist (LCE), and insist your library get a copy.

Deconstructing the trope: “We’re criticized from both sides, so we must be doing something right.”

In my previous post I fisked Ali Younes’ complaint that the media – even the Arab media – had been sucked into the Israeli PR machine, and point out the mindset that lay behind his complaint. Here I try and interpret why perceptions are so wildly divergent between the Israeli and the Palestinians that both feel wronged, misrepresented, and offended by the same media coverage.

Obviously (for those who go no further), the fact that “both sides” object confirms the oft-uttered tropes of moral equivalence.

The MSNM often congratulates itself on its balanced coverage – what one analyst called the “he-said-she-said” narrative – by claiming that “we get criticized by both sides,” and then concluding, “so we must be doing something right.” I’m sure it’s tempting for them to view the presence of unhappiness “on both sides” – eg, me and Younes – as a good sign.

I’d suggest a different dynamic (obviously, but not necessarily incorrectly). Israelis are so self-critical that you have to get really nasty before they start to complain. (Granted, over the last decade, many Zionists have become more vocal in their complaints, I’d argue justifiably.) Criticism fine, demonization, not. And there’s a huge and legitimate debate on where to draw the line(s). But it has to be something pretty huge to get a loud complaint – like, say, making (or strongly suggesting) a moral equivalence between the plight of unrepentant mass-murderers of children and a soldier who was manning a hostile border taken hostage in a raid. 

Fisking Ali Younes on the “prisoner’s exchange”

I ran across this comment from an Arab-American Kuwaiti-born journalist based in DC on the blog of comedian, activist, dialoguer Ray Hanania. In preparing a post at the Telegraph in which I cite it, I analyze it here.

09-01-09 Gilad Shalit in the Arab media
By Ali Younes –

Every time I read and watch how Arab media outlets cover the story of prisoner’s exchange of the Israeli solider Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, I come to think how Arab media have fallen victims to Israeli PR machine (propaganda).

This is pretty interesting for me, since I just posted something to the exact opposite effect at the Telegraph (and, in longer form, here). Each side feels betrayed by the MSNM; each side bemoans the superiority of the PR machine of the other side. It seems like two parallel universes that do not intersect. Let me try to explain both these responses within the same universe.

There are several issues at play here when covering this story. Note that Gilad Shalit is always mentioned by name, I know his name, you do, and maybe my grandmother knows his name too!

So before we go to details, Younes lets us in on an emotional issue. It really bothers him that his grandmother knows Shalit’s name. Why will become clear if we read the rest (the substantive material) with this initial confession in mind.

Why, because the Israeli government has made sure that the whole world, and even my grandmother knows this soldier name. Every effort to release him ( note its always about him ) was made specifically for him, the Egyptians, the Germans, the Americans, even some Palestinians care more about him than their own.

Now we know two further things. 1) Younes sees the immense and sympathetic attention that Shalit, his central place in the narrative of that prisoner exchange, as a victory for the Israelis. 2) If the Zionists succeeded, it must be because of the (immensely effective) PR machine.

How many Palestinian prisoners’ names do we know? We know that there are 12000 of them in captivity. I might know Marwan Barghouthi, whose only image I know is him in chains and handcuffs waving them off. Maybe few others and that’s about it. The rest I just see them without actually see them in Israeli busses or cages, or jail cells. Or, we might see a crying wife, a saddened son, or an ailing mother clinging to a picture of her imprisoned son. But I don’t know who he is, or how, when and why did the Israeli army arrest him. We don’t even know if those prisoners have children or if they are married even.

In other words, why is Gilad Shalit humanized and not the Palestinians. Younes here confesses, perhaps unconsciously, to his sheer ignorance about the details of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In Israel, many of these prisoners are widely known, some, like the two in prison for the Ramallah lynching on October 12, 2000, to the sociopathic icon Ahlam Tammimi, who specifically chose the target of Sbarro Pizza because it was full of religious kids, and broke into a beaming smile when she found out she and her human weapon had killed eight, not three, children.

Spengler reviews my book

This is a review from David Goldman (alias Spengler) in a Catholic review, First Things. The going may be tough, but you can get the essential points – “disturbing, momentous, magisterial…” :-)

Messianic Restraint

by David P. Goldman

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience by Richard Landes, Oxford, 520 pages, $35

This is a disturbing and momentous book, for modern political think­ing has trouble making sense of the intrusion of irrationality. It is conditioned by the Cold War, a geopolitical chess game between opponents who for the most part acted rationally. When the Soviet side saw that its position was unplay­able in 1989, it politely resigned and accepted the consequences. But we cannot predict with confidence wheth­er more recent challenges to world se­curity—state sponsors of terrorism and nonstate actors seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction—will evince the same degree of rationality.

In Heaven on Earth, Richard Landes redresses our historiographi­cal blind eye towards manifestly ir­rational social movements. History is written by the survivors, who restore stability after waves of enthusiasm have burned out. (Landes calls them “owls” in contrast to the millenarian “roosters.”) The writers of history thus tend to underestimate the fragil­ity of social relations and the convul­sive influence of salvific aspirations.

Landes, a Boston University histo­rian who founded its Center for Mil­lennial Studies, argues that orderly public life depends upon religious orthodoxy, that is, the integration of chiliastic and secular time that em­beds messianic expectations within the liturgical calendar that accom­panies ordinary human life. When messianic expectations lose their “orthodox” mooring in the daily life of faith communities and their mem­bers attempt to live in apocalyptic time, catastrophic consequences en­sue.

In Landes’ model, the fragility of the social order corresponds to the fragility of this balance. He is pes­simistic about the prospects for sus­taining either.

The Hostage-Prisoner Exchange and the world of imaginative sympathy

This piece appeared in a shorter form in the Daily Telegraph.

The Hostage-Prisoner Exchange and the world of imaginative sympathy

One of the supreme ironies among the European moral stances has to do with their discourse on the “death penalty.” It’s a standard trope of European contempt for the USA that it still has a death penalty, a sign of its cowboy nature and its retardation in the moral progress of nations. At least when it comes to the death penalty, America is still in the 20th century. “Moral Europe,” on the other hand, stands at the vanguard of the global community of nations and its appreciation of the value of human life undergirds its horror at the execution of criminals, no matter what their deeds.

And yet when that same moral entity turns its gaze on the Middle East, the country they have the most contempt for is the only country in the entire region to reject capital punishment, and they have the most admiration for a country that among a widespread political culture that extensively uses torture and execution for the maintenance of public order, shows perhaps the most contempt for the lives of its own peoples and its enemies.

Normally, this would not be even worth mentioning. Most people would just roll their eyes while others complain about Zionist imperialists trying to divert attention from their oppression of the Palestinians. But if you want to understand the “hostage-for-prisoner-exchange” that just took place in Israel and the Western media’s coverage of the event, then you need to pay attention to the issue.

Israel first outlawed the death in 1954, thus reversing the Mandate Law, which, in most other instances, Israel took over from the British. They based themselves both on rabbinic precedent (concerns for both respecting the image of God in man and the unattainable burden of proof) and modern liberal sentiment (Robespierre initially opposed the death penalty). In doing so, they became the first modern Western democracy after Germany (1949) to ban the death penalty, followed a decade later by Britain (1965), Sweden (1972), Canada (1976) and France (1981).

Note that Israel passed this law five years after the creation of a polity dedicated to equality before the law for all its citizens, a move that earned them the ferocious hostility of their neighbors in the Arab Muslim world. Normally, when countries attempt these egalitarian revolutions and find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies, they have, by year five, descended into mass executions of their own citizens (French Revolution in their fourth year, Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, almost immediately). Israel, on the other hand, outlawed the death penalty even for Arab terrorists who were captured while killing Israeli civilians. Israel has only executed one person, Adolph Eichmann, held responsible for the extermination of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

If the Israelis had hundreds of terrorists in their prisons, in some cases serving multiple life sentences, available to trade for Gilad Shalit, a soldier kidnapped from Israeli soil by Hamas combatants five years ago, it’s because of this attitude towards human life, both their own and those of the Palestinians. And that attitude was on full display throughout this exchange, with people agonizing over endangering future Israelis from releasing these men, and the profound commitment to getting Gilad Shalit back. Some Arabs recognized the unflattering light this shed on their own culture, while others reveled in it.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, represent almost the polar opposite. This is a culture in which killing daughters and wives and homosexuals for shaming the family with (even suspected and loosely interpreted) inappropriate sexual behavior is a regular feature of society, where “collaborators” are summarily executed, where official statistics for executions put the PA at a rate of formal, legal execution that cedes only to China, Iran, N. Korea, Yemen and Libya.

Railing against Reality: Lisa Goldman tries to defend Journalists who Use Pallywood

Recently a number of articles by photojournalists who turned their cameras on their fellow photojournalists have reinforced an argument I first made in 2005 with my first documentary short, Pallywood. They revealed the extent to which journalists, with their pack mentality and their eagerness to get pictures of the victimization of the Palestinian David by the Israeli Goliath, may influence, even make the “news” they record about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Ritual from Andrew Lampard on Vimeo.

Photojournalism Behind the Scenes [ITA-ENG subs] from Ruben Salvadori on Vimeo.

Obviously such charges runs the risk of undermining the narrative that the MSNM so relentlessly record for their audiences, a narrative that has had an enormous impact on images of Israel in the West. In response Lisa Goldman, a blogger at 972, has come to the defense of this kind of news. Her piece illustrates from many angles just what’s wrong with people who think they’re “journalists” when they’re really advocates.

The questions people don’t ask about ’staged photojournalism’

A few years ago, a far-right commentator on Israel-Palestine coined the term “Pallywood” to describe video clips and photographs which were allegedly staged or manipulated to score public relations points against Israel.

Lisa defines what she means by “far-right” later in this essay: those who call the occupied territories the ‘administered territories’ and insist that Israel must keep its settlements in the West Bank. There are two major points to be made here.

1) This is a pretty weak definition of “far-right.” I would have imagined something more along the lines of forceful transfer of population from both Israel and the territories for the sake of an Arab-free greater Israel. That would, after all, be a fairly neat parallel to an apartheid position that has its mirror opposite among so many Palestinians. But what Goldman’s trying to do here is to label anything that isn’t close to her position “far-right.” Presumably, she’d have no problem labeling “far-right” anyone who referred to them as “disputed territories” or felt that some of the settlements should, indeed remain part of Israel.

2) Nowhere can Lisa, who knows me personally because I invited her to participate in a conference at the IDC in 2006, find in my fairly copious writings, anything resembling these positions. I personally find even the “right-wing” label inaccurate, much less “far-right,” but that’s probably because I don’t skew the political spectrum heavily to the left in order to define anything that disagrees with me “right-wing.” On the contrary, I think that, when speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict we need to have a spectrum that can accommodate both Palestinian and Israeli politics. That way we can avoid such foolish generalizations as, on the one hand, calling Abbas a “moderate” when, by my definition, he and his fellow PA officials are “far-right,” in favor of ethnic cleansing of a Palestinian state and keeping the refugees in camps, and on the other, avoid calling Netanyahu a “hardliner” when, in comparison, he’s far more accommodating than Abbas.

So we learn from Lisa Goldman’s first sentence of her post that: a) she is a poor journalist who doesn’t even care to research her claims, b) she’s into smearing people who get in the way of her narrative, and c) she defines matters with a heavy skew to the PCP (2) as normative, rather than one-sided.

All three of these observations will continue to hold true throughout an examination of her piece.