Category Archives: Honor-Shame Culture

What to do when you realize there’s No 2-State Solution: Fisking Shlomo Avineri

Shlomo Avineri, renowned professor of Political Science at Hebrew University wrote an op-ed recently in which (without really saying that he was critiquing his own positions) he dismissed as fatally flawed the Oslo logic of “two states” because the Palestinians do not see the conflict in those terms and do not consider Israeli claims to statehood legitimate, and will never agree to such a deal. He then explains how the Palestinians do view the problem, and suggests a path of action for Israelis who acknowledge the fatal impasse of past peace-making.

It’s hard to imagine a more striking split between diagnosis and therapy. Having told us we can’t expect reciprocity from the Palestinians, he suggests Israel make unilateral sacrifices. The argument illustrates as well as any I know, why Political “Science” is crippled by its inability to factor into its analyses key factors — neither honor-shame, nor religious, dynamics appear in this discussion.

As a result, Avineri suggests that we deal with a conflict that has resisted all “positive-sum” solutions precisely because of the lack of reciprocity, by making positive-sum sacrifices without any demand for reciprocity.

Palestinian irredentists could not ask for better.

Below, a fisking.

With no solution in sight: Between two national movements

There is more than one reason for the failure of the Oslo Accords, but at the basis lies a fundamental difference in how each side views the conflict.

By Shlomo Avineri | Ha’aretz, Oct. 2, 2015

Twenty years after the Oslo Accords, the time has come to ask why they did not bring about the historic compromise envisaged by their initiators and supporters. This is a question to be asked especially by those who supported them and viewed them, justifiably, as the opening toward an epochal reconciliation between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.

“Justifiably?” There’s hardly been an epochal reconciliation. Were they justified in thinking that had it worked, it would have been epochal?

I think “unjustifiably” is the appropriate word here.

There is more than one reason for the failure to achieve an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: mutual distrust between the two populations, internal pressures from the rejectionists on both sides, Yasser Arafat’s repeated deceptions, the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the electoral victories of Likud in Israeli elections, Palestinian terrorism,

Strange that Palestinian terrorism, which innovated with suicide bombing in 1994, would follow the murder of Rabin (1995) and the election of Likud (1997) on this list.

continuing Israeli settlement activities in the territories, the bloody rift between Fatah and Hamas, American presidents who did too little (George W. Bush) or too much and in a wrong way (Barack Obama),

Bush may have done too little in his first administration, but did a great deal, with the hapless efforts of the paradigmatically cognitive egocentric, Condaleezza Rice, in his second.

the political weakness of Mahmoud Abbas, governments headed by Netanyahu that did everything possible to undermine effective negotiations. All this is true, and everyone picks and chooses what fits their views and interests – but beyond all these lies a fundamental difference in the terms in which each side views the conflict, a difference many tend or choose to overlook.

I agree with this last sentence completely.

Most Israelis view the conflict as a struggle between two national movements: the Jewish national movement – Zionism – and the Palestinian national movement as part of the wider Arab national movement. The internal logic of such a view leads in principle to what is called the two-state solution. Even if the Israeli right wing preferred for years to avoid such a view, eventually it has been adopted by Netanyahu, albeit reluctantly, and is now the official policy of his government.

The point is that those Israelis who see the conflict in the framework of a struggle between two national movements assume that this is also the position of the other side; hence when negotiations fail, the recipe advocated is to tinker with some of the details, hoping that further concessions, on one or the other side, will bring about an agreement.

In other words, Israelis by and large – and I’ll attest to this – are positive-sum players. They, like Jews, like progressives, tend to look for win-win solutions, ones where reciprocal compromises lead to both sides benefiting. (Indeed, I’d say that’s one of the main reasons Jews have survived for so many millennia in such adverse conditions. But that’s an aside.)

Avineri’s reference to “tinkering with details” is euphemistic in describing reaction of “true believers” to the failure of their positive-sum Oslo Peace process. As Golan Lahat describes it in his The Messianic Temptation: Rise and Fall of the Israeli Left, the reaction of Israeli Left to Oslo was nothing short of classic “cognitive dissonance” experienced by disappointed messianic believers. And some of the more extravagant forms drove them to believe in even greater and more dramatic sacrifices (including taking all responsibility on Israel for the failure of the negotiations).

The Answer to Hisham Milhelm’s Searing Question on Arab Cultural Failure

For Malgorzata Koraszewska’s Polish translation, see here.

I have often lamented the lack of Arab self-criticism (and the surfeit of Jewish self-criticism). About a year ago, Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem wrote a devastating piece about the current state (meltdown) of Arab culture across the boards. He repeatedly insists that this cannot be explained by any one factor. Below, I go through his article and attempt to show how honor-shame dynamics, in the peculiarly pathological form they have taken in the Arab world since the victories of Israel against the Arab onslaught have led to this nadir.

NB: I do not, by this post, mean to insult Arabs – although I realize that much of what both Melhem and I have to say will strike some Arabs as insulting. But in the spirit of self-criticism, I offer these reflections as sober appraisals of an undoubtedly painful reality that we all – Arabs above all – need to think about. The learning curve begins when one dives into self-criticism, rather than violently flees it.

Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?

In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theoriessectarianism, autocracy and apolitical/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order.

Note the importance in this description of the Arab world, of denying human agency, which is something that Western liberals comply with on a regular basis, treating Arabs and the Muslims  as forces of nature that have no moral agency: Sharon visits the Temple Mount, of course they start an Intifada; say Islam inherently violent, of course they riot in protest. It’s our fault for provoking them, not theirs for having no self-control. Have a thousands of Muslim citizens of Western democracies take off to join savage jihadi armies? It’s the fault of Western racism and Islamophobia.

Of course, this is merely the adoption by Westerners of the logic of the very Arab world Hashem is criticizing: if attractive women make testosteronic men horny, then cover the woman, don’t tell the men to learn self control. News headlines regularly adopt this principle of not attributing agency to Arabs, especially in describing the conflict of Israel with her neighbors: Stones pelt Israelis; Israelis shoot Palestinians.

The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.

The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not call for despair, far from it; they are acris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament.

Rousseau explains the 21st Century Hysteria about Israel

In the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then one of the more radical thinkers of the enlightenment, made the following argument about Jews and their opinions. (HT/AP)

If someone dared to publish among us books that openly favored Judaism, we would punish the author, the publisher, the book dealer. That arrangement is a convenient and sure way to always be right. There is a pleasure in refuting people who do not dare speak… [When] conversing with Jews… The unfortunates feel themselves at our mercy. The tyranny practiced against them makes them fearful… I will never believe that I have rightly heard the Jews’ reasoning as long as they do not have a free state, schools, universities where they might speak and argue without risk. (Emile, Book IV, 618-20).

[See also essay by Elliott Green, “Reason, Science and Progress: Modern Pretexts for Judeophobia, Left & Right,” Nativ, 10 (June 2007)]

The reason why Jews were “at the mercy” of their monotheistic dependents (Christianity and Islam) for so many centuries was because of the profoundly immature and insecure doctrine of supersessionism, the Oedipal, zero-sum claim that the offspring monotheistic faiths were so superior to their parent(s), that they replaced, erased them in God’s singular affections. Christianity was the “New Israel” and the Jews were cast out; Islam was the true religion and Judaism and Christianity were inferior. In order to make such a remarkable, unnecessary, and mean-spirited claim, they had to make sure that the predecessor monotheism was publicly humiliated, visibly put down. (Hence Rousseau’s comment on the “pleasure of refuting people who dare not speak.”)

The Pessin Affair and Rhino-Peacocks: The Pre-modern Rhino Hide on the Post-Modern Campus

In a previous post from 2010, I proposed the term Peacock-Rhinos to describe a tendency on the “left” of people like Judge Richard Goldstone and members of the international “human rights” organizations,  who thought of themselves as truly good, caring, empathic people who nonetheless had grown the hide of the Rhinoceros that Ionesco so devastatingly describes among those who gave in to fascism’s collective appeal.

The Pessin Affair and Peacock-Rhinos

In preparing some essays on the Pessin Affair, I wanted to use the term Peacock-Rhino to describe the group who attacked Pessin by claiming deep personal pain even trauma at reading his Facebook post. In rereading the post where I first proposed the term, I realize the phenomenon, best exemplified by the star of this particular staged emergency, Lamiya Khandaker, varies considerably from that of Goldstone. What I emphasized in an earlier post was the rhinos’ hide, their thick skin, their imperviousness to empirical reality and reasoned argument, their willingness to run over anything that gets in their way. But in the Pessin Affair, this trait exists alongside another, seemingly contradictory one – an exquisitely thin skin.

At least one species of Peacock Rhinos has very thin skins, and almost anything will set off deeply-felt responses. In modern terminology, they have very bad anger management skills. An affront can trigger a violent tirade; words can ever harm them. In some cases, this is true of people who are simply rhinos, like the Jihadis who go bonkers at the very sight of a picture of Muhammad, no matter how anodine and slaughter blasphemers in response. In 2006, for example, at false news that the Pope had called Islam inherently violent – apparently an unbearable insult to the faithful – set thousands of Muslims the world over to rioting in protests that killed dozens of people. Rather than laugh at the childish absurdity of people violently objecting to being called violent, most Western commentators, both journalistic and political, pressured the pope to apologize.

As there, so in many other places, the guardians of the Western public sphere call for systemic placation. To crudely summarize the prevailing attitude one finds among not just diplomats but journalists and policy advisors: Don’t piss them off. As a result of this pervasive placation of cries of injury, those thin-skinned folks who bruise easily and have problems with anger management get to lead with their glass chin. If you will, they manage an elaborate intimidation/protection racket, carried out in the name of sensitivity. The widespread belief that drawing pictures of Muhammad is somehow “punching down” and in bad taste because it hurts the feelings of over a billion Muslims illustrates the dynamic.

At Connecticut College, however, we find a special breed of Peacock Rhino. There the activist students used this aggressive sensitivity to maximum effect by expressing it as a vulnerability. Everywhere in this affair, one hears of the wounded, anxious, unsafe, deeply hurt, students, whose trauma at encountering Pessin’s Facebook post, triggered and sustained the entire episode. The gaping wound their deliberate misreading of his piece provoked, provided the occasion and sustenance of revolutionary time.

Jewish anti-Zionism: The proxy honor-killing

Available in Polish, translated by Malgorzata Koraszewska here.

The recent stunning performance of Marcia Freedman at the J-Street conference, calling for a one-state solution (almost surely not called Israel), in which an Arab majority would fiercely defend the rights of a protected Jewish minority, heartily applauded by an audience of alleged “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” attendees, has once again raised the question sent to me by someone who saw The J-Street Challenge:

WHY do J Street activists take these positions that they know are destructive to Israel’s chances for survival? 

Obviously, the easy way to answer is to claim they don’t realize the destructive nature of their “plan for peace.” Certainly this would hold for Ms. Freedman, who apparently believes that once Israel becomes a “true democracy [applause]” (whatever that means), that Jews won’t need to maintain control of the levers of power, since that now truly democratic “state” would secure the rights of the Jews no matter who was in power (e.g., an Arab majority).

Only someone struck with terminal cecity could not notice that beyond Israel’s borders, Arab majorities rarely protect the rights of minorities, especially those they feel threaten them. The notion that 2000 years of determined victimization of Jews without sovereignty means nothing, and that somehow an Arab majority would “fiercely defend the rights of the Jewish minority,” such ideas defy the reality-based social and political imagination. Freedman’s speech, so totally divorced from the all-too-human reality of this part of the world, gives us a sterling example of the vapid moral angélisme that animates so many anti-Zionist Jews.

[For those not convinced that J-Street pursues suicidal policies for the polity it professes to “love” – withdraw to ’67 borders as an unreciprocated concession – I’ve written about this elsewhere.]

Here I’d like to address my correspondent’s well-posed question by slightly rephrasing it:

Why do Jews identify with and promote Palestinian lethal narratives about Israel, and ally with, encourage, and promote groups who openly desire the destruction of Israel, even as they assure us (M.F. style) that we have nothing to fear from them?

In a word, I think they’re engaged in a long-term, proxy, honor-killing.

Does Burston really think it’s legitimate to view BDS as Tikkun Olam?

[I re-post this item from 2010 after having attended a meeting at Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue in Boston last night where J-Street and NIF talked us blue from their tikkun bubble chamber.]

A good friend sent me the following piece by Bradley Burston with the comment: “It expresses how I feel.” I find it so pervasively flawed that I have difficulty taking it seriously. But if my friend can (and he’s one of the smartest people I know), then I have to, and it does raise, however poorly, a whole range of key issues. So, with great reluctance (because there are more interesting texts to sink one’s teeth into), I fisk below.

First, a brief introductory note: One of the key contentions of Burston and the people he likes (J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Young Jews for Peace, etc.) is that a) they love Israel and b) they know the best way to peace which, since Israel won’t take that path, they must force upon her. Now all these groups locate along the “left” political spectrum differently. NIF disapproves of BDS but funds groups who do; J-Street disapproves of  BDS even if they associate with people who do; Jewish Voices for Peace and Emily Schaeffer (below) support BDS in many forms.

Whatever the details, each of these groups believes that they must pressure Israel to leave the occupied territories out of a combination of moral passion – the Israel they love should set a moral example to the world – and peaceful intentions – they know their formula for peace will work.

Now some people, myself included, see the situation very differently. On moral matters, howevermuch we may share concerns about the occupation and dominion over another people harms both Palestinians and Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting standards to which it holds Israel. The result – people, Jews! – for whom Israel is the new Nazi. And even as such people are morally reckless in their accusations of Israel, they echo and reinforce genocidal hatreds among the most base of the enemies of the Jews.

On the practical level, many of us feel that while making concessions and apologizing is a splendid way to begin a process of reconciliation, that only works in cases where the other side also seeks resolution, and responds in kind. In some cases, conflicts are not only unresponsive to such an approach, but literally allergic: rather than a peace process it produces a war process. Indeed, given how often and consistently Palestinian (and more broadly Arab) leaders have seized upon Israeli concessions to press for more and on Israeli confessions to reaffirm a demonizing narrative, it’s dubious that under the best of circumstances, Palestinian political players would respond to an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders with a shift to peace.

On the contrary, any such move most likely will strengthen those in the Palestinian camp who argue that any withdrawal should be part of a “Phased plan” to destroy Israel and use any and every pretext to keep the war alive. Any observer who dismisses even this possibility – the favorite line is either, “you’re paranoid,” or “oh, you think they only understand violence.” – is either in ignorance or denial of the discourse that prevails in Palestinian political culture today.

And so, if under the best of conditions withdrawing to the ’67 lines could backfire, how much the more likely that the voices of attack will grow louder if Israel finds itself compelled as a result of becoming the object of universal execration (BDS) and pressure from its only powerful ally, the United States, to withdraw. The naïveté of such a formula is only matched by the aggressiveness with which it gets implemented. A formula for war: si vis bellum para pacem.

The fact that groups can argue that the US should force Israel to make these concessions without any serious discussion of the necessary massive reciprocity from Palestinians (especially when it comes to incitement to hatred and violence), raises serious doubts among many about their realism, and given their recklessness in insisting that virtually any means to get there are legitimate, it raises for us serious doubts about their responsibility.

As far as I can make out, Burston has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s like the New Yorker cartoon of a Manhattanite’s view of the USA. When he looks at the landscape of this debate, all he sees are him and his like-minded friends “doing the right thing,” while the opposition is at the other end of the spectrum – messianic rabbis and their neo-con partners who will not part with an inch of the land, even if God himself told them to do so. And nothing in between.

He encases his simplistic dualism in the antimony “Jews of the Gate” vs. “Jews of the Wall.” This fisking comes from someone who thinks that both of his categories are poorly conceived; and that the real issues are entirely different from the ones upon which he focuses.

Thanksgiving, Tikkun Olam, and U.S. Jews breaking the Israel barrier By Bradley Burston

[Part 2 of a series on U.S. Jews emotionally divesting from Israel. In part, a journal of a recent West Coast speaking tour hosted by J Street]

Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called Tikkun Olam. It says that the world is broken into pieces, and that it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.

Nick: Well, maybe we’re the pieces. And maybe we’re not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Columbia Pictures, 2008)

It’s hard not to read this as a spoof of the trivial use to which a mystical concept like tikkun olam has been put in new “new-age” spirituality. Not having seen the movie, I don’t know if this is an homage to “Deep Thoughts,” but Burston seems to offer them up as his credo. Indeed, Nick’s version – people! – stands behind the full line-up of comments he makes throughout this piece. So it’s probably worth a short comment on this deep and now deeply problematic notion that has set our moral compasses awry in the 21st century.

Lessons in Honor-Shame Politics: Kedar on the Zionist Camp

Mordechai Kedar, one of the most adept analysts of honor-shame culture, has a fascinating rant on the implications for war in the case the Israeli electorate chooses the “peace” candidates Yithak Herzog and Tzippy Livni. While I agree with almost everything he says, readers should not take this as an endorsement of Naftali Bennet and his Jewish Home (Kedar’s choice) or any other party. This is a major lesson in the dangers of the kind of liberal cognitive egocentrism that lead people to accept the PC Paradigms and reject the HSJParadigm.

The Arab world dreams of the day Herzog and Livni might

be at the helm of the Jewish state.

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2015 11:20 AM

Written in Hebrew for Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar Ilan University

Honest disclosure I: I have been acquainted with the Herzog family for decades, ever since I was a child, and at various points in my life I crossed paths with all three Herzog brothers, Joel,  Brigadier General (Res.) Michael and MK Yitzchak.  I have always held this aristocratic family in great esteem for their generosity, deportment, intelligence and erudition, as sons of Israel’s late sixth president Chaim Herzog and grandchildren of the late Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi  Herzog.  Ambassador Abba Eban, a significant political and cultural figure on his own, was their uncle. An aristocratic family in the deepest sense of the word.

Honest disclosure II: During the second half of the nineties, once I had finished my army service, I was active in the “Paths to Peace” organization, the younger and religious brother of “Peace Now”. I gave peace a chance the European way, but our Arab neighbors disappointed us.

Honest disclosure III:  At various times, I have suggested a Middle East peace plan for us and our neighbors, “The Eight Palestinian Emirates Plan”. I am openly against the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, one that will without doubt turn into another Hamastan and lead inevitably to the next war.

Honest disclosure IV: I openly support the Jewish Home party’s list.

Let us start with the head of the Labor party, Yitzchak Herzog:

Years of research spent studying Arab discourse, media and culture – in the original Arabic – have led me to the incontrovertible conclusion that most of the Arab population hopes the day will come when Herzog is prime minister of Israel, for that day – at least according to the viewpoint of most Arabs   is the beginning of the end of the state of Israel .The reason is simple: Herzog is seen as a person of weak character, unimpressive and spineless. He did not serve as a combat officer and was, instead, an officer in my unit, 8200, which is made up of brilliant nerds with the obligatory round-framed eyeglasses.

Herzog’s gentle way of speaking and the unconfrontational terminology he uses, those that make him attractive to Israelis who want to think like Europeans and Americans, have convinced the Arab world that Herzog is the only way to soften Israel enough to step all over it and turn it into a dishrag that can be wrung into oblivion.

The Middle East’s agenda is set by stereotypes and images, and the image Herzog projects is so weak that any threats Israel might pronounce would be met with derision. The distance from that derision to all-out war is a short one.

In the Middle East, anyone who proclaims non-stop that he wants peace, projects the image of someone who is afraid of war because he is weak, thereby awakening the militaristic adrenaline glands of his neighbors, who then resemble nothing so much as eagles and vultures hovering over a dying cow.

And the opposite is just as true: anyone who radiates power, strength, threat and danger enjoys comparative tranquillity because the bullies leave him alone. This is the reason the Arabs hated and respected Ariel Sharon and Moshe Dayan – they were afraid of them. Sadat made peace with Israel because he could not defeat the Jewish state despite the surprise factor he had in opening the Yom Kippur War and his early success in crossing the Suez Canal.  Hussein also made peace with Israel, hoping it would use its power to help him face the Baath party of Syria and Iraq. Arafat agreed to a hudabiyya peace – that is, a temporary “peace” for as long as the enemy is too strong to defeat – after the failure of the first intifada.

Yitzchak Herzog at the helm of the government is the sweetest dream the Arab world can imagine, because it is proof that Israeli society is tired, exhausted, lacking the motivation to protect the country and ready to pay any price for a paper  that has the word “peace” written on it.  Herzog at the helm of the government will be subject to pressures from the Arab world – and from Obama’s White House – because he creates the impression that “this time it will work”, or shall I say, “Yes, we can”.

The pressures he will undergo will be much greater than those exerted on Netanyahu, because the White House and the Arab world will sense that his days as Prime Minister are numbered and therefore, they must make every effort to squeeze as much out of him as they can for the short period that Israelis will let him function before waking up to realize the imminent catastrophe and removing him from his seat as they did to Ehud Barak when he gave in to Arafat.

Yitzchak Herzog may bring about harmonious relations with the White House and perhaps even with the angst-consumed leaders of Europe, but he will bring a war of blood, fire and tears to the area called the Middle East where only those who are truly powerful, threatening and determined to deter their enemies survive.

Let us continue with MK Tzipi Livni, Herzog’s rotation partner in what the two self-titled “The Zionist Camp”:

Tzipi is the other aspect of the sweet dreams of the Arab world, a woman born and raised in a courageous Revisionist family, a home filled with healthy and strong Zionist principles. She began her political career in the Likud, but became more and more spineless, deteriorating from party to party, until she joined up with the other leading invertebrate, Yitzchak Herzog.

To the Arab world, Livni symbolizes and represents the dispirited and weary Israeli, those who have had enough of the struggle for survival and are willing to offer their necks to the slaughterer hoping that he will butcher them gently if they speak politely.

The internet tells us that in the eighties, Livni was actually a Mossad agent in Europe, and several Arab websites tell of the “special services” she did for the state of Israel.These services are understood in the West as undercover and secret, but in the Middle East the expression is interpreted in a totally different fashion. We can imagine how they will react on the web in the Arab world and what our image will be if she becomes prime minister.

However, the problem with Tzipi Livni is not just about her image, because in her case, our neighbors have proof that Livni hasn’t the foggiest idea of how to navigate the complex, thorny paths of the Middle East: she was Foreign Minister during the Second Lebanon War, and was the Israeli architect of Security Council Resolution 1701 that allowed the Hezbollah – already clear in the phrasing she espoused – to renew and enlarge its rocket arsenal. I would expect someone with a law degree to comprehend the built-in failure in the way the resolution was phrased, but Tzipi Livni did not even reach this minimal legal test. Is there anyone in his right mind who would hire her to prepare a contract for renting out his apartment?

What is strange is that instead of being ashamed and keeping her mouth shut, Livni even defended Resolution 1701 in public, strangely calling it a resolution that “created change in southern Lebanon”.

Only in Israel do the spineless have the nerve to ask the public for another chance to sit for the Middle East exam which they are sure to fail once again.
She is right about one thing. It surely did create change in southern Lebanon, but one that is bad for Israel. Instead of demilitarizing Hezbollah – which many countries agreed was necessary after the Second Lebanon War – this resolution allowed Hezbollah to rearm. Livni’s failure in phrasing the resolution and its implementation should have left her far away from any Israeli decision making positions, and certainly from those that have anything to do with our geopolitical reality.

In sum: Only in Israel do the spineless have the nerve to ask the public for another chance to sit for the Middle East exam which they are sure to fail once again. Only in Israel does the public’s collective memory go only as far back as the last television debate, the slogan heard yesterday and the latest spin a candidate spread this morning at the advice of his media consultants because it is popular and easy to recall.

Not one of the soul weary people – those who talk non-stop about “peace” – can deal in a suitable manner with the cruel and difficult  cultural environment in our neighborhood, one which, in the best case, will kick him in the rear as a warning before plunging a dagger into his neck.

The Herzog-Livni duo is the last thing I would recommend to lead the state of Israel, as long as we want to survive in the “New Middle East” – not the Shimon Peres fantasy world of that name, but the one where what is new is “Islamic State”. Perhaps, in the far-off future, when and if the surrounding cultural atmosphere turns into something like America or what it was once in Europe, we will be able to consider these two soul weary people as leaders of Israel.

However, while the Middle East looks the way it does and functions the way it does at present, there is no choice except to leave them nailed to their seats in the opposition consisting of other spineless “round eyeglasses” so they can raise shrill voices to criticize the nation’s leaders, while those leaders radiate power, strength and credible threats.

This is the bitter reality in which we attempt to survive. I am not the one who created it, and I bear no guilt for the situation we are in. I am just the messenger who is charged with explaining to my readers what not everyone understands about the culture in our neighborhood. It is a culture that only provides quiet and tranquility to the leader who succeeds in persuading his neighbors that he is invincible and that they had better leave him in peace for their own good.

Ths is an ongoing mission, especially since every once in a  while some “brilliant” figures appear, claiming to have just patented their invention of the wheel  and found the way to be accepted by our neighbors as a legitimate and welcome entity.

My advice? Learn Arabic.

Response to Rob Eisen on Honor-Shame in Jewish Culture

Rob Eisen, who teaches Jewish Studies at Georgetown University writes the following on my exchange with Paul Scham, of which Paul posted his response at his blog. My responses folded into his comments.

The honor-shame dynamic varies in content and intensity with different cultures, but it’s in EVERY culture because it’s a basic element of human psychology. There’s lots to say about this from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, something Landes just isn’t sensitive to.

I’m not sure what makes you think I’m not sensitive to this, when I actually explicitly make the point at the beginning of the essay to which Paul responds. (I’ve just realized that Paul did not post my response to him, nor did he link to the original article to which he was responding, so unless you exercised more than due diligence, you only know what I think through the mirror of Paul’s response.) But thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

Ya’ni culture and the problem of “lying” in honor-shame societies

My friend Matt Wanderman writes:

I remember you’ve talked about how Arab leaders don’t see something wrong with lying to Western media outlets. I was reading שומרי הסף and came across an interesting comment by Avi Dichter (former head of Shabak) on the phenomenon: בלא מעט מפגשים, כולל עם קולין פאוול שהיה מזכיר המדינה, ואחריו קונדוליסה רייס שהחליפה אותו, תמיד אמרתי להם: “אנחנו לא מוכנים לסבול יותר את תרבות ה’יעני’ של הפלסטינים.” ואז אמרו לי: “מה זה תרבות ה’יעני’?” אמרתי להם: “‘יעני’ זו מילת מפתח בערבית.” ואני אדגים לך אותה באמצעות סיפור אמיתי. בבית לחם היה מחבל, רב-מחבלים, בשן עטאף עבייאת שעמד מאחורי ירי המרגמות לעבר שכונת גילה בירושלים בשנת 2001. בשלב מסוים נשיא ארצות הברית בוש ויאסר ערפאת עסקו בשם עטאף עבייאת. תאר לעצמך – נשיא ארצות הברית דרש מיאסר ערפאת להכניס את עאטף עבייאת לכלא, ויאסר ערפאת התחייב שהוא יעצור את עאטף עבייאת ויכניס אותו לכלא. כי ישראל איימה שאם זה לא יקרה היא תיכנס לבית לחם כדי לפגוע בו. אחרי זה שמעון פרס שהיה שר החוץ הזעיק אותי לפגישה בירושלים עם אבו-עלא, שהיה יושב ראש המועצה המחוקקת שלהם, עם ג’יבריל רג’וב שהיה ראש השב”כ הפלסטיני ביהודה ושומרון, ועם סאיב עריקאת שהיה העוזר של יאסר ערפאת. ואז אני נכנס לחדר ויושבים שלושתם מול שמעון פרס, ושמעון פרס אומר לי: “אבי, הם אומרים שעאטף עבייאת בכלא.” ידעתי שזה קשקוש כי הוא היה בדיוק באיזה מבצע הכנו אז. אני אומר: “שמע, אדוני שר החוץ, אני צקווה שאתה לא מקבל את הדברים האלה.” אז הוא אומר לאבו-עלא: “אבו עלא, please tell him.” ועברנו לערבית כי באנגלית קשה מאוד לסכל טרור. ואז אבו-עלא אומר לי: “אבי, אני אומר לך, האיש עצור. האיש בכלא.” אני אומר לא: “אבו-עלא, אני מצטער, האיש לא בכלא.” ואז מהר מאוד ראית שהוא לא חזק בגרסה, הוא מסתכל על סאיב עריקאת ואומר לו: “סאיב, מיש היכ? (לא כך?)” סאיב עריקאת, האמן לי, אין לו מושג מי זה עאטף עבייאת, אין לו מושג מה בכלל קורה סביב הנושא הזה, אבל ניד הוא שולף מהמותן ואומר – “definitely” – ברור לחלוטין שהוא בכלא. ואז שניהם מסתכלים על ג’יבריל רג’וב ואומרים לו: “ג’יבריל, הוא בכלא, נכון?” עכשיו ג’יבריל יודע שאם יש מישהו שיכול לעצור את עטאף עבייאת זה רק הוא. והוא במלכוד. כי ג’יבריל יודע שהאיש לא בכלא. מעבר לזה, הוא יודע שאני יודע שהאיש לא בכלא, והכי גרוע, הוא יודע שאני יודע שהוא יודע שהאיש לא בכלא… ואז לוחצים, אומרים לו: “ג’יבריל, הלוא כן?” הוא בכלא, נכון?” ואז הוא אומר: “יעני…” עכשיו “יעהי” זה הוא בכלא, “יעני” זה הוא לא בכלא, ו”יעני” זה איפה שאתה רק רוצה… יום אחד היתה משלחת מארצות הברית אצלי וסיפרתי להם את הסיפור. בסוף שאלתי אותם: “הבנתם את המשמעות של המילה?” אז הם הסתכלו אחד על השני ואחד אומר – “יעני…” אמרתי: “אז הבנתם.” תרבות ה”יעני” היא אם כל חטאת במערכת היחסים שלנו עם הפלסטינים באותה התקופה. (דרור מורה, “שומרי הסף,” 2014, pg 259-60)

Matt’s quick translation:

In a number of meetings, including with Colin Powell, who was the Secretary of State, and after him Condoleeza Rice, who switched him, I always told them, “We aren’t willing to suffer any more of the Palestinians’ ‘ya’ni’ culture.” They replied, “What’s ‘ya’eni’ culture?” I told them, “‘Ya’ni’ is a keyword in Arabic.” And I’ll give you an example from a true story.

In Bethlehem there was a terrorist, an arch-terrorist, by the name of Ataf Abayat, who was behind the mortars fired at the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem in 2001. At a certain stage President Bush demanded that Yassir Arafat put Ataf Abayat in jail, and Yassir Arafat agreed to arrest him and to put him in jail, because Israel threatened that to enter Bethlehem if he didn’t.

After this Shimon Peres, who was the Foreign Minister, summoned me to a meeting in Jerusalem with Abu-Aleh, who was the head of their legal committee, with Jibril Rejub, who was the head of Palestinian interior security in the West Bank, and with Saib Erekat, who was Yassir Arafat’s assistant. I entered the room and the three were sitting across from Shimon Peres, and Shimon Peres told me, “Avi, they say that Ataf Abayat is in jail.” I knew that it’s not true because he was just in an operation that had been planned. I said, “Listen Mr. Foreign Minister, I hope that you don’t believe this.” Then he said to Abu-Aleh, “Abu-Aleh, please tell him.”

And we switched to Arabic because it’s very hard to stop terror in English. Abu-Aleh said to me, “Avi, I’m telling you, the man is under arrest. He’s in jail.” I told him, “Abu-Aleh, I’m sorry, the man is not in jail.” And very quickly you could see that he wasn’t certain of his version, he looked to Saib Erekat and said to him, “Saib, mish hech? (is it not so?)” Saib Erekat, believe me, has no idea who this Ataf Abayat is, has no idea what’s going on at all with this topic, but immediately responds, “definitely” – of course he’s in jail. And then both of them look at Jibril Rajub and say, “Jibril, he’s in jail, right?”

Now Jibril knows that if someone can arrest Ataf Abayat, it’s only him. And he’s trapped. Because Jibril knows that the man isn’t in jail. Beyond that, he knows that I know that he’s not in jail. And worst of all, he knows that I know that he knows that he’s not in jail… And they press him and say, “Jibril, is it not right? He’s in jail, right?” And he says, “Ya’ni…” Now “ya’ni” means he’s in jail, “ya’ni” means he’s not in jail, and “ya’ni” means whatever you want.

One day a delegation from America was with me and I told them this story. At the end I asked them, “Did you understand the meaning of the word?” They looked at each other and one said, “ya’ni…” I said, “Then you understood.” The “ya’ni” culture was the mother of all misunderstandings in the our relationship with the Palestinians during that period.

If it sounds like one of R.D.Laing’s Knots, it’s because it is one of them. And the way out is not to say, “whatever.”

Arab Moral Madness and Hamas’ Assault on Israel

If you want to glimpse an understanding of the gap between Western and Arab cultures, and why Hamas continues to bomb Israel even though its people are suffering so, consider the following.

In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, a BBC reporter asked the Arab League’s ambassador to the UN (probably didn’t know there was such a thing), why, if Israel says it will stop if Hamas does, and you are so concerned for the casualties among Gazans, Hamas doesn’t just stop firing:

Sort of the opposite of what one might expect. To understand why, a recent speech by a Kuwaiti cleric. In the words of Elihu Stone (H/T), a one stop shopping site for everything from suicidal Arab honor-shame to the moral gulf that divides us.

Tablet Article: Arab World’s Emotional Nakba

Why the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There

By ignoring the honor-shame dynamic in Arab political culture, is the West keeping itself from making headway toward peace?

By Richard Landes | June 24, 2014 12:00 AM|Comments: 43

A Palestinian protester aims sparks from a flare toward Israeli security forces during clashes near the Israeli checkpoint in Hebron on Feb. 25, 2013. (Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)
Anthropologists and legal historians have long identified certain tribal cultures—warrior, nomadic—with a specific set of honor codes whose violation brings debilitating shame. The individual who fails to take revenge on the killer of a clansman brings shame upon himself (makes him a woman) and weakens his clan, inviting more open aggression. In World War II, the United States sought the help of anthropologists like Ruth Benedict to explain the play of honor and shame in driving Japanese military behavior, resulting in both intelligence victories in the Pacific Theater and her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Taking her lead, the great classicist E.R. Dodds analyzed the millennium-long shift in Greek culture from a “shame” culture to a “guilt” culture in his Greeks and the Irrational, where he contrasted a world in which fame and reputation, rather than conscience and fear of divine retribution, drive men to act.
But even before literary critic Edward Saïd heaped scorn on “honor-shame” analysis inOrientalism (1978), anthropologists had backed off an approach that seemed to make inherently invidious comparisons between primitive cultures and a morally superior West. The reception of Saïd’s work strengthened this cultural relativism: Concerns for honor and shame drive everyone, and the simplistic antinomy “shame-guilt cultures” must be ultimately “racist.” It became, well, shameful in academic circles to mention honor/shame and especially in the context of comparisons between the Arab world and the West. Even in intelligence services, whose job is to think like the enemy, refusing to resort to honor/shame dynamics became standard procedure.
Any generous person should have a healthy discomfort with “othering,” drawing sharp lines between two peoples. We muddy the boundaries to be minimally polite: Honor-killings, for example, are thus seen as a form of domestic violence, which is also pervasive in the West. And indeed, honor/shame concerns are universal: Only saints and sociopaths don’t care what others think, and no group coheres without an honor code.
But even if these practices exist everywhere, we should still be able to acknowledge that in some cultures the dominant voices openly promote honor/shame values and in a way that militates against liberal society and progress. Arab political culture, to take one example—despite some liberal voices, despite noble dissidents—tends to favor ascendancy through aggression, the politics of the strong horse,” and the application of “Hama rules”—which all combine to produce a Middle East caught between prison and anarchy, between Sisi’s Egypt and al-Assad’s Syria. Our inability, however well-meaning, to discuss the role of honor-shame dynamics in the making of this political culture poses a dilemma: By keeping silent, we not only operate in denial, but we may actually strengthen these brutal values and weaken the very ones we treasure.
Few conflicts offer a better place to explore these matters than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment: Romney and Landes on Israelis and Palestinians

The following is a longer and linked version of the op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 in response to Romney’s comments of the difference between Israeli and Palestinian economic culture. At the time, I could only post a portion of the essay on my blog (i.e., material that was not in the Journal version). Here is the complete version.

To clarify what aspects of this essay specifically reflect my father’s thinking, I have put those passages in bold. But generally, I would say, he tended not to get embroiled in political fights and stuck to his specialties in historical matters, so in some senses these are sentiments he held but did not share publicly.

We did jointly publish a couple of essays in the New Republic, one in 1997 (the fiftieth anniversary of Zionism), and one on 9-11 in October of 2001, and given their tenor, I think he did not have any hard and fast position on not publishing his political ideas.

In rereading it, I am struck by how much subsequent events have borne out this analysis.

Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment

Mitt Romney’s comments in Jerusalem last week about the cultural dimensions of economic growth have raised a firestorm. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, (correctly) seeing an implied criticism at Palestinian culture (which Romney tried to deny), called Romney a racist and complained that the occupation stopped the “Palestinian economy from reaching its full potential.” Journalists then jumped on Erekat’s reaction to point out how Romney’s blunt partisanship for Israel has disqualified him as a broker for peace.

The comment and the reactions, however, reveal as much about the misunderstandings at play in the Middle East conflict, both socio-cultural and political, as they do about presidential politics. First, the issue of culture and economic development, in which Romney cited The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Like so many other fields of social “science,” economists argue about whether development derives from cultural advantages or built-in natural advantages like resistance to disease, access to primary resources and location. Jared Diamond, author of the “evolution” inclined Guns, Germs and Steel, has written a NYT op-ed where he moves toward the middle (both) and tries to draw David Landes in with him.

But Israel (which neither book examined) and the Arab world (which only Wealth and Poverty examined) illustrate the primacy of culture as both necessary and sufficient. As Romney himself has earlier noted, Israel illustrates the sufficiency of culture alone: a country with no natural resources, an economic backwater even in the economic backwater of the Ottoman Empire, it rose from the bottom of the third world to the top of the first world, in a century: Israel, the Start-up Nation. The Arab nations, on the other hand, illustrate the necessity of (a certain kind of) culture: even those with vast petrodollars still have among the least productive economies in the world. Alas, Saudi Arabia’s major exports are oil and hatred.

Stewart, Youssef, Mursi: A Study in Honor-Shame dynamics

[For those who come here from a link at Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly blog, please click here to get to my response to him.]

There’s been a serious brouhahahaha about John Stewart’s takedown of Egypt’s “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi’s for imprisoning Egyptian fellow political satirist, Bassem Youssef for making fun of the president. The take down is pretty devastating – from a Western point of view, and even received an endorsing tweet from the US Embassy in Cairo (oops).  The Tablet has a nice summary of some of the issues (HT: Elsie).

I’d like to discuss two honor-shame aspects to this affair, one obvious, the other less so, but both, I think, closely linked.

The first, obvious one, is the reaction of an honor-shame driven leader to having the mickey taken out of him publicly. Associating his own face with both his office and his religion, Mursi took the mockery as a direct assault on the legitimacy of the state. (Psychologists call this ego inflation.) This is classic behavior and explains, among other things, why fascists, who strive to regain the virility that modern values (like free speech) deny them, use the power of the state to suppress dissent.

Note the difference between Bush (Stewart’s target) and Mursi. Although even otherwise highly intelligent people could not stop accusing Bush of (incipient) fascism, somehow we can’t use the appropriate term “Islamofascism” because… it might hurt Mursi’s feelings.

The second aspect concerns one of Stewart’s “gotcha” moments. At one point he shows an earnest Mursi assuring an eagerly attentive Wolf Blitzer that when he’s president, he’ll embrace the whole Egyptian family, and wouldn’t dream of suppressing criticism. Stewart’s implication and our “reading”: what a ludicrous hypocrite.

Here I’d like to introduce an alternative reading. Mursi would not recognize himself as a hypocrite here. When he spoke with Blitzer he was perfectly sincere, and doing what he should do – please the audience by telling them what they want to hear. He was, to coin a term, “polishing his face” in the eyes of the West. In the West we would call this “lying to save face.” Had he told the truth, he would have lost face with his Western audience. But, as my father (definitely of the intergity-guilt school) often put it, “sincerity is the cheapest of virtues.”

However, when confronted with the painful experience of having his personal vanities mocked – the hat! – a different audience and different set of concerns, that cheap virtue proved unbearably light in the face of public mockery. My bet is that if you showed Mursi the interview with Blitzer and asked about Youssef, he wouldn’t see the connection. That’s not what he meant when he made his assurances to CNN and his American audience.

This kind of emotionally-driven dissonance between two different performances is a ubiquitous element of much Arab-West contact. (All of this, of course, analysis forbidden to post-Orientalists.) When Sari Nusseibeh indignantly denounces suicide terror before a Western audience and then praises the mother of a martyr for her son’s sacrifice, he’s sincere both ways. When Islamists deny the Holocaust ever happened and then accuse Israel of being the new Nazis bringing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, they do not see the contradiction. Both statements blacken Israel’s face and strengthen theirs; both offer immense emotional satisfaction and (alas for civil society), a strong resonance with Western infidels who apparently also find such debasing formulas about Jews almost irresistibly attractive.

Such a lack of concern for what would strike Westerners as hypocrisy is not because Mursi doesn’t know about hypocrisy. On the contrary, he and his defenders will readily use the term to accuse foes, including, I’m sure by now, John Stewart and Wolf Blitzer (those Jews who control the Western media). Public hypocrites are quick to throw stones.

But in some cultures where “face” is paramount, the term has a different meaning. I’m told in China, the term is the equivalent of “politeness.” And while Mursi was being polite with Wolff – it was a smashing interview – he expected the same politeness from his public and from his “friends” at the US Embassy. So when they tweeted the take-down, they extended the rude humiliation. (And to think that the field of international diplomacy has a very limited discussion of issues of honor and shame.)

From the perspective of an honor-shame culture (i.e., one in which it is permissible, expected, even required, that a “man” can lie, and even shed blood for the sake of his honor), the hypocrisy is all on Blitzer and Stewart (two of those “Jews who control the media”): from his perspective Blitzer was polite when it suited him, then Stewart stabbed Mursi in the back with Blitzer’s tape. At some level, there is a recognition that this criticism is true. Otherwise it wouldn’t hurt.

But the hurt, the embarrassment, are more powerful than any impartial commitment to equal standards, to conscience.

Which leads me to my final reflection. Why are people who are so easily hurt, so bent of hurting, and why, oh why, do so many Westerners, especially among the elites, cheering them on?

The Double Bind of the Useful Infidels: Feminist Meredith Tax on the Red-Green Alliance

One of the few – alas! – feminists to defend feminist principles against Islamism rather than fold before the (incomprehensible) PC claims of Islamism (see also Phyllis Chesler and Gita Sahgal). H/T: Steve Antler

Just to give you an idea of how insane this has become, our Secretary of State and First Lady were about to give an award for courage to a Muslim woman whose anti-American and anti-Semitic credentials are impeccable.

In the meantime, rather than dwell on the murky depths, let’s ascend to the heights of courage (alas that denouncing Islamist misogyny should be the heights of courage in our age), namely Tax’s work.

Double Bind: tied up in knots on the left

MEREDITH TAX5 February 2013

I have spent the last twenty years working on issues of women and religious censorship.  As a feminist activist in International PEN and then in Women’s WORLD, I couldn’t help noticing that increasing numbers of women writers were being targeted by fundamentalists. Not all these fundamentalists were Islamists; some were Christians, Jews, or Hindus.  In fact, one of my own books was targeted by the Christian Coalition in the US.

Nobody on the left ever objected when I criticized Christian or Jewish fundamentalism.  But when I did defence work for censored Muslim feminists, people would look at me sideways, as if to say, who are you to talk about this?  This tendency has become much more marked since 9/11 and the “war on terror.”

Telling detail here. Jihadis attack us and the “Left” jumps to the defense of the very ideology that inspires them (i.e., the goal of a global Caliphate). Who’d have expected so many useful infidels after 9-11?

“Apartheid” and the Economic-Cultural Gap: Peel Commission on Arab vs. Jewish Culture in 1937

I am working up my 2002 essay on Anti-Semitism, Medieval, Modern and Post-Modern for publication, and in searching out the footnotes, I came across the following passage from the Peel Commission Report of 1937. Aside from the use of the word “race” rather than “culture,” the contrast remains salient today (as in the UN Development Report on the Arab World, 2002).

7. With every year that passes, the contrast between this intensely democratic and highly organized modern community and the old-fashioned Arab world around it grows sharper, and in nothing, perhaps, more markedly than on its cultural side. The literary output of the National Home is out of all proportion to its size. Hebrew translations have been published of the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, Kant, BergsoIl, Einstein and other philosophers, and of Shakespeare, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Dickens, the great Russian novehsts, and many modern writers. In creative literature the work of Bialik, who died in 19×5, has been the outstanding achievement in Hebrew poetry, and that of Nahum Sokolov, who died in 1936, in Hebrew prose. A number of Hebrew novels have been written reflecting the influence on the Jewish mind of life in the National Home. The Hebrew Press has expanded to four daily and ten weekly papers. Of the former the Ha’aretz and the Dauw, with circulations of about 17,000 and ~5,000 respectively, are the most influential and maintain a high literary standard. Two periodicals are exclusively concerne with literature and one with dramatic art. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the culture of the National Home is its love of music. It was while we were in Palestine, as it happened, that Signor Toscanini conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, composed of some 70 Palestinian Jews, in six concerts mainly devoted to the works of Brahms and Beethoven. On each occasion every seat was occupied, and it is noteworthy that one concert was reserved for some 3,000 workpeople at very low rates and that another 3,000 ‘attended the Orchestra’s final rehearsal. All in all, the cultural achievement of this little community of 400,000 people is one of the most remarkable features of the National Homeland.

Honor Shame Readings: Week IV – Envy

In response to Dionissis’ request, I post some of the reading I’ve assigned to my students in my Honor-Shame class. Dionissis, you might be particularly interested in the Walcott readings on ancient Greece.

I also append some of the notes I took while preparing for and during the discussion. I welcome comments. Will post earlier readings over time.

Envy, Jealousy and the Politics of Scarcity (Zero-Sum)


Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, chap. 1,

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 3

Schoeck, Envy chap. 5 (Envy and Economic Underdevelopment)

Schoeck, Envy, chaps. 7, 11. (Envy in Social Science (7), in Philosophy (11). Interesting material on Nietzsche, who clearly inspired important parts of Schoeck’s thinking.

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 22 (Envy in Human Societies)

Walcott,  The Greeks and Envy chs. 1-3, and

Walcott, The Greeks and Envy chs. 7-9

George Foster, “Anatomy Envy


Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, “The Natural State: The Political-Economy Of Non-Development

Landes, The Emotional Logic of Game Theory

Some of the issues raised:

Definition: Envy is an emotion that is essentially both selfish and malevolent. It is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him. Graspingness for self and ill-will lie at the basis of it. There is in it also a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, and a chafing under this consciousness. He who has got what I envy is felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, (Edinburgh, 1912) vol. 5, p. 322.

Envy is classic zero-sum. Your gain is my loss; your success robs me of my sense of value; admiration for you is humiliation for me.

Envy is malevolent: If you have something that makes me envious, I’d rather harm you than get the object. “I wish Boris’ goat were dead.”

Envy is a ferocious policeman of conformity: any tendency to step out of the conforming group brings retaliation. Key dimension of early social solidarity. Schoeck almost argues that envy is what permit the levels of functioning software of solidarity that first enabled homo faber/sapiens to peel off from the hardwiring of instinct.

Envy is a form of vengeance: retaliating against someone who has robbed you of… (honor, prestige, sense of self-worth, property).

Resentment at another’s success: the desire to do harm

Schadenfreude: joy at another’s failure: To what degree do news media become  Schadenfreude-mongers? “If it bleeds it leads.”

Malignant envy and shame: the invisible force field that inhibits people from seeking success: Crabs in the basket – if we’re all here together it’s somebody else’s fault (the aristocracy, the man,  phallo-logocentric partriarchy, the 1%); if you get out, then I’m at fault (lazy, cowardly, lacking in the necessary qualities).

Envy aims at equals: the narcissism of small differences; but in matters of “human dignity”, everyone is given the right to consider themselves equal, therefore, to be resentful of anyone.

Honor and Envy

Honor a great good: in principle expandable (somewhat); in practice (through envy) zero-sum

Sharing the spotlight: honor/glory a self-limited good: honor of a millionaire in Hollywood or in Welsh village

Aristotle: those who love honor are more envious

The importance of honor – more precious than life: among other things driven to it despite the assault of envy it elicits.

Glory as the ultimate: people remember you when you’re no longer alive

Philotimea (love of honor) is difficult and most productive of envy

Paradigms of Justice:

pre-modern (h-s, prime divider): “my side is always right.” invidious cognitive egocentrism: I envy all better than me, and assume that all worse than me envy me. A world in which one assumes malevolence as the norm. Denial of responsibility and projection of guilt the norm.

modern (integrity-guilt, civic polity): “whoever is right, my side or not.” liberal cognitive egocentrism: i do not wish others ill and presume, at least as an initial default, that others do not wish me ill. Benevolence the norm. Self-criticism and acceptance of responsibility (among other things for failure) necessary.

post/hyper-modern (masochistic omnipotence, hyper-self-criticism, cultural suicide): “their side right or wrong.” Progressive cognitive egocentrism: if I blame myself for everything, others will forgive me and like me, and I can fix anything. Complete denial of envy (and of self) in order to posture as the most moral.

The double edge of envy: emulation and excellence? Or resentment and sabotage? Partly depends on the self-confidence of the person. Looking at the successful and wanting to learn and imitate/adapt reflects self-confidence; feeling inadequate and wanting to tear down and do damage reflects fear of failure (one of the plagues of h-s cultures, since failure is so often punished).

Chinese vs. Arab responses to the West (and to Jews)

Ubiquity of envy: institutions only tell you how a culture manages, not whether there’s envy.

Managing envy, the public secret.

Envy as a brake on economic development (Schoeck, chap. 5): if the headwinds of envy are gale force, few ships will leave harbor of conformity to try innovation.

Palestinian Projections and the Workings of Jew-Hatred

The indispensable PMW has just published a translation of an article in Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency publication. PMW emphasizes the vicious anti-Semitism of the piece (Israel and “the Jews” are interchangeable) which is pervasive in Palestinian media, and the fact that Ma’an is supported by the EU, UNESCO, and the Dutch and Danish governments, presumably to encourage their journalism which, we all know, is equally professional everywhere and therefore supportive of civil society.

I’d like to emphasize a different aspect of the text, namely the profound role that projection plays in its formulations about “the Jews.” Indeed, if it were not that they have insulated themselves entirely from real-world feedback (with the help of their European and global allies), they might have hesitated to publish so deeply embarrassing – indeed humiliating – a piece of self-revelation. But then again, projection lies at the heart of the anti-Semitic mind, as in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Text bolded by PMW, my comments added throughout.

“Israel is Trembling”
by Sawsan Najib Abd Al-Halim
“We’re used to seeing vampires in Dracula movies, where the murderer and the vampire act in the dead of night, and as soon as dawn breaks, the murderer disappears and hides during the day.
The brave warrior, who at the very least has moral values, fights in the daytime. In all wars, in all eras, honorable nations conducted their battles during the day and slept at night. But has Israel even a trace of morality?
A brave warrior is proud when he confronts another [warrior] as brave as he, and the more he is struck, the stronger he grows, proud in his struggle and respectful of his adversary. But since Jews are – as our grandparents said of them – sons of death (expression of contempt, meaning ‘a coward,’ -Ed.), they are too cowardly to confront an enemy face to face, especially if their enemy is as well armed as they…
All of this coming from Palestinians, who have never fielded an army, Arabs who, despite being better armed and vastly more numerous, have repeatedly lost to Israelis since 1948, is historically risible. But it does illustrate an element in the pathology of Palestinian honor-shame culture. The description here of the true warrior (which has no historical example among Arabs in the modern world, and on the contrary, in their acts of deliberately targeting civilians, has countless counter-examples), is a classic depiction of the values of an honor-shame culture:
A brave warrior is proud when he confronts another [warrior] as brave as he, and the more he is struck, the stronger he grows, proud in his struggle and respectful of his adversary.

Tablet Article: A Cultural Redesign of the Peace Process

Redesigning the Peace Process

Ignoring cultural difference and overestimating politics has left us without a resolution. We can do better.

By Richard Landes|September 25, 2012 7:00 AM|0Leave a comment

(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Shutterstock and Wikimedia Commons)

Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, there hasn’t been a moment when the punditocracy hasn’t insisted that Israel needs to make a deal with the Palestinians—and soon. Otherwise, they claim, Israeli democracy, saddled with millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control without citizenship, will have to choose between the twin catastrophes of democratic suicide and apartheid. And since the solution that everyone knows is the eventual one–land for peace–is so clear, let’s just get on with it.

It hasn’t panned out. We’re now approaching two decades of failure of the two-state solution. Every strategy for pulling it off—Oslo, Taba, Geneva, Road Map, Dayton, Obama/Clinton—has, despite sometimes enormous efforts, failed or died stillborn. And yet, with each failure, anew round of hope emerges, with commentators and politicians arguing that this time, if we just tinker with some of the details, we’ll get peace right. (Or, as an increasing number have now come to believe, it’s time we abandon the two-state solution entirely.)

The predominant explanation for this impasse in the West has focused on Israel’s role:settlements that provoke, checkpoints that humiliate, blockades that strangle, and walls that imprison. Palestinian “no’s” typically get a pass: Of course Arafat said “no” at Camp David; he only got Bantustans while Israelis kept building illegal settlements. Suicide bombers are excused as registering a legitimate protest at being denied the right to be a free people in their own land. In Condoleezza Rice’s words: “[The Palestinians] are perfectly ready to live side by side with Israel because they just want to live in peace … the great majority of people, they just want a better life.” The corollary to such thinking, of course, holds that if only the Israelis didn’t constantly keep the Palestinians down the world would be a better place. So, the sooner we end the occupation, the better, even if it means urging the United States to pressure Israel into the necessary concessions. It’s for Israel’s own good.

The Problem with Today’s Intellectuals when they Think about Culture: Sloppy Symmetry

I’m in the midst of an email exchange with a number of people as a result of my pieces on culture. Part of the issue concerns the way different cultures handle honor and shame, emotions prominent in every society and every individual who ever lived. As in the political world, with the matter of libido dominandi, different cultures handle these universal feelings differently. I personally restrict honor-shame cultures proper to those societies in which it is accepted, expected, even required to shed blood for the sake of honor.

In my search for people who have handled these complex and politically charged issues, I’ve found lots of cases of good work spoiled by a sloppy kind of symmetry in which the author dare not distinguish between various cultures. Russell Jacoby, one of our more prominent intellectuals, the  Moishe Gonzales Folding Chair of Critical Theory (at least he has a sense of humor), has written a book on the roots of violence, an obvious topic of interest for me: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present (Free Press, 2011)

Alas, the book is full of even-handed passages in which cultures far less prone to violence must be matched to depressingly violent societies, and texts of great subtlety on the subject get reduced to caricatures to “make the point.”

Enmity marks the relationship of brothers throughout the Hebrew Bible. Esau considered killing Jacob; Joseph’s brothers contemplated killing Joseph.96 “Am I my brother’s keeper?” rings out as the great rhetorical question of Western culture. (Russell Jacoby, Bloodlust, pp. 61-62).

Actually, Jacoby might have gotten away with this had he written “… throughout Genesis.” But even there, that’s not the case. In the patriarchal narratives – i.e., Abraham’s progeny of “God’s chosen,” self-control and reconciliation replace the fratricidal impulse. And while sibling rivalry is a major theme of the patriarchal narrative, there is a clear progression from the zero-sum hostilities of the first generations (Ishmael-Isaac, Esau-Jacob), explicitly made worse by parental favoritism, to the remarkable positive-sum resolution (through atonement and forgiveness) of the third generation, where all the brothers inherit the blessing (despite parental favoritism).

And the following three books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers) feature probably the most exceptional and dynamic sibling collaboration in the history of world narratives: Moses and Aaron. Did Jacoby stop reading at Genesis? Or did he just want to make a point about how the fratricidal origins of civilization in which these tales, suitably reduced to their lowest denominator (sibling rivalry) offer us, in Hannah Arendt’s terms, “cogent metaphors or universally applicable tales (p. 58).” In any case he managed to profoundly misrepresent a foundational text in search of the “universal.”

Is it any surprise then, that when he gets to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he goes for the same symmetry, kin rivalries.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict also is waged not between strangers but rather between kindred peoples. In the heady years after World War I, when the Arabs and the Jews sensed the possibility of independent states, the principals emphasized the kinship of their peoples. That was a moment when a defeated Ottoman Empire gave the victorious Europeans the power to divvy up the Middle East and to create new countries both for diasporan Jews and for the Arabs, who had been dominated by the Turks. Faisal Ibn Husain, who would become king of Iraq, met with Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of Israel. In the aftermath of the encounter, Faisal declared that “the two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understood one another.” He called the Jews our “nearest relations” and “our cousins.” Of course this could be a problem.

Especially for the Arabs who pursued an alliance with their cousins the Jews, and often enough got themselves assassinated by their brothers.

“We Israelis resemble our Arab enemies in more ways than we care to know,” writes Avner Falk, an Israeli psychologist, in a book titled Fratricide in the Holy Land. Falk refers to character traits, customs, food, and dress. He reminds us that Jews and Arabs believe they descend from two biblical half brothers, Isaac and Ishmael. “From the psychological viewpoint, the Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs think, feel and act like rival brothers who are involved in a fratricidal struggle.”68 He notes also that “almost half of the Israeli Jewish population came from Arab or Muslim countries” and that “many of them are culturally and linguistically Arab.”69 This does not mean that this population appreciated their Arab counterparts more than the European Jews might. Closeness has bred contempt. Sephardic Jews—at least those from the Middle East—are generally much more anti-Arab than the Ashkenazi from Europe and Russia. The assassin of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin came from a family of Yemenite Jews and believed Rabin to be too conciliatory toward Arabs. He declared after his arrest in 1995, “I was afraid an Arab might kill him [Rabin]. I wanted Heaven to see that a Jew had done this.”70 (Jacoby, pp. 52-3).

One would not know from this account, that the degree of fratricide among Arabs is as stunningly high as it is low among Jews. Every Arab “uprising” has a rate of internecine murder equal to or higher than that of Arabs killed by outsiders (1936-39, first intifada). Not only does Jacoby get a self-critical Jew to obliterate the differences, but he focuses on one of the rare cases of fratricide among Jews (Rabin). As a result, he can cram the Israeli-Arab conflict into the same procrustean bed as all this other examples. Indeed, who knows how he’s mutilating those other cases to fit his symmetrical pattern.

I do not question Jacoby’s commitment to finding ways out of the violence against stranger and brother that we see around the world (writing a book is no mean feat). I just question whether some of the folks engaged in finding answers are sufficiently committed to the task that they will violate the politically correct dogmas of our age in order to think clearly. After all, would Chris Hedges have given him a laudatory blurb had he not put the Israelis in their place?

Nietzsche once compared thinking to diving into an ice-cold pond and seizing a stone lying on the bottom. Time to wet more than our feet.

Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment: WSJ Op-ed

I have an op-ed at the WSJ on the Mitt-Romney-Jared Diamond-David Landes “economic development and culture” debate today. Since the WSJ won’t allow me to post it (or a variant) at my site for 30 days, I offer below:

1) Opening paragraphs of the op-ed with links (WSJ does not include links in digital edition)

2) Links for the rest of the article that was published.

3) Segments of a longer piece which I cut down to fit within op-ed dimensions (in bold)

Richard Landes: Romney Is Right on Culture and the Wealth of Nations

Mitt Romney caused a firestorm last week in Jerusalem by commenting on the cultural dimensions of Israeli economic growth. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, correctly seeing an implied criticism of Palestinian culture, called Mr. Romney a “racist” and complained that Palestinian economic woes are really caused by the Israeli occupation. Analysts said Mr. Erekat’s reaction was a sign that Mr. Romney has disqualified himself as a broker for peace. The episode reveals as much about the dynamics of the Middle East conflict as about presidential politics.

In making his brief case, Mr. Romney cited two books: “Guns, Germs and Steel,” by geographer Jared Diamond, and “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by economist David Landes (my father). As in other fields of social “science,” economists argue about whether development derives from cultural advantages or from natural ones such as resistance to disease and access to primary resources. Prof. Diamond, whose book focuses on societies’ natural advantages, last week wrote an op-ed in the New York Times emphasizing both culture and nature and trying to draw Prof. Landes in with him.

Read the rest.

…[Israel] rose from the bottom of the third world to the top of the first world, in a century: Israel, the Start-up Nation. The Arab nations, on the other hand, illustrate the necessity of (a certain kind of) culture: even those with vast petrodollars still have among the least productive economies in the world. Alas, Saudi Arabia’s major exports are oil and hatred.