Monthly Archives: November 2015

ISIS, Palestinian Terrorism, and Global Jihad: Fisking Naomi Chazan

Naomi Chazan, former head of the NIF fund, has a piece in direct contradiction to an article that Tablet published the following day in which I noted:

People who insist that Hamas and ISIS have nothing to do with each other give global jihad an enormous boon: They disguise Hamas by presenting it as a movement for national liberation even as it fans the flames of global jihad. In so doing, many Westerners think they help the Palestinian cause, when in fact they empower a leadership that willingly sacrifices ordinary Palestinians to advance its cause, and at the same time, empower the global jihadis by running their Palestinian propaganda as news, and reinforcing a collective sense of victimization.

Instead of recoiling from the horror, the more demented—but sincere—Western “progressives” shout “We are Hamas.” And those Israelis who rush to assure the global community that people who argue, as I have above, are just trying to hide their own crimes against the Palestinians, effectively blind those who listen to their counsel to a shared foe of all decent people—Muslim, Jew, Christian, and secular, alike.

Since she takes precisely the position I was criticizing (had I known, I would have linked it at “those Israelis who rush,” and since her thinking illustrates nicely the cognitive disarray that cripples both Israeli and more broadly Western intelligentsia, I think it worth a fisking. I’ll pay special attention to identifying the political agenda that drives her insistence that the Palestinians have nothing to do with ISIS.

Unfortunately, the piece is a collection of assertions, repeated far more often than explained or supported. So at certain key points I’ll both develop her own argument and rebut it. Sigh.

Terror, terrorism and terrorists

NOVEMBER 23, 2015, 12:19 PM
BLOGGER Naomi Chazan
Professor Naomi Chazan, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, is Dean of the School of Government and Society at the Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo


A Palestinian youth raises a knife during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, October 18, 2015. (AFP/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

Terrorism is the most abhorrent of political tools: it is a purposeful act of violence directed primarily against innocent civilians in order to create intense fear and sow widespread havoc to promote particular political goals. The use of terrorism is vile: it is merciless, indiscriminate, cruel, and beyond inhumane. Any act of terrorism — whether in Paris or Jerusalem, in Bamako or in New York, in Damascus or in Bangkok — is unconscionable.

So far so good. She’s already less compliant with Jihadi demands that AFP, which published a list of terror attacks from 9-11 to the ones in France this month, which excluded attacks of Israelis.

The broad condemnation of the latest unspeakable wave of terrorism is more than justified; the frequent conflation of these actions with their motives — which confuses cause and effect — is not.

Huh?

Israeli officials, often backed by the media, have contributed to this discombobulation.

Here she no doubt means the few Israeli and other pro-Israel media outlets who operate in something of an echo chamber. The mainstream media firmly rejects the position she is about to describe.

Compliant Journalists Live in a Land of Few Facts

I recently got an announcement about a talk that Jodi Rudoren is giving in Boston entitled, “Journalism in a land of few facts.” I’d love to go to hear how she develops the theme of dueling narratives. (NB. I have not had a chance to imbed all the remarks below as they deserve. Hope to do so later.)

Tamar Sternthal at CAMERA once again revealed how critical sources outside the mainstream can and do make invaluable contributions to a serious and reasoned public discussion. Paying attention to these voices (narrated by their critics as “right-wing”) offers at least a serious possibility of OODA rather than IDAD.

In a closer look at two cases, Sternthal shows how when the “facts” get in the way of “he-said, she-said,” they get dropped from the narrative. The pattern is a classic of compliance with the Palestinian prime directive: Palestinians must be presented as victims, never aggressors; Israelis never victims, always aggressors.

Indeed, how does one comply with this Palestinian imposition when the evidence, the facts, don’t support the Palestinian narrative? How does one report the story, when part of the story is that the Palestinians were caught lying about their innocence?

By and large, compliant journalists avoid dealing with these stories as much as possible, and when circumstances force them to report it, they go “he said, she said,” equally plausible narratives.

What of the evidence, the “facts” that contradict? Drop them from the report, and when challenged, declare them unworthy of space. So dismissive attitude towards facts that a good journalist would consider the most relevant in sorting out what happened, prepares us to understand the title of her speaking tour talk:

Reporting from the Land of Few Facts.

Not the basically honest:

Reporting from a Land where I cannot talk about relevant facts

Certainly not the self-critical:

Reporting from the Augean Stables of a Palestinian Compliant Media

Rudoren on Intimidation: The Fully Compliant Tweet

It’s worth, in this context, recalling Rudoren’s response to the FPA protest of Palestinian media.

Israeli Responses to Paris Attacks and European Cognitive Disarray

This piece is published at Tablet Magazine.

In an Age of Terror, How Thinking Right Can Save the Left

What’s needed is more tribalism, not less

Among the responses in Israel to the Paris Terror Attacks, there has emerged a divide that deserves attention. Depending on where you spend your political time, one or the other response will appear predictable (and lamentable).

First, there are the self-referential Zionists who think, as they did after the attacks of Sept. 11 and the London bombings of July 7, 2005, and so many other moments: “Now, maybe they’ll understand our plight, and realize we have the same enemies,” and “We Israelis have a lot to teach you.” Their battle-hardened cousins further to the right reply, “Don’t bother trying, they’re all anti-Semitic and judge us by a double standard” or even “The West deserves what they’re getting, as a punishment for their hypocrisy.”

On the other hand, we have those who see this entire range of responses as distasteful, to say the least. Instead, they urge an expression of sympathy and solidarity unclouded by words of reproach, by displaying the French flag online as a way to declare #JeSuisFrançais. It’s really not cool for Israelis to complain about a double standard at a time like this, they scold. It’s not about us—it’s about France. As for those people, like the prime minister, who compare ISIS to Palestinian terrorists, they are engaging in a low form of propaganda, trying to use the victims of other wars in other places to wash away the sins of Israeli occupation.

In a deeply disturbing and repeating 21st-century, paradox, however, the approach of Israel’s generous and selfless ones has worked to the benefit of most regressive forces on the planet—while on the contrary, the voice that awakening Europe needs most to heed in the current crisis is that of those self-centered Israelis who relate European woes to their own pain. The failure to understand this paradox explains both why Western elites are so poor at resisting global jihad, and why, for a disaffected youth—Muslim by birth or by choice—it makes sense to join that jihad. Indeed, this split in Israeli discourse about the Paris attacks illustrates the disproportionate impact of a peculiar Jewish dispute on the current cognitive disorientation of the West.

But first, let’s explain our terms. Let’s call the first response the tribalist approach. It is centered on the self, preoccupied with defending family, clan, group; suspicious by default of others, especially of strangers; and easily rendered defensive by threatening behavior. Tribalists think in terms of “us vs. them”; they treat “their own” differently from others, and when they feel sufficiently threatened, they will lash out. They think of their own pain and feel anger at hypocrisy (in this case against the French for their 15-year-long indifference to the pain of their Jews). This mindset historically favors vengeful attitudes—“they deserve it”—and rough justice.

Politically, these folks appear on the “right” of our spectrum, and they remind us of historical periods when people with power lacked empathy and used it cruelly, a political culture of rule or be ruled, that democracies hope to have outgrown. Tribalists are the zero-sum folks: “I only win if they lose,” and, “they only understand force.” Like Huntington, one of their intellectual heroes, these tribalists tend to lookfor enemies. They find reasons to be belligerent, to provoke war, they “invent the enemy.”

Let’s call the second response the universalist: considerate of others, self-abnegating: “This is not about Israel.” These are the positive-sum folks, the ones who make friends, who build on trust, who come up with mutually beneficial projects from which everyone profits, who look for the voluntary win-win rather than the coercedwin-lose. They reject the selfish me first, the invidious us-them, the tribal my side right or wrong.

These folks appear on the “left” of our political spectrum. They empathize with the “other” and embrace diversity. They can and want to trust. In renouncing the win-lose, they become capable of granting dignity and freedom to others—the fundamental social contract of a successful egalitarian culture. They imagine themselves as inhabitants of a future diverse, civil, and peaceful global community, where racism and xenophobia are no more.

This dichotomy between tribal and universal sheds light on the current paradoxical situation in Europe, where the most extraordinary cognitive disarray rules. Specifically, when it comes to judging Israel’s conflict with its neighbors, Europeans have inverted vision. And the ensuing radical cognitive disorientation contributes to a fatal misreading of the forces Europeans themselves face.

By and large, the European elites—journalists, academics, policy pundits, political class—are members of the universalist camp. In their reading, Israelis are the zero-sum players. They deserve the hostility of their neighbors; they have brought uponthemselves the suicide bombings, the intifadas, and the deep hatreds. They have done so with their settlements and occupation and humiliating checkpoints and periodic bombing raids that kill hundreds of children and thousands of innocent civilians.

The BBC and Own-Goal War Journalism

This is the text of a talk I gave on Tuesday, November 10, in a London synagogue for UK Media Watch to discuss the BBC’s record of reporting from the Middle East in anticipation of Parliament’s Renewal of the BBC’s Charter.

How the BBC Has Poisoned the Global Public Sphere with its Own-Goal War Journalism

It’s always hard to know what to say when talking about the current situation without sounding alarmist, or, as Ben White claimed, sounding like a paranoid Eurabia conspiracy theorist. European elites have been in denial for so long and at such a cost… and trying to wake them up, such a thankless task. I take this large crowd, however, as a sign of an awakening, and address those of you who have come to the conclusion that our leaders – our politicians, our journalists, our pundits, our policy makers, our community leaders, don’t really know what they’re doing, especially when it comes to dealing with the waxing population of triumphalist Muslims in Europe. And in this widespread disorientation, these leaders have put the Jewish communities of Europe – England’s among them – in real peril.

Now no one in 2000, would have anticipated that in 15 years, the Prime Ministers of both France and England would openly express their fears that they might lose their Jews. Who, in those heady days of global civil society, would have imagined such a turn? When I spoke with Rabbi Sacks in 1997 about my fears of a returning anti-Semitism at the turn of the millennium, he, like almost everyone I spoke to back then, found it absurd. But even I didn’t imagine that it would take the form of European sovereign nations allowing – or not being able to stop – triumphalist Muslims from chasing out the Jews from their midst.

My remaining remarks will be addressed to two points:

How it happened

Why it happened

I will leave it to my fellow panelists to document the sad tale of journalistic malfeasance, and suggest where to go from here. My goal is to place this tale in a larger framework and understand how self-destructive it is for journalists to so behave.

My talk at Connecticut College about the Pessin Affair

I spoke last night at Connecticut College about the Pessin Affair. It was probably the most unusual talk I’ve ever given, and I must say, it was a great privilege and honor to be heard by such a large number of people who, by and large, I was rebuking for their behavior last semester. I was very impressed by the tenor of the discussion, and have the sense that quite a few people there, both faculty and students understood the gravity of their actions last semester.

Sometime soon the video of the talk and the Q&A (the best part of the evening), will be posted here.

Reflections on Academia and Freedom:

The Case of Connecticut College, Spring 2015

 

Academics like to think of themselves as autonomous thinkers. As the old joke has it, trying to coordinate them is like trying to herd cats. The very principles of academia – literally the protected realm of free speech – including tenure, give professors enormous privileges, not only the right to speak their minds, but protection from retaliation of those in power whom they displease. Few members of even the most highly developed democracies enjoy such exceptional privileges of freedom to speak out, dissent, criticize, to speak truth to power with relative impunity. Try lining up such individuated folks and get them to all toe the line? Sooner try herding cats.

The very fact that Western democratic polities treasure such spaces, speaks volumes about their progressive bona fides: most power elites suffocate dissent. And in principle, that generous investment in a protected space of civil discourse where reasoning (if not Reason) prevails over violent passions, should guarantee some basic results. For example, at a time when anonymous internet sociability can turn ominously feral, one might expect that academics and their institutions would resist such predatory crowd behavior. And surely, we might think, a small, cordial, college community, where the philosophy department champions an inclusive discourse that should make everyone feel “at home,” in the search for understanding our world would be the last place such predatory behavior would occur.

I’m here to make you feel uncomfortable. And so you should be, after your behavior of last semester. As a preface let me quote Proverbs: “He who loves reproof loves knowledge.” Self-criticism is the lifeblood of the academy, the great strength of modern society, and core of a progressive world view: no self-criticism, no learning curve; and, alas, those incapable of self criticism need to blame someone else for failure, they need a scape goat, never mind that that victim is not responsible for their failings.

In that spirit, let me engage in some public self-criticism. When the CIA first formed after World War II, they sought out the advice of medievalists because, they reasoned, medievalists were trained to reconstruct a situation from fragmentary evidence. I’m a medievalist, and normally I try and reconstruct events so far back in history that no one I’m talking about can contradict me, and only my medieval colleagues can gainsay me. But today I engage in the most perilous act of reconstructing events here at the college and standing before those of you who know far better than I what happened. I’ve done my best to assemble the documents, and have them up at my blog The Augean Stables.

But if, sometimes, we can see more because we know less, the forest for the trees as it were, there may be a number of ways in which I’ve gotten the story wrong, ways that I’ve misconstrued the behavior or motivations of the actors in the drama, that I’ve missed important elements. So before I begin giving you a hard time, let me say that I am open to your rebuke, to your challenges to my reconstruction of these events.

Let me begin with what you, the students, faculty and administration of Connecticut College, have done. On the basis of a systematically misrepresented Facebook post, some students and faculty accused Prof Andrew Pessin, of “directly condoning the extermination of a people… calling for the systematic abuse, killing, and hate of another people.” This hateful statement, at least as far as one can tell from the outside, seems to have inspired a wave of condemnations of “hate speech,” that issued in formal declarations from virtually every organization, department, program, desk, at Connecticut College. That list of formal declarations is still proudly posted at your university’s website, many of which refer explicitly to his post and a couple of which identify him by name.