Sunday, April 09, 2006

On the Danger of Criticizing Our Middle-East Policy

There have always been critics of American foreign policy in the Middle East insofar as it concerns Israel and its neighbors but, for the most part, these criticisms have been easily dismissed because they were made by Palestinians or supporters of the Palestinian people. They were easily ignored by American politicians because there are insufficient numbers of Arabs and Arab supporters to affect elections except perhaps in just a few areas of the country. However, there have long been critics of our Middle-East policy who blame some of our problems in the Middle East on our seemingly unbalanced, one-sided support of Israel but they have tended to be pretty silent. The reason is these people have been afraid to make their views known is that they know that they will be charged with anti-semitism, that supporters of Israel will use intimidation to try to shut them up.

Today, a story by Michael Powell appeared in the "Insight" section of my Columbus Dispatch, headlined "Storm erupts over paper on U.S.-Israel relationship." I believe this is the Michael K. Powell who chaired the FCC and who initiated the big fines of media organizations that offended his personal morality (and who is right wing). I believe that Janet Jackson's exposed breast was one of those cases.

This article starts off saying that
Two prominent academics, a dean at Harvard and a professor at the university of Chicago, have stirred a tempest by writing a paper arguing that the Israel lobby often persuades the United States to set aside its own security to pursue the best interests of Israel.
Naturally, critics have accused them of being anti-Semitic. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz says they "destroyed their professional reputations." This is an interesting statement. It is very hard for an academic to destroy his or her professional reputation simply by writing one paper that contains mistakes. I venture to suggest that every academic who publishes, including Dershowitz, has published something that turned out to be false at least in part. But their reputations were not "destroyed" as a result. So how does the reputation of these two scholars get destroyed by writing this article? Because they are being charged directly or indirectly by being anti-Semitic.

Dershowitz goes on to say that
"we've heard all this before, the talk of powerful Jewish lobbies and the language one hears on Arab and extreme right-wing Web sites."
Here, Dershowitz does not argue against the position taken in the paper these men wrote. Instead, he employs an ad hominem argument that tars this Harvard dean and University of Chicago professor with the same brush used to tar radical Muslims and skinheads. Does this seem fair to you?

I drew attention in a recent blog to an article on the National Review web site which written by Tom Gross who says, "One of the great myths of modern journalism, particularly outside the U.S., is that the New York Times is "pro-Israel." In fact, it would be truer to say that the opposite is the case." Several times in the article he accuses the Times of being anti-Israel and he criticizes Maureen Dowd, a NYTimes columnist, saying "on a visit to Saudi Arabia, Times columnist Maureen Dowd allowed the anti-Semitic slanders of the Saudi deputy education minister to be repeated unchallenged and uncriticized, as if they were fact." Saying someone or some paper is anti-Israel doesn't count as an argument against them. It is simply a verbal ploy designed to "slander" them, to use Grosses term.

I applaud these two scholars for their courage. They had to know that they would be charged with anti-semitism never mind the fact that American foreign policy has been skewed in favor of Israel for decades and we have paid a heavy price for it in lives and money. But I rush to say in defense of myself that I bow to no person -- I can see the slings and arrows headed in the general direction of this blog -- in my concern with genuine anti-semitic behavior. I read a small library of materials on the Holocaust when I was young -- specifically novels, historical accounts, and opinion pieces -- and was horrified. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Copenhagen and was horrified, but also inspired by the courage of the Danish resistance. The name "Baba Yar" is branded across my brain even today though I no longer remember the details of the atrocities committed there. To me, the horror of that time makes it totally irresponsible for anyone to charge anyone with anti-semitism simply to try to shut them up, as Derschowitz and others are clearly trying to do.

Our pro-Israel stance has to a very large degree been forced on us by the failure of our allies to join us in an effort to protect Israel and provide assistance to the Palestinians. We have, for all intents and purposes, been isolated thanks to our cowardly European allies and we have reaped the storm of Arab resentment. I'm not suggesting that any specific anti-American attack was due primarily to our pro-Israel stance. OBL, for instance, had other axes to grind, including our support of oil-rich Arab monarchies. But to suppose that our pro-Israel stance played no role in the hating that led up to the first or second attack on the WTC or the attack on our embassies in Africa or the attack on the Cole is ridiculous. Its part of the anti-American Middle-east stew. But we have to support Israel nevertheless. But we didn't have to support their refusal to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. We did that for Israel when it would have been in our best interests to have helped the Palestinians create their own state. It must have been the right thing to do since Israel has finally "let" it happen. In the same vein, I believe we must pressure Israel to give its Arab citizens equal rights to those its Jewish citizens enjoy and pressure Israel to withdraw entirely from the West Bank areas it has built settlements in, and pressure Israel to be more selective in its attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Anyone who thinks innocent civilians aren't terrorized or even killed in Gaza and the West Bank by these military actions doesn't know much about what is going on. Their weapons accuracy is no better than ours.

The language people use to silence others can be a very powerful weapon. It is one thing to attack the arguments of someone who suggests our policy toward Israel is wrong and quite another to call him or her an anti-semite. We have seen this sort of verbal ploy over and over in other contexts as when people are said to be racist or homophobic or whatever just to shut them up. If a person cannot make an argument that supports his or her position and discredits an opponent's position, then he or she must do the shutting up.

One of the great ironies of American politics is some of the biggest supporters of Israel are members of the Religious Right Wing, people whom I would have supposed would normally be anti-semitic. Of course, their support is predicated on some of their nuttier religious views, not for authentic political reasons. On the last episode of the Sopranos, Tony, recovering from a gunshot wound, told a visiting hoodlum, who happens to be Jewish, that a Bible thumper (my words) said he supported Israel. The Jewish hoolum said, if I recall correctly, "Just wait."

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Blogger Mr K said...

The funny thing is that it would seem obvious that there is a very effective pro-Isreal lobby in the US, aided by a significant proportion of Jewish voters and the guilt of the holocaust, a hideous thing. It is of course difficult to make this argument because it is similar in shape to the one made by anti-semites, although to be honest the nazist anti-semitism, as I understand it, saw semitism as a controlling force, rather than a very influential force, which is an important distinction to make.

Also, it's probably worth noting that, as I understand the paper makes clear, there is not some kind of all powerful lobby that meets together in secret, but rather convergent interests from various individuals.

I would agree with all the points you make. It is simply ridiculous that Isreal pretends that the calls from practically every nation on the planet that they withdraw to the 1967 borders.

To be honest I'm not sure whats going to happen with this if nothing changes come 50 years or so, because all reports seem to show that the Palestinians are simply out populating the Isrealis....

3:13 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Just to put things in perspective, this source says that Jews only make up about 2% of the American population, although the common perception is that they make up over 10%. I'm not sure what variety of forces lead to this misperception, but this source says that the Native American population is about 1.5%. Jews are all over the media, but where are Native Americans? I'm sure the reason is a severe power difference.

I really have no idea about American policy toward Israel. In any case, Israel should as a matter of course give the same rights to non-Jewish citizens as they give to Jewish citizens. I understand why they wouldn't want to, because I doubt Jewish citizens enjoy the same rights as Arabs in neighboring countries.

Lord knows, LG, that I know what your linguistic point is. Simply because someone has a particular criticism of Israel policy doesn't make them anti-Semitic. I wonder if that linguistic weapon will lose its force as it becomes over-used and is aimed at intelligent, sensible, and sensitive people who in fact are not anti-Semitic. The same goes for other labels for people who are perceived to harbor prejudices.

4:43 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I also am no great fan of Israel (which for a time I referred to, however inappropriately, as "South Africa on the Mediterranean") but do not consider myself an anti-Semite; the first does not logically entail the second.

I see a serious contradiction in American support for the (re)creation of the state of Israeli on land held millennia ago by the Jewish people: we're very unlikely to support similar calls for the return of land taken much more recently from indigenous nations within our own borders. The "birthright" argument seems spurious to me given the time period involved, but I can go along with arguments from the perspective of the need for a homeland for the Jewish people as one way of escaping persecution elsewhere. Once again the practical implementation by the Great Powers left much to be desired. (I wonder if there were similar dislocations and conflicts surrounding the creation of Liberia?)

I agree completely with your observation that it is not just Jews who support Israel in America; the rebirth of a Jewish state in the "Holy Land" (and no doubt the ensuing conflict) figures importantly in the eschatology of many Christian fundamentalists.

I haven't read enough in this area of history to draw my own conclusions or answer this myself, but has anyone ever proposed that the creation of Israel and emigration of Jews there was the more civilized/humane Allied solution to "The Jewish Problem"? (Again, I'm not saying there IS such a problem.)

8:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm a fairly regular reader of your blog, although I haven't made many appearances in the comment forums. This comment isn't relevant to this post, but I hope you'll excuse that.

I just read an interesting post on the influence (or lack of it) of language on the thought process of people. It's by a person, 'AmiLEan Questions', who happens to have written quite a few other such posts too.

T'would be nice of you if could go take a look at that post, and leave your comment. Here is the URL: http://blogchaat.com/2006/04/09/language-master-or-slave/

4:13 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I did as requested. I was surprised that I don't have a specific blog on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. The blog on Orwell comes close.

8:37 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

J_G, this is a much more reasonable crtique of the position taken by the two academics I refer to, than that of Dershowitz. The author is quite right that support for our relationship to Israel runs deep. I feel it too. However, it would be incorrect to say that Israel is an always reliable ally. They have sent spies here who have been caught and convicted. This is not the action of a friend. They also engage in activities that expose us to increased anti-American sentiment, as when they unilaterally took out an Iraqi nuclear facility some 20 or more years ago with a very precise bit of bombing. And the fact remains, as anyone who knows the history of the resettlement of Palestine is that once the Arabs had decided that enough (perfectly legal purchasing of Arab property by Jews) was enough and decided to stop this practice by force, the Jews there engaged in terrorist actions, including attacks on the British. Begin was, for instance, a terrorist leader. Yes, they started initially acquiring property in a peaceful, fully legal way but once hostilities began, they began to take property by force. Many Palestinians were displaced and neither Israel nor, to their great shame, Arab countries have been willing to do right by them. Many Arab nations could have absorbed the displaced people but chose not to. The Palestinians have a legitimate grievance and it continues not to be addressed by anyone. Jordan doesn't want them for some of the same reasons Israel doesn't.

The author neatly sidestepped the issue of whether there is a one person, one vote principle in determining the Knesset. He said 10 had been voted in. However, Arabs constitute something like 19% or more of the population. Perhaps there is some innocent explanation for this. Or, it could be like the gerrymandering done in Texas by Republicans there.

There is no satsifactory solution to the problem, apparently, but it would help if our European Allies could join us in coercing the Arab nations to assist in, at least, a workable Palestinian state and a solution to the problem of the displaced Palestinians and their offspring (most of the original ones, like Begin, are probably dead by now). It will not do to refuse to speak to Hamas. As a linguist said many years ago, you don't negotiate to create treaties with your friends; you negotiate with your enemies in the hope that an friendly relationship can result.

12:13 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

LG, you did have a good discussion of the S-W hypothesis in Language and the Abortion Controversy, your first real big post when yours was a Blog of Note. It was the discussion of the S-W hypothesis that really caught my interest in your blog in the first place.

12:27 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Thanks, Kelly.

I have learned this about the Israeli elections: "The entire country onstitutes a single electoral district." So, there would be no gerrymandering. It seems that there are 120 seats and the Arabs have 10, while they constitute about 20% of the population. So they should have 24 memebers, all other things being equal. That seems like tokenism to me.

The fact that Arabs in Israel may be happier there than as peasants or small merchants in other countries doesn't mean a great deal. I would imagine that Blacks in the South of the US were better off there in, say, 1920 than they would have been in Africa.

An important question is whether there are any Arabs in the military. That would represent true, mutual trust.

1:16 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

le vent fripon, anti-semitism is not common in the US where I live, or, I think, I would have heard of it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist in the US or in Europe. So long as the vigorous attacks on anti-semitism go on, it is easier, I believe, to work against other forms of prejudice.

4:03 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I think it's interesting to see lurkers come out of the woodwork on this one. Perhaps something in the post or the comments told them that they needn't worry about getting into a heated argument in this thread. I'm betting it was the message of tolerance for dissent in the post. Good job, LG!

5:44 PM

Blogger The MetaKong said...

Wow...wish I wasn't so busy...great posts lately LG...I'd comment more, but, 14-hour shifts all week n' 'bout to leave!

IMO, Israel is a prime example of how fascist a democracy can become when run by a majority who happens to be religious zealots willing to die in order to "cleanse" their land of terror.



6:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!

7:28 AM

Blogger Mr K said...

LG, and indeed, Sean, as I understand it Isreal runs a completely proportional representation, using a closed list system. Essentially each party has a list of candidates, you vote for the party, and they get a proportion of their candidates in depending on the proportion of votes. This kind of democracy (interestingly, the one also used by Germany before Hitler seized power), does tend to encourage to give power to smaller parties, as the the larger ones are reliant on them to form coalition governments, which are absolutely essential. This can be exploted, and lead to rather weak governments.

12:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure nobody want to hear my thoughts on this. hehe

4:23 PM

Blogger The MetaKong said...

This kind of democracy (interestingly, the one also used by Germany before Hitler seized power), does tend to encourage to give power to smaller parties, as the the larger ones are reliant on them to form coalition governments, which are absolutely essential.
understood...fact remains that the largest "portion" is still the "majority" and they will only be able to build coalitions with like minded parties, meaning that the essential or fundamental goals/endeavors of the majority are still using power to arbitrarily order society as they see fit...and, that, is authoritarian fascism...and,that, is everywhere...



ps-"when the voter turnout consists of only those who have learned to love, forgive, forget, live and let live, then and, only then will we have peace and comfort; as it stands, the minorities are at the whim of a majority hell bent on self-fulfilling prophecy (iow-revelations) ; )

9:42 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

The most sacred places in the world for Christians reside in Israel or are under the control and protection of Israel and without a Jewish state those places would most likely be destroyed or become inaccessible because the current generation of Muslims refuses to recognize or respect any other religions.

Is it just me or if you listen closely, can you hear faint echoes of Urban II in that?

Careful, that way lies crusade...which is just jihad spelled differently.

10:48 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

J_G, the reason whackos like Pat Robertson and others who are super-fundamenatlist, support Israel is
(1)God cannot establish His Son in Israel as King of the Jews unless the Jews are living in Palestine, their promised homeland, so it is God's plan to restore the Jews to Palestine before the Second Coming of Christ:
(2)In the near future God will put Israel through a very troublesome period of time known as the "great tribulation" (Mat. 24:21), but Christians will not have to endure the Tribulation.

This is a taste. Go to http://www.biblebelievers.com/jmelton/second.html
for more stuff like this.

I googled "second coming of Jesus Israel". Doing so will give you plenty of this stuff.

As this stuff makes clear, these guys don't like Jews. They are hoping for the "tribulation" to come. You can't like someone and hope for that.

5:02 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

When I was a child and understood as a child and thought as a child...there was a period during which I was frightened into a semblance of belief by horror stories of what awaited those Left Behind. Fear may be the beginning of wisdom, but it is a poor foundation for a lasting love.

Reading that page you linked to, LG, really took me back. To a place where I never want to live again. Thank God [sic] I have put away childish things!

It occured to me that one so minded could make a career off the misuse of language in these tracts. One example:

This calling-out of the Church is commonly referred to as the "Rapture" because of the quick and surprising nature in which it occurs.

I question the "quick and surprising" part there. While one of the meanings of the original Latin rapere is "to snatch away", implying a quick and possibly unexpected action, and another is "to hurry, drive, cause to rush" (transitive), the primary sense is "to seize and carry off by force". (So a possible alternative to the common "we shall be caught up" translation would be "we shall be raped". In midair, no less...Mile High Club?) Either way, the word in modern English has no such connotations outside of this religious usage and means "to be carried away in bliss or ecstasy". (Relevant on provisional acceptance of Wikipedia's claim that the modern Rapture doctrine dates only from the 19th century.)

To get back on topic, the scary thing about all this is the potential for someone subscribing to such beliefs to (ab)use political office to hurry things along. In which eventuality we would all, believer and non-believer alike, be truly screwed.

Face to face / Sadly solitude / And it's finger popping / Twenty-four hour shopping / in Rapture. (Blondie)

10:32 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

LG, I had to come back & tell you I was puzzled by the last 2 sentences in your post.

I'm now reading the book, 'The Baptizing of America; The religious rights plans for the rest of us.' By, Rabbi james Rudin.

I get it, now.
the 'Christocrats' (Rudin's term for the fanatical & devoted who are working to turn America into a country w/a single religion) declare their love for Israel but do not love Judaism.

9:48 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Nice dectective work. I wish all my students had been as diligent trying to figure out stuff as you showed you were. I suspect that many if not most of the Christian Right are anti-Semitic though not after the manner of the Nazis. More like those in posh sections in Southern cities who would let Jews live there or get in their country clubs. I knew all sorts of people who lived in River Oaks in Houston back in the late '50's who loved to shop in the two most posh clothing stores, Battlestein's and Sakowitz's, both owned by Jewish families, but those same families couldn't live in River Oaks or joint the River Oaks country club. I suspect they can now.

9:55 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I don't think the present Christian right realize that they might be anti-semitic. They would be pissed off if you suggested it.

They don't seem to be able to follow a logic argument.

12:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi LG,
You commented about the low percentage of Arab MK in relation to the number of voters.
The recent Israeli election had the lowest voter turnout in Israeli history, approx. 63%, and it's not the first time that voter turnout may have had a significant effect on the election results. You seem to be assuming that Arabs necessarily vote for parties that identify themselves as Arab parties, or have mostly Arab members. That's not a safe assumption to make.
You're also asking about Arabs in the military. Military service in Israel is mostly compulsory. Some groups are exempt, Arab Israelies being one of those groups, however, there are some who volunteer despite the exemption.
You'd be much more likely to find Arabs on the police force - (as well in any other job, just what you'd expect to find in multi-ethnic cities) - so if by "true, mutual trust" you mean something like "they carry state issued guns on-duty", then of course it exists. Why wouldn't it?

4:39 PM

Blogger BSeeg said...

LG --

Good points. I have observed for some time that support for Israel (or criticism of it) seems to be a third-rail that few touch. I agree with your support for those academics.

I remember reading in our local paper once after an attack on this or that in Israel, that the number of Palestinians killed in the official reprisal (which is usually always couched in much different and better-sounding language) was about ten times the number of Israelis killed. That was shocking, but that pattern has been a long-standing one, where ratios of deaths between Israelis and the reprisals are in the ratios of 6 or 8 or 10 to 1. Pretty remarkable.

As far as language goes, one only hears of "Palestinian" when speaking about the other residents of Israel, but never the fact that for a long time, many of these Palestinians were Christian populations. One could presume that Israel's press and its supporters here in the US liked keeping out such distinctions, because most Americans would presume that being Palestinian equaled being Arab, or Muslim, when that is really not necessarily the case. Americans would not be happy to hear that Christians were being persecuted in Israel.

However, looking at it in another light, the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis is not much different than the treatment of the third world by Europeans, and largely the Israelis are Europeans, and so whatever prejudices and attitudes to the locals -- which have certainly been brought out in the press and in history in terms of the European colonialism of the past centuries, but certainly there were never any Jewish colonies (of a sort), until now -- are certainly in keeping with 18th and 19th and early 20th-century colonialism. Such treatments of locals certainly wouldn't go over very well for any European country in the late 20th-century or 21st century. However, Israel seems different.

Speaking with a friend from Lebanon, when the topic of Israel came up, I made the unfortunate comment (to prevent possible embarrassment) of the situation being "complicated". His calm response was no, that it was actually pretty simple. All Israel had to do was to make it in the Palestinians economic interest to thrive side-by-side, and things would have been largely different. Instead, Israel rounded up Palestinians and put them in refugee camps, and created a bigger problem. Growing up in Lebanon, he said that when he and his friends looked up in the sky at the jets flying overhead, they were always American jets, and American bombs that were falling from them. The perception was easy that Israel was a puppet of the American government.

It is certainly sad that the U.S. has been sucked into this corner of the world.

As far as Israel getting special treatment, I once asked some security folks about the treatment of espionage by Israel, and they pretty much said that it was largely a hands-off matter. But probably more depending on the specifics of the different administrations, and not just which party was in power.

5:38 PM


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