Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You are not allowed to tell me we're not great

Over at A Tiny Revolution you can catch a little drama on American commentator Christopher Hitchens and his obsession with American benevolence. He compares Hitchens' propaganda to the militant/terrorist group now taking over parts of Iraq.

The quote is as follows:

Someone Please Dig Up Christopher Hitchens and Show Him This Blog Post

Christopher Hitchens on Iraq, 2005:
The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq...I want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened...where were the sweets and where were the flowers? Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't...it was like this is the nearest I'll get to taking part in the liberation of the country, to ride in with the liberating army...I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen.
What jumped to my mind was not Iraq however but the war in the Philippines over a hundred years ago (see this blog post of mine for why). Once again the path to war looks eerily similar:
On the surface, most of the changes taking place in the American pacification campaign appeared to increase its severity and to abandon the policy of benevolent pacification, but this was not the case. Provost-Marshal-General Bell's comments to the officers serving under him placed the policy changes in their proper perspective. Bell began by stating that he had "frequently heard the opinion expressed that no good has been accomplished" by the old policy. He continued:

I cannot concur in that opinion, for I feel convinced that this policy has had a good effect. Had we been building for a day only or solely in order to put an end to hostilities, a different policy might have been indicated but ... we have got to continue to live among these people. We have got to govern them

He goes on to say:

"This policy has earned for us the respect and approval of a large majority of the more intelligent and influential portion of the community. We cannot lose their support by now adopting such measures as may be necessary to suppress the irreconcilable and disorderly.

The historian who gathered this testimony goes on to quite dryly mourn this general's soldiers not living up to his professed ideals:

"Unfortunately, some Americans did not have as good an understanding of the new policy as General Bell, and for them it represented the inauguration of a campaign of severity. Consequently, some enlisted men could interpret the new policy as one of "taking no prisoners" with MacArthur "sweeping everything as he goes," and officers could write of substituting "the effective noose for the futile school-book"(28) The cruelties and abuses that appeared in increasing numbers during 1900 continued, and those men who so desired could interpret the new pacification policy as a sanction for such action.
Here's an inscription from the Achaemenid Empire:

[4.11] Says Darius the king: If thou shalt conceal this record (and) not tell (it) to the people, may Auramazda be a smiter unto thee and may there not be unto thee a family.
[4.12] Says Darius the king: This (is) what I did in every way; by the grace of Auramazda I did (it); Auramazda bore me aid and the other gods which are.
[4.13] Says Darius the king: For this reason Auramazda bore me aid and the other gods which are, because I was not an enemy, I was not a deceiver, I was not a wrong-doer, neither I nor my family; according to rectitude [I ruled] nor made I my power(?) an oppression to [those who praise me]; the man (who) helped my house, him who should be well esteemed, I esteemed; (the man) who would destroy it, him who should deserve punishment, I punished.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Response to Mira Sucharov

Sucharov's essay can be read here. You can watch the video of her debate with Max Blumenthal at CPAC or read my transcription of it here.

 "They heard the gentle remonstrance of a kindly king with an erring but much-loved minister." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

The responsibility of liberal Zionists is not just to defend Zionism from anti-Zionists but to police its own excess, and honestly admit its failings. This is what you are asking of anti-Zionists. It's fair to assume you ought to practice it yourself. Take one example from the debate, the right of return. It may be unrealistic and therefore unfair (as Noam Chomsky has pointed out) to tempt Palestinians with the right of return but just on an academic note, if Israel is to return to Zionist ideals, it would have to return the property it took from Palestinians. Theodor Herzl said if Arabs refused to give up their property you should simply build where you face no objection.

Another thing liberal Zionists must face in order to be taken seriously, however uncomfortable it may be, is Israel already is an apartheid state (EDIT 8/1/2014: or ready to become one). Between 1949 and 1959 the Afrikaner government passed the the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949), Suppression of Communism Act (1950), The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act (1951), The Riotous Assemblies Act (1956), and the Promotion of Bantu Self-government Act (1959). These all are parallel with proposed and many enacted laws in Israel including banning of Arab parties in the last 20 years, mostly under the governments by the current ruling party Likud. None of these do you mention by name, either in the debate or in this essay. It was notably Max Blumenthal, the "anti-Zionist," who brought up the Bedouins facing eviction, not you. I think this is because it does not fit your endgame. This is a sign of degrading democracy, not a sign of hope or a defect in Israel. So you find it hard to face it.

It is also a feature of the society, not an accident. Israel has brought itself into this situation by creating a country of Western ideals (including the nation-state and the Fascism it entails) and Western trade interest, as Theodor Herzl intended. By aligning itself with the US, its main military supplier, as well as many dictators and opressive governments in the region, as well as Latin America, the idea that Israel means well loses credibility. We should also remember that in US history, the pretext of the war on terrorism overtook the pretext of communism specifically in relation to South Africa. When Reagan was in office he was advised to make a distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" governments and attacked, with undemocratic support, the helpless Latinos in his way under the pretext Israel's military hides behind today. This policy also included support of apartheid South Africa and the peaceful yet illegal annexation of Western Sahara by King Hussein II of Morocco. These are crimes concealed by nationalist fervor and a totally biased vocabulary (read the speeches of Hussein if you doubt me). That a state can be a benevolent force is an illusion, which is the point.

So what must be countered in Israel is not just specific laws. What should be discouraged is superstitious coveting of the power and credibility of nationhood, and the propaganda you write in its defense. Israelis and Zionists naturally recognize this about Iran and Gaza, but not themselves. While  it may not be necessary to abolish it -- Leftists do not support violent overthrow of Iran for example -- we certainly shouldn't encourage their propaganda either. For whatever reason, I don't know exactly the cause (human nature perhaps), the ability to make historical analogies is limited by the so called liberal Zionists to countries like Finland and Canada.

But the important history here is the US', Israel's main supporter. When the US oppressed the "Indians" we heard what we wanted: "Come over and help us." This goes right through American history, notably Vietnam which we wanted "spared" from the scourge of communism, and Iraq which we "liberated" into a country of sectarian warfare, its oil sold to the highest bidder. You hear this pop up in relation to the "myth" that Palestinian water is under Israeli control, and the crocodile tears shed for the women living under the government of the Hamas party. This mentality is also repsonsible for domestic and military pressure in Israel that is preventing the two state solution, a major step in resolving the conflict. Even if Arabs tomorrow went on TV and renounced terrorism, we would not see peace. Al-Jazeera reporter Clayton Swisher reports that Bill Clinton "falsely told the world that Arafat had rejected his parameters" out of fear of upsetting internal Israeli politics. That's not about laws, it's about political demographics which would be made impossible with a stronger check on military excess and Zionist nationalism. Israel currently has sitting in a jail cell a popular Palestinian politician who supports the two state solution. He is imprisoned thanks to the myth created in the wake of Kissinger's bad faith UN negotiations that Israel's security should be equally weighed with the national borders. He was tried in a military court in occupied West Bank for signing checks to "terrorists" -- namely Palestinian militants who have resisted the Israeli soldiers and need money for lawyers.

Even putting propaganda aside and going to concrete proposals, this is not contradicted by the two-state solution simply because it has Arab support. Mondoweiss writer Phan Nguyen pointed out we should remember that during apartheid in South Africa there were two-state solutions proposed (this was Abraham Lincoln's idea as well for African-Americans). It may be the best of the rotten ideas around but it does not mean apartheid doesn't exist. Rather, as US and South Africa illustrate, it is an idea very compatible with apartheid and an out of control state (remember, Lincoln also suspended Habeus Corpus). Much like other instances of US power and US involved powers, we understate the evils of the Israeli strategy. The rest is a red herring.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Response to Magnes Zionist

"Stop bringing meaningless offerings!    Your incense is detestable to me."
-- Isaiah 1:13 

This is in part a response to the Magnes Zionist blog who has criticized J Street for voting down a BDS resolution:
 Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle.  Like a long line of liberal Zionists before them, the negotiations took place not between Jews and Arabs  but  between Jews and Jews. They complained that the other side was not interested in dialogue.  What the other side wanted was not dialogue but joint action. That’s the way the oppressed operate.  
 [...]
They learned their lesson well -- criticize the tribe, but only from within the tribe. Call for boycott, but only the token “Zionist BDS”  of the settlements.  Oppose the Occupation, but never, never, even begin to punish Israel for the Occupation.  Call for peace now, but make sure that the playing field for the negotiations is skewed in favor of Israel.

I agree with this. But while I support BDS, I can't pretend to know what the playing field for the conflict should be except to get the West to stop involving itself in the negotiations and the Israeli military. So this essay is not about the settlements or what concessions to expect from which side, but about the propaganda in the conflict. After all, a debate and a negotiation are about human communication. Nobody is above a little slip in this now and then (remember Helen Thomas?).

As I see it, young Jews are still split into two camps, but it's not exactly Zionist, anti-Zionist, or even pro-BDS and anti-BDS. Rather it's those who have made an abstract association of justice, whose test is hypocrisy, and those who believe Israel's main problem is to defend the Zionist ideal, which is done by feeling passionate about a female rabbi and Arab MK's (I'm quoting the most recent debate which aired a few days ago on Canadian TV over whether Israel can be a democracy). This is the context for my impression of J Street:

We should take heart that the centrist heart of Israeli politics is alive and well, and the seemingly inexorable rise of the ultra-right has been halted. There remains a solid majority in Israel for a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s do-nothing policies were rejected by both the right and the left. Given the circumstances, this result is almost the best we could have hoped for and far better than expected.


Now, any student of oppressive government can see this for the cheap partisan propaganda that it is. And I agree with Magnes Zionist on J Street's indecency. But the left is also more tribal than he assumes (for proof of this check a blog called The Daily Howler).

Anyway, there was one thing about this debate at CPAC.ca that really stuck with me. Max Nordau came up. Remember, he's a Zionist who might have been the first to disapprove of a fanatic, religious passion for the project. Yet Mira Sucharov began her talk in the debate with a call for a stronger Jew, a rugged individual who lusts innocently for overalls and a shovel in her hand, the opening metaphor for her entire argument. Did her opponent, Max Blumenthal, call her on this? No. He did the best that he could, tracing the theft of Palestinian land under the deliberate terror of Jabotinsky. As a historian, he seems to have succeeded. But as a deprogrammer, he has failed.

In a strategy of undoing the spiritual conditioning of the Zionist individual (which seems to have been Herzl's goal), we cannot only be experts at the reality on the ground, or of history, but of ourselves as messengers. Blumenthal took most of his time to inform the audience only of what Sucharov would not. He countered Sucharov's idolatry only a few times. Two that come to mind, which seem to have most provoked Sucharov: 1. He passionately defended the so-called blacklisting of student representatives given favors by AIPAC, and 2. asked her point blank how many Arabs are too many, in a passionate defense of the Right of Return, which clearly was successful in provoking her (you could tell in the tone in her begrudging admission of support for what is a pretty racist policy, however much it wears a fig-leaf of culture). Yet he had many more opportunities to counter the Fascist ideal of the Israelis as children of their loving state outside of these easy take-downs. (Maybe that it's easy should reflect poorly on us too!) This countering can be done not so much with history as with psychology and Orwell's look at the empty rhetoric of writers, although I will explain the sobering history too.

First, any time Sucharov needed to recover from a threat to her idol, she went back and forth between the post-modern religious spells of "ontology" and "narratives" designed to defend against emotional thought, and a cathartic, energetic praise for a state yet to come, with jokes and applause lines. The tradition of post-modernism is itself traceable to Martin Heidegger, a Nazi smuggled into respectable circles by French intellectuals, many of them Jews. Overall, Heidegger believed philosophy itself to be so complex that one should feel accomplished simply for arriving where he started. It's easy to see how this was appropriated by liberals. Everyone has something valid to offer, the truth is bigger than us, everyone is right.

But the best parallel isn't Hitler (as Blumenthal attempted in his book), but Mussolini, who took this exact attitude toward labor unions. Blumenthal, by focusing on the Jewish Fascist Jabotinsky, did not even detect the much more obvious Fascism in the entire Zionist myth and its connection to Mussolini's manifesto:
Fascism wants man to be active and to engage in action with all his energies; it wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle in which it behooves a man to win for himself a really worthy place, first of all by fitting himself (physically, morally, intellectually) to become the implement required for winning it. As for the individual, so for the nation, and so for mankind... The Fascist disdains an “easy" life 
which says yes some dirty work had to be done but hey, now we're improved.

Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State

The logic is circular. Fascism is good, so what has brought it into being is by definition good. Norman G Finkelstein (who is hissed at by some in the BDS crowd, particularly Electronic Intifada) traced this psychic strategy very well in his book Image and Reality in regards to selling your soul to what you call rationality in order to attempt something evil, to persuade yourself of a moral cause, and a limit on your evil tendency:

A canonical text of labor Zionism's distinctive ethos is The Seventh Day, an oral history of the June 1967 war based on the 'soldier's talk' of 'a group of young kibbutz members'. An overarching theme of the volume is that the Israeli soldier did not harbor any personal animus toward -- indeed, was tormented by the violence he inflicted on -- the Arabs. The appointed task was a dirty one but, alas had to be done. The book's moral anxiety is due not to the effects of the violence on the victim, however, but the victor: the corruption of the Jewish soul.
Sucharov clearly has absorbed this myth:

Really briefly as I said I do agree that the JNF's Jewish only land leasing policy is discriminatory. And because it discriminates among the state's citizens on the basis of ethnicity and religion. I do think it is antidemocratic. So I do think that those policies have to be changed. And that they are a historical relic. Let's remember where things come from. They're a historical relic when Israel was trying to create itself as a sovereign expression Jewish peoplehood. And it had it it had a purpose perhaps at the time and now it no longer does. [Applause]

This is how Zionism stands today, not in hatred of the left or of Arabs but by the idea that everyone is a little right and nobody is wrong (soccer hoodlums aside, does anyone wake up in the morning with a heart full of hate?). The battle being waged is over who gets to be "secure" from criticism (and bigotry), and the left plays into it just as unproductively as someone arguing with a racist. So instead, we need to challenge the Orwellian confusion between writing and thinking, between the state and the individual, and the cult of self-improvement.


Why isn't this happening? Max Nordau could not because he himself was deluded. Sucharov could not because she buys into the Fascist founding myth.  And Max Blumenthal could not because he is in the business of angels and demons, another delusion. It's not just enough to point out the seedy underbelly of nationalism, or even to disprove Nordau. By giving in to petty games of more-radical-than-thou, we give up a chance at education of history. We dull our criticisms of sharp, accurate context in favor of party line rebukes (would any Democrat attempt to criticize Clinton like Chomsky?), and the company of bigoted rhetoric on both sides, as punching bags or attaboys.  If we wish to stand as moral prophets in acknowledging justice and its test of hypocrisy, away from the temptation of tribal fervor, we hurt ourselves twice acting in a bad example with an incomplete message.