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  • dtoub 3:58 am on Monday, April 2, 2012, 3:58 am Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Israel, peter beinart, zionism   

    my review of Peter Beinart’s “The Crisis of Zionism” 


    I’ve been familiar with Peter Beinart’s writings since he wrote a very important piece in the New York Review of Books a few years ago that noted that younger Jews were becoming less and less concerned about Israel, He argued that this was in large part because Israel was no longer seen as an endangered nobel country, but rather as one that was an occupier that has amassed a very powerful military force insulating the country from any neighboring threats. Beinart also had once supported the Iraq war, but subsequently recanted. Of course, given that he is a well-educated journalist who is also an academic, it seemed curious to me that many of us who are not erudite journalists had no problem figuring out in the run up to the war that this was a really dumb and dangerous thing for the Bush administration to do. But Beinart did seem to hit the nail on the head regarding Israel and its powerful, blind supporters in the US, and if nothing else, he hit a serious nerve in the organized Jewish community.

    I was so taken by what Beinart had written in the New York Review of Books that I went ahead and worked to bring him to my local reconstructionist synagogue, and he will be speaking there later this month. So when I learned that he was publishing a book on “The Crisis of Zionism,” I preordered it on Amazon and happily downloaded it to my iPhone’s Kindle reader within hours of it coming out last week.

    Interestingly, from the stuff one can see on the Web, on TV and in other media, Beinart is largely being demonized as a “traitor” to the Jewish people, a “self-hating Jew” and probably worse epithets by now. Contrast that with the reaction to Gershon Gorenberg’s recent book that raises alarms about the ongoing settlement enterprise by the Israeli government; nary a bad word or remark, almost as if few even paid attention to Gorenberg’s book. Most likely, as a friend pointed out to me, this is because Gorenberg criticizes Israeli governmental policies. Beinart is taking on the US Jewish establishment, and that apparently hits a raw nerve.

    Given all this, is Beinart’s book really a bomb thrown at the organized Jewish community, and is he Noam Chomsky-redux? I’ll cut to the chase: yes and no.

    Let’s start with the good. The Crisis of ZIonism is well-written, and contains a lot of material that does question the standard narrative on Israel and criticizes, often vehemently, the large organizations that have come to speak for the US Jewish community, even when many of us within that community is in total conflict with the opinions proffered by those groups that claim to represent us. These include organizations such as AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and so on. Beinart recounts, in painful detail, how many within those groups actively worked to derail the Middle East peace process, and even work against our current president when he suggested policies contrary to those of the Netanyahu administration in Israel. Beinart also points out the hypocrisy in criticizing President Obama (to whom Beinart refers as “The First Jewish President”) for verbally opposing settlement activities when previous Republican administrations actually went beyond verbal disagreements and withheld money and arms to Israel when they disagreed with Israeli policy and actions. So yes, Beinart does criticize, and appropriately so, the organized Jewish community.

    Now for the bad; he’s no Noam Chomsky. Not even close. I’m not sure why he’s being referred to as an “ultraliberal;” if that’s the case, then many of us must be the second coming of Che Guevara. Beinart came across to me as wanting things both ways; he wants to criticize Israel for its interminable occupation of Palestinians, but also wants to support Israel so that his kinder, gentler pre-Netanyahu Israel can break through. The problem is that that kinder, gentler Zionism never existed. What Peter doesn’t call much attention to is the fact that the occupation started, continued and flourished under secular Labor governments that predated the current religious Zionism endemic within the settler movement. Ben Gurion, Dayan, Meir, Rabin, Peres, all of them secular and none of them did much to end the occupation. If anything, they all promoted it, including Rabin (to be fair, Rabin did eventually provide some reforms that helped Israelis of Palestinian descent, but a Lincoln he wasn’t). Beinart relates how Herzl and other early Zionists wanted to have Israel represent something akin to Vienna rather than the intolerant cruelty it currently represents. What Beinart omits is that in the early Zionist vision, the Arabs would live in peace under a Jewish government, albeit with equal rights but no land of their own. It is also quite true that when Israel was conceived, Jews were being slaughtered in many countries and no one really did give a damn. But it was also true that the early Zionists wanted a Jewish refuge, not necessarily a country where Jews ruled exclusively, and certainly not one in which Jewish law held sway. And for hundreds of years, many rabbis didn’t have any interest in settling in Israel nor did the average religious Jew; Israel was only to come into being through the return of the messiah. The real impetus for a Jewish refuge came out of the real persecution endemic in much of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Beinart correctly points out that the occupation is destroying Israel, and understands that it must end. So he wants to mobilize progressive Jews (or more precisely, “liberal Zionists,” as he terms them) to take action and reclaim his imaginary and elusive “feel-good, tolerant Zionism” to save Israel. But as he pointed out in his accurate New York Review of Books article, many young Jews in the US just don’t find Israel relevant to their daily lives. So Beinart really wants Jews to start caring about Israel and somehow convince Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land and devise a two-state solution. And to get these young progressive Americans to care about Israel, he feels the answer is to push for increasing enrollment in Jewish day schools (right after he points out that Jewish day schools are costly and tend to have fewer resources than secular schools). And then, to convince Israel to end its occupation, there should be a targeted boycott of goods from the West Bank (or “Zionist BDS, as he calls it, referring to the boycott/divest/sanction movement that targets Israel as a whole), but not of “democratic Israel,” as he terms the area within the Green Line that defines the 1948-1967 borders of Israel. And an element of his Zionist BDS is to instead invest in “democratic Israel,” which he defines as all territory not officially Occupied by Israel.

    That’s his solution: daily Jewish education and a selective boycott of the “undemocratic” part of Israel.

    That was the most disappointing aspect of this book for me; he can go just far enough to criticize the organized Jewish community in the US and the Netanyahu government, but can’t accept a boycott movement against Israel as a whole, nor does he seem to accept that since many of the really vehement settlers are orthodox Jews, perhaps Jewish education isn’t a definite recipe for more tolerance of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and (occupied) neighbors. Granted, Beinart does point out many aspects of Jewish teaching that should provoke revulsion at the current occupation. But clearly those important Jewish values are not guaranteed to cause religious Israelis to pull out of the West Bank and stop their control of Gazan life. Beinart very pointedly is against the BDS movement because in his view, it delegitimizes Israel. That seemed strange to me, when he had earlier correctly indicated that the sound-bite that criticizing Israeli policy is “delegitimization” amounts to a canard designed to delegitimize the complaint itself. Most people in the BDS movement are not antisemitic nor do they want to see Israel vanish. Just the opposite; many are Jews like me, who want Israel to be better. Clearly, Beinart wants that very much as well. But he has a fairly simplistic vision: all was good before the occupation and before right-wing governments came into power in Israel, so if a progressive government would just come into power in Israel, that country could go back to being a moral beacon, etc. But Israel has had liberal governments from day one, and under those governments chose to provide orthodox Jewish control over civil affairs such as marriage, and chose to continue and expand its control over Palestinians and their land. Beinart is operating under a very clean duality: liberal Zionism and President Obama = good, right-wing religious Zionism and Netanyahu = bad. But I’m still not clear what liberal Zionism is, exactly, and while I agree with every negative thing Beinart writes on Netanyahu and other right-wingers in Israeli politics, there is no evidence that a subsequent liberal/Labor government in Israel would do much of anything to reverse the occupation. If only it were that easy.

    And Beinart’s solution also requires a two-state solution. That would have made sense in the 90’s when the Oslo Accords seemed to move things in that direction. But this is 2012, and without an Israeli retreat from settlements such as Ariel and several other large towns that Israel is loathe to ever give up, it’s unclear how any Palestinian state could comprise anything more than a series of Bantustans on non-adjacent land areas. Ariel, for example, would cut a Palestinian state in two. The entire “can’t we just rewind things back a decade or two” argument within The Crisis of Zionism just seems to be so much fanciful thinking to my mind, even constituting magical thinking. So what about a one-state solution then? Beinart condemns it (as does much of the Jewish establishment he rightfully criticizes), since he views it as the end of a Jewish state, and unworkable (he offers up the images of Belgium and Lebanon as examples of why a one-state solution likely is impossible to work in Israel). Yes, a one-state solution is not a slam-dunk, and is probably impractical. But a two-state solution is dead at this point. It hasn’t been a reality since 1967 nor was it a reality when the UN partitioned Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab sections with an internationalized Jerusalem. And let’s say a two-state solution happened tomorrow; would Israelis accept even a demilitarized Palestinian state on two sides containing at least a few radicals who want Palestine to comprise everything within the Green Line? And for that matter, would those religious Zionists accept giving up claims to Judea and Samaria, land that they believe is theirs? Some of these folks still believe Jordan should be part of Israel, based on some phrases from the Old Testament. And what of the settlements? And what of Israelis of Palestinian descent? And what happens to the Palestinian right of return? So yes, a one-state solution may be pie in the sky. But no less so than a two-state solution, and in some ways (S. Africa being a good example, although not a perfect analogy), perhaps a one-state solution would be more appropriate. It would allow everyone living there, Jew, Muslim and Christian, access to their holy sites regardless of whether they sit in what would have been Israel or Palestine. There would be one military, regardless of one’s religion. But what about a Jewish state? Depends what is meant by that. If it means a Jewish homeland, one which is free of persecution, then does it matter who is running the country? A Jewish state doesn’t have to mean having only Jews in primary positions of power. It can mean, however, a democracy where everyone is equal, but allows Jews to live in peace. There is just no more reason for Jews to be the exclusive power holders in a “Jewish state” than there was reason for white Afrikaners to be the exclusive power in a democratic S. Africa. Yes, I may be dreaming given the unlikely probability that a single democratic state would ever arise between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. But just because something might not happen doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t.

    So ultimately, for all of Beinart’s valid criticisms of an organized Jewish community in the US that is woefully out of touch with its more progressive constituents, as well as his revulsion at the occupation and the Netanyahu government in Israel, his solutions fall flat and his vision is ultimately surprisingly and disappointingly naive. He ignores the discrimination inherent in even the early conceptions of ZIonism that involved a return to Israel (and that assumed an acquiescence on the part of the Palestinian population indigenous to that area). He pushes for a selective “Zionist BDS” that only targets the West Bank, which is neither practical nor useful, while condemning a wider and potentially more powerful BDS movement against Israel as a whole (consistent with this, Beinart recently praised the failure of a NYC food coop to put forward a boycott of Israeli goods). The truth is that the occupied territories and Israel are intimately linked.

    Beinart wants to hold on to a two-state solution and condemns a one-state vision, while hoping to enlist young progressive Jews in the effort towards propping up Israel and undoing the settlement enterprise. Beinart opines that those young Jews would be more committed to activism on behalf of a two-state solution were they going to Jewish day schools every day (disclaimer: my wife and I sent both of our children to Quaker schools for part of their education, and they currently attend secular public schools, as did both of us when we were that age). None of this makes a whole lot of sense to me, much as I understand where he is coming from. There is little or no mention of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace that are currently working to end the occupation but that also support BDS efforts. There isn’t even a whole lot of mention of Palestinians, period, except for a few prominent names like Saeb Erekat and Yasir Arafat.

    I have no question that Beinart sympathizes with the Palestinians. But he feels very strongly (not surprising given his modern Orthodox adherence) that there is a religious, biblical and historical right for Jews to inhabit and run Israel, and that would be destroyed by any Palestinian right of return and/or a one-state solution. While Israel exists and is not going away, the religious dogma or historical justifications for Jewish control of Israel are thin. Why wouldn’t the Ba’hai or other religious minorities that are persecuted not then also deserve their own states, for example?

    It is also very understandable that Beinart cannot support the current Netanyahu government. But while Netanyahu and his administration are certainly suboptimal, it’s not like a Peres government or a Barak government led to an end to the occupation and equal rights for Israelis of Palestinian descent. Beinart feels there is a democratic Israel within the Green Line and an undemocratic one in the occupied territories. Truth is, while Israel is ostensibly a democracy, it has been drifting away from democracy for some time, even before the current Netanyahu government. There is gross discrimination against Israelis of Palestinian ancestry; Beinart makes that very clear in is book. Yet he seems to feel that bad as that is, at least that group has citizenship; Palestinian within the territories lack citizenship and are governed by military rule while settlers are governed by Israeli rule. But consider that Black Americans had citizenship in the US for years but were horribly persecuted and discriminated against for much of the 20th century. We were a democracy then, too. There is no place for the systematic discrimination against non-Jewish Israelis who also identify with Palestinian Arabs. There is thus something wrong when it’s fair to boycott “undemocratic Israel” (ie, the Occupied Territories) yet unfair to boycott a “democratic Israel” that is becoming less democratic, discriminates against 20% of its population and gives material, legal and financial support to the occupation enterprise. It’s not like everything within the Green Line is good and the occupation beyond it is bad; both are intimately linked, and the occupation could not exist were it not for everyone and everything within the Green Line. Beinart also feels that East Jerusalem is less discriminatory than the occupied territories, as Palestinians are eligible to apply for citizenship within East Jerusalem. But that really doesn’t make Israel particularly democratic in practice, nor does it mean that Israel proper deserves support while boycotting settlement goods.

    On a more mundane note, this is also a short book. I was surprised to have finished it with my Kindle Reader indicating that I was around 47% through the book, meaning that over 50% of the book consists of endnotes, references and acknowledgements. I literally finished the book in three days.

    The Crisis of Zionism was a worthwhile book to have read. It provides a good deal of interesting detail about selected US Jewish organizations, the hidden dealings between US administrations and Israel over the years, and takes Israel and the US Jewish establishment to task for supporting the occupation and undermining more liberal American presidents. But I was ultimately very disappointed by the “solutions” presented by Beinart, his holding to the idea that there is a better, kinder Israel just waiting to be freed by the efforts of young progressive Jews if they only attended heder every day, and his condemnation of BDS and a one-state solution as inimical to a Jewish state and even (in the case of BDS), fundamentally antisemitic.

     
  • dtoub 11:59 pm on Monday, March 19, 2012, 11:59 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Israel,   

    getting it out in the open 


    While I haven’t been blogging very much for awhile (Facebook and Twitter have gotten the brunt of my thoughts, and I’ve been very busy with work travel, family, etc.), there has been a lot of back and forth in my own life lately about Israel. Most recently, Peter Beinart has been stirring things up with his comments about the Occupation and Zionism, in anticipation of his forthcoming book. I got to know Peter about two years ago through a really nice essay he wrote on the fact that younger US Jews are losing any connection to, and interest in, Israel. It really shook up the organized Jewish community here in the states, and I was glad to see that. So I reached out to Peter and he will be giving a set of lectures at my reconstructionist synagogue in PA.

    But in reality, Peter Beinart and I are not entirely aligned on Israel. For all the talk out there of how he is a “traitor” to the Jewish people, a “self-hating Jew,” etc., the reality is that he is pretty moderate. He is an Orthodox Jew. He supports a two-state solution. He supports Israel, just not the settlements. He feels that any right of return for the Palestinians would be suicidal for Israel. And  he is very much against the BDS movement (boycott, divest, sanction) aimed at Israel.

    In contrast, I am secular and atheist, support a one-state solution in principle, have no great interest in supporting Israel any more than any other well-off country (I feel much better when my family supports Sudan or other underprivileged nations), support the right of return for Palestinians to their homes in what is now Israel, and do support BDS. Since this stuff keeps coming up, and I’ve probably lost a few friends as a result of not keeping my views to myself (although I know I’ve gained far more friends as a result), here is a quick synopsis of my views on Israel, so as to avoid any confusion.

    • I believe that in the context of the times, when Jews were indeed being slaughtered throughout Europe and Russia, it was understandable for Jews to have wanted a place where they could be safe. The early Zionists were secular, and were not initially focused on Israel. Basically, any place where they could settle and be safe, including Madagascar and Uganda, was perfectly fine with them. Besides, for hundreds of years, most Jews declined to settle in Palestine, since it was not a religious compulsion (just the opposite; most rabbis felt that Israel could only be resettled upon the return of the messiah).
    • I reject any biblical justification for Jewish settlement in Israel. There is little or no historical evidence that most of the Bible ever happened, and it’s even been argued by folks like Shlomo Sand that there was never a true exile of the Jews from Israel at the hands of the Romans.
    • Israel is a fact on the ground. It was established by the UN, and isn’t going anywhere. So criticisms, and boycotts, of Israel can no more “delegitimize” Israel than a breath can collapse an 8,000-meter mountain. Only Israel can hurt itself. And boy, does it.
    • Israel is a beautiful country. I’ve been there. But it is also a very conflicted country, and one that does not provide equal freedoms or support to Israelis of Arab origin, women, Mizrahi Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, immigrants from Asia and sub-Saharan africa, Ethiopian Jews and Bedouin. It is not apartheid in the fullest sense of the word, but it comes pretty damned close to being that way.
    • Israel has also become more fascist in its approaches to its Arab population and anyone who isn’t among the majority Jewish population. Avigdor Lieberman is a fascist (there, I’ve said it). It’s no surprise that the current Israeli government is viewed favorably by racists and anti-Muslim gentiles like Geert Wilders and Marine La Pen. Then again, the Etzel (Stern Gang) were also fascists and looked to Nazi Germany for support (these extremist Jews were ignored, incidentally).
    • A two-state solution sounds great. But it has never ever worked for Israel or for Palestine. And it’s hard to see how current plans would permit a true Palestinian state to exist, given that it would be split into many parts by territory claimed by Israel. A one-state solution has its issues as well, but if both sides were willing to trust and respect the other, and offer equal rights, then it would be possible. Gandhi never wanted to partition India. It was partitioned, and millions died in the process, there have been several wars between India and Pakistan, and Bangladesh was not exactly an easy ride, either. In the end, Jews and Palestinians are interconnected in ways that are not really severable. The borders need to reflect that; Palestinian Jews , Muslims and Christians coexisted relatively (though not 100%) well for centuries. The fundamental conflict is not about religious differences, but about land.
    • I don’t care if Israel is a “Jewish state” if that means that it is a near-theocracy, a state dominated by one religion in which religious laws are invoked in many civil matters (such as marriage). To me,  a Jewish state is a Jewish homeland, a place where Jews can live without internal persecution. That does not require a Jewish majority, nor Jewish control. But it does require democracy and equal rights. Jews can live however they want to individually live under a Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian leadership. I’ve yet to see anything but a Christian leadership in the US, and Jews and Muslims have done well (although there remains a lot of persecution of Muslims in the US, and there once was a lot of antisemitism).
    • While there have been Jewish populations in other countries that understandably sought, and required, refuge in Israel, I also feel it is a shame that so many Arab or Muslim countries where there once were Jews are now largely or entirely devoid of them. Again, some of this certainly was due to antisemitism, as in Iraq and Egypt. But in other cases, such as Morocco (generally lacking in antisemitism), it was in part due to Israeli actions, and sometimes (as has been claimed for Iraq), even due to incitement by Israel. When Israel was a much more secular, even socialist, country, the ideal was for Jews to speak the same language, with the same accent/pronunciation, and for Jews to all make aliyah to “eretz yisroel.” Problem was, Jews lived (and still do, fortunately) all over, had different skin tones, different accents, languages, cultures, etc. So while Ben Gurion wanted Jews to emigrate to Israel, it wasn’t easy if you were a Jew from the Maghreb, the Kurdish areas, etc. You were a second-class citizen at best, and were made to feel unwelcome. The power was concentrated in the Ashkenazim. And if you think about it, having all the Jews migrate to Israel, so that they’re all in one place, makes it much easier for another Hitler to wipe them out, no? I think of that every time some Israeli leader exhorts French Jews or US Jews to make aliyah.
    • Iran is a huge violator of human rights, and a lousy theocratic government that oppresses homosexuals, Ba’hai, and many other groups. But it is not an antisemitic country (there are 25,000 Jews who, while they live somewhat separate lives from their Shia neighbors, are respected as members of another Abrahamic religion). Iran, despite its leader’s rhetoric, has not placed its Jews in concentration camps. So while I’m not going to defend a regime of which I’ve always been critical, let’s not beat the drums for another unnecessary war, either.
    • Which brings me to the lobby. No, Jews do not control the media, world financial markets or the press. We’re really not that powerful, and the notion of a “Jewish lobby” is at its core, antisemitic. But I think anyone who feels the Israeli lobby does not have a major influence on Congress and Mideast policy is deluded.
    • Let me also be clear that any comparisons between Israel and Nazis are wrong, stupid and even antisemitic. Israel, for all its faults, is not committing a holocaust against the Palestinians, nor is it anything close to a Nazi party. I do think one could make a good case, however, that the Israeli government has adopted some policies that many of us do feel are very close to fascist, if not fascist indeed. But fascist policies alone do not Nazis make.
    • The Holocaust pervades Israeli society. The significance of the Holocaust in terms of Israeli mindset and behavior cannot be overemphasized. But at the same time, the Naqba also needs to be acknowledged by the Israeli government, and Israel needs to come to grips with the fact that 1/5 of its population generally believes that Israeli Independence Day is a day of mourning, no less than some American Indians hate Columbus Day and perhaps even resent July 4th. And understandably so. At the same time, more Palestinians need to acknowledge, not deny, the Holocaust (and indeed, many of them have made major efforts in this regard).
    • Palestinians deserve their right of return. This won’t destroy Israel, but strengthen it. It makes no sense, nor is it compassionate, that I could decide tomorrow to emigrate to Israel and I would have citizenship rights on the spot, yet a Palestinian whose family left Haifa in 1948 could not do that, or even travel via Ben Gurion Airport (as a friend’s Palestinian husband, a distinguished economist, can’t do, for example).
    • Palestine is not a dirty word. Nor are Palestinians an “invented people.”
    • Birthright Israel and other “rah rah Israel” efforts to indoctrinate US Jewish youth, are misguided, one-sided and propaganda. I will never support stuff like that.
    • I support BDS for the same reason that I supported the boycott of apartheid S. Africa. This doesn’t mean that all Israelis are of one mind; many are against the Occupation just as there were S. Africans who were against apartheid and worked with the ANC and other groups against it. But boycotting is a nonviolent way to foment social change. It is not “delegitimizing” to support BDS. Israel’s own actions do itself an injustice far more than any boycott could. That said, I don’t support boycotts that involve academia or the arts; I like to think that the arts and academics are beyond politics. Indeed, both foster understandings of “the other,” so I just can’t support those boycotts. But outside of that, I’m fine with BDS.
    • I also do not support the Jewish National Fund (it expelled Palestinians and that was its raison d’etre), Hillel, the ADL (I used to, but it is now a right-wing and diseased organization), or AIPAC, and have my misgivings about J Street (they’re too wishy-washy and bought into the right-wing canards about BDS).
    • I wish Obama had threatened to defund Israel over the continued support and expansion of the settlements
    • All Palestinians are not terrorists. All Israelis are not oppressors.
    • Politicians in the US cannot criticize Israel and survive politically. Israeli politicians, however, can criticize Israel with impunity. Why can’t politicians in any country criticize Israel and have their opinion respected? Israel is more progressive than much of the Western world, in this regard.
    • Yes, Israel is not Syria. It does not torture and murder thousands of its citizens. But I’d like to think Israel lives up to a higher standard than “it’s not Syria.”
    • I’m not a self-hating Jew. No one, except for some people with major depression, hate themselves in the true sense of the term. Labelling people as Nazis, traitors and self-hating Jews merely shows that the organized US Jewish community is threatened by those who speak out against bad Israeli policies.
    • There is nothing of which I am aware in Jewish law that says one has to support Israel. Last time I checked, I was a US citizen. I don’t vote in any Israeli elections. I don’t receive support from Israel, nor do I pay taxes to Jerusalem. So I have nothing to do with Israeli policy, and resent the idea that if someone is Jewish, ergo they must support Israel. In the proudest Jewish tradition, many of us feel perfectly free to criticize what we don’t like about Israeli actions/policies. Unfortunately, many organized Jewish institutions do not understand Jewish tradition.
    • Is there a double standard regarding Israel? Yes, there is. But the fact that human rights abuses by Turkey, Iran, China and many other countries don’t command as much attention as the Israeli occupation still doesn’t make the occupation right. The argument that “well, they do it too” really is a weak one; we don’t accept it from children, right?

    I could go on, but at least this is a start. I was trying to be as honest as possible and not leave any major issues off the table.

    Please feel free to comment. And be forthright; I can take the criticism. But please, don’t start with the “self-hating Jew” remarks. It’s getting old.

     
  • dtoub 12:10 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2011, 12:10 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: academic freedom, Israel, Mearsheimer   

    letters in response to my letter… 


    It’s not often that I write a letter to my alumni magazine. I did so, because two alumni had written letters that had not yet been rebutted, in which they in effect labelled a course on Zionism and Palestine as antisemitic at worst, biased at best. The course is taught by Professor John Mearsheimer, who is a very prominent political scientist. I don’t know Professor Mearsheimer; I never took any poli sci courses at Chicago, although I did have a roommate who thought very highly of his teaching. When I was a student at the U of C, Mearsheimer was very uncontroversial. Then a few years ago, he teamed up with Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard to write a scholarly article about the Israeli Lobby and its effect on US foreign policy. This was probably the first time two highly regarded academics approached such a controversial subject. I’d read their paper and while one might argue with a part here and there, my feeling is that it was largely dead on, and at the very least, constituted appropriate scholarship. Needless to say, Mearsheimer and Walt were labelled as antisemites, but I felt they had approached this topic with suitable caution,  and took great pains to avoid their work falling into the category of antisemitism (for example, they clearly emphasized that they were referring to an Israeli Lobby made up of Christians and Jews, not a Jewish Lobby, which is an antisemitic construct).

    Apparently, Mearsheimer is teaching a class on Zionism and Palestine. Two alumni of my distinguished alma mater wrote letters to the alumni magazine in which they said things like:

    “The U of C has allowed itself to stumble into the volatile issue of whether Professor Mearsheimer will be “teaching” a course in Zionism and Middle East foreign policy or in reality serving as a proxy voice advocate of the anti-Jewish, anti-Israel idealogues that seek the final solution of extinction of Israel, the only vibrant, productive, functioning democracy in the Middle East.”

    “Propaganda is the teaching of the captive mind. Has Mearsheimer actually become not an educator but a “useful idiot” of the enemies of Israel and, for whatever reason, the University of Chicago an unwitting accomplice?”

    “Professor John Mearsheimer’s undergraduate class, Zionism and Palestine, pays “considerable attention … to the plight of the Palestinians.””

    “A respected scholar” who “always limits enrollment in his seminars by requiring instructor’s consent” and “a very popular teacher,” Professor Mearsheimer’s students often agree with him about “modern-day Israel” and welcome reinforcement for their partisan views. But for undergraduates interested in nonpartisan scholarship, Professor Mearsheimer’s class does not offer a “safe environment.””

    I felt this needed some balance, so I wrote a letter and independently, another alumnus wrote his views as well. The point of my letter was simply that there was an automatic assumption that teaching about the effects of Zionism upon the Palestinians is opinion-based rather than evidence-based, and that anything that goes against the accepted (in the US, at least) narrative that Israel is an embattled “vibrant democracy” is condemned as antisemitic. I find that inappropriate, particularly in an academic environment.

    I got home yesterday from a work trip to the UK and The Netherlands and found the latest copy of my alumni magazine, which contained several responses to the letters that I and another alumnus had felt compelled to write a few months earlier. I was glad to see some supportive letters, one of which referred to me as “courageous.” I strongly disagree, but the sentiment was appreciated. The University of Chicago Magazine did allow both of the original letter-writers to try to rebut the letters I and another alumnus had written in support of Mearsheimer’s class, and unfortunately the Magazine clearly has indicated that no further discussion would be published. That’s a shame, since I think their points, along with the alumnus who lives in the highly religious and conservative community of B’nei Brak, deserve some further discussion, although I probably shouldn’t even try to rebut the latter’s belief that “Moreover, the moral right of the Jews to live in all of “Palestine” goes back approximately 3,700 years, as documented in the Old Testament (affirmed by Muslims as a holy book) and confirmed by countless archaeological findings.” It’s not worth anyone’s time to try to discuss how the Old Testament hardly constitutes a historic document. And the fact that Palestine is clearly deserving of quotation marks in his letter (I wonder how he’d have felt if I had discussed “Israel?”) indicates that this is not a U of C graduate who has an open mind.

    It’s interesting, though, that this has essentially pitted Jew vs. Jew in the letters section of the U of C Magazine. It’s interesting, because that actually is the reality. Many of us do not buy into the “My Israel, right or wrong” point of view. We can’t view Palestinians as collectively guilty for terrorism. Nor can we ignore their plight. Whether one calls Israeli society “apartheid” or not (and my personal view is that, while it is not a precise analogue of what happened in Afrikaner-ruled South Africa, it’s pretty damned close in many ways), is not the point. The point is that Israeli society does discriminate against Arabs, Jews of non-Western background, Jews who are not religious, and many other groups. It’s wonderful that Arabs can participate in the Israeli government, but why shouldn’t they? Aren’t they citizens? And the same people who love to point out Arab Israeli participation in the Knesset paradoxically do not point to the participation of Jews in the Iranian parliament as similar evidence of a “vibrant democracy” in that repressive country.

    One point was made that, in effect, we shouldn’t be criticizing Israel when other countries do bad things too. Honestly-is this really the best rational argument someone from my distinguished alma mater can make? I doubt I would have gotten a decent grade when I was in school there had I made that sort of argument in a paper. I have no issue with anyone disagreeing with me, but could we at least base it on factual data, rather than false comparisons?

     
    • p bailey 12:32 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2011, 12:32 pm Permalink

      openness and free dialogue is always better than the whispering behind closed doors. opinions should be freely shared and debated on their merits (which sadly doesn’t happen as much as it should).

      props to you for having the courage to stand behind your convictions

  • dtoub 4:23 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2008, 4:23 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Israel, Palestine   

    wither gaza? 


    Most of the people who peruse this blog, or my former one, are well aware that I am not a knee-jerk, pro-Israel person. I support the idea of a Palestinian state, and lament not only how Israel treats Palestinians under occupation, but how it treats its Arab citizens (some 20% of the total Israeli population), non-Orthodox Jews, and immigrants to its shores. That said, I also find the Palestinian leadership to be odious, especially in that it perpetuates the refugee lifestyle that has persisted 60 years after the State of Israel was founded. I also resent the misuse of history by both sides. Each side takes its own narrative that, while in some cases at least based on truth, is inherently false.

    On the Israeli side, there are the “historical claims” that the Palestinians simply didn’t exist before 1948, that Jews have an inherent right to the land without having to share, and that Arabs largely left the area on their own accord thinking they’d return after the invading Arab states pushed the Jews out to the sea in 1948. The reality is that Palestinian Arabs and what were then Palestinian Jews did indeed coexist, albeit imperfectly, before 1948. While Jews were indeed present in that area for centuries, so were other peoples, and one could argue that the claim to that land based on history is no more valid than the claim that Spain should be given to Muslims or that Afghanistan should be ceded to Chinese Buddhists, all because at one time they ruled that territory. And Israeli historians have confirmed that in many cases, Arabs were very much driven from the land during the 1948 war.

    But let’s look at the competing Palestinian claims. I’ve heard it said that things were fine until Israel took over additional territory in the 1967 war, that it’s all about land, and even that there was no Jewish presence in Palestine/Israel until the late 19th Century. The reality, again, is much different. There was certainly terrorism on both sides before 1967; indeed, the first acts of terrorism were generally carried out by Arabs against Jewish populations (eg, Hebron, 1929). And while land discrepancies are certainly part of the problem, the conflict goes deeper than that, and even involves religion (Hamas, for example, is a religious organization as well as a political one). Finally, the archeological evidence more than supports the historical record that Jews were inhabitants in that part of the world for many, many centuries, regardless of how many times some Palestinians try to deny it.

    There is genetic evidence that there is really no significant difference between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Yet they continue to battle to the death in the mistaken belief that there is a military solution to their conflict. There isn’t; all that keeps happening is more of the same: death, destruction and bitterness. One of the core issues is the fact that both sides simply don’t respect one another as human beings. To the Palestinians, the Israelis (whether Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, etc.) are aggressors, occupiers and terrible people, period. To the Israelis, the Palestinians are terrorists, are subhuman, are just outright bad. Neither group wants to deal with the other, but even when Israel puts up barriers to ignore the other side, the other side finds a way to peek in and stir up trouble. It should also be noted that Israel’s barrier is not at all equitable; rather than demarcate the current border between Israel and the West Bank, it wanders, causing major difficulties and burdens to the native Palestinian population. Add to that the reprehensible actions of many Israeli settlers, some of whom believe god gives them the right to all of that land, and you have significant hurdles for any compromise. 

    So both sides are right. And both sides are terribly wrong. Right now, it can be argued that Hamas is the cause of the current strife in Gaza by lobbing Qassam missiles into Israel proper. Hamas is also arguing that they did not violate the expired ceasefire, that Israel struck first. I think it’s irrelevant who started this. I’d rather hope that people are working on determining how to end it.

    Israel’s response, as it often is (cf. Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006) is disproportionate. Certainly, one can’t expect a 1:1 response, but while Qassam missiles are disruptive, they are rarely lethal (only a handful of people had died in Israel from these missiles in all of 2008 until the current hostilities started up) because they are homemade and very inaccurate. Killing almost 400 people, many of them civilians, because of a small number of deaths and some property damage is like napalming someone’s house for stealing a loaf of bread. This breeds longtime resentment and, ultimately, terrorism. True, Israel withdrew from Gaza a few years ago, which seemed like the right thing to do. But it still controls Gaza in terms of its airspace, its offshore coast and its borders. If Israel wants to prevent electricity from reaching Gaza, it can and does. If it wants to embargo goods to Gaza, it can and does. Locked in this population-dense prison, it’s not surprising that some people will fight back, even if it constitutes terrorism. I’m not justifying terrorism; there is no justification for terrorism, whether committed by Palestinians or the Irgun/Lehi during the years running up to 1948. But clearly, the absence of a solution, of hope, does push many people towards terrorism and violence.

    So I think Israel is wrong. I understand the frustration with the missiles falling into Southern Israel on a daily basis. I agree that any nation has a duty to protect its people. But there’s a difference between acting to stop a threat and taking actions that kill a great number of people, leading to a cycle of violence that will result in the deaths of many more people until the leaders finally figure out a way to stop the violence while saving face. That’s what happened in Lebanon two years ago, and that war clearly did nothing to help Israel, but rather emboldened Hezbollah and Iran. I’m not sure anyone needs a repeat of the same thing this time around. Our government supports Israel, but we need to regain the position of being an honest broker for peace. Because the Bush Administration only rarely criticized Israeli actions, it makes it much harder to argue that Israel should “behave itself.” Until we provide some tough love towards Israel, nothing will change.

    I get criticized a lot for not being “rah rah Israel” like many would have me be. I’ve been miscast as similar to Noam Chomsky (who, while I don’t always agree with him, is a brilliant mind and at least tries to offer his alternative viewpoint in a productive fashion) or Jimmy Carter (whom I’d respect more if I didn’t feel he was very one-sided on the Palestinian side; no side has the monopoly on truth or justice). I actually think I’m really in the middle. I don’t agree with those who feel it is wrong to criticize Israeli actions. I also don’t agree with the “blame Israel first” crowd. So I can’t please anyone.

    I don’t agree that one shouldn’t criticize Israel. I expect better from Israel than I do many other countries, so when I’m disappointed, I feel it necessary to express it. Israel has done some terrible things, just as the US has done terrible things (Tuskeegee, genocide against the Indians, starting a war in Iraq, dropping two nuclear bombs on civilian populations, Vietnam, etc.). Just because I criticize my own country doesn’t mean I’m a lousy American. Criticizing Israel for its horrible actions as an occupier and land usurper doesn’t mean I’m a lousy Jew.

     
    • Paul H. Muller 7:39 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2008, 7:39 pm Permalink

      I agree with most everything you state. Good friends of Israel might wonder if they have become captive to their own military-industrial complex – Israeli military response to the Palestinians seems only to insure that another military response will be required in the future.

      I think war has evolved. Having the best technology – the fastest planes, biggest bombs, etc – counts for less and less in the 21st century. The US discovered this in Iraq. One hopes Israel starts to do some serious thinking outside the box. Military might no longer translates into security. There has to be a better way to deal with your adversaries than dropping bombs on them.

    • dtoub 9:55 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2008, 9:55 pm Permalink

      Thanks, Paul. There’s almost always a better way to deal with conflicts than by dropping bombs.

    • Ofer 4:23 am on Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 4:23 am Permalink

      Hmm. Here’s a baffled random Israeli reader (one that is stunned, by the way, by the overall averaged non-anti-Israel sentiment in the blogosphere).
      I live inside this conflict, that you look at from afar. I probably share most values with yours, so my point of view may be interesting for you.

      What exactly are you suggesting?

      I voted peace-seeking labor all the previous elections, this time I probably won’t. There is growing understanding in Israel that peace will not be achieved in the near future. We are dealing with Hamas, and on Israeli media you hear a lot more what the official speakers there constantly say. No right for Israel to exist, will be wiped off the map (Hamas is, after all, much of an Iranian proxy), will never agree to peace, at the most a temporary cease fire. By mentioning the pretexts Hamas gives (control of airspace??) you play into their hands. The crossings are closed because there are constant attacks by Hamas on them. Yes, you heard right – Hamas attacks the crossings, then decries Israel’s closing them.

      There is NO lasting solution as long as Hamas is in power. We have to accept it (hard for me too). So if that’s the case, you have to do crisis handling. That would mean weakening Hamas through isolation, preventing weapons smuggling over corssings and tunnels, and from time to time carrying such major offensive to significantly reduce Hamas’s rocket arsenal, so that Israelis can withstand the wait for Hamas’s toppling by Gaza residents. This will come sooner than you think, read about the silent resentment by the poor residents caused between us and them, they’re too scared to blame Hamas, but behind closed doors they do.

      I read a lot of apologeticness in your words. I think there are aspects to this issue that need no such attitude. As for the others – what is the alternative, except for toppling Hamas, or wiping Israel off the map?

    • dtoub 11:11 am on Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 11:11 am Permalink

      Ofer, I appreciate your words and perspective, much of which I totally agree with. For starters, there’s no disagreement whatsoever as regards Hamas. They’re a terrorist organization that, like Hezbollah, is complex in that they also serve a political (and in the case of Hezbollah, a charitable) arm. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is not secular. The biggest error Israel made was in enabling Hamas and working against secular moderates (not necessarily Fatah, which is a corrupt, bloated organization). I have no faith (no pun intended) in any religious political/military group, since when you’re talking about religion, there is usually no compromise. Hamas believes that Israel should not exist. They have not shown any flexibility or willingness to compromise. I get angry with friends on the left who reflexively support them. I have nothing against the Palestinian people, but have a lot against Hamas.

      That said, let’s remember how they came into power. By destroying the infrastructure within Gaza and the W. Bank, the IDF weakened Fatah and gave a lot of momentum towards Hamas, especially among popular opinion. When Bush pushed for democratic elections (and to their credit, many in the Israeli government had reservations), Hamas was elected overwhelmingly. Technically, they are the democratically-elected government in the Territories. Morally reprehensible, certainly, but they’re not going away anytime soon, nor is Israel. Both sides simply have to engage one another. Hamas needs to be flexible (whether they will or not is dubious), as does Israel.

      Regarding the borders, I agree that Hamas incites reactions from Israel through border incursions and attacks. But Israel has also made it difficult and even impossible for necessary goods and supplies, including medicines, to cross into Gaza. Gaza is an economic and medical basket case. Regardless of which side started what, the reality is that a lot of innocent people are dying in Gaza. None of them are going to wake up one day and say “Well, it’s really Hamas’ fault that Israel killed my family and I shouldn’t be angry at Israel at all.” Just the opposite—they’re going to join up for suicide missions against Israel. And I have no doubt that there will be infiltrations into Israel proper and many Israeli Jews, Arabs and Christians will be murdered (non-Jews also die in terrorist attacks within Israel; terrorists are equal opportunity killers).

      If Israel were to destroy Hamas (and truthfully, I doubt this is possible, just as it was not possible to annihilate Hezbollah in 2006), what then? Any government would be considered an Israeli proxy and the common people would rebel, leading to a civil war much like that between Fatah and Hamas. That also doesn’t ensure peace and security for the Palestinians or Israelis.

      I’m not at all suggesting that Israel shouldn’t have acted. I am saying, however, that Israel should have been very careful and measured in its actions. Blowing up half of Beirut didn’t solve the problem in the North. And laying waste to Gaza won’t help, either. There’s still a lot of resentment in Gaza for the economic and overall disparity between the Gaza settlements and the average Gazan before the Israeli pullout. And there’s resentment for the many people killed in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas. I get it—innocents can and will die in any major conflict. But the more collateral lives killed by Israel in Gaza, the less secure Israel gets.

      And I disagree about the “apologeticness” you perceived in my post. I’m not apologizing for anything. I’m trying to indicate that on balance, both sides are wrong. For example, Israel puts up barriers that terrorists breech, providing a provocation to Israel. But at the same time, barriers that appear to set borders as facts on the ground without the benefit of negotiations do nothing but stir up resentment and, ultimately, terrorist actions. That’s not being apologetic, but rather, balanced and intellectually honest.

      In the end, both sides simply have to find a way to coexist. That only will happen when both sides start respecting one another. I don’t see that happening anytime. Palestinians are taught to hate Israelis, and this misteaching is reinforced daily by Israeli cruelty at border checks and through military incursions that kill many innocent lives—the average Palestinian simply doesn’t have the opportunity to interact with the average Israeli who, I believe, truly wants coexistence. At the same time, many Israelis view Palestinians collectively as terrorists, and mistrust the Arab Israeli citizens that make up 20% of the population. If you want Hamas to go away, then the Palestinian people have to vote them out of power. Many Palestinians dislike Hamas, as you probably know. But when an outside force, like Israel, fights against Hamas, it merely rallies all the Palestinians into the Hamas camp, no differently than how liberal and conservative Americans came together for a brief time after 9/11. The military solution doesn’t exist. Israel will have to work with moderates while protecting its borders in a measured fashion. Killing 400 people, half of whom probably were not Hamas terrorists, doesn’t benefit anyone but Hamas.

    • Jules 12:03 pm on Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 12:03 pm Permalink

      I agree with much that has been expressed in this thread. One point that I think needs to be made clear is that a Palestinian civilian’s life is no less valuable than an Israeli civilian’s life (one might even reasonably argue that since officially all Israeli civilians are a part of their military, they are more reasonable targets than are Palestinian civilians – I see the point in that argument but have trouble agreeing).

      In any event, when Israel attacks Gaza obviously without any care about whether they kill civilians, they cannot decry Hamas sending random rockets into Israel. When Israel cuts Gaza off from the rest of the world, economically, diplomatically (by insisting Hamas is illegitimate and no “civilized” government will speak to them), educationally (by not letting teens in Gaza who get scholarships to universities in other countries leave to attend those universities), nobody can claim surprise when the inhabitants eventually resort to force against Israel.

      It is time that Israel reread parts of the bible it has ignored – such as the part paraphrased by Debbie Friedman as “not by might and not by power but by spirit alone shall we have peace.”

      We have risked too many Israelis (as well as Palestinians) in war in an attempt to have peace. Why don’t we try risking Israelis in actual peace in an attempt to have peace. This would include serious negotiations on all issues, opening economic ties with Palestine, stop building more settlements in the West Bank and keep the current settlers from randomly killing and attacking Palestinians, and, most importantly, to stop treating each other as the OTHER. This is a family squabble (after all Isaac and Ishmael were half-brothers) and both religions stress peace and justice.

      Sorry for writing so much, but I feel deeply on this issue. Both of my kids are currently in the West Bank and are going to be traveling throughout the middle east (luckily not to Gaza) in the near future. I get first hand reports that do not coincide with what comes from Israel or from US tv.

    • dtoub 1:50 pm on Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 1:50 pm Permalink

      I think this is a very rational and appropriate op-ed about this subject, written by Daniel Barenboim who has worked with the late Edward Said to bridge the gaps between Palestine and Israel through music.

    • Ofer 6:17 am on Thursday, January 1, 2009, 6:17 am Permalink

      David, I appreciate your elaborate response. I agree with a lot of your historic analysis – that toppling Hamas won’t make Palestinians zionists, that we have (some) blame in the rise of Hamas, the more civilians get hurt the less security we get, but most of all, I agree with Daniel Barenboim’s opinion that there is no military solution, nor diplomatic one. I quote his essay: This is why neither diplomacy nor military action can resolve this conflict.

      This point is extremely difficult for rational western-valued people to understand. We are reasonable people. We think: “just sit and talk, and work it out”. I hear it when you say “There’s almost always a better way to deal with conflicts than by dropping bombs.” and when Jules says “Why don’t we try risking Israelis in actual peace in an attempt to have peace. “. This is a very simplistic view of the situation. I also heard it from Europeans in my travels (and these are the same Europeans who so rationally killed tens of millions of each other in the past century).

      It is so easy to lecture “just love each other and all will work out”. You are not doing diplomacy people to people, if that was the case we would be at peace already. You do it leadership to leadership, and the Hamas leadership is OT INTERESTED IN PEACE. Read their charter (article 11) and listen to their speeches, they mean it – the entire “Palestine” (meaning Israel too) is Muslim waqf, nobody has any right of giving part of it to non-muslims, Israel has no right to exist. Don’t dismiss it – they truly mean it. Their aim is to wipe Israel off the map, this is no border dispute.

      Like I said earlier, we come to realize that some issues are just not solvable, at least not at this stage, and you just have to manage the crisis as you go, as I wrote in my first comment. Why don’t we suggest to make peace with Al-Qaeda? or ask the parties in Darfur to just “sit and talk”? what do we think today of Chamberlain’s 1938 approach? but because Israelis seem to the western world so western themselves (which we indeed are), they are expected to treat this conflict in western trust-based approach, even though the other side takes a completely different, zero-sum game one… get the other side to move to western values (at least in negotiating), and you’ll see fruitful peace talks faster than you think. But until then, please accept the fact that it doesn’t always work the way we resolve disputes in the west…

    • dtoub 3:20 pm on Thursday, January 1, 2009, 3:20 pm Permalink

      I read that in Barenboim’s essay as well and agree with it. My take on it is a bit different from yours. It is going to take more than the leadership to bring peace; the populations themselves have to choose to respect one another and stop the conflict. I’m not being unrealistic and certainly don’t think that it’s all a matter of having a kumbaya moment out of Haight-Ashbury during the 60’s antiwar protests. But right now, the average Israeli disrespects the Palestinians. They want peace, but have no idea what the average Palestinian suffers through under occupation. It’s just much easier to view them as a faceless group of potential terrorists who are worthy of collective punishment. For their part, the average Palestinian thinks of Israelis as bullies, of having extreme power thanks to US support, and believes that they are paying the price for what the Europeans did to us Jews in the Holocaust, as well as before (eg, pogroms, the Inquisition) and after (think Kielce, Poland after the War ended). The stereotypes have to end. Small initial efforts, like those of the Seeds of Peace group, the joint Israeli-Palestinian orchestra founded by Barenboim and Said, etc., start to break down stereotypes and hatreds. It isn’t perfect, brief or easy. But it is the best hope we have.

      Right now, all that’s happening is killing on both sides, and in this case, mostly the Palestinian side. Six Israelis have died, which is a tragedy, and over 400 Palestinians have died, which is also a tragedy. Sure, many of the dead were Hamas supporters, but were they all terrorists? Many were clearly children who were blameless. It’s not a question of Western values, but rather, human ones. The current approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked. It will not work, period. Hamas is a popular, democratically-elected government in Gaza (and technically, the West Bank as well). Even Israel, as far as I know, is not interested or willing to remove Hamas from power—they know, I think, that they just can’t. Hamas is a religious fanatic organization, and they are on record as desiring the entire East Bank, as well as the West Bank, for the land of Palestine. But the only way Israel is going to change Hamas is to give them a reason to drop their weapons. It’s not exactly the same as al Qaeda—Hamas is a political group, not a pure terror group without boundaries. You know where Hamas lives; al Qaeda is more diffuse.

      In the end, you do need to talk with your enemies. Israel, by automatically taking the military approach, lost its moral superiority many years ago. I think Israel should have behaved better. Take action, definitely. But not disproportionate action. Gandhi, under different circumstances, but perhaps even harsher ones, managed to make the British leave India without violence. There’s a great lesson there. The Palestinians should take that approach and work to end the occupation. The Israelis would be wise to accept a nonviolent approach as well, not to allow itself to be destroyed, but to rebuild its moral authority and grab a chance at peace. Palestinians and Israelis are both equally valued. Right now, each side views the other as less valuable, and that’s a huge burden that must be overcome before real peace can happen.

    • rchrd 1:28 am on Saturday, January 3, 2009, 1:28 am Permalink

      I’m afraid the only solution is a biblical one .. mutual destruction on both sides. Neither seems to be happy with the other one existing, so that’s the only solution.

      Look at the situation in Northern Ireland… people got so fed up with the self-destruction that eventually a generation came along that put as much energy into solving the problem as past generations put into killing each other. Could this happen in the Middle East? I doubt it.

      Root cause is religion. It should be banned, and religious zealots put into mental institutions. Where has religion done any good to balance all the death, destruction, torture, hatred, displacement, and anguish it has caused for centuries?

      A pox on both their houses.

      Meanwhile, my daughter leaves for Tel Aviv next week on another of her fact-finding/reporting trips. I wish she wouldn’t.

    • dtoub 11:20 am on Saturday, January 3, 2009, 11:20 am Permalink

      I completely agree with you, Richard. I think it’s land + religion (some folks think it’s just land, but I don’t agree). What’s interesting is that Kurdish Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in some cases for almost three thousand years without any concern for one another’s differences. They viewed themselves as Kurds and were mutually respectful of one another—Kurdish Muslims would not smoke on Shabbes, while Jews wouldn’t smoke on Ramadan out of respect for the other person’s religion. They saw themselves as Kurds first, and the religion was secondary. It wasn’t until external forces intruded in the late 40’s and early 50’s that things changed horribly for the worst. So coexistence is not only desirable, but very possible. The people themselves have to make the decision for peace. The religious prejudices are complicating the disputes over land. I don’t think either people deserve to live there until they can get along in the same sandbox. Good luck to Nora next week—I’m sure she’ll be ok.

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