Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yes Mr. President, this country's history does hold lessons for Israel's current situation, but not the part you cite

Sar Shalom

While much has been written about Obama's recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama's comparison of the situation in Israel to the civil-rights struggle has gotten less attention. The particular section was
After equating the creation of Israel with the American civil-rights movement, he went on to say this: “What is also true, by extension, is that I have to show that same kind of regard to other peoples. And I think it is true to Israel’s traditions and its values—its founding principles—that it has to care about … Palestinian kids.
It is true that in the territory controlled by Israel, as was the case in the U.S. before the Civil Rights Era, there is a class of people who do not have a say in the governance in the state that most closely affects them. However, the pre-Civil Rights Era is not the only time in American history when this was the case. There was also the example of Reconstruction in which southern whites who had not taken an oath to obey the order being established by the North were denied a say in the governance of either the state or national government. While the Civil Rights Era's being in living memory makes it easier to relate to, this does not mean that Reconstruction is any less relevant as a lens through which to view Israeli-Palestinian relations.

One notable similarity between Israeli-Palestinian relations and Reconstruction which is different from the Civil Rights Era is that both Israeli-Palestinian relations and Reconstruction feature a reversal in the social order. For someone who never knew an era when Arabs dominated Jews, this might be hard to fathom, but the proper comparison here would be the situation that would have prevailed in the American South in the 1920's if Reconstruction had not been abandoned and the southern whites had maintained their irredentism for the old social order. In that counterfactual, the enfranchisement of southern blacks and disenfranchisement of irredentist southern white would be a reversal of the long ago, pre-Civil War, social order in which the blacks were chattel of the whites. This would be the case even though for someone who was not alive before the Civil War, the disenfranchisement of the southern blacks could seem like a capricious decision of an imperial force. Similarly, before the advent of Zionism, the social order of the Middle East clearly put the Jew below the Arab. To today's observers, it might seem that the Jews in Israel have imposed restrictions on the lives of the Palestinians among them out of nowhere because there is no living memory of the time when the social order was reversed. That viewpoint is as valid today as the viewpoint would have been regarding "arbitrary" restrictions on southern whites in the 1920's had Reconstruction been preserved until then.

A second difference between the Civil Rights Era and the struggle against Reconstruction is what happened at their conclusions. At the end of the Civil Rights Era, those who were previously oppressed made progress towards equality and did not turn around and do to their oppressors as was done to them. In contrast, the end of Reconstruction led to, with the exception of chattel slavery, the reinstitution of the social order that existed less than two decades prior. While we don't know the result of the Palestinians achieving their aims because they have not, and may it please G-d that they never do, achieved them. However, the indication of everything aside from their western directed taqqiya is that they would reinstitute the social order that existed prior to the first Aliya. However, it would not be sufficient for them to reinstate the Pact of Umar, it would be necessary to demonstrate to cost of abrogating it, as Abu Ishaq did in 1066. Mr. President, 1877 must not be allowed to repeat itself.


  1. Keeping in mind however that literally every single word from Obama on 'his' black experience is not only somewhat imaginary and second hand, it has nothing to do with the American black experience, AT ALL. Obama's black history in America goes back not even one generation and even that's only because of an accident of tourism. His black father spent about what, 2 years in the US as an adult? Obama himself spent all of his formative years in a far away third world country. Returned to the sheltered life of private schools and far left privilege in a place that already ranked at or near the bottom nationally for such things as racism against blacks. His American experience, such as it is, much like my own - out of a book at least through early adulthood. Obama is more enamored of his own idea of what he thinks America is, than any actual sense of what it is let alone was. If I were black I'd resent him for pretending he's some kind of latter day Rosa Parks. I can't wait for his kids to reach adulthood and tell us how they were born poor shoeless sharecroppers.

  2. I tend to see it more directly. Israel and Jews DO care about Palestinian kids, and ALL kids. Israel and Jews do not poison these innocents so that as they grow they learn to foster such hatred. Obama is misguided.

    Not to mention that this is an area where he could surely create pressure on the PA.

    It is fact that acts a child of civil rights when he is not. One can argue he takes black Americans for granted, but not black votes. What better way than to push identity politics that seem to help no one, but hurt us all.

  3. Anyone have any suggestions as to how to make the case that the conflict in Israel today resembles the struggle to overturn reconstruction 150 years ago more robust? What we're up against is the fact that if the Palestinian struggle resembles the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960's, then it is immoral to deny them their wishes. Referencing Reconstruction turns the tables because if the Palestinian struggle resembles the struggle against Reconstruction in the 1870's, then supporting it is immoral for the same reason it would be immoral to oppose it if it resembles the Civil Rights struggle. However, convincing others that it resembles Reconstruction requires justifying the notion that it does, or at least that it does more than it does Civil Rights, hence my mention of differences between Civil Rights and opposition to Reconstruction.

  4. I have to say, Sar Shalom, that I tend to be a little wary of these kinds of historical analogies.

    Your point is well-taken, certainly, in the sense that just as African-Americans were fighting for the freedom from slavery, so the Jews of the Middle East are struggling to maintain the autonomy they achieved on the heals of their own persecution.

    I am running around a bit today, but let me chew on this for a bit.

  5. This:

    "To today's observers, it might seem that the Jews in Israel have imposed restrictions on the lives of the Palestinians among them out of nowhere because there is no living memory of the time when the social order was reversed."

    This is a key point and just the kind of thing that I have been arguing in favor of for a long time, now.

    The notion that is hurting Israel the most is the idea that the Jews are the oppressors have an indigenous people.

    We must emphasize that it was the Jews that were conquered by the Arabs and held down as second and third-class non-citizens for thirteen hundred years.

    Just as we cannot discuss the Civil Rights Movement without reference to slavery and Jim Crow, so we cannot in any meaningful way discuss the Arab-Israel conflict without reference to centuries of oppression under the sysem of dhimmitude.

    And, no, it is not enough to say, "Well, the Europeans were worse."

    That may very well be true, but Europeans are no longer seeking to rob us of our civil liberties.

    Political Islam, however, seeks just that to this day.

    1. This comment is actually from Kate who seems to be suffering a glitch in terms of commenting:


      I have to disagree, with respect.

      The argument has to be made with the understanding that the decision to create the State of Israel was made by Europeans. Because at that time, it was Europeans who were in the position to make it. The problem is intrinsically bound-up in this fact. The reality of the history of the treatment of Jewish people in the Arab world, is irrelevant.

      It doesn't mean it is untrue or meaningless. Just that, considering what you are fighting, it can play no part. You are trying to reach people of European descent. They couldn't care less about the last millennium of Jewish history in Arab countries. They don't care - or only in a distorted way- about much more recent history in Europe.

      It is two years till the centenary of the Balfour declaration. This is where we are.

      There can be no traction in trying to show parallels between any other historic political situation. Again, not because they don't exist, but because the people who are attacking the right of Israel to exist, are people who need to treat Jews - and the only Jewish State - in a completely singular way.

      Several factors play into this: The history of Christian anti-Semitism. The history of Muslim anti-Semitism.

      Political and cultural theories that concentrate on ideas around 'colonialism' and 'imperialism'. The complex psychology that exists in Europe re European guilt over the Holocaust. Etc.

      All these things have now come together.

      The other thing that cannot be overstated is the anti-Americanism that has become fundamental to the politics of the progressive left. And, above all, the belief that 'America' is, in fact, ruled by Jews. The 'Jewish' lobby, the 'Israel lobby', the special relationship between the US and Israel. It is difficult to convey how important this is. The hatred of America goes hand- in- hand with the conspiracy theories about Jews that are common- place on the left. Not 'only' on the left, but far more prevalent than they are on the mainstream right.

      What is of paramount importance to accept, is that what you are facing is a coalition of hate. It is almost entirely irrational.

      It is fuelled by political theories and western self- hatred. European and American.

      What we are seeing is how they project onto Jews anything they want. And how they have a psychological need to do that. It is irrational and ugly, in the extreme. Europe has been here before. It didn't turn out well. We have seen things that should be completely unbelievable , being believed. And then acted on. Time and time again.

      To fight this, and it must be fought, it is necessary to grasp that what you - we- are up against, is like an illness. A terrible virus. And it is spreading. Now, it is spreading to America. The American intelligentsia and much of the American progressive- left, have immensely destructive, and stupid, ideas about their own country. And that leads them, among other things, into anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Zionism.

      It is unimaginably ugly. Not rational.

      The case for Israel's creation was made many years ago. It was a good case. It still is. Perhaps even more so, now.

      Fighting hysterical, obsessional, irrational hatred is far from easy. But the first thing to do, is to acknowledge that that is what it is.

  6. America, particularly American Jews have historically been ambivalent about the fate of European Jews and Israel. At best, Zionism in America is maybe, on a good day, a 35% proposition. I would say America needs another Bergson Group but seeing how disastrously they fared the last time, maybe it's pointless.