Category Archives: Self-Criticism

Bibliography of Articles on the MSNM’s Trumpfail

The unanticipated victory of Trump has left the MSNM in something of a quandary. Their scarcely concealed advocacy for Clinton, and contempt for Trump, for his supporters, even for pundits expressed the heretical speculation that he “might” win, have combined to produce the  spectacular shift from 85% odds in favor of Clinton (NYT) to 95% in favor of Trump in little more than 2 hours, once real returns started coming in Tuesday night.

In addition to the immense consternation Trump’s victory has caused, it has also produced some interesting introspection and self-criticism on the part of at least some journalists. Below is a preliminary collection of the articles that engage in this auto-critique. I welcome other suggestions, and annotations/comments on the articles themselves. Eventually, I’d like to compare the media failure with reporting the US Elections to their failure with reporting the Middle East conflict: the same “liberal” advocacy, narrative-driven reporting that ignored realities on the ground.

Brian Beutly, “Shame on Us, the American Press,” The New Republic, November 8, 2016.

Michael Cieply, “Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching,” Deadline Hollywood, November 10, 2016. Cieply worked for the NYT and has interesting things about the culture at the Times:

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.

Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”

The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”

Will Rahn, “Commentary: The unbearable smugness of the press,” CBS News, November 10, 2016.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, with a few exceptions, we were all tacitly or explicitly #WithHer, which has led to a certain anguish in the face of Donald Trump’s victory. More than that and more importantly, we also missed the story, after having spent months mocking the people who had a better sense of what was going on.

This is all symptomatic of modern journalism’s great moral and intellectual failing: its unbearable smugness. Had Hillary Clinton won, there’d be a winking “we did it” feeling in the press, a sense that we were brave and called Trump a liar and saved the republic.

Tiffany Gabbay, “A Rebuke to the Media From Joe Scarborough,” Truth Revolt, November 11, 2016

When Mark Halperin suggested that there was a pathway for Donald Trump as president of the United States, I won’t name names because so many of them are my friends and there’s no need to name names now because the time for recrimination is over. But reporters at some of the best newspapers in the world, anchors at some of the best networks in the world, mocked and ridiculed — Mark Halperin, I want you to think about this. They mocked and ridiculed him not for saying that Donald Trump is going to be elected president of the United States. They mocked and ridiculed him for saying there was a slight chance that Donald Trump could be elected president of the United States.

Michael Goodman, “New York Times: We Blew it on Trump,”  NY Daily News, November 11, 2016

Had the paper actually been fair to both candidates, it wouldn’t need to rededicate itself to honest reporting. And it wouldn’t have been totally blindsided by Trump’s victory.

Instead, because it demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president…

As media columnist Jim Rutenberg put it in August, most Times reporters saw Trump “as an abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate” and thus couldn’t be even-handed.

That wasn’t one reporter talking — it was policy. The standards, developed over decades to force reporters and editors to be fair and to build public trust, were effectively eliminated as too restrictive for the Trump phenomenon.

The man responsible for that rash decision, top editor Dean Baquet, later said the Rutenberg piece “nailed” his thinking, and went on to insist that Trump “challenged our language” and that, “He will have changed journalism.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Dean Baquet, “To Our Readers, From the Publisher and Executive Editor,” NYT, November 13, 2016

Jim Rutenberg, “News Outlets Wonder Where the Predictions Went Wrong,” November 13, 2016

How the Mainstream Media Missed Trump’s Momentum, PBS, November 13, 2016

Some earlier reflections when Trump won the nomination:

Nate Cohen, “What I got wrong about Donald Trump,” New York Times, May 4, 2016

Sean Trende, “The Value of Data Journalism,” May 12, 2016

Nate Silver, “How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump,” Fivethirtyeight, May 18, 2016.

 

“O wad some power…” Fisking Michael Sfard

Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

By MICHAEL SFARD JAN. 5, 2016

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.

Precisely.

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.

NB: I’ll bet the store that you would never compare Palestinian political culture to “ultra-nationalists,” even though the parallels to the most violent type of that phenomenon are close. On the contrary, some of you revel in your contempt for evidence.

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!

Policy Perspectives from the World of Apocalyptic Honor-Shame

I recently received a challenge from one of my less avid fans on a list-serv that I participate in. He challenged me to answer a series of policy questions from the perspective I irritatingly espouse – namely current Western policy concerning the Middle East and Islamic nations is useless at best, self-defeating, even suicidal, at worst because it ignores what I call the HSJ paradigm that focuses on honor-shame dynamics and their current vehicle, apocalyptic Jihad.

I post here my answers.

Dealing with Islam:

Right now in the West, the reigning prime directive reads: “Don’t piss them off.” We think it’s the “vast majority of Muslims” that we thus soothe, but we also encourage the triumphalists, especially with the extent of our placation, our appeasement.

Instead of thus empowering triumphalist aggression, we should pick our fights and target triumphalism. There are so many places the cultural Maginot Line of a robust civil society have crumbled, so many places to start getting serious about what Muslims ask of us and we ask of Muslims. (For a good view of one of the early collapse see, alas, France after 2ooo in The Lost Territories of the Republic.) We need to arm progressive Muslims in their fight with the forces of triumphalism, not concede repeatedly (often with a post-colonial objective) to triumphalist aggression.

Without reciprocal relations, free societies cannot exist, much less aspire to the near utopian hopes of global progressives.

Educate about Islam, not just the masses but the policy folks. I’ve spoken to an audience of 400 people in homeland security and only 1/10 of them claimed they knew what dar al Islam and dar al Harb is. If you don’t know that, you’re historically and religiously illiterate about a crucial element of our current predicament. And 15 years after 9-11, and 26 years after Khoumeini’s fatwah against Rushdie extended Shari’a to the West?! We can’t afford that ignorance.

Right now, we are babes in the woods. As much as I want to believe what you [another list member] say about this administration [being fully aware of the problem], everything I see and hear indicates the opposite: it is overprotective of the “99.9%” of Muslims who, they tell us on their behalf, “reject the extremists.” Where does Obama come up with this stuff? How on earth can serious people take this seriously? Unless of course, they’re in such denial about the problem we face that they’ll take the pablum.

But part of our predicament has been we believed that these indulgences in moral posturing (PC) – Moral and Tolerant Europe Triumphant, The Passionate “cause” of the Palestinian Underdog – were somehow cost free. (If “tout flatteur vit aux dépens de celui qui l’ecoute,” then how damaging is self-flattery, which can be endless?)

On the contrary, these moral postures have allowed the Jihadis to maneuver the progressives into suicidal positions, into a proleptic dhimmitude where the GPL sees itself salvific warriors bringing world peace through self-abnegation, even as it submits to Muslim triumphalist demands that they not only dare not criticize (triumphalist) Muslims, but, rather, they must adopt the Muslim enemy (Israel).

Syria

(Let’s just hope it’s better than criticizing the Obama Administration for not giving enough aid to the Free-Syrian Army).  American troops?  How about Israeli troops  (no, that wouldn’t work); Turks?  (strike that);  Iran (Never, never).

Syria is a symptom of a breakdown of a political culture. The Arab “Spring” was actually a quake that hit a very weak political culture – Lee Smith’s Strong Horse. Those political dynamics reflect a broader, heavily authoritarian (patriarchal honor-murders) culture, and these social dynamics make it virtually impossible to launch and sustain a democratic political culture.

Instead it was springtime for Jihad and tribal warfare.

As for policy, our our journalists and academics and talking heads, systematically misinformed us about the situation beforehand, as well as during. With foolish expectations borne of the “post-colonial” paradigm, we thought – and were encouraged to foresee – a wave, from Tunisia to Syria of more democratic, vibrant, civil societies. Muslim Brotherhood? “Moderate,” and “almost secular.”  So whether we intervene (Libya) or don’t (Syria), it works to the advantage of the Jihadis because they are the most brutal in a brutal culture, and we are clueless. And when they fail, as all such brutal efforts do, they – at least under current conditions – just prepare more wretched chaos to fuel the next round of violence.

To think differently about this means having an appreciation of the impact our behavior has on others (allegedly a Western specialty).

In 2003, when the GPL and European countries (led by Chirac) had such a grand time turning Bush into the Antichrist, I got an email from a medievalist who was in Tunisia. “The Arabs think the French are weak. They side with their enemies and humiliate their friends.” By that logic, I can assure you that triumphalist Muslims think the Left is weak.

I’m not saying, “don’t oppose the Iraq War just because you don’t want to look like a wuss,” but rather “be cognizant of the impact of what you’re doing in terms of how your enemy (triumphalist Islam) perceives you.” The public mutual contempt the Left and Right have expressed for each other has done terrible damage.

In the 11th century, it was emperor and pope attacking each other publicly for fifty years that loosened revolutionary forces; and among the beneficiaries of that open hostility, were the free towns, the urban communes of the later 11th and 12th centuries. In the 21st cn, however, by far the greatest benefactor of public hostilities between twin poles of public discourse (in this case right-left, rather than royal-papal) has been the Jihadis… by comparison with a progressive 11th cn, the 21st cn looks alarmingly regressive.

We can’t even begin to think strategy much less tactics as long as we can’t talk about this larger massive politico-cultural failure/dysfunction in the Arab and Muslim world. And yet, thru some alchemical process operated by a particularly irresponsible branch of post-modernism, it has become “racist” to address cultural and religious problems.

Iran –Let’s hear the deal/threats or  bombing policy that you recommend and why?

I’d go very strong on rallying collective hostility to Iranian claims, use every kind of pressure to get them to stand down. i wd have been blown away if you had told me in the 1980s that the nuclear disarmament crowd would not say a word in the 21st century about re-starting a nuclear arms race, this time in the highly volatile Muslim world, i’d have said, “don’t be absurd.”

Of course, if you told a signer of the Hamas Charter, with its genocidal paranoid participation in a movement for global Islamic dominion, that within twenty years, infidels would be marching in the streets with their banners, shouting “we are Hamas!” he would have responded, “Only Allah can make infidels that stupid.”

Iraq  (Can’t be working with Iranian, Shi’a militias, right?)

Israeli Responses to Paris Attacks and European Cognitive Disarray

This piece is published at Tablet Magazine.

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

What’s needed is more tribalism, not less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Rabbi Yoffie and the Proxy Honor-Killing of Israel: An Un-Jewish Tragedy

In a recent op-ed in Ha-aretz, “Rabbi” Eric Yoffie illustrated the joke that the real name of the paper is “Dibat Ha-aretz” (libel of the land, or, Ha-aretz’ libel), in a rant about recent violence in Israel. (I refuse to link to such a poisonous piece.)

(HT: Pedro Zuquette, Elder of Zion, Jeffrey Bale, Arnold Roth, Daled Amos, et al.)

The reason for Jewish terror is Torah. It is not territories and occupation that are to blame, although they are part of the picture. It is not racism or hatred of Arabs that are at fault, although they play a role. The heart of the problem is Torah, the sacred teachings of Judaism.

It’s hard to imagine a more lacerating piece of self-criticism than this, especially from someone trained in the study of the Torah. And it’s harder to imagine a statement that would warm the cockles of the souls of Jew-haters the world over. Hitler was right, as too many Arabs in this neighborhood tend to say.

He then proceeds to make two further related claims: 1) though not yet found, the killers of the Palestinian baby killed in an arson attack are surely religious Jews, inspired to their actions by their religious beliefs, and 2) they deliberately murdered that child. Although the first claim may be true, it seems a bit premature to indict an entire religious teaching on the basis of a series of unproven presumptions; and the second claim – to attribute the deliberate desire to murder an infant to that religious teaching when there is no evidence that the death of the child was premeditated rather than the unintended consequence of reckless violence – seems itself, the height of recklessness. Indeed, that most tenuous presumption of intention to murder an infant, plays a critical role in the intensity of Yoffie’s anger and indignation.

What would drive a rabbi to such hasty and vicious (self-)accusations (on behalf of his fellow Jews), and drive a newspaper to publishing them? Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS)? Self-abasement as a means of dealing with shame? Boundless hatred of those who shame him?

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.

JeSuisCharlie? Reflections from Paris January 11, 2015

Reflections from Paris January 11, 2015

Is today the day that France woke up?

An edited version of this essay will go up shortly at Los Angeles Review of Books.

Le tout Paris is talking about it. Everywhere in Paris this week, we hear the voices of horror and astonishment and, now, pride. 2 million in Paris, 3 million throughout France; an Italian newspaper runs the headline, an Oceano Pacifico. A day of national unity in which everyone, whatever their other identities, was French: “We are all Charlie Hebdo. We are all Police. We are all Jews. We are all Free.” It was a magnificent show of solidarity; a collective reassertion of the social contract. It brought out all the best kinds of things that France is made of, that has made her a symbol of liberty and courage so great that even people who find the French, well, difficult, are nonetheless Francophiles. A news anchor notes, “Yesterday, Paris was, bel et bien, the capital of the world.” Or in the words of President Hollande, “la France est toujours le point du rassemblement du monde quand la liberté est en jeu” (France is still the place where the world gathers when liberty is at stake).

And what brought France, capital of the world, together in this show of unity? Saying no to the incredible — some say senseless — slaying of 12 cartoonists. A massive and emphatic statement of refus — refusal to “bend the knee,” to “be silent,” to tolerate the violence of the sword against the pen, to endure this assault on France’s core values in silence. In the words of the martyr in chief, “Charb,” taken up as the manif’s motto: “Better to die standing than live on one’s knees.”

All around one hears shock, astonishment. “Mais, where does this madness come from?” How could this happen in France?!?Draped across the grand monument, Place de la République: POURQUOI?

Pourquoi

But some of us, however moved by the events in Paris, find it difficult to take unalloyed pleasure in this wave of communal solidarity. For fifteen years now, there has been a consistent stream of powerful evidence for all the trends that now, in this latest jihadi assault, so rudely shocked all of France:

On the Corruption of the Media: Attkisson’s Testimony Helps Understand Mideast Coverage

If Matti Friedman tore off the veil from the AP’s modus operandi in covering the Arab-Israel conflict, then apparently, Sharyl Attkisson has done it for CBS’s modus operandi when it came to the White House over the past two decades. Apparently, Attkisson’s book is an update on Bernie Goldberg’s chronicling of a media militating for Obama with their coverage (A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media2009).

It’s still not out, but the following article by Kyle Smith offers some extensive examples of partisan corruption of the mainstream news media that we in Israel know intimately. Below I draw some (of many) parallels, in order to highlight the way the mainstream news media’s Augean Stables of encrusted bad practices has become a transnational phenomenon.

(H/T Amos Ben-Harav)

Ex-CBS reporter’s book reveals how liberal media protects Obama

Sharyl Attkisson is an unreasonable woman. Important people have told her so.

When the longtime CBS reporter asked for details about reinforcements sent to the Benghazi compound during the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor replied, “I give up, Sharyl . . . I’ll work with more reasonable folks that follow up, I guess.”

Modal Trigger

Another White House flack, Eric Schultz, didn’t like being pressed for answers about the Fast and Furious scandal in which American agents directed guns into the arms of Mexican drug lords. “Goddammit, Sharyl!” he screamed at her. “The Washington Post is reasonable, the LA Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable. You’re the only one who’s not reasonable!”

It’s natural for any stakeholder (political, corporate, personal) to want to protect itself from revelations that embarrass it. Anybody who can (i.e., has power), threatens with loss of access, hence access journalism. Nobody who can does not favor favorable journalists, and punish with exclusion (at the least) those who tend to reveal unpleasant information. The question is, how far will they go? How does the naturally self-protective agent respond to the failure of access journalism to control the situation?

The role of the journalists in a democracy is to fight against this disadvantage for reporters who need access, to resist the kinds of pressures that powerful and influential people can exercise. The remark by White House deputy press secretary Eric Shultz, enumerates some of the more prominent of the submissive journals: Wapo, LATimes, the Grey Lady. They all play nice (reasonable).

Sharyl, on the other hand, is doing her job as a professional journalist with a code. Her kind of journalist was once the pride of the profession. She has, however, become “unreasonable.” “Reasonable” here means someone who knows that, in order to stay in the game (that of access journalism, not real journalism), they will submit their work to a self-imposed censure.

For those trying to understand the Middle East conflict, if mere partisanship (liberal vs. conservative) in the West could produce such damage to the screens upon which we observe our world, imagine what kind of an impact the implicit, constant threat of sudden death, has on reporters working in Palestinian territories.

Getting it Wrong: Dinesh D’Souza on Why Islamists Hate America

In his book The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, Dinesh D’Souza writes:

These Islamic radicals do not hate America because of its wealth and power; they hate America because of how Americans use that wealth and power. They do not hate us for our freedom; they hate us because of what we do with our freedom. The radical Muslims are convinced that America and Europe have become sick, demented societies that destroy religious belief, undermine traditional morality, dissolve the patriarchal family, and corrupt the innocence of children. The term that Islamic radicals use to describe Western influence is firangi. The term means “Frankish” disease, and it refers to syphilis, a disease that Europeans first introduced to the Middle East.12

Today Muslims use the term in a metaphorical sense, to describe the social and moral corruption produced by the virus of Westernization. The Muslims who hate us the most are the ones who have encountered Western decadence, either in the West or in their own countries. The revealing aspect of the 9/11 terrorists is not that so many came from Saudi Arabia, but that so many of them, like the ringleader, Muhammad Atta, and his Hamburg group, had lived in and been exposed to the West.

My point is that their hatred was not a product of ignorance but of familiarity; not of Wahhabi indoctrination but of firsthand observation. But isn’t it true, as many Americans believe, that American culture is broadly appealing around the world? Yes, and this is precisely why America and not Europe is the main target of the Islamic radicals. Decadence is arguably far worse in Europe than in America, and Europe has had its share of attacks, such as the Madrid train bombing of 2004 and the London subway bombing of 2005. But even in those cases the European targets were picked because of their governments’ support for America. The Islamic radicals focus on America because they recognize that it is the leader of Western civilization or, as they sometimes put it, “the greatest power of the unbelievers.” Bin Laden himself said in a 1998 interview, “What prompted us to address the American government is the fact that it is the head of the Western and crusading forces in their fight against Islam and against Muslims.”13

Moreover, Muslims realize that it is American culture and values that are penetrating the far corners of the globe, corroding ancient orthodoxies, and transforming customs and institutions. Many Americans, whatever their politics, generally regard such change as healthy and good. But this attitude is not shared in traditional societies, and it is virtually nonexistent in the Muslim world. America is feared and despised there not in spite of its cultural allure but because of it. An anecdote will illustrate my point. Some time ago I saw an interview with a Muslim sheikh on a European TV channel. The interviewer told the sheikh, “I find it curious and hypocritical that you are so anti-American, considering that two of your relatives are living and studying in America.” The sheikh replied, “But this is not hypocritical at all. I concede that American culture is appealing, especially to young people. If you put a young man into a hotel room and give him dozens of pornography tapes, he is likely to find those appealing as well. What America appeals to is everything that is low and disgusting in human nature.”

There seems to be a growing belief in traditional cultures—a belief encouraged but by no means created by Islamic fundamentalism—that America is materially prosperous but culturally decadent. It is technologically sophisticated but morally depraved. As former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto puts it, “Within the Muslim world, there is a reaction against the sexual overtones that come across in American mass culture. America is viewed through this prism as an immoral society.” In his book The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis rehearses what he calls the “standard litany of American offenses recited in the lands of Islam” and ends with this one: “Yet the most powerful accusation of all is the degeneracy and debauchery of the American way of life.”14 As these observations suggest, what angers religious Muslims is not the American Constitution but the scandalous sexual mores they see in American movies and television. What disgusts them is not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows. The person that horrifies them the most is not John Locke but Hillary Clinton.

D’Souza, Dinesh (2007-01-16). The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (Kindle Locations 290-307). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On one level, this is true.

But on another, it underestimates the nature of the opposition. I’d argue that while these are the targets of choice – especially when talking to Westerners who, like D’Souza, agree with the critique of their own culture – they conceal a more profound problem with modernity: namely, the freedom to criticize. Locke and his (old-fashioned) liberal colleagues actually believed that people had a right to criticize those in power. Academia was built on this ability. And it has had a corrosive, but liberating effect on religion. The whole area of historical analysis of religion, including the “documentary hypotheses” depends on this commitment to allowing people to voice criticisms of authority, whether the current political leadership, or the religious dogmas that have accrued over millennia.

While it may sound plausible that Islamic radicals hate radical left gender transgressive iconoclasm, they hate a lot more than that. The reason that the historical critique of Islam trails so much behind that of Judaism and Christianity in academia is because Muslims are so violently opposed to anything that undermines their (pre-modern/traditional) notions of what beliefs are necessary for a social order. They, like the Nazis, are reactionary modernists: they want the power and wealth that technology brings, they don’t want the kind of open society that made (and continues to make) that technology possible.

It may be important to D’Souza to claim that Hillary is the problem for Islamists, not John Locke, but alas, it’s both. It also may be comforting to think that if the radical left were not so influential, things would be better, but alas, they won’t. The hostility between modernity in the liberal sense and traditional society is fundamental. It’s a clash of civilizations that will only be resolved when traditional societies achieve the maturity to live without their dogmatic triumphalism, or we return to the Middle Ages, replete with holy war and inquisition. And this is especially true of Islam, which, traditionally, is, like its monotheistic predecessor Christianity, the most imperialist of triumphalist religions.

In a book on religious tolerance in the Protestant Reformation, Robert Scribner noted that “tolerance is a loser’s creed.” By that he meant that religious tolerance was the cry of groups without power, in the minority. As soon as they got power, they interpreted that to mean that their God had endowed them with the privilege of imposing the right belief on everyone. In that sense, the American Revolution and the Constitution were the first time in the history of Christianity that tolerance was a winner’s creed. We’re still waiting from that from Islam.

Ironically, like the Left, which projects its critique of America onto the Islamists even as it claims to listen to them, so does D’Souza. The challenge here is not to enroll them in our internal culture wars, but to appreciate the Islamist enemy for what he is, a totalitarian, anti-modern, anti-liberal, hater of freedom for all, a throwback to the ancien regime when libertés was a plural noun, a synonym for the privileges of the ruling class, not something extended to everyone.

Arab Self-Criticism and Acknowledging the Real Enemy of the Arab People

I have complained repeatedly at my blog about the lack of self-criticism in the Arab world, the pathetic way that honor demands that all Arabs line up against Israel, even though Arab elites are the real enemy of the Arab people. So it’s with great pleasure that I post the following piece by Abdulateef al-Mulhim published in Arab News. On the other hand, since this is over a year old and has not had much of a visible impact on the discussion in the Arab world, maybe my complaints remain current. Indeed, in his latest piece, Al-Mulhim taunts the still-string irrational Arab hostility to Israel. Alas.

Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy

ABDULATEEF AL-MULHIM

Published — Saturday 6 October 2012

Thirty-nine years ago, on Oct. 6, 1973, the third major war between the Arabs and Israel broke out. The war lasted only 20 days. The two sides were engaged in two other major wars, in 1948 and 1967.
The 1967 War lasted only six days. But, these three wars were not the only Arab-Israel confrontations. From the period of 1948 and to this day many confrontations have taken place. Some of them were small clashes and many of them were full-scale battles, but there were no major wars apart from the ones mentioned above. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most complicated conflict the world ever experienced. On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

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.

Welcome, Refugee from rekaB Street: Shmuel Rosner’s Mea Culpa

In the flood of commentary and analysis of the Al Durah controversy, I’ve tried to fisk the most important typical responses. And of course, I have a backlog of articles to fisk. But this one by Shmuel Rosner jumped to the top of the pile because of its honest reappraisal. It helps to understand some of the factors that played at the time the story broke, and answer Vic Rosenthal’s question:

Why didn’t then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak demand that all the footage shot by France 2 on that day be placed at Israel’s disposal to do a proper investigation?
Before adding my commentary to Rosner’s mea culpa, I’d like to acknowledge the courage involved in this piece, and the remarkable fact that the New York Times published it. As someone laboring in the wilderness for a decade, all I can say is, this is unexpected.
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The Skeptic’s Curse

By SHMUEL ROSNER
On Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.Ahmed Jadallah/ReutersOn Oct. 6, 2000, Palestinian boys in the Gaza strip walked past graffiti representing Muhammad al-Dura as he was shown in a television report.

TEL AVIV — In late September 2000, at the beginning of the second Palestinian intifada, the French TV station France 2 aired some 60 seconds of footage allegedly showing the killing of a Palestinian boy in the Gaza Strip.

Muhammad al-Dura, who was 12 at the time, and his father are shown caught in an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. The boy cowers behind his father, with what sounds like gunshots crackling in the background. Smoke then blocks our view. When it lifts the boy is flattened, listless, and his father is lying against the wall, apparently in serious physical distress. The footage soon became one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No one knows what happened exactly at the Netzarim Junction that day. The French broadcast claimed that gunfire from Israeli soldiers killed the boy. That version of the facts immediately became the official Palestinian account. Israel did not accept responsibility, nor did it deny being involved. And so the French-Palestinian narrative stuck.

But this Sunday, the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report undermining that account. The document concludes there is “strong evidence” that Muhammad and his father “were not hit by bullets at all in the scenes filmed.” It also details many errors, omissions and open questions in the widely accepted narrative of the event.

I first heard that there might be a problem with the al-Dura story soon after the incident. I was the head of the news division at Haaretz at the time, and a young reporter approached me to say that a high-ranking official at the Israel Defense Force would be staging, in front of a crew from “60 Minutes,” a re-enactment of the shooting to prove the French and Palestinian chroniclers wrong.

I believed the initial story about al-Dura, and I was highly suspicious of the motivations of anyone attempting to disprove it.
Note a few things here. “I believed the initial story about al-Durah.” This readiness to believe the worst of the Israeli army – that they’d target a father and child and rain down bullets upon them, was pervasive, particularly among the journalists who were most proud of their self-critical attitude. As Bet Michael said to me in November of 2003 (after I had studied with Shahaf and seen the France2 raw footage with Enderlin),

BM: 100%. The israelis killed the boy.
RL: Really? Are you aware of the investigation and its findings?
BM: The investigator was a nut… some engineer with the army who argued a conspiracy theory that he kid committed suicide.
RL: Suicide?
MS: (to me while BM waxed eloquent to NB)
NB) He’s being sarcastic.
RL: Were you being sarcastic?
BM: Not at all. I meant every word.
RL: Suicide?
BM: Oh, that was sarcastic, but since then the IDF has killed over 200 palestinian children, you can check with B’tselem.

Here’s a close-up view of the world of aggressive lethal journalism, backed by their “researchers” who systematically compile the lethal narratives. At the time I did not realize it, but I should have after Jenin in 2002, that the lethal journalists – in the case of many, probably not even knowingly – were now dominant in the journalistic scene in Israel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Name a more positive-sum hegemon than the US in all of recorded world history

I had a bizarre but not completely unexpected experience recently. I had the occasion to participate in a conversation with a nobel-prize winning economist and a young women, initially about her activity in a program that sprays people’s houses in various African countries for malaria. As the conversation moved to the different sprays they can use (the safest being the most expensive), I asked how the homeowner felt about outsiders (honkeys, I think I called them), coming in and doing this. Given that most people view people from other cultures somewhat suspiciously, wasn’t there some question among them about the motivations of the people engaged in this endeavor, and fear that the locals might be the object of a scam that worked not only to the advantage of the alleged “do-gooders” but to the disadvantage of the locals.

“Oh no,” she replied. We work through locals.” (I’m not sure that answers the concerns of the homeowners who had to know that both the poison and the organization came from the outside, but that’s another issue.)

The economist, however, made a number of derogatory comments about the “altruism” of the US, suggesting that we are not so positive-sum.

To which I responded by saying, “surely there are times and places where the US pursues its self-interest, even to the disadvantage of another culture/nation/group. But that’s the norm in human history. In the history of hegemons, however, name one that has anything near the record of positive-sum behavior that the USA does.” (This is particularly the case because so much of  commerce depends on robust economies all around, and given both the Marshall Plan and its counterpart in Japan, there is no record of a victor in a nasty war, who set about building up their enemies’ nations. Economics is, in many ways, the coin of positive-sum relations in modern democratic cultures.)

Long pause….

“How about Rome?” the economist responded.

“Rome? Slave-owning, imperialistic, bloody Rome, which used their military hegemony to conquer everyone they could, that embodied the Athenian saying, “Those who can do what they will; those who cannot suffer what they must? Surely you’re not serious.”

“Well they did build aqueducts and roads. They did benefit other nations…”

I felt like I was in a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

“Wha ‘ave the Romans ever done for us? says Reg, the leader of the Judean People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Well, aqueducts… sanitation… roads… irrigation, medicine, education… wine… public baths… public order.”

“Awrigh’, but aside from roads, aqueducts, education, wine… wha ‘ave they ever done for us.”

But as I thought about it, I realized that this man operates on a world scene, where being derogatory about his own country actually serves as a lubricant. It reminded me of an incident in Cyprus in 2005, when I sat at a table of scholars from the world over, and someone made a nasty remark about the US’s response to 9-11, much to the assent of those assembled.

“I don’t know,” I had the temerity to say, “I think the US behaved pretty well. There were a couple of incidents of violence, but on the whole I thought Americans bent over backwards not to scapegoat Muslims. Certainly in comparison with the Dutch response to the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, where Muslims were attacked, schools bombed, and vigilante revenge widespread, I’d say American response was pretty exceptional.”

That was the last conversation I had with anyone at that table. I was persona non grata at a conversation in which dumping on the US was part of an invidious identity formation for the “progressive” global elite.

The irony of course of the economist’s self-deprecating remarks was that both the young woman was a committed altruist in her  endeavors, as were most of the people who graduated with her from program in Development Economics at Tuft’s Fletcher School of International Diplomacy. And so was my interlocutor. Whether they actually are “doing good” or further contributing to a mess may be a matter of discussion, but their good intentions are, I think, beyond question. So in a sense, the snarky remarks about American “benevolence” was not very nice either to her or to himself.

The reason I tell this story here is because I think it illustrates some important points about self-criticism. It’s one thing to be more modest and self-deprecating than realistic. It’s quite another to believe your modesty. And still another do so for people who take that modesty seriously because, driven as they are by resentment at America’s hegemony – who do these people think they are? The chosen people? – they behave in ways that undermine democracies everywhere, including their own.

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.

Gitlin comes to the Defense of Butler’s Diasporic Non-Violence: Red Meat for the Vegan Crowd

The Butler controversy continues. For some reason Todd Gitlin, whom even people who disagree with him consider “nuanced,” comes out with a defense of his colleague at Columbia, Judith Butler. Despite the obvious daylight between him and Judith, he frames this as part of a schoolyard fight where he’s defending his friend, and is just one stage before, “I’m rubber and your glue…”

Not what I’d call a serious contribution to the issues at hand.

The Trouble With Judith Butler—and Her Critics

September 4, 2012, 2:24 pm

By Todd Gitlin

Whatever one wants to say about the philosopher Judith Butler’s contribution to contemporary thought, I suspect that not even her most devoted disciple would call her a lucid writer. In her introduction to an early book, Gender Trouble, she writes:

  • There is a new venue for theory, necessarily impure, where it emerges in and as the very event of cultural translation. This is not the displacement of theory by historicism, nor a simple historicization of theory that exposes the contingent limits of its more generalizable claims. It is, rather, the emergence of theory at the site where cultural horizons meet, where the demand for translation is acute and its promise of success, uncertain.

What we have here, and throughout Butler’s writings, are not so much [sic?] sentences that carry propositions as a whiff of the burning of incense before an idol called “theory.” There are some in the academy who find this practice “emancipating.” I do not.

I agree (nice image), although this is hardly the most impenetrable of her smoke columns. It actually brushes close to comprehensibility.

Be that as it may, the author of those unilluminating sentences is soon to receive the City of Frankfurt’s triennial Theodor W. Adorno Prize, named for the brilliant, prolific, vastly complex, often tangled, so-called Frankfurt School German-Jewish thinker genius who was himself given to wild overstatement of the sort that Butler, in fact, quotes in the epigraph to another one of her books: “The value of thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.” A moment’s reflection shows this to be nonsense. Adorno had bad days, too.

Actually it’s one of the unspoken goals of most academics who want to make an original contribution: the counter-intuitive truth. Who wants to spend a lifetime regurgitating Vérités de la Palice?

The politics of “theory” and prize committees would be interesting subjects on their own, but the focus of vehement attack by The Jerusalem Post and organizations devoted to My-Israel-Right-or-Wrong politics is a more specific claim.

This is an interesting trope that one runs across often: “my Israel right or wrong” or the “Israel firsters.” It’s an effort to dismiss as some kind of primitive incarnation of an “us-them” mentality, people who defend Israel against calumnies. Most people identified as Israel-firsters are not. They are capable of both recognizing legitimate criticism and even articulating it.

But we draw lines between constructive criticism and destructive, between criticizing policies soberly and demonizing, between concerned tochachah and existential hatred. Most people who dismiss defenders of Israel as Israel-firsters, on the other hand, are “Israel is wrong firsters,” who, like Judith Butler, have no trouble finding their full-throated voices when criticizing Israel in no uncertain terms and based on highly uncertain sources, but somehow mumble and fumble when it comes to denouncing her ferocious enemies.

In the context of a battle with an enemy that has one of the most regressive “my side right or wrong” attitudes – “love my side and hate everyone else” – which is constantly being reinforced by the opposite “progressive” meme of “your side right or wrong” that must accept the epistemological priority of the subaltern “Other” (as does Helena Cobban), it’s a pretty ugly accusation. It goes hand in hand with the common trope, “any criticism of Israel is considered anti-Semitic,” which Butler and her convulsively anti-Israel colleagues uses constantly as a smokescreen for vicious criticism.

In the words of the Post’s Benjamin Weinthal, Butler “advocates a sweeping boycott of ties with Israel’s cultural and academic establishment and has defended Hezbollah and Hamas as progressive organizations.”

This slovenly slash-and-burn propaganda, masquerading as journalism, has occasioned a crisp reply by Butler:

Wow. This is pretty amazing. Weinthal’s piece is slash and burn propaganda, while her long, rambling, and insubstantial reply is “crisp”? Surely a scholar of nuance, like Todd Gitlin can do better. This is red-meat language for the carnivore “progressive” choir.

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.

How not to save Israel: Response to Gershom Gorenberg

A friend asked me what I thought of the following piece by Gershom Gorenberg published by Slate. Disclosure: Gorenberg and I were once close friends. He was a regular at the Center for Millennial Studies, when wrote his book End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He even asked me once to substitute for him at an NIF [!] function in New York – before I knew what I was dealing with (more on that below).

For a formal review of the book by Lazar Berman, who used to post at the Augean Stables, see “The Unmaking of Gershom Gorenberg.”

Fisked below.

How to Save Israel
The three steps that could rescue it from endless conflict and international ostracism.
By |Posted Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, at 6:59 AM ET

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.”

The following is adapted from Gershom Gorenberg’s new book The Unmaking of Israel. Read the earlier excerpts about why, exactly, Israel ended up losing most of its Arab population in 1948 and about why a new kind of old-time Judaism has taken hold in Israel.

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?