In today’s Jewish Week, the editor Gary Rosenblatt has a shocking piece on the editor of Ha-Aretz, David Landau’s conversation with Condi Rice last September, in the build-up to Annapolis. Both the message and the language shed a harsh light on the condition of the “anti-occupation” Israeli mindset. The landscape is not pretty.
Haaretz Editor Urged Rice To ‘Rape’ Israel
David Landau: Crude language over the top, or well placed?
by Gary Rosenblatt
Israelis are known for being direct and blunt. But comments made by David Landau, editor of the Israeli daily, Haaretz, to Condoleezza Rice about Israel needing to be “raped” by the U.S. to achieve a Mideast settlement caused quite a stir among the 20 or so attendees at a confidential briefing with the secretary of state on a recent visit to Israel.
The incident, which took place Sept. 10 at the private residence of America’s ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, has not been fully reported until now. What is contested is not the raw language Landau used but the context of his impassioned comments.
Following Rice’s briefing to the gathered military, academic and media elites at the dinner, the guests offered their views and comments about the Mideast impasse. Landau, who was seated next to Rice, was said to have referred to Israel as a “failed state” politically, one in need of a U.S.-imposed settlement. He was said to have implored Rice to intervene, asserting that the Israeli government wanted “to be raped” and that it would be like a “wet dream” for him to see this happen.
This represents an extreme expression of Oslo Logic: If only Israel would make the right concessions — painful but necessary — it could end the “occupation.” Since the inordinate influence of “right-wing” irredentists who don’t want to give up any territory prevents Israel from making the necessary concessions, it needs to be forced to do so. Then we’ll have… peace?
I’m not even sure that Landau is so naive. I have friends who think that the “occupation” — which I am whitewashing by arguing that the Israelis didn’t shoot Muhammad al Durah — is such a blot on the soul of Israel that it should be ended immediately — including the division of Jerusalem. When I point out that this is likely to lead to even more violent aggression and more devastating forms of warfare, the answer is consistently: “I don’t care. Israel, if it is to be a moral state, cannot endure the corruption of its youth who must do terrible things as a result of occupying, oppressing, and humiliating another people.”
So Landau may be shrewd enough to know that these concessions will not lead to peace, indeed might well lead to war. But on the other hand, he’s almost surely not telling that to Rice, who might think twice about forcing Israel to make concessions that will make the situation worse. Of course, who (not steeped in the intricate pathways of Jewish self-criticism) could begin to understand the toxic moral perfectionism that drives highly intelligent Israelis to take such suicidal stances? She, enamored of her Palestinian “Martin Luther King Jr.,” Abu Mazen, surely thinks this is an exaggerated but well-intentioned effort to achieve peace.
And yet, consider the catastrophic potential of this “self-abnegating” advice. First, the concessions that Landau wants to make are much more likely to whet the Palestinian/Arab/Muslim appetite for destroying Israel than “changing the tide” and heading us all towards a “negotiated solution.” And this is true even if Israel came to that decision all by herself. But if Israel’s foes think that they have now turned the only serious ally Israel has, the USA, against her, then the smell of weakness and failure in their nostrils will arouse even greater hopes of ultimate victory.
The odds that this will lead to war — just as the NIE report increases the likelihood of war — are enormous. And the odds that that war will force the USA into either much more costly engagements in the Middle East, or, even worse, huge losses in this area, make his advice almost as bad for the USA as it is catastrophic for Israel. The collateral damage of his single-minded opposition to the “morally corrupting” occupation is enormous. Right now the Israelis who oppose the occupation worry about the humiliation of thousands and the killing of dozens of Palestinians. When they trigger the wars their postures will invite — quod absit! — they will have an opportunity to weep over the death of millions of Israelis and Palestinians.
When contacted this week, Landau said the description was “inaccurate” and “a perversion of what I said.” He said his views had been delivered with “much more sophistication.”
But he added: “I did say that in general, Israel wants to be raped — I did use that word — by the U.S., and I myself have long felt Israel needed more vigorous U.S. intervention in the affairs of the Middle East.”
Not clear how much more sophisticated his own “general” summary is from the one reported. Indeed his subsequent remarks contradict his opening denial.
Landau, often outspoken in his views, is a bit of an anomaly in Israeli society in that he is a native Brit editing Israel’s oldest newspaper and an observant Jew (and former yeshiva student) with decidedly left-wing views.
This is an interesting detail, and not that anomalous. Some of the most ferocious “left-wing” critics of Israeli policy in Israel and abroad, are observant and learned Jews who are driven to their positions by moral imperatives. The fact that they do not engage in much realism, and show almost no interest in “the other side” (other than to view it, as so many reporters for Ha-Aretz do) as the innocent victim of Israeli misdeeds, has much to do with the “four-dimensional Israeli/two dimensional Palestinian/Arab/Muslim” problem I have discussed before.
The fact that Landau can refer to Israel as a “failed state” because it won’t adopt his policies of massive concessions to an Arab political culture that cannot even — does not apparently even want to — build a Palestinian state no matter how dysfunctional, illustrates the degree of self-referential isolationism that informs this aggressively self-abnegating “left-wing” position. Indeed, if we were to rate the states in the Middle East by how they treat their own people — I believe the standard by which the states Landau wants Israel to be a part of are judged — then we’d find 22 failed Arab/Muslim states well below his own.
He told The Jewish Week that the context of his remarks was that each of the dinner attendees spoke of Israel’s challenges, and when it was his turn he pointed out that since 1967, Israel has failed to resolve its territorial conflicts with the Palestinians.
And in the mind of Landau and others who share his masochistic omnipotence complex, if there’s been a failure, it’s obviously Israel’s. Of course it’s our fault; of course if we had behaved differently (MY way), things would have been better. Of course the Arabs are not nice to us and want to get rid of us… it’s because we haven’t been nicer to them.
“I told [Rice] that it had always been my wet dream to address the secretary of state” on these vital matters, he said.
This, coming from an orthodox Jew to a female Secretary of State, is stunning. It suggests a level of verbal incontinence that makes one wonder about Landau’s mental balance. Even if we ignore the inappropriateness of the imagery, the sentiment behind it — he’s long dreamed of having the opportunity to tell the USA to force Israel into concessions — suggests that Landau, like so many people on the “left” actually have contempt for the democratic process, and since they trust their own political judgment so much more than that of leaders produced by their democratic process, they feel completely justified in using any device to “force” their own polities to “be free.”
Her response, he said, was “fantastic” in that she was “completely unfazed” by his remarks, and remained “urbane and diplomatic.” Attendees said she told the assembled that the U.S. had no intention of imposing a settlement on the Israelis and Palestinians.
She was probably so embarrassed that she didn’t know what to do.
Isi Leibler, a weekly columnist for The Jerusalem Post who has written critically of Landau, said that “by any benchmark, Landau’s behavior as an Israeli citizen would be deemed unacceptable.” He said it was “unconscionable” for someone in Landau’s position to urge a U.S. Secretary of State “to ‘rape’ his own government.”
Note that Landau’s position is as editor of the “NYT of Israel,” the most widely read Israeli newspaper outside of Israel. As one of my students noted when I presented the Al Durah case and she read the coverage Ha-Aretz gave to it, “I thought Ha-Aretz was an Israeli paper. Why does it sound like a Palestinian one?” Landau was not editor at the time, but he has hardly made things better. On the contrary, he made some remarks in Moscow that reveal an astonishing degree of open advocacy involved in what he, as editor, allows his newspaper to publish.
I agree here with Liebler (whose comments on the affair can be read here). Landau, based on his own peculiarly hyper-self-critical logic, has called on the USA to take Israel’s foreign policy into recievership. He didn’t do this because in his mind the USA is the wisest of nations — unless he’s a Jewish “racist” and holds a radicaly different standard for the non-Jews, he must think the occupation of Iraq is a catastrophic venture — but because it’s the strongest, and can “do the job.” In other words, he goes by the logic that destroyed democratic Greece: “those who can do what they will, those who cannot suffer what they must.”
In a sense, he represents a contorted, modern, activist version of prophetic logic. Back in the old days, the prophets saw the behavior of empires who smashed Israel as delivering the punishment of the Lord. They showed minimal interest in the moral behavior of the nations, whose imperialist ambitions they took for granted and only fore-saw a change among the nations in messianic times: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares…”. In the unredeemed present, however, the prophets focused only on the role the Israelites who, by their immorality, had brought this plague upon themselves. That position lies at the heart of masochistic omnipotence syndrome: “we are the omnipotent God’s chosen people. If terrible things happen to us from merciless gentile armies driven by the basest of imperialist drives for dominion, then it’s our fault for having offended our God and provoked him to remove his protection.” As Max Weber points out, this remarkable and unique form of self-criticism contributed crucially to the eventual emergence of Western civilization.
But in the modern world, where even many people who believe in God don’t expect his direct intervention in history — especially after the Holocaust — the situation is radically different. Among other things, in principle, the other nations have renounced their imperialist drives, and we expect from all “players” in the world of democracies and civil societies, a certain measure of moral behavior in political culture that Israelite and Jewish thought had long demanded (and whose failure to maintain, led to the loss of God’s favor). It’s not accidental that the UN’s “peace square” has the messianic passage from Isaiah as it’s motto. In our day and age, imperialism is officially “not good.”
So today, with God non-interventionist, and people more morally responsible, there is considerably less need for the kind of hyper-self-criticism that marked the invective of the prophets. Now, the discourse of criticism and self-criticism should be a matter of negotiation between mature political cultures in conflict that resolves problems. Jewish self-criticism in principle in a civic world should not need to overcompensate by turning up its own perfectionism in response to a pervasive failure to self-criticize on the other side of the conflict. And yet, here we have newspaper editor David Landau, having wet dreams about telling the greatest power on earth to rape his own people because they are not living up to his prophetic standards. Not only is he playing the role of the God who he apparently does not expect to intervene, but with a particularly crude and heavy hand.
Ehud Yaari, a leading broadcast and print journalist in Israel who reported the incident on the air but did not mention Landau by name, called it “embarrassing.”
But Landau said he had no regrets and that, on the contrary, he was pleased, adding that he was later congratulated by several professors in the room who felt “I articulated what many Israelis feel.”
I wonder who these “professors” are. Can one find them chronicled here?