Friday, August 22, 2014

A partially balanced evaluation of the conflict at Vox, but still 150° wrong (Part 1)

Sar Shalom

Recently, Vox, a left-of-center news and analysis site, updated its explanation by Max Fisher of the Israeli-Arab conflict. While the collection of 11 cards correctly identifies several facts that would engender sympathy for Israel, overall, it feeds a narrative that circumscribes Jewish rights and sets Israel as the party to blame for not accepting that circumscription.

{Editor's note - Fisher's reference to "cards" is a pedagogical device he uses to denote each of his points of argument.}

I'll start with Card 7, the one card from the collection that I can endorse. It starts off
There is a common trope, especially on the left, that the Israel-Palestine conflict would end overnight if only the US were not so unflinching in its support of Israel, and instead used its influence to bring the conflict to an end.
The main points of this card are: the premises of that trope are the mistaken (the narrative of the card demonstrates that Fisher considers it mistaken) notion that Israel is fully responsible for the conflict, that American support is not (neither presently nor historically) as absolute as popular imagination would have it, and that pressure on Israel merely creates a sense of isolation which induces Israel to do the opposite. The author cites several facts supporting this position such as the lack of a close relation prior to 1973 and conflicts between Israel and the George H. W. Bush and Obama administrations. This card also did not include any reason to justify those administrations stoking conflict with Israel. Altogether, nothing objectionable.

The remaining cards all have issues in which they highlight issues that misdirect people or ignore others that would create needed context with the overall effect of facilitating unfavorable narratives regarding Israel. Some of the cards are problematic by their very premise, others are neutral or even Israel-supporting by their premise, but turn their premise in a direction that supports an Israel-detracting narrative. I'll address those cards in order over a series of posts.

Card 1 posits that the conflict is not as complex as it is made out to be. This is a premise which is on its surface neutral. Further, the three major supporting points are also neutral. Those points are that any point about the conflict requires knowledge of the relevant history in order to be properly understood, the two sides tend to shout their conflicting narratives, and that the two sides try to present the conflict as complex unless they are saying that their own side is right and the other wrong.

However, Fisher's main point in this card, "[a]t its most basic level, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is over who gets what land and how that land is controlled," is at the root of why people think that all that's needed to solve the conflict is for Israel to give the Palestinians what is "rightfully" theirs. Proper evaluation of that assertion demonstrates Fisher's first supporting point, but contra Fisher in Card 3, the relevant history did not begin in 1947.

While Fisher might be accurate that Jewish objectives revolve around maximizing the amount of land under Jewish control, the Palestinian national movement is after the nihilistic goal of ending Jewish self-determination in any portion of the Middle East with who winds up in control being besides the point and promulgates that it is treason for any Palestinian to oppose that goal. Saying that one side has only nihilistic goals is anathema to most people who try to evaluate others fairly. However, just because a concept is anathema does not mean that it is false, although it does create reason to require justification before stating it that otherwise might not be required.

Needless to say, the Palestinian national movement would be at considerable advantage if westerners believe their objectives are positive, that is more land for the subjects' benefit, relative to westerners believing their objectives are negative. Thus we can not just go by what they tell western audiences. One alternative way to assess the Palestinian national movement's aims is to look at the history leading to its establishment. In the late Ottoman period, there were three categories of people: believers, equal infidels, and inferior infidels. The believers are those who like the Ottoman rulers accepted the faith of Islam. The equal infidels were those who while not accepting Islam, shared a faith with the rulers of others powers with whom the Ottoman rulers dealt on equal terms, that is to say the Christians. The inferior infidels were everyone else. Naturally, the Christians liked the distinction between equal infidels and inferior infidels because this gave them an opportunity to be accepted as equals. One result of this is that it was a Christian who founded the Baath Party and Christians were as much in the forefront of opposition to the UN Partition plan as were Muslims. As to why there would be such a distinction, this is speculative, but if every power on earth treats a particular group like clay in a potter's hand it is easier to claim that your ability to treat that group like clay in a potter's hand as due to divine will than for a group which is like the potter under other powers.

While such thinking could animate a political party, it would not naturally become a motivating factor for a larger public. However, this way of thinking did not have to take root naturally to become the dominant mode of thought for the masses. In 1921, the British appointed Haj Amin el Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem and inflated his title to Grand Mufti. Husseini was a believer in the notion that Jews are to be like clay in a potter's hand and used his office of Grand Mufti to promulgate the notion that grant any higher status to Jews constitutes treason. To those of a European guilt-culture background, suggesting that a mode of belief is treason, particularly a mode of belief that liberal multiculturalism holds to be central to maintaining a peaceful world, would be simply meaningless bluster. But, in the honor-shame culture of Islam (analagous to Christendom in this instance, not Christianity), being told that an authority figure considers something treason means that you have to stop doing what the authority figure considers treason. Hence, the Mufti used the Islamic shame-culture to bring the rest of the Arab public to believe as he did that Jew are to be a subjugated people and should not be allowed to bring any relief for themselves from their subjugation.

The Arabs' negative goal would explain why they rejected every partition plan that has been proposed in the past. They did not want Jewish self-determination on less land, they wanted there to be no Jewish self-determination. It also explains their steadfast adherence to the right of return. Simply put, achieving the right of return is enough on its own to achieve an end to Jewish self-determination since the demographic effects of it would result in an Arab government in the next election which would be in position to dismantle Jewish sovereignty from within.

It is one thing to present evidence that the Palestinians' goal is positive rather than negative. The issue with mainstream thought is that it dismisses the possibility that their goal is in fact negative and refuses to entertain any evidence that it is so. If their goal is positive, then the peace process would be a viable way to reach an end of claims agreement. However, if their goal is in actuality negative, then a peaceful settlement leaving both sides standing would require either breaking the Palestinians of their negative goal or imposing a regime on them that does not hold by it since Israel surviving and holding so much as a postage stamp sized piece of land would constitute failure to achieve the negative goal. Wishing that the Palestinians' goal is positive, and thus amenable to some sort of peace process, does not make it so.

Future posts will respond to Cards 2 through 6 and 8 through 11.


  1. Very interesting piece and I will look forward to the next one.

    Wishing that the Palestinians' goal is positive, and thus amenable to some sort of peace process, does not make it so.

    Indeed. And what I find most unusual is the absolute willing blindness of westerners, in general, viz-a-viz not only Arab intransigence, but even toward the most blood-curlding calls for violence and genocide toward the prophet-killers emanating from the mosques throughout the entire region.

    Of course the goals of the various Arab factions are not positive. You've known that for a very long time, I feel reasonably certain, but what I don't understand is how so many others fail to figure this out. I mean, it's not as if many within the greater Arab community do not scream this into our faces on a daily basis.

    Of course, it's also true that the PA and Hamas both use lies and deceptions in order to dupe gullible westerners into thinking that their cause has something to do with social justice. In fact, when I use to participate on the now defuct My Left Wing blog there was a particpant who went by the moniker of "shergald" who kept telling be that Hamas was essentially a humanitarian organization.

    I couldn't believe the chutzpah of the guy, but what really shocked me is that others believed him.

    1. That person actually managed to get banned from Daily Kos for antisemitism. Needless to say, that is quite an accomplishment!

    2. Here's what Hunter said about shergald and friends:

      A word about ‘Shergald', (27+ / 0-)
      to set up the background here. Shergald is, short version, an unapologetic and pathological liar — towards friends and enemies alike — and has increasingly slid towards anti-Semitism. Worse, as he falls out with his old friends he finds solace in new and very much more hardline ones of his own rather more racist bent: he has recruited individuals for his cause, in people like Ben Heine and others, who have been even more transparently anti-Semitic. And, as time goes on, his posts (on other sites) have edged towards more and more transparent defenses of terrorism against Israelis.
      At least on this site, these things are showstoppers. Anti-Semitic statements and conspiracy theories are right out. And any defense of terrorism against civilians counts as an argument so vile, so loathsome, that it will not be tolerated in any shape or form.

      That's the backstory. Now (apologies for that, but I think it's important to understand the recent history, here) on to the actual point…

      The ‘annainpalestine’ diary included the words of a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist organization by any objective measure, i.e. one that targets civilians and murders them for the sake of its cause. A statement from their group was presented in such a way that multiple administrators thought it clearly crossed the line into advocacy for their group.

      Now, this should not need to be spelled out in the rules. That this would be a problem should be, to put it tersely, Really F—ing Obvious.

      Sabbah and umkahlil were banned because they recommended that diary, with those statements. There were only a few others who recommended that diary, but for these two particular users and their history of being a little too involved in similar arguments, it was the last straw.

      This particular action may be unfair. Or it may not be. But like it or not, there is an escalating history among the newer I/P posters, the ones with various connections to the vivacious and batshit insane Shergald, of anti-Semitic remarks and remarks that ‘defend’ terrorism, or come close to it. There is ZERO tolerance on this site for anything that even HINTS at being supportive of terrorists or terrorist groups, regardless of cause: if some posters find that iron-clad requirement too restrictive, then those posters are roundly encouraged to leave.

      We will remove any posters that come within a stone's throw of that line, or who have histories of edging up to it. I note that other sites on the right and left do not have such restrictions — to their distinct shame and detriment.

      I sympathize with your side of the debate losing some voices, but I don't see any way around this decision. There was ample warning given that we were going to start cleaning up these threads, and I thought mcjoan's note was quite blunt as to the reason for the decision in this case — as I said, there was agreement among multiple admins that the diary crossed a very big line. There is no ongoing effort to remove pro-Palestinian posters, but there is an ongoing effort to remove the posters who get in the most fights, step across the most lines, or radicalize the debates via over-the-top or offensive rhetoric, on either side.

      I don't like talking about the reasons people were banned. It doesn't sit right with me. But lots of people have been asking, so there it is

    3. Wait a minute. From your link. A Palestinian writer writes -

      "Yesterday, which marked the celebration of the Nakba"

      "Celebration"? I thought it was the most tragic (self-inflicted) event ever in the history of our world and any other worlds out there?

      Did someone just give the game away?

    4. Jay, I've seen that usage before - "celebration of al-Nakba - but I am not sure what to make of it.

      What I would say is that it is always good to keep in mind the cultural differences

      When we do so we will be excoriated as "racist," but the truth is that culture is flexible, fluid, and changing whereas the old fashioned, and defunct notion of "race" was essential.

      There is nothing the least little bit "racist" about criticizing another culture, particularly when that culture is, far and away, the dominant culture in the region .

  2. "it's not as if many within the greater Arab community do not scream this into our faces on a daily basis."

    WHAT? You going to believe your lying eyes and ears? Get with the western Progressive kumbaya, man and turn the other cheek or something. Ever really notice that? I mean, most Progressives disclaim any religious belief yet that old "turn the other cheek," stuff just shines on through like a weather beacon. Long as it's Jewish cheeks of course.

    I think I will call this residual cultural/political phenomena "mutated Christian Anarchism"

    1. "mutated Christian Anarchism"?

      If you must, Doodad.

      To those left-leaning folk who deride religion, I would remind them of a little thing that I like to call the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


      Anyone who derides the role of religion in the American progressive-left is just innocent of history.

      The progressive movement in the US goes to 19th century Abolitionism and Abolitionism was infused, from top to bottom, with religious sensibilities.

  3. Fisher has another post up at Vox castigating Netanyahu for linking Hamas to IS(IS). While I would not completely dismiss the notion that there are differences between the two, this quote particularly grates on me: "Hamas will talk about Islamist extremism, but it is ultimately a Palestinian nationalist group first and foremost, one that is fighting to establish its vision of a Palestinian state."

    The reality is that Hamas seeks to unify the Middle East under a caliphate and that "liberating" Palestine is just a way station to realizing that goal. What is all too common is that people like Fisher think it is so unconscionable that there is no Palestinian state that whenever anyone comes along claiming to seek that end, they take it at face value that they do not actually desire something else.