Category Archives: Palestinian Culture

Israeli Responses to Paris Attacks and European Cognitive Disarray

This piece is published at Tablet Magazine.

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

What’s needed is more tribalism, not less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Radical Thoughts on Fighting BDS

I was just on a panel at the IDC Herzliya Conference about BDS and Europe. [My remarks made to the panel treated BDS as a cogwar campaign to destroy Israel, one of the most coveted desires of the apocalyptic millennial set (and many other Arabs and Muslims, alas).]

This is the second such discussion I’ve been in (the previous one, on Wednesday past is here in French), and below are some of the thoughts they both have inspired.

If Others Think It’s Our Fault, It Is.

People who identify themselves as “left” consistently pooh-pooh the problem on the one hand, and then turn around to say, “and if we [Israel] weren’t so bad, if our behavior didn’t seem so close to South African apartheid, then we wouldn’t be having these problems.” So on the one hand, “it’s not a big deal,” and on the other hand, “it’s our fault.”

Of course what they mean by “our fault,” is not their fault, but the “right’s” fault – Bibi, Hotovely, Bennett, the settlements, the occupation, and any other Israeli action that provokes anger among outsiders, whether they be Arab or Western. “As long as the ‘right’ keeps talking and acting the way it does, it’s impossible to win the fight against BDS. If we uprooted the settlements, then the BDS advocates wouldn’t find so sympathetic an audience.” To paraphrase Roland Freudenstein, a foreign panelist, most sympathetic to Israel, “explain and defend everything you do, including the wall, including the occupation. But building settlements?!? Seriously, Settlements?!”

As for disagreements with figures like Obama and Kerry, their perception, even if false, trumps our sense of reality. One Israeli panelist at the IDC actually dismissed the Levy Commission’s ruling on the legality of the settlements, by invoking Ban Ki Moon, “certainly no anti-Semite” (and also, no lawyer). The invocation of Moon was not about legal reasoning, but about international perception. If that’s the way the world thinks, don’t fight it. If the world sees the settlements as an illegal move that prevents peace, then it’s up to Israel to bend. As one of my (former) colleagues once said to me during the early years of the intifada, “I support Israel, but Sharon! ShaRON!.”

The situation, as I see it, is the opposite. It’s not the right that’s responsible for the loss to BDS, but the progressive left, which should have won this particular battle against the demonization of Israel handily. Indeed, the attitude of submission that it argues we Israelis should take – if the “vast majority” (apparently a favorite meme in more than one place) believes we shouldn’t have settlements, then so be it – is the reason why progressives have folded in the face of aggressive Islamist demands. 

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.

Four Dimensional Jews, Two Dimensional Muslims: Fisking Rabbi Daniel Landes

I do the following fisking with some reluctance. Daniel Landes is a cousin and friend, whom I love and deeply admire. But this piece illustrates too many of the fundamental errors of a “liberal” Judaism attempting to solve problems that are clearly beyond its ken. So, alas, the following.

End the conflict – a Jewish imperative

We must not allow the messianisms of the religious right to cloud the call from our greatest religious authorities to return the territories, for the sake of saving life.

By Rabbi Daniel Landes | 17:52 07.04.14 |  1

For the religious Zionist Jew who wishes to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational way, the hardest act is to shake off the messianisms that envelop his society – ranging from overt and imminent “end-time” scenarios, to the hazy metaphor of the “beginning of the dawn of our salvation.”

Of course, it also behooves anyone trying to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational [sic] way, to become aware of the messianisms that envelop Israel’s enemies. Anyone who has not read at least one of the following, has no business discussing the conflict between Israel and its “neighbors” in terms of messianic tendencies.

Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (New York: Praeger, 2005)

Laurent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (New York: Oxford, 2006);

David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008);

Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (NY: Oxford University Press), chap. 14;

Jean Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).

This of course doesn’t even begin to get at the literature on groups like Hamas, who are “near” enemies, and whose apocalyptic delirium places them at the heart of the most dangerous form of apocalyptic belief: active cataclysmic (i.e., we are the agents of the catastrophic destruction that must cleanse the world of evil). That form of apocalyptic belief has, in the past, caused mega-deaths on the scale of tens of millions (Heaven on Earth, chaps 7 (Taiping, ca. 35 million), chap. 11 (Bolshevik, ca. 50 million), chap. 12 (Nazism, ca. 40 million), not to mention Maoism (ca. 70 million).

I think that any comparison of Jewish and Islamic messianism (I prefer the term millennialism), makes it clear that Jews have a far more extensive fire-wall against apocalyptic outbreaks, especially violent ones, than do the current generation of Muslims. It’s almost grotesque to blame our current impasse on Jewish messianists. Like so many people motivated by a belief that the solution to this conflict is somehow “in our hands,” Rabbi Landes is willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace (or even just to save lives). The tragedy here is that the only thing standing between the awful situation of “occupation” and the vastly more horrible situation of Jihadi civil war (à la Syria), is Israel’s continued control of the the West Bank. Painful sacrifices for peace is one thing, painful sacrifices that empower the worst kind of war, is quite another.

What they share and engender is an optimistic feeling of ultimate victory and security. We are assured that the Jews’ political failure and physical catastrophe is as finished as the Galut (Exile). But in the actual psyche of the religious Zionist, the persistently suppressed horror of that past repeating itself propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled to a secular rightwing ideology promising salvation by standing ‘strong’ and ‘proud’, that is confirmed by our increasing isolation.

Of course, we have left-wing variants of this misplaced messianic hope and confidence, expressed, for example, in J-Street and everything to its left (Olive Tree Initiative, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.), who think that the genocidal threat against Jews is over, and all we have to do to appease the Arab/Muslim hatred of Jews is to give back the “territories” and then we’ll have Peace. This vision of a post-modern world in which we’ve all left behind the madness and superstition of the pre-modern world propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled with a secular left-wing ideology promising salvation by being ‘generous’ and ‘peace-loving’ and ‘accommodating’. You know, “tikkun olam” in support of BDS.

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.

Notice at the Jeu de Paume in Response to the Controversy about “Phantom Homes”

A major controversy roils French “high culture” these days concerning an exhibit at the Jeu de Paume museum (where, in the old days – my youth – the Impressionists used to be housed). Called Phantom Home, the exhibit displays the photography of a Bedouin Israeli woman named Ahlam Shibli, the central part of which is dedicated to photographing the way Palestinian society honors and celebrates the “martyrs” of their “resistance” to the Israeli “occupation.” A tastefully done series – not a hint of the blood these “martyrs” shed when blowing themselves up in public places in Israel, often chosen for the high incidence of children – it has nonetheless stirred controversy among “Pro-Israel” figures who object to its content. In response, the Minister of Culture has asked the Museum to put up a notice explaining that the exhibit’s text was provided by the artist and not the museum.

This is the text of the notice, which appears in several places of the exhibit.

To avoid misunderstandings, the Jeu de Paume wishes to make it clear that the artist Ahlam Shibli’s series Death, a work centered on images, in neither propaganda, nor an apology for terrorism.

As the artist herself explains, “I am not a militant. My work is to show, not to denounce or to judge.”

Death explores the way in which dead or imprisoned Palestinians – “martyrs,” according to the term that Ahlam Shibli reuses – are represented in public and private spaces (posters and graffiti in the streets, inscriptions on tombs, shrines and mementos inside homes, etc.), thereby regaining a presence in their community.

All the photographs in this series are accompanied by captions written by the artist that are inseparable from the images.

It would be harder to find a better illustration of the surrealistic doubletalk that the French have so grown accustomed to, that they don’t even realize how absurd they sound. Okay, ceci n’est pas une pipe, but a drawing of une pipe. This is not propaganda, it’s photographs of war propaganda: virtually every martyr hero appears with his weaponry; the partisan (and deeply misleading) language of “resistance” to “occupation” of “disappeared” or “imprisoned” fathers of families defines the presentation.

Whatever Shibli claims about herself, she’s heavily judgmental – her fellow Bedouins who joined the IDF are selling out their souls to the occupier in order to get a comfortable home, the French who suffered the Nazi occupation turned around and fought to occupy Indochina and Algeria, while her “martyrs” get not one word of disapproval for targeting children.

Far from distancing themselves from the text of Shibli’s exhibition, the curators actually confirmed them.

Alas, poor France, I knew her well.

Why is the peace settlement that’s so obvious, so elusive?

Well intentioned people like John Kerry cannot understand why it’s so hard to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, despite the fact that “everyone knows” what the eventual settlement will be, and, in the opinion of one BBC reporter, “it could be solved with an email.”

Many, frustrated with the lack of movement towards so obvious and mutually beneficial a goal, tend to blame Israel. This includes not only hard-line anti-Israelis like Walt, Mearsheimer, and Carter, but also good liberals like the editors and op-ed writers at the NYT, Peter Beinart at Open Zion, and all the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbyists at J-Street. Indeed, at the talk I gave at the Association of Isreal Studies last month, most of the objections centered on my changing the subject from the real problem, “the settlements.”

And, unquestionably, the Israelis are pretty reluctant to make the concessions these well-intentioned people urge upon them, often as thinly veiled threats in the form of eventual boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This reluctance, critics readily attribute to the irredentist desire of the religious zealots who have settled what they call Judea and Samaria and want to hold onto the them, which certainly is one factor, among a relatively small minority in Israel (certainly not an electoral majority).

What makes their arguments hold water with the larger population of Israelis, most of whom would be willing to give up the West Bank in exchange for peace, is the pervasive evidence that the Palestinians would use whatever territory they got not, as J-Street assures us, to build a peaceful nation of their own, but as a launching pad for further attacks… in other words the “Phased Plan” for the destruction of Israel, formally adopted by the PLO in 1974 (after the one stage destruction failed decisively), and never repealed (despite the Oslo “Peace Process” obligation to do so and the assurance of many journalists that they had done so).

To have an insight into what the evidence that Palestinian culture is pervasively hostile to any kind of peace with the Israelis that leaves them any piece of the land “from the river to the sea,” one needs above all to look at the culture of incitement that brainwashes Palestinian youth to hatred. And in addition to a formal “incitement index” established by the Israeli government, one can find good examples of the hate-mongering, genocidal discourse that passes for a Palestinian culture at Palestinian Media Watch.

For only the most recent example of this grotesque phenomenon, see below:

Little girls on PA TV:
Jews are the “most evil among creations,
barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,”
condemned to “humiliation and hardship”

Note the language of “humiliation” which is the fate of all dhimmi, and which Israelis, by definition, and unacceptably, escape.

by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

Palestinian Authority TV continues to promote Islam-based hate speech and Antisemitism, voiced by little children. In this latest example, two sisters recited a poem that included the following demonization of Jews:

“You who murdered Allah’s pious prophets (i.e., Jews in Islamic tradition)
Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood
You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship
Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations
Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.”

The poem also taught that Jerusalem is not for Jews, because Jerusalem “vomits” out the Jews who are said to be “filth” and “impure”:
“Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity
Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate
And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.”

Palestinian Media Watch has documented previous examples of hate speech and Antisemitism voiced by children on official PA TV, including:

For more examples click here.

The following is the transcript of the poem recited by the little girls on the PA TV program Palestine This Morning:

PA TV reporter: “Let’s meet these girls who want to recite a short poem.”
Girl 1: “I do not fear the rifle because your throngs are in delusion and ignorant herds.
Jerusalem is my land, Jerusalem is my honor
Jerusalem is my days and my wildest dreams.
Oh, you who murdered Allah’s pious prophets (i.e., Jews in Islamic tradition)
Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood
You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship.
Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations
Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs
Girl 2: Jerusalem is not your den
Jerusalem opposes your throngs
Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity
Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate
And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.
I do not fear barbarity.
As long as my heart is my Quran and my city
As long as I have my arm and my stones
As long as I am free and do not barter my cause
I will not fear your throngs
I will not fear the rifle.”
[Official Palestinian Authority TV, July 3, 2013]

The Moral Chasm and the Pursuit of Peace

UPDATE on the moral chasm: David Brog, “A Tale of Two Hearts

Recently an Israeli blogger translated a piece by a young Israeli journalist who participated in what was supposed to be a “peace initiative” with Palestinian young adults. She is a classic product of Israeli culture, engaged, open, desirous of peace even if that means painful compromises, Liberal Cognitive Egocentric. This recent encounter with her Palestinian counterparts brought her face-to-face with her LCE.

Her pained realizations reminded me of one of Golda Meir’s many profound reflections on the conflict.

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

There’s a moral chasm here so great that even contemplating it becomes unbearable. So what do outsiders do with this chasm? They invert it.

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future

by Lital Shemesh

I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”

The comparison that Palestinians like to make between the Shoah (which did not happen) and the Nakbah reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comment as the 2000 year old man: “Tragedy to me is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care.” Only, they care.

I’m not saying that the Nakba was not a tragedy, but in comparison with other tragedies that have befallen the Arabs in this area – “Black September 1970, Hama, 1982, Syria, 2010-13 – what happened in 1948 is not exactly of epic proportions. And, of course, who is responsible for this tragedy?

Empathy for the other is clearly not an element of this culture of blame and revenge. The injury must be paid for, and the injured (the Arabs) restored to their former honor (no autonomous Jews to deal with).

In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

Ah, but you don’t understand, my dear. You and your fellow Israelis – indeed your fellow infidels – are not innocent.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

The significance here is less the vengeful attitude of the speaker than the assent he produced among his fellow Palestinians. In honor-shame cultures, where vengeance is an honorable deed, the ability of people to dissent from such desires is limited, to say the least.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Here’s the progressive, integrity-guilt attitude shared my most Israelis. This is not an isolated case; on the contrary, it’s a national ethos, that not only does not seek vengeance, but, wherever possible, to repair the rent in the body social created by earlier violence. Israel’s hospitals are models of fairness to Jew, Christian, Arab, Muslim. If anything, some might think that treating a terrorist in the same place and with the same care as his or her victims, is going too far.

Take just one example among many. The parents of Malki Roth, founded the Malki Foundation in response her “senseless” slaughter in a Palestinian suicide attack on a pizza parlor chosen specifically to kill as many children as possible. It is dedicated helping special needs children. 30% of the cases it treats are Arab children.

The shocking thing here, is that the “progressives,” in supporting the Palestinian cause, have essentially “gone native,” not so much in their own desire to take vengeance (?), but their radical inability to make even a dent in the tribal attitudes of those whom they support. After 13 years of “solidarity” with the Palestinians, Human Rights NGOs, journalists, UN agencies, have not only failed to communicate even the most elemental principles of a progressive attitude and the peace it can lead to, but have done precisely the opposite: they have infantilized, they have fed the resentments, they have played the picador.

In doing so, they have demonstrated the moral vacuity of a major post-modern meme. If Palestinians want to blow up Israeli civilians because it assuages their pain… “who are we to judge?” And when that kind of insane violence grows with this kind of malignant neglect, even spreads to other societies, then it must be because of something the Israelis did to those poor Palestinians.

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

Note that this material has been available to anyone online for decades. MEMRI and PalWatch provide precisely the translations needed. But somehow, people like Lital – i.e., an up and coming major journalist – seems unaware. Has she spent her time reading A.B. Yehoshua and dismissing them as the product of “right-wing” war-mongers?

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

Welcome to reality. There’s good news and there’s bad.

The bad news is that until the Palestinians grow up, there will be no peace, and that, at the moment, land concessions actually make things worse. And they won’t grow up as long as their “honor group” consists of other Arabs who live in fantasy worlds and they get support from “progressives” who think that they’re being brave and honorable by supporting their vengeful mentality.

The first Arab leader to wean his people from their scape-goating anti-Zionism will create the first productive, democratic Arab state. May it happen swiftly, in our days.

The good news is that if the West, and especially progressives in the West, would snap out of this “performance” of moral vanity in which we act as if we have no enemies in order to be “true to our values,” and begin to rebuke the Palestinians – and the Arabs, and the Muslims, for behavior that really is, by modern standards, shameful, we could make a lot of progress.

But alas! Palestinians made a cult of their suicide bombers, sanctifying their violence, commemorating it in every way. They even made a papier-mâché recreation of the Sbarro Pizza bombing at the moment of the bomb’s impact, so people could come and savor the Schadenfreude. That exhibit is father to the son who says, “If G-d forbid something should happen to my child, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” And what if his  child were killed by a Palestinian militia, as we can now document happens not infrequently? Will he burn a Palestinian city? This testifies to a complete failure of the international community to hold the Palestinians to even the most limited set of standards. They are not only the queen of welfare nations, they are the king of moral affirmative action.

Westerners need to contemplate the moral chasm that separates Israeli and the Palestinians culture, make up their minds who is on the side of the progressive values that they (say they) cherish, and say to the Palestinians, as it needs to say to Muslims: Where are the voices of moral outrage in your community? Where are the projects and programs you have to respond to such grotesque interpretation of morality? Where is your commitment to humanity and your willingness to outgrow your need for tribal revenge?

I’d like to believe that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, really moderate. I think that could even happen with a shift in the honor-group. But right now, the world community supports the (near) worst a society can produce, people whose moral discourse we would not accept even in the most permissive community, a community that pressures members to kill their daughters. They embody everything upon whose rejection we have built the world that allows us to dream messianic dreams about a global civil society.

We need to stop feeding these folks with and look for the real moderates, those willing to accept that, in matters of faith there is no coercion, and build a community of tolerant faithful.

And one of the first things to do, is stop adopting a demonizing narrative about Israel that empowers the worst tendencies and actors in Palestinian/Arab/Muslim political culture. That’s actually doable. And it’s definitely in the interest of the West to say to Palestinians and Muslims, “you need to get along with the Israelis, with the Jews.” You can’t be so juvenile as to say, “I refuse to deal with these people.”

So that’s the good news: we Western liberals can start now contributing to peace, and we can actually lead the way. Prizes for the most important and successful delivery of progressive tochacha to Palestinians and Muslims. What a virgin field!

Al Durah “lives” in the Palestinian justification for terror

Here’s a fascinating exchange between a Jawwad Muhammad Amawwi, chief legal counsel of the Palestinian Prisoners Affairs Ministry and Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office on Arabic TV. (HT: Hadar Selah)

In particular, watch from 8:30, how the Palestinian spokesman uses Al Durah to accuse Israel for doing what the Palestinians do, namely, targeting children.

An ABI Response to President Obama’s Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

I wrote years ago about Condoleeza Rice’s liberal cognitive egocentrism vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and I had planned to fisk the President’s speech to the Israeli students/people during his last visit and Fareed Zakaria’s typically adoring account of that misreading, in precisely these terms. Lacking the time, American-born Israeli Shoshanna Jaskoll’s excellent response will have to do.

Here’s the President telling us we need to take a positive-sum attitude towards the Palestinians, when it’s the miserably zero-sum Palestinian attitude he should be addressing. But then, that’s so far from finding a receptive audience that, apparently, it struck him as more “meaningful” to lecture Jewish Israelis on an attitude they already have deeply embedded in their culture and, alas, from which they have suffered much during the “Oslo Process”, than to begin a conversation with Palestinians about something so far from their cultural priorities that it would be like speaking a foreign language to them.

Mr. President, next time stick to the script.

MARCH 22, 2013, 1:10 PM
Shoshanna Jaskoll
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is an American Israeli, mom, dreamer, nonprofit consultant, lover of chocolate and seeker of truth… [More]

In his address to Israelis yesterday, President Obama spoke of Israel’s achievements, its history and its right to security. All the things an expat wants to hear from the President of her native land about her chosen one.

So, when Obama said that he was going ‘off script’ I expected some spontaneous and sincere observation or thought he’d had while traveling the country that he just had to share. But what I heard left me literally slackjawed and yelling at the computer in front of my children.

The President spoke of meeting young Palestinians and said, “I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with these kids, they’d say, ‘I want these kids to succeed, I want them to prosper, I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do.”

Mr. President, Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is your message to and about millions of Israelis who live this daily?  You came here to give us the epiphany that we should “put ourselves in their shoes” and tell us that you truly believe that if only we could listen to them, we would want Palestinian kids to prosper and have the same opportunities as ours?  Aside from wondering exactly which opportunities you are referring to – surely not air raid sirens, rockets and PTSD, army at 18, fear of being blown up by a terrorist – the implication that we do not already think of their children is horrifically offensive because frankly, nothing could be further from the truth.

As parents of children who are all drafted at age 18, no one wants peace and prosperity for all children of the region more than Israelis. No one wants all kids to have the advantages, options, and fun of youth without thinking of war more than us. The idea that it is our lack of identifying with these kids, our not feeling that they should have the same opportunities as our children, our not wanting them to prosper, that is holding up peace is not only ridiculous, but it is practically libelous.

It is also dangerous. It is dangerous because it places the blame and responsibility for lack of peace on our supposed lack of empathy. It is dangerous because it does not put the blame on those whose job it is  to secure these kids’ future.  It is dangerous because it is overly simplistic and pie in the sky – and that does not bring peace.

You, yourself spoke of all that Israel has done to secure peace, from actual deals with Sadat and Hussein to deals offered to – and rejected by – the Palestinians.

The answer to peace does not lie in Israeli parents wanting good things for Palestinian children. It lies with Palestinian leaders wanting them.

As Golda Meir put it so pithily, so many years ago:

When the Palestinians love their children more than they hate ours, we’ll have peace.

Still so true. And what have you – liberals, progressives, and all the people who pretend to love positive-sum outcomes done to bring the Palestinians around from their revolting priorities? Not Fareed Zakaria, whose comment on the President’s speech takes the offensive quality to new heights:

Oratory aside, Obama has recognized and employed the strongest — and perhaps only — path toward peace and a Palestinian state: an appeal to Israel’s conscience.

And Palestinian conscience? That’s not even a player in this process? Racism anyone?

The Nakba, Syrian vs. Palestinian: Inverse HRC and the Marriage of Post-Modern Masochism and Pre-Modern Sadism

The Human Rights Complex describes the masochistic tendency of Western “human rights” activists to blame themselves for everything and to let the “people of color” off the hook: if you want to know what will get the “human rights community” indignant, look not at the victim or how badly that victim suffers, but at the perp: white? outrage, of color? embarrassed silence.

It turns out there’s an inverse version of this: if you want to look at what will get the Arab world indignant, look not at the victim or how badly the victim suffers, but at the perp: white (a fortiori Jewish)? outrage, of color (a fortiori Arab) shameless silence.

This is like the cold war joke about the American and the Russian arguing about freedom of speech: “In America, I can stand on the White House lawn and call the president of the USA a fool, and not get arrested.” To which the Russian responds, “So can I.” And it describes to perfection the sick marriage of pre-modern sadism – you’re guilty of everything we wish we could do” – and post-modern masochism – “we’re so sorry, please forgive us.”

Take the Nakbah (catastrophe). To Palestinians today, it represents a real-world catastrophe – the terrible, Holocaust-level tragedy that befell their people in 1948 during the first Arab-Israeli war (for Israelis, the “War of Independence”), during which about 3000 Palestinians were killed and some half a million refugees fled. To others, it represents a psychological catastrophe the horrifying global humiliation of seven Arab armies defeated by a rag-tag army of the worst of the dhimmi — Jews, the weaklings and cowards of 1400 years of Muslim tradition.

Compare with the current catastrophe befalling Syria today: 70,000 killed (and counting), and over a million refugees (and over 4 million internally displaced). In real-world terms, this is a vastly greater catastrophe than the “Nakbah” of 1948. And yet, it barely registers in the minds of the pro-Palestinian camp, who still swarm over Western campuses yearly complaining of a “crime” committed over two generations ago. They’re like the Mel Brooks (2000-year-old man) joke about the difference between comedy and tragedy: “Tragedy is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care?”

When I suggested at an “Israel Apartheid” talk at BU that complaining about red-tape in East Jerusalem was a bit inappropriate given the real bloodshed next door, I got accused of “Assadwashing” in the pages of the Electronic Intifada.

That the Palestinian leadership is full of self-absorbed narcissists who refuse to be distracted from attacking the enemy that has shamed them in the eyes of the world, no matter how comparatively ludicrous the claims of real-world damage, is, perhaps, understandable. But that the supporters of the Palestinians would share that obsession, rather than help them grow up… that’s problematic, especially since their alleged supporters are supposedly “progressives,” rather than useful infidels.

Alas for the Palestinians, whose artificially-prolonged suffering and Arab-inflicted humiliation is all too real.

Response to Norman Gellman on Empathy for the Palestinian People

A recent post of mine elicited from Norman I. Gellman the following response which, after a short remark on the post, became a coherent argument which, I think, deserves a serious response:

Like Daniel Gordis, Richard Landes makes entirely too much of an expression of sympathy for the people of Gaza.

I read Gordis’s critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous’s remarks. Where he saw moral equivalency and therefore the elevation of universalism as a greater value than solidarity with fellow Jews, I saw a recognition — which I believe is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY — that there are “rights” on both sides. Raining missiles on Israel is not any kind of right. Ordinary Palestinians should, however, enjoy the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (in our peculiarly American formulation).

So why should it apply to them? There is no country in the Arab world that comes anywhere near these rights. Indeed, many places in the world, most prominently in the Arab world, find the effort to assure these rights for everyone as a direct threat to their notion of their rights (which are those of dominators).

Both the people of Israel and the ordinary Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank deserve to live and to seek to prosper under their own flag.

You’ve now used this term twice. What does “ordinary Palestinians” mean? The people who voted for Hamas? The people who regret that they (or their neighbors) voted for Hamas, but don’t have the courage to admit it to our (largely clueless) reporters? The people that sincerely tell reporters they like Hamas?

Is “ordinary Palestinians” your abstract category of folks on the “other side” on whom you feel comfortable projecting liberal mindsets, people who are “just like you and me?” Is this a version of “the vast majority of Palestinians want peace, it’s just the extremists who don’t?

Hamas is the enemy, not the people who become collateral damage when Israel retaliates.

If you have read any of my previous posts on these matters, you’ll know that I think that their damage is not collateral but intended and sought after by Hamas, a strategy that can only work if the West accepts their narrative in which Israel gets blamed. Your formulation, especially in the context of the Gazan’s “rights” focuses way too much on the Israelis. The impediment to their “deserv[ing] to live and seek[ing] to prosper under their own flag” is not Israel, which would like nothing better than to have a neighbor similarly in pursuit of such mutually beneficial prosperity. Hamas is as responsible for the inability of Palestinians to exercise/enjoy their rights as it is for the “collateral” damage caused to their own people.

There will never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians until each side tries to understand the narrative of the other.

Humiliating Slip in Hamas’ Cannibalistic Cognitive War Strategy: Haniyah and Kandil Kiss Baby Hamas Killed

Humiliating Slip in Hamas’ Cannibalistic Cognitive War Strategy: Haniyah and Kandil Kiss Baby Hamas Killed

Here’s a classic. Let’s start with the ghoulish display of sorrow over the body of a dead boy, allegedly killed by Israeli bombing. It’s aimed right at the heart of a someone like Annie Lennox who, upon seeing bombs falling on Gaza immediately imagines Palestinian babies on the receiving end, rather than Hamas militants targeting Israeli babies. And, of course, the news media snatch up the photo-op.

Haniya and Egyptian PM Kandil mugging for the cameras Remember this from Kafr Qana, Lebanon, July 30, 2006: Green Helmet Guy with dusty baby and clean baby toy clip, July 30, 2006. And, of course, the media run with the story. It’s all so obvious. Boy dead from explosion, Israelis bombing Gaza. As the Palestinian “general” in charge of the investigation of Al Durah’s death put it, “there’s no need to investigate when we know who did it. But wait, what about the evidence, asks Elder of Baker Street?

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.

Judith Butler, the Adorno Prize, and the Moral State of the “Global Left”

The following is a long version of a response to Judith Butler that will appear in various forms at other sites, including SPME. This version is here either for those who enjoy my overwrought prose, of those who find that the logic of edited versions elsewhere is interrupted by the cuts.

Judith Butler’s feelings are hurt because some professors who claim they’re for “peace in the Middle East,” have criticized her and openly called on the Adorno Committee to withdraw the Prize that they have announced would be offered to her this year, on Adorno’s birthday, 9-11. Stung by the criticism, Butler responded at the site of the notoriously anti-Israel Jewish blog, Mondoweiss. in her defense. The defense illustrates every aspect of the problem with Butler’s approach to the criticism of her work, including the folly of German intellectuals to raise her up as a heroic example.

The criticism of her receiving the Adorno prize involves the following three points: 1) Her criticism of Israel for violations of (her) moral standards is exceptionally harsh, even though she has very little to say about exceptionally harsh violations among Israel’s enemies. 2) She has taken this moral imbalance from mere rhetoric to determined action, supporting extensive and punishing academic boycotts of Israel (e.g., Kafka archive should not go to Hebrew University). And 3) she enables and encourages virulent anti-Semitism both in this participation in BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and in identifying some of the worst offenders where that ancient hatred is concerned (Hamas and Hizbullah) as part of the “progressive, global, Left.”

Her response was a long, rambling, self-defense (2000 words) in which she systematically misrepresents the critique, and shields herself by claiming the status of a suffering victim of a vicious attack that deeply hurt her feelings.

Acemoglu and Robinson contrast culture with institutions

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, co-authors of Why Nations Fail have weighed in on the “culture debate.” It’s a curious comment because it seems to misunderstand the culture argument (like Diamond and Zakaria), even as it uses data that supports that argument, and then concludes by swerving in a completely unsupported direction – surprise surprise – against Romney.

We were doing so well. Writing about economics and politics for the last five months here without once mentioning the US presidential race. But it’s all over. Mitt Romney has given us no choice, wading into the debate about the origins of inequality and prosperity around the world.

Here is what Mitt says:

I was thinking this morning as I prepared to come into this room of a discussion I had across the country in the United States about my perceptions about differences between countries. And as you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.

He continues:

Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things. One, I recognize the hand of Providence in selecting this place.

Mitt Romney also identifies the origins of his thinking as David Landes’s The Wealth and Poverty of Nations  and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (though presumably not the origin of his numbers, which are incorrect; the gap between per capita in Israel and West Bank and Gaza is about tenfold).

Well actually, Jared Diamond doesn’t say much about culture. In fact, his thesis is about how geographic and ecological conditions led to the differential development paths and prosperity among otherwise identical peoples. In fact his theory would predict that Israelis and Palestinians should have identical levels of prosperity.

Actually Romney cites Diamond to contrast him with Landes along precisely these lines.

Zakaria on Capitalism vs. Culture: Master of the Question mal posée

As part of a series of posts about the recent “culture-counts” flap, I’m tackling some of the (many) articles weighing in on the subject, partly as a way of clarifying the meaning of the “culture” argument for those who, for reasons well worth exploring, cannot abide it, partly as a way to address the classic problem of most social “science”, the badly posed question that sets up an unnecessary, even misleading antinomy – this, not that.

I begin with a high profile target, Fareed Zakaria, who ought to reread his own brilliant piece right after 9-11 on why Arab countries had so much trouble adjusting to modernity.

Capitalism, not culture, drives economies

By Fareed Zakaria, Thursday, August 2, 1:40 AM

Mitt Romney has explained that his comments abroad were simply truth-telling. “I tend to tell people what I actually believe,” he said. With regard to one much-debated comment — on the cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians — many agree with him. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and columnists including Marc A. Thiessen and John Podhoretz all applauded. Podhoretz wrote: “Anyone who publicizes his remark is helping Romney win the election.”

“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said at a fundraiser in Israel, comparing the country’s economic vitality to Palestinian poverty. Certainly there is a pedigree for this idea. Romney cited David Landes, an economics historian. He could have cited Max Weber, the great German scholar who first made this claim 100 years ago in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” which argued that Protestant values were the most important fuel for economic progress.

The problem is that Weber singled out two cultures as being particularly prone to poverty and stagnation, those of China and Japan. But these have been the world’s fastest-growing large economies over the past five decades. Over the past two decades, the other powerhouse has been India, which was also described for years as having a culture incompatible with economic success — hence the phrase “the Hindu rate of growth,” to describe the country’s once-moribund state.

China was stagnant for centuries and then suddenly and seemingly miraculously, in the 1980s, began to industrialize three times faster than the West. What changed was not China’s culture, which presumably was the same in the 1970s as it was in the 1980s. What changed, starting in 1979, were China’s economic policies.

The same is true for Japan and India. Had Romney spent more time reading Milton Friedman, he would have realized that historically the key driver for economic growth has been the adoption of capitalism and its related institutions and policies across diverse cultures.

This is a somewhat facetious line of argument. Chinese ex-pats always showed exceptional talent in economic and entrepreneurial activities. But the important issue Weber addressed in the Protestant Ethic (now available in a great new edition/translation by my colleague Stephen Kalberg) was not “who can develop economically at all?” but how was the West capable of generating a form of economic development never before seen on the planet?

The fact that copying that model took most countries (with the exception of Japan) several centuries merely underlines the exceptional nature of that effort. The question facing us now is not who can generate, but who can take advantage of both the blueprints of development and the massive global economy that beckons any country ready to open the gates. As Zakaria himself noted in his 9-11 essay:

[In] the Arab world, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed–socialism, secularism, nationalism–has turned into a dead end. While other countries adjusted to their failures, Arab regimes got stuck in their ways.

Now while Zakaria notes that “Importing the inner stuffings of modern society–a free market, political parties, accountability and the rule of law–is difficult and dangerous,” he does not seem, at least in this (very lite) current essay to realize the “cultural dimension” of that argument. Why is it difficult and dangerous for societies to adopt these “inner stuffings of modern society”? Is it merely because the dictators refuse (as the political model would like to imagine)? Or do the problems permeate the society, as in the strength of honor-murders as a reflection of profound anti-egalitarian patriarchal culture that runs throughout the social and political strata?

Moreover, Weber’s argument, which I know from personal experience had an enormous impact on my father, David Landes’ scholarship, was fundamentally about culture – indeed about religion, more precisely, demotic religiosity. As Weber says at the very start, it’s not about making money but what you do with your wealth. The spirit of capitalism that interests him, Weber notes, does not begin in wealthy Florence with the Medici, but in the backwoods of Pennsylvania with Ben Franklin. Until people stopped turning their fortunes into positions of leisured wealth and political power, and kept reinvesting them in further capital ventures, modern industrialization did not occur.

Romney cites David Landes, offends Palestinians (whose honor must be preserved at the cost of their prosperity)

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy had outpaced the economy of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”Palestinians said that Romney had ignored the long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which they say are an enormous drag on trade.

Romney’s campaign said afterward that the remark had been misinterpreted. “This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians,” Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, told reporters in a later stop in Gdansk, Poland. “And everyone knows that.”

Romney had said at a breakfast fundraiser that he had pondered the reasons for Israel’s huge economic advantage over the neighboring territories.“As you come here and you see the [Gross Domestic Product] per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” Romney said, according to a pool report.
And then compare it with areas with far less international capital pumping up the economy, like Jordan, or Egypt, or Syria, or Lebanon, and you realize that it’s not just an issue of Israel vs. the PA, but Israel vs. Arab political economy which, without oil, is the least productive in the world.
In fact, the difference is far more stark than that. According to the World Bank, Israel’s GDP per capita is actually $31,282. The same figure for the Palestinian areas is around $1,600.Romney said he had studied a book called “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” searching for an answer about why two neighboring places–the U.S. and Mexico, for instance, or Israel and the Palestinian areas–could have such disparate prosperity.“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from that book, by David Landes [my father]. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”
It has always been a matter of some wonder to me that while Israel represents the single most exceptional example of Landes’ thesis that culture counts (i.e., a place with virtually no natural resources which, in 1900, was at the bottom of the third world and in one century went from there to the top of the first world almost entirely on the basis of its cultural capital), he devoted none of his chapters to that case study. Indeed Romney seems to have made precisely that point in contrasting the argument of Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel about the critical factor of primary resources in economic advantage with Landes’:
As he has at home, Romney in Jerusalem cited a book titled, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” that suggests the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.”And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here,” Romney said, before citing another book, “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by former Harvard professor David Landes.
Apparently at least two people in this debate know how to reason historically.(NB: Diamond’s book came out the same year as Wealth and Poverty of Nations and won the Pulitzer for its deeply flawed [it also doesn’t deal with the Israeli economic development, despite being a “Short History of Everybody,”] but politically correct argument: it’s no one’s fault they’re economically retarded, it’s just lack of access to primary resources. In that sense Erakat [below] is a child of Diamond’s responsibility-free history.)