Thursday, April 2, 2015

For once, the New York Times accurately describes what is underlying the Mideast conflict (Updated)

Sar Shalom

{Editor's note - Eric Foner is considered the "dean" of historians of nineteenth-century American history, if not American historians, more generally.  His 1988 Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 is a masterpiece of the field.}

reconstructionWhile historian Eric Foner's recent New York Times article was not about the Middle East, it does describe an attempted reversal of fortune in that the formerly oppressed were granted equal citizenship while those attempting to thwart that emancipation were disenfranchised.

This is the situation that befell the Mizrahi Jews who throughout the 19th century were subjected to the whims of their Muslim neighbors and who gained full citizenship in Israel as the result of the Zionist enterprise. The example, along with the description of attempts to stymie and then discredit that effort, presented by Eric Foner is that of Reconstruction in the United States following the Civil War.

What we need to do is highlight the parallels between the efforts to bring about African-American equality through Reconstruction with the realized equalization of the Mizrahi Jews among the Arabs, and between the efforts to delegitimize Reconstruction and the efforts to delegitimize Zionism.
Reconstruction refers to the period, generally dated from 1865 to 1877, during which the nation’s laws and Constitution were rewritten to guarantee the basic rights of the former slaves, and biracial governments came to power throughout the defeated Confederacy. For decades, these years were widely seen as the nadir in the saga of American democracy. According to this view, Radical Republicans in Congress, bent on punishing defeated Confederates, established corrupt Southern governments presided over by carpetbaggers (unscrupulous Northerners who ventured south to reap the spoils of office), scalawags (Southern whites who supported the new regimes) and freed African-Americans, unfit to exercise democratic rights. The heroes of the story were the self-styled Redeemers, who restored white supremacy to the South.
Zionism refers to the period from roughly 1871 until today during which the Jews from across the Ottoman Empire and Europe were brought to one corner the the Ottoman Empire, the southwest Levant, where the Ottoman Jews were freed from the shackles of dhimmitude. According to a popular theory today, this represents the last vestige of European colonialism in which European colonists bent on subjugating the native Arab population, imposing white imperial rule over those Arabs and giving a voice the Jewish dhimmis who were unfit for self-rule. The heroes of this story are the irhabis, or as their supporters call them, jihadis, who are struggling to reimpose the Pact of Umar.
This portrait, which received scholarly expression in the early-20th-century works of William A. Dunning and his students at Columbia University, was popularized by the 1915 film “Birth of A Nation” and by Claude Bowers’s 1929 best-selling history, “The Tragic Era.” It provided an intellectual foundation for the system of segregation and black disenfranchisement that followed Reconstruction.
The aforementioned theory of Zionism received scholarly expression through Edward Said's Orientalism and popular support through efforts to demonstrate the human toll of Israel's existence on the lives of the Palestinians.
Lincoln did not live to preside over Reconstruction. That task fell to his successor, Andrew Johnson. Once lionized as a heroic defender of the Constitution against Radical Republicans, Johnson today is viewed by historians as one of the worst presidents to occupy the White House. He was incorrigibly racist, unwilling to listen to criticism
While the original visionaries of the Balfour Declaration, which became the British Mandate for Palestine, lived to see it go into effect, they did not remain in office to do so. The people who came to office, and successive High Commissioners for Palestine, were less committed to the goal of establishing a Jewish national home than were the drafters of the Balfour Declaration, notably the anti-Semite Louis Bols who sought to undermine it. It was those successors who empowered the Mufti who in turn made opposing Jewish self-determination a pan-Arab priority.
[T]he advent of African-Americans in positions of political power aroused bitter hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents. ... As late as 1947, the Southern historian E. Merton Coulter wrote that of the various aspects of Reconstruction, black officeholding was “longest to be remembered, shuddered at, and execrated.”
The sight of Jews, whom all their experiences taught are supposed to be at the mercy of the believers, overseeing their own governance was what was most horrifying and what most needed to be eradicated.
It was not economic dependency, however, but widespread violence, coupled with a Northern retreat from the ideal of equality, that doomed Reconstruction. The Ku Klux Klan and kindred groups began a campaign of murder, assault and arson that can only be described as homegrown American terrorism.
The real model for Palestinian resistance against Israel. Leila Khaled's attacks on Israeli buses are no different from Jesse James' attacks on Reconstruction officials.
Meanwhile, as the Northern Republican Party became more conservative, Reconstruction came to be seen as a misguided attempt to uplift the lower classes of society.
The one area where Zionism differs from Reconstruction. In Reconstruction, the chief beneficiary was the southern "Negroes" (using the terminology of the time) while the chief force sustaining it was northern whites. While the northern whites saw moral benefits to Reconstruction advancing, they did not enjoy any practical benefits of it doing so. In contrast, Zionism benefited both Mizrahi and European Jewry. Thus, while similarly to Reconstruction it was outsiders, the European Jews, who had been able to learn the defense maneuvers that were necessary to secure progress against resistance, something which was not available to the Jews living under Muslim rule, when Klan-like resistance sprung up to the emancipation of Mizrahi Jewry, the European Jews were not about to turn tails and abandon their Middle Eastern co-religionists because it was their dreams that were threatened as well.

A final note: It is time that we present the case that those championing the "Palestinian cause" are not repeating the effort to undo the Apartheid regime of South Africa, rather, they are repeating the effort to overturn Reconstruction, reviving the Pact of Umar the way the end of Reconstruction brought about Jim Crow.


An article in Tablet today asks about the tensions between attachment of American Jews to Israel and to liberalism. While the article did not go into depth about any of the details producing that tension, it did mention the Arab Spring and domestic-Israeli relations with their Arab population. However, the largest issue in general that is held to place the two at odds is the conflict with the Palestinians. In this regards, the conflict between Zionism and liberalism assumes that supporting the Palestinians is akin to supporting the Civil Rights struggle in this country.

The reality is that supporting the Palestinians is akin to supporting the southern whites under Reconstruction. One could argue that the suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli control is excessive,just as one could reasonably make a case that the disenfranchisement of the whites under Reconstruction went too far. However, arguing that the appropriate response to this situation should be to abandon support for Israel would be like arguing that the appropriate response to the excessive disenfranchisement of the whites under Reconstruction was to clear the way for the emergence of Jim Crow.


  1. Reconstruction went very far in perpetuating the very animosities it purported to 'solve'. A great deal of the overt hostility in the south stems from the experience of literally being a nation occupied by a foreign army for years after the war ended than the rendered politically impotent by the very government that claimed it was unifying with. The result was in many cases and places, an irredentist racism that created Jim Crow. For example in my state, it has elected one black man to a national office (Federal, eg Congress) since the end of Reconstruction. One. Ever. In a state that's >25% black and the Democrats controlled gerrymandering for a century. Of course the Democrats and Dixiecrats of a century ago were not the Democrats of today, but sill..

    So I'm leery of the Times 'to the victor go the spoils' reflexive southern hatred. Because they feel they have to southern-bash. They're liberals, it comes with the job. But the left's history of kicking the south in the face when they were down, for a hundred years did not serve the blacks here very well.

    BTW Jews in NC were not emancipated until 3 years after the blacks were (1868). But the last state in the US to legally emancipate the Jews was that racist bastion of southern bigotry - New Hampshire (1876).

    1. Except that as you know, at best about 9% of the white southerners were slaveholders and at best about a third or maybe a little more, of white southerns actually supported chattel slavery. Numbers not materially different from Delaware. On the other hand when all local governance was turned over to the US Army, all elections were suspended and all civil law abolished it tended to outrage the local populace. But to its credit, the US Federal government carried out almost no war crimes trials. Jeff Davis on down were left alone. The only southerners prosecuted were engaged in the operations of the prison camps.

      PS I'm a naturalized citizen. Didn't come down here till middle age.

    2. In the update, I wrote that one could argue that Reconstruction went overboard in disenfranchising the southern whites. What is not acceptable is to say that if it went overboard, that the appropriate remedy was to clear the way for the emergence of Jim Crow. That is similar to the argument that needs to be made about the life difficulties for the Palestinians that partially result from the State of Israel and which certain people believe should be remedied by paving the way for the revival of the Pact of Umar.

  2. An apt comparison. Of course, historical ignorance of the situation the Mizrahim faced and overcame is rampant. Even for many of those who do know the facts, it doesn't fit into The Narrative(tm), so it's discarded in favor of the ahistorical fictions the anti-Israel fanatics tell each other, and build their politics upon.

    The question then becomes, I suppose, how do you argue with people who make up their own 'facts' and 'reality?'

    1. Just repeat the facts that are inconvenient their Narrative often enough. If a lie can become the truth through repetition, then repetition must be able to do something for ignored truths.

    2. The advantage the other side has, as Jon Haber often notes at DivestThis!, is that they're so willing to impose their political agenda everywhere at any and all times, while we typically are hesitant to put defense of Israel on the forefront of the agenda of, say, food coops and student organizations, etc, with the occasional self-defeating exception of something like Pam Geller's ugly and divisive ads forced upon our public transportation system here in Philadelphia.

      By default we're always playing defense, which is frustrating but also understandable, in a way.

  3. So, the proposition is that:

    African-Americans are to Reconstruction what Mizrahi Jews are to Zionism.

    What we need to do is disentangle the similarities from the differences to see how well the analogy holds.

    Excellent piece, Sar Shalom.

    Much good food for thought as we head into Pesach.

    1. That is exactly the proposition.

      As to how well the analogy holds, it just has to hold better than the analogy of Palestinians to either Civil Rights-era African-Americans or Apartheid-era South African blacks.

    2. I have to say, I like this idea very much.

      It is a not an unreasonable historical analogy in the sense that the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people was in 19th century Zionism, just as the beginning of the redemption of American Black people was in 19th century Abolitionism.

      Tomorrow is the first night of Passover and this is going to end up in my discussion.

      Thank you, my friend.

  4. How do you reconcile the irritation and outrage that Maghrebi and Mizrahi Jews feel about the traditional Azkenazi elite? 3/5ths of Israelis are Middleastern not European. And yet there's a distinct class and race system in play against the majority.

    1. Is it a system, Trudy?

      That is, is it de facto or de jure racism?

    2. I am guessing that this is not a very easy question to answer.

      There is legal discrimination in Israel.

      We can move there anytime and take up citizenship.

      This is not true for the children of Arabs who ran from the fighting in '48.

      The question then becomes, is this just?

    3. It's no more institutionalized than most of the 'laws' that folk rail about in the old south. There were poll taxes for sure but most of the rest was custom not law. As opposed to South Africa were it actually was law.

  5. For example laws against interracial marriage, in the US existed in nearly every state including California and NJ which also lead the country in eugenic involuntary sterilizations.