Thursday, June 10, 2010

Judt What I Needed

Since it looks highly unlikely that I will be able to go back to writing about pleasant topics like Mexican Japanese Peanuts, here are some thoughts on Tony Judt's mostly balanced op-ed piece in the NY Times about the odious cliches being brandished from both sides in the Middle East tussle.
Indeed, half of my current anxiety comes from some facile, overly simplistic, histrionic and ignorantly hostile cliches coming from the pro-Palestinian side; and the other half, evenly split in the middle, are the facile, histrionic, absurd, defensive, and sometimes downright idiotic cliches that I am hearing from the Pro-Israel side, which I dare not repeat here for fear of hurting our own cause. So thank you Mr. Judt for pointing this out. 
The internet has exponentially increased the rhetorical grotesquerie on both sides. It is exhausting, depressing and appalling. But I have some disagreements with Mr. Judt. Don't be lazy and read his article. I'm only quoting certain parts.
Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized. The bad behavior of its governments does not “delegitimize” it, any more than the bad behavior of the rulers of North Korea, Sudan — or, indeed, the United States — “delegitimizes” them. When Israel breaks international law, it should be pressed to desist; but it is precisely because it is a state under international law that we have that leverage. 
So far, so good.
Perhaps the most common defense of Israel outside the country is that it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is largely true: the country has an independent judiciary and free elections, though it also discriminates against non-Jews in ways that distinguish it from most other democracies today. The expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged.
But the point is irrelevant. “Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries.
I have some qualms with the discrimination statement. It's not untrue, but is discrimination of non-Jews living inside Israel's borders any worse than that experienced by non-European minorities in many democratic European countries? I'm asking.
The increasing discouragement of internal dissent is also true, and yet the vigor, the intensity and the openness of debate in Israel is still very much alive. I wish that Jews in the diaspora were as open to debate as the Israelis. There is a strong, free and robust opposition in Israel, which is simply non-existent anywhere else in the region.
Mr. Judt neglects to point out that the Israeli military is unique among the militaries of the world in that it is a civilian military, not a volunteer army. All Israeli men and women have compulsory military service for 3 and 2 years respectively, starting at age 18. Then, all men have to serve in the reserves a month a year until age 55. True, some stay on and become professional soldiers, and true, many of them end up in positions of political power. But this is because the entire country is militarized. Pretty much everybody goes to the Army. The distinction is important because most people think the Israeli Army is like any other. I'm sure that Israelis would be the first to throw their rifles and their uniforms away if they could afford it. 
Israel is not responsible for the fact that many of its near neighbors long denied its right to exist. The sense of siege should not be underestimated when we try to understand the delusional quality of many Israeli pronouncements.
Unsurprisingly, the state has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. 
I agree, though I wouldn't call it delusional, I'd call it distorted. Bunker mentality. Tunnel vision; brought about mainly by the extended occupation, a cancerous tumor that grows harder to extirpate with each passing day, if both sides keep refusing to negotiate. As long as it's there, the occupation will continue crippling and weakening Israel morally and politically.

"Terrorism is the weapon of the weak", says Judt. Yes, unless it is financed, supported and encouraged by states whose best interests are to deny Israel a peaceful existence, at the expense and enormous suffering of the very people they claim to protect.

I agree with Judt about the Israel lobby in the US. In my view it's a generational issue. For the most part, the people who run the Lobby still react as if the cossacks are at the door and the pogrom will begin any minute, although there isn't any concrete evidence that our lives as Jews in the diaspora, let alone in the US, are in any kind of danger, yet. Fear is their greatest motivator and their greatest weapon of persuasion.  But fear clouds reason and intelligent thinking and we end up weakening our arguments with our running around like headless chickens and overreacting, as happened last week with Helen Thomas. Fear also discourages dissent, and that is what I most resent about this Lobby. As for Judt's wondering why American congressmen dance so eagerly to the tune of the Israel lobby? Nothing more conspiratorial than votes. If 10 Cubans in Miami can hold an entire country hostage to bad foreign policy for decades, imagine the voting power of the largest concentration of Jews in the world outside of Israel.
The next one is a hairy one:
No. 6: Criticism of Israel is/is not linked to anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, and Israel is a Jewish state, so of course some criticism of it is malevolently motivated. There have been occasions in the recent past (notably in the Soviet Union and its satellites) when “anti-Zionism” was a convenient surrogate for official anti-Semitism. Understandably, many Jews and Israelis have not forgotten this. 
Whoa there, Mr. Judt: The recent past? The Soviet Union? What about Iran and many Arab countries today who practice a melange of official antisemitism/Anti-Israel policies and who fan the flames of hatred in the people with the most reason to resent Israel? Antisemitism is a very useful tool for tyrannical governments. It diverts attention from more pressing internal problems while it instills a fear of dissent with its virulence, even in populations that barely include Jews.
The next paragraph is the one I think will be giving Jews a zirotsky:
One can acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist (or “post-Zionist”). Indeed, given the emphasis in Zionism on the need for the Jews to establish a “normal state” for themselves, today’s insistence on Israel’s right to act in “abnormal” ways because it is a Jewish state suggests that Zionism has failed. 
Well, "anti" is not the same as "post". To me Zionism is the belief that Jews need to have a state in the place of their origins.  Now that we have a Jewish state, isn't it beside the point? Hasn't it become a charged word, mostly used derogatorily by the other side? Zionism hasn't failed insofar that there is a Jewish state. Of course, this state should be the best Jewish state it can possibly be, beholden to principles of justice and freedom and respect and tolerance, in accordance with Jewish philosophical tradition, and more importantly with the painful lessons of Jewish history.
Zionism will have failed if Israel ceases to exist or if it becomes a morally and politically untenable state. It will have failed if Israel becomes a theocracy instead of a secular democracy. But mostly, it will have failed if it doesn't offer Jews inside and outside its borders the prospect of a normal life in peace and prosperity. Israel's enemies are pushing for it to fail. It's the responsibility of Israel and the Jews to make sure this doesn't happen. And this will not be achieved, as Judt, Amos Oz, David Grossman and many others point out, through sheer brute force.
We should beware the excessive invocation of “anti-Semitism.” A younger generation in the United States, not to mention worldwide, is growing skeptical. “If criticism of the Israeli blockade of Gaza is potentially ‘anti-Semitic,’ why take seriously other instances of the prejudice?” they ask, and “What if the Holocaust has become just another excuse for Israeli bad behavior?” The risks that Jews run by encouraging this conflation should not be dismissed.
Correct. Israeli Jews criticize Israel all day long. I criticize Israel because I worry about it. Not every Jew that criticizes Israel is a self-hating Jew, as some would have it. Some non-Jews criticize Israel cogently and rationally. Criticism is rational. Prejudices are ancient, visceral and deep seated. There are many people who criticize Israel with a virulence that does not seem commensurate to mere political ideology (some of them Jews). Many times it is very difficult to separate the criticism from the prejudice. Most people who bear prejudices don't even know it, or will not admit it. It behooves us Jews to learn to recognize the difference and to pick our fights well.

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