The Economist recently published a piece on the renewed interest in the Middle Ages. Like “fakenews” and “anti-semitism” these are issues that have been alive and well for over two decades without the WMSNM paying much attention. Now that they can be attributed to the “far-right,” they’re back in vogue as “new.” The piece is intellectually as disturbing as its claims about the “right’s” fascination with the MA: it offers a flattened MA, tailored as a refutation of the tribal emotions so common among people back then.
Jan 2nd 2017, 12:05 BY S.N. | CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA
UNTIL fairly recently, it was rare to find Americans who were passionate about both medieval history and contemporary politics.
Guess that makes me, who am writing a book subtitled A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century, rare.
Barring the odd Christian conservative, medievalists tended to lean left: a Marxist grad student, say, mucking around in land ownership patterns to show how past inequalities gave birth to present ones,
NB: not to show how much past inequalities have been overcome, even though none of these Marxists would choose to live in the inequities of the Middle Ages.
or an environmentalist activist, perhaps, fascinated with vegetable-dyed handspun clothing.
I certainly don’t fit either “type,” despite having been accused of being “marxicisant” by Dominique Barthelemy because I thought peasants thought (demotic religiosity) and their actions, based on that thought, especially at the advent of apocalyptic dates, like 1000, was consequential.
My regret is that we have not seen more medievalists work on the rural and urban commune movement of the new millennium (11-13th centuries)… lay textual communities, laboratories of civil society, adumbrations of democracies to come.
But when Americans invoked historical events in politics, they tended to be more recent—the founding of the republic; the struggle against slavery and segregation; victory over Nazi Germany.
This has changed. Since the September 11th attacks, the American far right has developed a fascination with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance—in particular, with the idea of the West as a united civilisation that was fending off a challenge from the East.
Had the “mainstream” of the public sphere, alerted by honest information professionals, developed an interest in medieval apocalyptic beliefs and “holy war,” which might have made Al Qaeda and Hamas more understandable as apocalyptic global imperialists, radicals might have been embarrassed to be associated with the folly of seeing them as “resistance warriors” just like us.
Machla Abramowitz interviewed me in Mischpacha magazine. It was initially done as coverage of a talk I gave in Montreal on BDS and Cogwar (definitions posted here), but mutated into a much more complex discussion of messianism and the progressive left. The (slightly) longer version I post below may clarify some of the obscurities in my published responses.
For anyone interested in a more extensive discussion of the unfortunate convergence of progressive left and jihadi millennialism, see “Progressive and Jihadi Movements in Action: A Study in Interacting Millennial Currents in the Early 3rd Millennium (2000-2020).”
Millennialism: where progressivism and jihad meet.
By Machla Abramovitz
Mishpacha Magazine, 29 Cheshvan, 5777.
They believe in the coming of a messianic epoch, one in which humanity will unite and peace and justice will reign. Their enemies are conservatives and traditionalists, or those who fail to comprehend the arc of history and humanity’s final destiny.
No, they’re not an apocalyptic cult hatching a plot in a South American jungle hideout, but modern progressives who subscribe to the idea of “millennialism.”
Richard Landes, a former professor of Medieval Studies at Boston University, and currently the senior fellow with the Center of International Communication at Bar Ilan University, is one of their leading critics. For decades, Landes has been studying the phenomenon of millennialism, or the belief that a messianic era of justice, peace and abundance is coming soon, often preceded by a massive disruptive (apocalyptic) event. Now, with the election of Donald J. Trump and the protests that have exploded nationwide, the world is witness to many expressions of millennialism, and, as is common, to disappointed expectations. The arc of history that bends towards justice has lurched into reverse.
In March 1968, my father was a member of the Warsaw University students’ committee that helped lead the enormous protests demanding reform from the Communist Polish government. The government responded with a smear campaign to try to delegitimize the protests’ leaders, claiming they were acting in the interest of Western powers, or — exploiting widespread anti-Semitic sentiments — of a Jewish-Zionist plot against the Polish People’s Republic.
In other words, the government labeled my father and his friends foreign agents. Traitors.
My father was detained for three months and expelled from the university. After his release, he left with his family for Israel, where I was born. Unlike my father, I grew up in an environment that welcomed free political discussion and allowed people like me to become human rights activists and criticize our government. When I claimed a few years ago, after yet another right-wing attack on Israeli human rights organizations, that we had reached “the bottom of the pit,” my father gave me a knowing smile. “The pit is much deeper than you think,” he said.
My father was right. Over the past month, I have begun to see its true depth.
No you haven’t. You do not have a clue. Nothing in Israel comes near what was going on in your father’s Poland, nothing near what the most mundane authoritarian regimes do to their own citizens, not even close to what Israel does to their enemies. It is precisely this rhetorical exaggeration that has people like you calling the IDF “war criminals” and Israel a “racist, apartheid, fascist, state.” You have no historical depth-perception, so you’re easy dupes for moral equivalence.
And the problem is, outsiders will mistake your “prophetic” rhetoric as an insight into the actual situation here in the Middle East, rather than into the fevered brains of those Jews stricken with MOS. Outsiders understandably have difficulty figuring out how to “read” these hyper-critics: are they sober and honest assessments of reality? or prophetic rhetoric uttered where no ancient prophet would have delivered his rebuke of his people, in the lingua franca of the larger world, and in the courtyards of their powerful ones?
On Dec. 15, an Israeli ultranationalist group
Ultranationalist is a term largely reserved for brown-shirt-type organizations, fascist in their principled resort to violence in their targeting of enemies: “defending one’s country even when it is committing horrific acts to its own citizens.”
Im Tirzu shares nothing in these matters with real “ultra-nationalist” groups, and the use of the term to lump the group with the worst of the far right is characteristic of this publicly self-accusing pseudo-prophetic rhetoric: our (Israel’s) smallest crimes (i.e., deviation from the strictest “progressive” values) are of such magnitude that they compare with what’s nastiest out there (ultra-nationalists, racists, fascists, Nazis). By your standards of inciteful rhetoric, this is a robust example of smearing.
released a video portraying four Israeli human rights defenders as moles planted by foreign states to assist terrorists. The 68-second video, which rapidly made its way across Israeli social media, shows four mug shots and claims that “While we fight terror, they fight us.”
Here’s the video:
As for the accusations, knowing some of the background, and while not quite the way I would have chosen to put it, the video does nonetheless expresses a legitimate opinion. You may not agree, because it questions you and your fellow activists’ behavior, but I don’t see where calling groups that take money from hostile foreign governments to defend and protect avowed enemies of the state, a “plant” or even a “traitor,” is in any way worse than the ones they are so accusing, that is no worse than you and your colleagues calling Israel and its soldiers “war criminals,” “facists,” “nazis,” and “racists.”
You may think that the PLO is an institution that deserves your active support in avoiding responsibility for committing acts of terror against Israeli citizens. But surely you can understand that others, convinced by the same evidence that you are presumably aware of, see the PLO/PA as a devoted enemy of Israel’s very existence, think they should not receive the help of Israelis to carry out their plans for our destruction, and that anyone who does is dangerous.
The video is outright slander and an outrageous incitement.
Amazing. As the great poet Robert Burns once put it:
O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
I’m preparing a post on an interview with Tuvia Tenenbom by I24 reporter Yael Lavie that took place October 8, 2014. Even though it’s old, it illustrates a key dimension of the cogwar against Israel and how even Israeli journalists participate. Below, for further reference, is a transcript of the interview with some brief notes (h/t Sarah Chin).
I welcome any further information or thoughts on what I think is a transcript immensely revealing of current Israeli journalism’s dysfunctions.
Reporter: Welcome back, it is still Wednesday October 8, 2014, this is still the morning edition on i24, where you should be and I am still Yael Lavie last I checked, thank you for staying with us and onto our next topic. Now our next story combines 2 of the core narratives of Israel and the Jewish people, the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As research for his new book, Catch a Jew, author and German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom interviewed Attaf abu a-Rub, field researcher for Israeli human rights NGO B’tselem. Abu a-Rub has denied the Holocaust. First let’s take this, let’s take a look at this controversial bit and then meet the author himself.
[Clip showing Arab interviewees denying holocaust]
Reporter: Tuvia Tenenbom is with us in studio, first of all thank you so much for joining us.
Tenenbom: thank you for having me, morning
Reporter: Good morning good morning to you, first of all I have a question to you. You actually walk around the West Bank you know and you speak to Palestinians, but yknow the man you spoke with, the B’tselem volunteer [sic] did not know what you were really doing there right?
the implication here is that the revelation is illegitimate because Nutch-al-Rub doesn’t know that it will be reported because Tenenbom is “on the other side.”
Tenenbom: all he knows is this, I was working on this book, that came out in Israel now,
Reporter: To Catch a Jew
Tenenbom: To Catch a Jew, tfoos haeyhudi which means to catch a Jew, and I asked B’tselem at the time if they can, I said I wanted to see as they do an operation from beginning all the way to the end, as they do research, as they collect data and all that stuff. And I spoke to Sarit Michaeli who is the spokesperson of…
Tenenbom: (continuing) of Btselem and Sarit said to me she’s gonna give me the best, her top researcher and his name is Attif,
Tenenbom: I went to meet Attif, we went to Jenin, and we drove to Jordan valley, and then we met people and then he says what he says, he says a lot of things, this is one of them, you know for example if we are to
interruption here at point where more of Attif’s problematic attitudes were about to come out.
Reporter: what did you say to Sarit Michaeli and B’tselem people when you said that you want to join them from the beginning, that you were doing this what for? Did you explain what…
Sorry TT interrupts here, but she was about to accuse him of illegitimately failing to inform B’tselem that he was not sympathetic to them. Implication of such an accusation: B’tselem has a right to keep secrets from the public. Enderlin took precisely the same approach with his tapes of Talal.
Tenenbom: I explained everything, I said I am writing for the German media, I am writing for a paper called Die Zeit, I am writing and the purpose of this one is I’m writing a book for the publishing company in Germany called Suhrkamp, it’s one of the best in Germany and I’m writing about the issues here and I would like to meet and I would like to see, everybody knows B’tselem, I would like to see how it happens
Reporter: but when you set out to start writing the book the premise was actually, that the Palestinian people are anti-Semitic, that was your premise to begin with
in other words you found what you were looking for?
Tenenbom: never ever, this is one of the lies that you have all over, never ever. Actually when I came here
here’s a clash of narratives. YL is here articulating the “word” from the “left” aimed at discrediting the contents of TT’s book. TT’s response – lies – is a sign of how widespread the campaign. whether it’s lies or just misinformation, conjecture presented as facts, is another matter.
Reporter: it’s not the lies, I mean I’m asking you straightforward
protect the conjecture.
Tenenbom: I did not come here because you know I’ve seen it somewhere, I did not come here with any agenda, political, I didn’t even know where I’m going. My commission was, the basic idea was go to Israel because I did already a book a year before that yknow..
Tenenbom: I slept in Hitler’s room, says name in Hebrew, I don’t have it here,
Reporter: but that was also…
Tenenbom: it was the same thing, you go to Germany, for 6 months, talk to people and then come up with what it is, what I found out was…
Reporter: the premise of that book was also about anti-Semitism..
Tenenbom: it came out that to be antisemitism, but this was not the idea before,
Reporter: mmm hhhmm
Tenenbom: when I started the subject you have to understand, first of all the two books, were not my ideas. It’s not like I had a guide, a reason, I was chasing something I tried to find something out, no, in both cases there were German companies, publishers, who asked me to do it because they read my articles in Zeit,
Reporter: there’s something you know, the German um uh the German you know editors ask you to write the book, there’s so many things I can say about that
as an interviewer shouldn’t it be “i could ask about that”? Instead, she’s out for bear and passing up moose.
but here’s my question to you, you know you though and I’m just wondering you claim actually your claim is that the Palestinian people are, what, are anti-Semitic?
has she read the book? I think not. Framing telling: are they or aren’t they anti-semitic? a frame only someone in denial might make. Real question based on extensive evidence: how far has the officially sanctioned anti-semitism permeated the society… an answer TT is far more empirically equipped to answer than YL.
Tenenbom: this is not what I claim, this is not this is not what the book is about, the book is about what happens here. One of the things that happens here what the book is exposing is
Tenenbom: is things I did not know when I started it, what the book is exposing is there are 1000s upon 1000s and millions upon millions of euros invested by Europeans. I thought when I came here there were two people here, the Arabs and the Jews, and this is the conflict between them, during my travels here, and you have to understand, 7 days a week 14 hours a day,
Reporter: no I understand but (unintelligible)
Tenenbom: everywhere I go I see especially in the Palestinian areas you know I see European NGOs, operating NGOs, and Israeli NGOs FINANCED by Europeans, and some Americans but mostly Europeans, some of it by European governments for the most part
Reporter: I get but the NGO thought Btselem that you interviewed, Btselem had a response, I’m gonna read it out to you:
this is an interesting moment, since the statement essentially acknowledges the seriousness of the allegation and promises to investigate. Strangely YL doesn’t read the part of the statement that includes B’tselem’s firing of Abu-a-Rub for both saying it, and lying about it.
Reporter: I mean what is your claim then about Btselem, that one guy, one of their researchers, yknow which by the way a Holocaust Denier, I feel again, I can say this, I come from a family of Holocaust victims, of you know most of, I’m a German Jew, most of my family perished in the holocaust, you know that guy, really doesn’t is not gonna take away anything of my existence, I have to say and I don’t think it projects on the organization itself….
Possibly the most astonishing statement in the interview. Would her ancestors who died in the H agree with her dismissal of the significance of TT’s identifying a denier of the Holocaust.
The man is a major conduit of information about the behavior of Israelis and the suffering of Palestinians on the West Bank, and his denial of the Holocaust (ie his inability to analyze evidence) doesn’t matter? and shouldn’t reflect on B’tselem? Even B’tselem disagreed.
Tenenbom: no no no this is where you are wrong, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, most Palestinians think there was no Holocaust, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, Attaf is entitled, entitled to his opinion, and I don’t care what Attaf thinks…
Reporter: and many Israelis don’t think there was ever a Palestine or there should be a Palestine…
?!!! comparing denying there ever was a [presumably Arab] Palestine – there never was – or there should be a Palestine – political position – to Holocaust denial. Every side has their “narrative”, same-same, he-said-she-said. YL’s comment reveals a massive disorder in the ability to handle empirical information.
Tenenbom: but..let’s not mix the issues here, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, he’s entitled to his opinion, he’s a nice guy, what I care about, is a (Hebrew) he’s a researcher for Btselem, he’s the guy who’s supposed to come out
Reporter: a researcher for B’tselem is someone who walks around, who walks around with a camera (Tenenbom trying to speak)
Tenenbom: all what B’tselem is what is B’tselem, they have 11 researchers, what is the big issue with B’tselem, they have 11 researchers, all of them Palestinians, ok, all the names you have around it, its nothing to do
in other words, just as happened at Netzarim junction on Sept. 30, 2000, no westerners, israelis are around to cover what goes on in B’tselem’s “information” (really “narrative” acquisition.
Reporter: because that is at the core what btselem does,…
Tenenbom: what I think now if you have a researcher who thinks that there was no holocaust, this is what his own research came up with, you know, how can you rely on other research that he says, when the first time that the clip came out, on channel 2 of Israel, btselem claimed that channel 2 added to the video, they claim that I am lying, that Btselem is lying, when the first time
interruption regularly when TT starts hitting hard.
Reporter: again I have to read I have to read the response they claim (Tenenbom trying to talk) that the btselem employee did in fact make the statement of his own volition
he lied. got caught when more tape made available.
Tenenbom: just a second, let me get there, when the Lech, the Facebook, by a woman named Milach, put the whole, video that you see here, the first response of Btselem was this proves…
Reporter: but you know what we are doing right now, we are doing the same thing that yknow that maybe I think people that have an axe to grind (Tenenbom goes to speak, points finger in his face) let me finish, you know are doing, let’s say you know he’s a holocaust denier this this and that, what does it help, seriously, what does it help, you know, in the agenda of trying to progress a peace process because this is now a battle between you and an NGO, I don’t think he necessarily represents all of the Palestinian people
complete loss of any pretension to be a journalist. and here we see the real framework in which TT’s evidence is ground to dust: what (do i, and my friends) think leads to peace, and what (do i etc) thinks will impede peace. B’tselem, against settlements for peace. You battle B’tselem. Your evidence means nothing in the bigger picture, it doesn’t “represent all of the Palestinian people.”
Tenenbom: this is not a battle between me and an NGO, these are the facts, they know, they denied it, they denied and denied and denied, and after Haaretz said this is what he said, you know they came out, B’tselem finally said
Reporter: but what does it mean, what do you think it means?
Tenenbom: what it means is that they employ people who hate the Jews, who thinks of the Jews…
Reporter: you know there are Israelis who hate Arabs as well
another interruption just as he gets to the point YL has been trying to undermine.
Tenenbom: no of course but you know what, if they had an attack on Iran, and a researcher, a researcher who said that all the Arabs are bad people, or something like that there is no Palestine, never was, B’tselem would have fired that guy or that lady in a second
Reporter: no but the thing is…
Tenenbom: it shows you the mindset of Btselem, you have a mindset and this is what I find, not just B’tselem, I find Shalom Achshav, peace now, I find it in many other left-wing organizations,
Reporter: (trying to interrupt) but that’s because they oppose you opinions,
in other words, whatever you say about the left is just because they don’t share your opinion. hermeneutic seal.
Tenenbom: they are so much with self-haters
Reporter: but to call people whose opinions differ from you that they are self-hating Jews is somewhat doing the same thing as denying their opinion or denying any…
master of narrative relativism. anything but consider the problem TT’s pointing to, which is the zealous masochism of some Israelis leads them to poison the world they think they’re helping.
Tenenbom: they are, everybody is entitled to their opinions, I’m not saying they are not entitled to their opinion, they are entitled to their opinions
Reporter: but they are self-hating Jews
Tenenbom: they are self-hating Jews, if they have the facts, look if you employ these people, and you call them researcher you have a problem with this, and again I have no problem with Attaf, I have no problem with Tamar who goes around paid by the EU, paid by the EU, goes around to….
Reporter: I’m going to stop you right there only because we have a completely different segment coming up. And again I’m glad you joined me because I respect your opinion
Tenenbom: thank you very much and I respect yours
Reporter: even though I might be a self-hating Jew
[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.
[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.
A complicated but telling development in the cognitive wars, from Connecticut College. For the details, see at Slate and NPR. The controversy has focused on the following facebook entry from August 11, 2014, at the height of last summer’s war in Gaza.
I’m sure someone could make a cartoon of this, but one image which essentializes the current situation in Gaza might be this. You’ve got a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape. The owner, naturally keeps the thing in the cage, but being kind-hearted or something, regularly feeds it, waters it, takes care of its health needs, etc. But liberal hearted world is outraged at the cruelty of keeping in in the cage, keeps pressuring the owner to let it out. Every so often the man relents under pressure, opens the cage a crack, and the pit bull comes roaring bounding out, snarling, going for the throat. A short battle ensues, the pit bull gets put back in… and almost immediately liberal world pressure starts complaining about the cruelty to animals and insisting he open the cage.
Gaza is the cage because of its repeated efforts to destroy Israel and the Jews. (1990s suicide buses anyone? how quickly we forget.) The blockade is not the cause of the current conflict. It is the RESULT of the conflict and cannot retroactively become its cause. The same is true of Judea and Samaria, the result of the Arab enmity toward Israel and not its cause. Anyone who fails to recognize that clear and obvious fact is demanding the release of a rabid pit bull. You may call for this release because you are yourself a rabid pit bull protesting your co-specimen’s detention, or because you are a well-meaning liberal hearted animal rights person. But you are demanding the same thing. (And I wonder how heartily you’d demand this if the rabid pit bull was to be released in YOUR neighborhood.)
The reading of this promoted by Pessin’s vocal critics, in which he meant that the Palestinians are the pit bull which by the logic of his image, Pessin agreed in a later exchange, needed to be “put down,” making this an odious example of “racist hate speech,” is contentious to put it mildly.
As Pessin noted in his defense, read the discussion in which he was participating and it’s clear he’s talking about Hamas. Certainly, the pit bull who “comes roaring bounding out, snarling, going for the throat,” every time the man let’s it out of its cage, is a reference to Hamas, as is his explicatory reference to the suicide bombings of the aughts (’00s).
This particular entry is clearly within a long and distinguished tradition of both political cartooning and animal parables, including George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Read in that manner, it is an incisive depiction of Hamas, whose numerous war crimes this summer, according to an Amnesty International Report (!), included killing both Israeli and Palestinian civilians in an indiscriminate manner. The deep irony embodied in Pessin’s image of Gaza as the cage, is that it’s not really the Israelis who built the cage, so much as the rabid dog who has taken Gazans hostage, hides behind them, uses them as human shields to fend off the Israeli effort to “put down” the rabid dog of “genocidal hatred.”
The “liberal” reader who, squeamish at a depiction of genocidal hatred denounced in no uncertain terms (pit bull), ends up behaving like the faculty at Connecticut College: they placate groups who scream injury when criticized, in order to shelter their own discourse of violence and hatred from the scrutiny it so richly deserves.
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.
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?
Reflections on Palestinian Thanatography and Western Stupefication
Max Fisher, formerly of the Atlantic Monthly, now the WaPo’s “foreign policy advisor,” just posted a reflection on the war of images in the current Gaza operation. In it he makes every effort to be “even-handed.” And in the end, comes up empty-handed. A remarkable example of how intelligent people can look carefully at evidence and learn nothing. If I didn’t know better (which I don’t), I might think he was doing some “damage control,” if not for Hamas (in which case, presumably it would be unconscious), then for the paradigm that permits him not to acknowledge Hamas’ character.
Posted by Max Fisher on November 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Left, a journalist for BBC Arabic holds his son’s body. Center, an emergency worker carries an Israeli infant from the site of a rocket strike. Right, Egypt’s prime minister and a Hamas official bend over a young boy’s body. (AP, Reuters, Reuters)
Wars are often defined by their images, and the renewed fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas has already produced three such photographs in as many days. In the first, displayed on the front page of Thursday’s Washington Post, BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi carries the body of his 11-month-old son, killed when a munition landed on his Gaza home. An almost parallel image shows an emergency worker carrying an Israeli infant, bloody but alive, from the scene of a rocket attack that had killed three adults. The third, from Friday, captures Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, in his visit to a Gazan hospital, resting his hand on the head of a boy killed in an airstrike.
Each tells a similar story: a child’s body, struck by a heartless enemy, held by those who must go on. It’s a narrative that speaks to the pain of a grieving people, to the anger at those responsible, and to a determination for the world to bear witness. But the conversations around these photos, and around the stories that they tell, are themselves a microcosm of the distrust and feelings of victimhood that have long plagued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Studiously even-handed. One of my favorite memes: “both sides…”
The old arguments of the Middle East are so entrenched that the photos, for all their emotional power, were almost immediately pressed into the service of one side or another.
Actually, there’s a huge difference between the sides. Israel has, over the years, shown enormous reluctance to use the photos of their dead and wounded to appeal for public sympathy; whereas Palestinians have actually created victims in order to parade their suffering in front of the public. Indeed, Palestinian TV revels in pictures of the dead (so much so, that when my daughter wanted to help me with some logging of PLO TV footage, I had to decline lest she be brutalized by the material). They systematically use the media to both arouse sympathy from an “empathic” West, and to arouse hatred and a desire for revenge among Arabs and Muslims. Nothing uglier.
Israel, on the other hand, studiously avoids pictures of the dead, and only a shocking incident like Ramallah can break those taboos. They were so reluctant to exploit these images that, even at the height of the suicide campaign (2002-3) they refused to release pictures of the dead victims. The two cultures could not be more different on this score, and yet, Fisher has no problem finding his symmetry.
To obfuscate this fundamental difference with a pleasing even-handedness symbolizes the literal stupefication of our culture that necessarily accompanies the politically correct paradigm (PCP1), founded on a dogmatic cognitive egocentrism. It forces one not to see critical information. It’s as if we were under orders to not notice everything that a good detective should pick up on, as if we were required to assist the clean-up crews that want to frame the story to their advantage. In such a world, the protagonists of the Mentalist, Lie to Me, Elementary, CSI, House, are not merely unwelcome, they are banished.
Yitzhak Laor has come to the spirited defense of Judith Butler in – surprise! – the pages of Ha-aretz. If one thinks of this whole affair as an Emperor’s New Clothes, then think of Laor as a courtier who intervenes after the crowd starts grumbling about Butler’s naked performativity, who rushes in to hold the invisible mantle high.
Before tackling his argument, allow me to give some background on Laor’s attitude towards Israel and Zionism. It will help explain his position in the Butler case.
“The “Land of Israel” is a phantasm. Withdrawing from “parts of it” is presented as a “concession” even by supporters of the move. But the only concession we needed to make, even back in 1967, was giving up the messianic claim that this is our land, from the Bible, and therefore we have a right to it. In comparison with this claim, the Serbs, with their preoccupation over the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, are rational, secular people.
Now that he’s made the invidious comparison at his own expense (no “my side even when it’s right” for this fellow), where can he put Hamas and Hizbullah on this scale of secular-rational and religious zealot? But of course, for the self-destructivist left, the madness of the Islamists cannot even be spoken.
Life is in no need of “ancestral rights.” Most of us were born here. That has no connection with the Bible, which for the most part is a very nice book. It has no connection with the prayers of the religious. We don’t need religion, either as a menu in a restaurant or as a strategic analysis.
The only way that Yitzhak was born here (the year of the war of Independence), was because of the biblical attachment of his ancestors to the land. The lack of acknowledgment of the role biblical beliefs play in history is not only massively uninformed, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of religion in history (including why this area has so many Arab Muslims). Like so many “secular, rational” folks, Laor doesn’t have a clue. And he’s a poet, to boot.
Had masses of Israelis had the sense to say that on the morning after the occupation, instead of choosing that of all moments – with the help of professors, poets and writers – to “discover our undivided country,” we would be in a different situation today.
This is an especially nice example of how the other side has no moral responsibility. In fact the Israelis after the Six-day war had precisely the attitude he calls for, and got the “Three no’s.” What can one make of someone who can only find fault among his own people, and doesn’t (dare?) express disapproval of his own people’s sworn enemies?
Liberation from Zionism is not a dirty word. In any case, what lies behind Zionism nowadays are interests related to water, real estate, strategic relations with the U.S. and a huge army hungering to justify its existence.
If our fathers erred in their use of myth, we should part from it, for the sake of our sons and daughters. We don’t have to leave this place or give up our lives. But for their sake, we have to get rid of Zionism.
In other words, we enlightened Israelis, should cast aside the faulty “myths” of our ancestors and live peaceably in the land, where (I, Yitzhak Laor know) the other inhabitants will leave with us. Again, note the lack of any mention of the myths circulating among the other inhabitants of the land. Laor, like “Noa”, is a classic lost, solipsistic soul, wandering the landscape, performing nobly, leading himself and his children into catastrophe.
The witch hunt against U.S. Jewish academic Judith Butler, who is being awarded the prestigious Adorno prize, originates in a dangerous strand of American Jewry that has been assaulting freedom of expression even in U.S. universities.
Today, the birthday of the sociologist Theodor Adorno, philosopher Judith Butler will be in Frankfurt to receive a prize named after him. The prize has been given every three years since 1977 to an outstanding intellectual or artist. Its winners include sociologists Norbert Elias and Zygmunt Bauman, philosophers Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, composers Gyorgy Ligeti and Pierre Boulez, and film directors Alexander Kluge and Jean-Luc Godard.
At the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemya, the children of Jewish settlers found relief from the heat and the sun.
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: July 9, 2012
JERUSALEM — Flouting international opinion, an Israeli government-appointed commission of jurists said Monday that Israel ’s presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommended that the state grant approval for scores of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts there.
Note the opening phrase. Objection, your honor, journalist is leading the reader. Before the reader even knows what’s going on, he’s been told what to think about the subject. Such a move suggests insecurity, a sense that the reader can’t or shouldn’t think for him or herself, a desire to impose a reading lest….
A government-appointed commission calls for the validation of scores of unauthorized Jewish outposts on the West Bank.
The committee’s legal arguments, while nonbinding, could provide backup for the government should it decide to grant the outposts retroactive official status. But such a move would inevitably stir international outrage and deal a significant blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. And here’s the payoff. Such a move to legalize the settlements, regardless of the legal principles upon which that move was based, should not happen. The international community will be outraged (no need even to explain why, everyone knows); and it will deal a significant blow to prospects for a peace-settlement.
For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes.
It’s pretty revealing that Gorenberg thinks Israel needs to establish itself again as a “liberal democracy.” He apparently thinks that the first round ended in 1967. That means that the key moment in a democracy – when an opposition group can be voted into power – which occurred for the first time in 1977, doesn’t even count, along with the in some cases excessive commitment to radical democratic principles of Aharon Barak’s Supreme Court (1978-2006). As will become apparent later on, this schema has a great deal to do with his moral perfectionism and, tangentially I think, his concern for what others think, an aspect of his thought revealed in his concern about “international ostracism.”
I write from an Israel with a divided soul. It is not only defined by its contradictions; it is at risk of being torn apart by them. It is a country with uncertain borders and a government that ignores its own laws. Its democratic ideals, much as they have helped shape its history, or on the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th-century ideologies.
The risks Gorenberg identifies (see below) are only some of the risks Israel runs, but which he tends to ignore, not the least, the risks embedded in the suggestions he has to make for resolving the contradictions. “On the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th century ideologies”?! Is this a reference to Nazism and Communism? Historically this is ludicrous – unless Gorenberg sees Israel becoming a totalitarian state sometime soon. Only in terms of the kind of post-colonial anti-Zionism of say, Tony Judt or Phillip Weiss, it does make sense.
What will Israel be in five years, or 20? Will it be the Second Israeli Republic, a thriving democracy within smaller borders? Or a pariah state where one ethnic group rules over another? Or a territory marked on the map, between the river and the sea, where the state has been replaced by two warring communities? Will it be the hub of the Jewish world, or a place that most Jews abroad prefer not to think about? The answers depend on what Israel does now.
I have an Israeli friend, a good liberal who supported Oslo despite the information he was getting about the malevolent intentions of the PA, who admitted to me that after the outbreak of the Second Intifada (in other words, after the Palestinians got out of their Trojan horse and showed their real hand), that the hardest thing for him to realize is that “it’s not in our hands.”
Gorenberg has yet to realize that. For him, everything is in Israel’s hands, and if only they’d do what he told them, then they’d have peace, a liberal democracy, the moral high ground, and the world would once again like and admire them (or at least not stigmatize them as pariahs). As a result, he is a prime candidate for “masochistic omnipotence complex” (MOS) ie, it’s all our fault and if only we could be better [a liberal democracy] then we could fix everything.
As a result, Gorenberg is susceptible to framing the conflict in terms of the “four dimensional Israeli, two- (or one-) dimensional Palestinian“. Since I rarely agree with Phillip Weiss, let me note that he points out the same lack of any real interest in Palestinians on Gorenberg’s part. This was, by the way, my critique of the play NIF staged in NYC which I commented on in Gorenberg’s place: four dimensional Jews ruminating and churning their guilt in a void filled with fantasies of Palestinian peace-makers whom extremist Jews try to assassinate.
For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
What on earth leads Gorenberg to think that this “peaceful way to partition” is possible? When he says “stop the occupation” he presumably means retreat to the Green line (the ’49 armistice lines). When the Palestinian leadership – “secular” and religious – says occupation, they mean the shore line. Does Gorenberg think that ending the settlement enterprise and the occupation will lead to a peaceful partition, rather than to a resumption of war with Israel in a weaker position? Has he considered that possibility?
It’s always a good mental exercise to imagine what the international reaction would be to any belligerent action by another country (democracy or not). Daniel Friedmann, former Minister of Justice under Ehud Olmert, has a piece in Yediot Aharonot that does just that in the case of OBL. When Friedmann wrote this, he apparently did not know that at the time of his untimely demise, OBL was unarmed. That would make him, by the definition of B’tselem and other “Human Rights” NGOs, an innocent civilian.
The following is provided and translated by Steven Plaut.
Suppose, just Suppose that it had been Israel that Carried Out the Assassination (or, American Chutzpah)
By Daniel Friedmann
We are lucky that bin Laden was taken out by the American military. I tremble at the thought of what would have happened had he been killed by Israeli forces. Would there not have arisen a deafening outcry against cold-blooded murder without a trial? Would there not have been calls to investigate whether bin Laden could have been captured unharmed, to be put on fair trial, where he could defend himself judicially?
Would not the soldier who had shot him be indicted, because perhaps he could have merely wounded bin Laden by shooting at his legs, thus avoiding an unnecessary loss of human life? And what about those other “collateral” deaths in the compound? Was it really necessary to kill THOSE people without even putting them on trial?
Let us bear in mind that the operation was carried out in the territory of a friendly foreign country allied to the US – Pakistan. Since when can a country just go in and kill suspects in another country that has its own police and courts?
One must keep in mind that at this stage bin Laden was merely a suspect – since he was never convicted of any crime by any court, including for the destruction of the WTC towers in the US. Under the circumstances, should not the US forces have warned him and demanded his surrender before opening fire, and – if such a warning was given to bin Laden – was it a sufficient warning?
To all these “questions” others would then be added. Under such sensitive circumstances, is it really appropriate for the US military itself to examine its own behavior and performance? Would it not be better to have some outside commission of investigation, one that will enjoy public trust?
Indeed, a local commission of investigation would be insufficient and surely many would demand an international investigation, one in which the international community could place its faith! Like one by the UN or its commission on human rights.
There are other issues. How did the Americans decide to toss bin Laden’s carcass into the sea without first consulting bin Laden’s own family members and violating his human right to a dignified burial.
And why did the American government do all this without even soliciting a single learned scholarly legal opinion from an international expert on human rights?
And I almost forgot. In such an important matter it is unthinkable that action should have been carried out without first petitioning the Supreme Court, which in Israel at least routinely interferes whenever the military wants to assassinate terrorist leaders. Hence the Supreme Court should contemplate who should now be indicted for the abuses in the operation, after the commission of investigation completes its work.
And even that is not the end of the story. The names of the soldiers and officers involved in the operation must be made public at court order, because of their involvement in the killings. The individuals involved might someday seek public office. Even more important is the fact that one day it may be desirable to conduct a thorough legal evaluation of these people, given the fact that their behavior produced human deaths.
It’s always useful to consider the differential between the way Israel gets treated by the “Human Rights” community and the MSNM and the way other countries are. Note that the latest news, which the author of this article did not know at the time of composition, is that Bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was gunned down. By the definitions used by B’tselem and Palestinian “Human Rights” organizations, that makes him an innocent civilian.
Now take this exercise one step further: Imagine the outrage of Americans if any major American institution (e.g., the Supreme Court, or some group in Congress) called for these kinds of investigations, or some newspaper that took this position. Imagine the cry of outrage at such crazy self-inflicted inhibitions. The Nation is not a fringe journal by accident. In Israel, this is all mainstream discourse directed against the country itself.
Nothing illustrates better the principle that, when it comes to the Human Rights Complex, Israel is the whitest of the whites.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
UPDATE: German TV has a member of the Green Party and a theologian expressing precisely the “human rights” sentiments mentioned above. It’s not Christian and it’s not civilized…
In response to a request from a reader, I wrote some thoughts on the matter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Noam, the author of a blog called “Promised Land” responded in feigned disbelief. He makes many presumptions and jumps all over what he thinks he’s caught be saying, and never once tried to clarify (by asking at my own blogpost, for example) what I meant. To clarify, let me respond directly addressing Noam.
Dear Noam, I read your blogpost and felt that your reading of me was remarkably, even determinedly superficial, and that as a result, you misunderstood what I wrote. So before I respond, let me ask you, on the contrary, if I misunderstand what you wrote. On the simplest level, let me ask you if you would or would not agree with yourself as a “neo-prog,” according to the following description. (Hint: I certainly don’t think of myself as a neo-con; and you’re welcome to disagree with my attribution of neo-prog to you.)
A neo-progis the product of the profound shock that struck us all with 9-11. In the confrontation with an almost unimaginably savage hatred, Americans responded along a sharp fault-line. Some said, “What’s wrong with them that they hate us so?” and others said, “What did we do to them, that they hate us so?” Obviously both questions deserve consideration. But somehow, those who asked the first question at all got labeled neo-cons (Islamophobes, racists) by people who primarily or only asked the second question. These people I think it would help to identify as neo-progs, neo-progressives.
At the same time as neo-progs insist that there is no “us” and “them,” they have a much higher level of sensitivity to and intolerance for failings they find in “our” camp, and an astonishingly broad tolerance for morally reprehensible behavior on the other side. Neo-progs have the Human Rights Complex: if Westerners can be blamed for some infraction of human rights (a fortiori the Jews, now the whitest of the whites), neo-progs wax indignant; if subaltern “others” (“people of color”) are to blame, they look the other way.
Trying to maintain their commitment to “moral relativity,” their moral compass has been so bent out of shape that they cannot apply even remotely similar scales to the right and the left. Thus fellow progressives who disagree with them, who argue for caution and defensiveness over passion and generosity, are immediately put in another camp, neo-cons for intellectuals, tea-party fundamentalists for hoi poloi.
On the other hand, when dealing with people from other cultures (including American Muslims), they work with a completely different set of norms and expectations, in which the slightest nod to “progressive” values becomes a cause of celebration as a victory for the good guys. Thus Abu Mazen is a “moderate” and the Muslim Brotherhood is not only moderate but largely secular; and those demonstrating against Mubarak are “pro-democracy” even as they use the crudest anti-semitic slogans to express their discontent. Neo-progs respond to criticism of the “other” as an offense to progressive values; in response they say, “don’t try and change the subject by pointing the finger”; they call the critic a racist, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe. Even as they criticize “us” ferociously and “them” not at all, they claim there is no “us” and “them.”
In their own mind, neo-progs are passionately moral beings, upholding basic values while the rest of the West goes fascist around them. But the extremism to which neo-progs will go in ‘othering’ their “right wing” and into ‘us-ing’ “moderate” Muslims, suggests that there are other forces at work as well. Indeed, neo-progs are victims of a particularly insidious form of Islamophobia, a fear of criticizing Islam – a fear well illustrated in the urgency with which they try and silence “insulting” criticism (i.e., all criticism) of Islam. If on the one hand, such fears are physical – look at what happens to those who do criticize Islam – they are also psychological. Neo-progs are afraid of losing their claim to be progressives, of being shunned by the progressive community – a fear which explains why they hasten to call progressives who disagree “neo-cons.”
So tell me what you think, Noam. Are you a neo-prog? And if not, why not?
Some stuff you have to read with your own eyes in order to believe it. Prof. Richard Landes, who writes a pro-Israeli conservative blog named Augene [sic] Stables, is making what seems like a comparative case for Israeli colonialism.
I just posted a piece that was co-authored with Elisa Vandernoot, who offered to help me with my blog while I am distracted working on my book on millennialism. I did not proof-read carefully enough and published a comment that I would neither have written nor should I have allowed it to get published under my name. My apologies to anyone I offended.
From Richard Landes, in reference to criticism of the Netanyahu government’s settlement policy from, among others, yours truly:
Alas, the majority of liberal Jewish journalists and writers like Thomas Friedman, David Remnick and Jeffrey Goldberg don’t have the fortitude, conviction and integrity of their elders. Instead of having independent minds, they have shown themselves to be self-hating.
Actually, that’s not in the context of criticism of Netanyahu’s government settlement policy; it’s in the context of using the settlement policy to blame Israel for the breakdown of the talks. You can be as critical as you want of the settlement policy; I have no problem with that. Indeed much of the criticism makes sense.
But to take the step of blaming it for the failure of the peace process when there are so many far greater obstacles coming from the Palestinian side… that strikes me as both intellectually dishonest, and excessively self-critical, bordering on what I call masochistic omnipotence syndrome. Any serious student of the Arab-Israeli conflict who thinks that the settlements are the main block to a resolution, and that if Israel stopped settlements, indeed uprooted all the settlements including East Jerusalem, that would make the Palestinians eager partners in peace, rather than still more intransigent and eager for war strikes me as self-deluding.
This is sickening rhetoric. People like Landes — who conflate support for Israel with support for settlements — are creating conditions that will ultimately lead to Israel’s disappearance.
Today, what passes for ‘New York Intellectuals’ are writers paid very well associated with big name publications such as the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
Both publications pay their writers well, and their editors and writers on the staff get high salaries, many perks, and have great influence on the culture at large. Both of them, although the NYRB is more similar in its leftism to The Nation, while The New Yorker makes a pretense of being more independent and gives off a pretentious air of would-be objectivity and nuance, runs pieces by people like the discredited Seymour Hersh with regularity, and is outspoken as the single most pro-Obama magazine in existence.
He criticises current editor David Remnick who is both a journalist and writer and the latest, amongst ‘liberal’ thinking Jews to join the fashionable Israeli haters of British Intellectuals. Remnick recently gave an interview to the Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot about his forthcoming book on Obama and decided to take a nasty swipe at Israeli policy in the process:
A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic…How long can you expect that they’ll love unconditionally the place called Israel [sic]? You’ve got a problem. You have the status of an occupier since 1967. It’s been happening for so long that even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.
The latest developments from Silwan, and a brilliant spoof on the MSNM by Latma (below) prompt me to report a conversation I had last summer with a journalist who is the Middle East Correspondent for a major Western news outlet. I was speaking to him about my concern that the MSNM had behaved very badly over the previous decade, much to the detriment, not just of Israel but of the West and societies that try and guarantee the freedom of speech and the press. In particular I emphasized the skewed epistemology whereby they treated Palestinian claims as true until proven false, and Israeli claims as false until proven true, and when the evidence eventually favored the Israelis, they tended to fall silent.
His response was that Israeli complaints (whining) about the media being unfair is like a general who complains about rain on the field of battle. I didn’t bother pursuing the point that in no case does the rain only fall on one army alone. What interested me more was the implication of this (repeated) comment, namely that he (and apparently many others) saw the media as a force of nature, an unalterable force, immune to reason or rebuke. They would just do their thing, and let the Israelis deal with it.
I think that some of this comes from an attitude of sympathy towards the underdog. Bob Simon, in treating the Al Durah story, commented that “in the Middle East, one picture can be worth a thousand weapons.” Over time, a number of journalists (off the record) agreed with the formula: “The Israelis have all the weapons, so why not let the Palestinians have the PR victory? It’s a way of leveling the playing field.”
But what about fake stories? Like Muhammad al Durah? In subsequent years, I heard (especially European/French) journalists shrug and say, weapons of the weak, as if somehow that made it alright. In this sense, Enderlin’s response to my observation that most of the action sequences from Talal abu Rahmah were framed — “Oh, they do that all the time, it’s a cultural thing” — represents the journalist’s off-the-record Orientalist indulgence of a culture foreign to everything that Western journalism is supposed to be about.
Now, I can understand some journalists coming to this conclusion, deciding that somehow the underdog status of the Palestinians allowed them to invent what Nidra Poller has aptly called “lethal narratives” but not everyone. And yet, my friend the journalist (who few would consider a particularly nasty anti-Israel writer) tells me that a majority of the journalists stationed in Israel would be far more harsh in their treatment of Israel were it not for their editors at home.
I think I understand why he presents the MSNM as a force of nature, impermeable to change: they’re going to handicap Israel by raining on their troop positions. It’s not only the “moral” thing to do (level the playing field, side with the underdog), but it’s also a show of power. They will be the Lilliputians that tie the giant Gulliver down.
Talking to him, listening to his reasoning, to his explanations for things (like explaining the precipitous drop in Hamas’ suicide bombings in recent years as a response to the disapproval of Muslims worldwide), to his disappointment that Israel is not more in line with his own liberal/progressive thinking (alas, they reacted to suicide attacks by becoming more right-wing), to his selective empathy, I begin to realize how tight the grip of what Charles Jacobs calls the Human Rights Complex is on our journalists, and their party-buddies, the UN workers and “Human Rights” NGOs who hang together in Jerusalem. It produces the “herd of independent minds” that characterizes today’s Middle East journalism.
And of course, if you adopt this point of view, you never have to deal with the problem of what happens if you report stuff that’s not acceptable to the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims. So they can, in all good conscience, look you straight in the eye and say, “There’s no intimidation here.” Try writing some stories on the culture of genocidal hatred that has pride of place in Palestinian pulpits and airways, and see if there isn’t some pushback.
But then, that would be supplying Israel with PR weapons, and we wouldn’t want that.
All of this is a long and rather elaborate introduction to a brilliant satire put out by Latma on precisely this subject. Enjoy. Imnsho, it’s right on.
In the following post, I’ll discuss two documents, both published in the Boston newspaper, the Jewish Advocate. One, by Charles Jacobs, criticizes the Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick for his interaction with the Muslim American Society in Boston which ends with a short paragraph that mentions a Rabbi, whom Jacobs essentially accuses, along with Patrick of being (in my terminology), “dupes of demopaths.”
The Second is a response by a fairly long list of Rabbis and rabbinical students who find Jacobs criticism as unacceptable. This second piece offers a fascinating insight into the mind of earnest non-Muslims still deeply committed to believing that Islam (which sees them as infidels) is as capable of modern, tolerant reciprocity, just like most Christians and Jews in the USA.
And lest anyone consider me an essentialist for talking about Islam, let me anticipate myself by pointing out that these rabbis, not me and not Charles Jacobs, are the ones incapable of distinguishing various kinds of Islam, of essentializing Islam.
Just days before the Gaza flotilla, Jews were attending to a smaller but more proximate fight: State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is campaigning as an independent for governor, charged that Deval Patrick’s May 22 visit to the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) Saudi-funded Roxbury mega-mosque was a case of “pandering” – and of not taking the threat of terrorism seriously.
In response, the MAS – which is called by federal prosecutors “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America” – gathered a few hundred people at the mosque and did what it does best when critics raise concerns about who are the trustees and what do mosque leaders teach Boston Muslims about Jews, gays, women, Christians and America. The mosque leaders ducked the questions and charged their critics with bigotry. The MAS lambasted Cahill.
As if on cue, media stenographers dutifully took down and reported the bigotry charge against Cahill as though it was obviously true. And, again as if on cue, prominently noted and photographed was kippah-wearing Rabbi Eric Gurvis, hugging Bilal Kaleem, who heads MAS.
The real story is what actually happened during the governor’s visit?
Questions for liberals: What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What does it mean to be a friend of the Palestinians? And should the same standards of friendship apply to Israelis and Palestinians alike, or is there a double standard here as well?
It has become the predictable refrain among Israel’s liberal critics that their criticism is, in fact, the deepest form of friendship. Who but a real friend, after all, is willing to tell Israel the hard truths it will not tell itself? Who will remind Israel that it is now the strong party, and that it cannot continue to play the victim and evade the duties of moral judgment and prudential restraint? Above all, who will remind Israel that it cannot go on denying Palestinians their rights, their dignity, and a country they can call their own?
The answer, say people like Peter Beinart, formerly of the New Republic, is people like . . . Peter Beinart. And now that Israel has found itself in another public relations hole thanks to last week’s raid on the Gaza flotilla, Israelis will surely be hearing a lot more from him.
Of course, Beinart is just the current poster-boy. (I still haven’t fisked him, although is article cries out for it. One of the best responses was Noah Pollak’s. But the real flotilla of liberal “friends” is at J-Street.
Now consider what it means for liberals to be friends of the Palestinians.
[The following is a transcript of a talk I gave at a conference on Intellectuals and Terror, a month ago. I held back publishing it because I wanted to give some good examples. The Flotilla offers precisely that “in spades.” I will add links later on.]
The article with footnotes has now been published by
Special Issue: The Intellectuals and Terror: A Fatal Attraction
Lenin allegedly referred to Western intellectuals who so supported the communist experiment that they disguised its horrors from the West as “useful idiots,” because their idiotic romantic attachment to communist dreams made them highly useful allies in deceiving the West and preventing it from opposing the Soviet Union when it was still vulnerable.
Today observers use the term to describe liberal intellectuals who enjoy freedom and prosperity, yet undermine both by giving moral and material support to revolutionary movements hostile to such bourgeois values. But that’s actually a mild accusation against useful idiocy. By covering up the engineered famines in Ukraine and in China, by dismissing evidence of the Gulag Archipelago or the Cambodian killing fields, all of which killed tens, even hundreds of millions of people, useful idiots have been responsible for aiding and abetting the terrifying death machines.
Given that history itself revealed that they had been dupes of the most staggering sort, even such brilliant ones as George Bernard Shaw and Jean-Paul Sartre lost their credibility. One would think, therefore, that with the lessons of the last century still fresh in our minds, these memories would immunize us to the appeal of useful idiocy in the late 20th, early 21st century.
A fortiori, one would expect the wisdom so painfully gained in the course of the 20th to insulate the West from serving as useful idiots to a revolutionary movement with none of the idealistic appeal of communism, but rather with a record of regressive, gynophobic, authoritarian, and nihilistic traits that virtually guarantee that any success such a movement might have would be a catastrophe for those so unfortunate to have these revolutionaries “liberate” them.
So why would a late 20th century progressive sympathize with, support, run interference, even lie and deceive, for a movement that manifested all the worst traits of totalitarian megadeath from the 20th century – the cult of death, the embrace of nihilism, paranoia, and genocidal hate-mongering? At least the fellow travelers of the early and mid-20th century had a noble ideal for which they carried out their campaigns of misinformation. But now, we have intellectuals from a wide range of fields running interference for Islam, even in its most regressive forms.
And of course, at this asymmetrical stage in the war that Global Jihad wages against the West, nothing is more critical to the capacity of Jihad to mobilize – to recruit, indoctrinate, train, and deploy – its forces than a cognitive victory in which its targets in the West are kept in the dark about its real intentions. And given the yeoman job that apologists like John Esposito, Noah Feldman and Juan Cole perform in this sense, I think it worthwhile to use the expression “useful infidel” for this new breed of fellow travelers. Nothing is more useful to Jihadi ambitions to subject the entire world to Sharia than non-Muslim intellectuals who insist that Islam is a religion of peace that is perfectly consonant with democracy, and that the terrorists represent a tiny, marginal, deviation from true Islam.
I want to argue that this astonishing paradox – Islamic Jihad is the last thing one would expect reasonable, progressive intellectuals to support – strips away the pretence of naïve good intentions that the older “useful idiot” used to plead. Once we confront the “irrationality” of useful infidelity, and realize the urgency of trying to understand a phenomenon that pushes us in the direction of cultural, even civilizational suicide, we must confront the underlying (self-destructive) emotions.
Demopaths and their Dupes
It seems to me that the phenomenon of useful idiocy revolves around a particularly dysfunctional relationship, that between demopath and dupe. Demopaths arise in response to democratic cultures, which they target in a cognitive war suited only to assaults on such societies, that is, ones that embrace principles of a human right to freedom. They themselves embrace authoritarian principles of dominion by force, what Lee Smith has chronicled so chillingly in his latest book, The Strong Horse. Their line of attack: “you (democratic target) do not live up to your commitments; and in particular, you violate our (demopathic belligerent) rights in preventing us from participating in your democracy.”
Eugene Ionesco’s play, The Rhinoceros, has a lot of insights relevant to the “peace camp” and to people starring in the field of “international human rights advocacy” and “peace” advocacy. I think the term rhinoceros or qarnaf [קרנף] in Hebrew fits richard richard goldstone rather well. He’s a rhino in Ionesco’s sense. He is morally insensitive. He is an opportunist. He is devoid of scruples in his field of endeavor. He serves as his master’s voice. He has masters as he indicated by saying that he really didn’t want to take on the assignment. But he is part of a movement and/or a gang and cannot refuse, no more than a mafioso can refuse an assignment. He is expected to comply. His field of endeavor, his assigned task, is to pose as a highly moral man while acting immorally. He puts on the pose of a man of conscience, of a serious man. But he is shallow. He has a weak conscience.
Ionesco’s play referred to what happened in Vichy France as normal, relatively decent people became corrupted by favors, by receiving positions giving them power over other people, by the opportunity to bully others, etc. These people became like the thick-skinned, supposedly insensitive rhino in Ionesco’s metaphor. Unfortunately, the rhino metaphor can describe what is happening throughout the world, including the civilized world.
I ran this by my friend and associate (who considers himself extreme left), and his response was interesting. Many of Ionesco’s rhinos knew they were unprincipled. They openly sided with power and, as Eliyahu points out, were devoid of scruples. Goldstone, he argued, is full of fine thoughts, a beautiful soul who thinks much of himself. He struts on the stage as a moral voice. He’s a peacock.
But, I objected, beneath this veneer lies the heart (and hide) of a rhino. He is thick skinned in the sense that nothing can penetrate to even give him pause. (it is interesting that self-criticism is just not part of his repertoire. He’s admitted no mistakes, even as he expect – no, demands – that Israel bear its breast in public.)
He has his ideas, some public – the importance of the ICC and the human rights movement – and some private – Israel should be held to a higher standard – and it really doesn’t matter to him whether they contradict each other, whether the way he proceeds will work, or destroy his work. As long as that chorus keeps singing his praises, he’s not going to give an inch. The peacock feathers are the cloak of high moral-mindedness that Goldstone and so many others – including journalists – adopt, even as they pursue a rhino’s goals.
The reports coming from the “human rights community” in which at both HRW and AI, dissent is systematically throttled, suggests that this is a breeding ground of peacock rhinos.
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it; or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.