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“The Enemy Of Reason And Moral Judgment”: The Problem With Both “Pro-Israel” And “Anti-Israel”

In a typically thoughtful piece today, Jonathan Chait explains why he has “grown less pro-Israel over the last decade.” I want to push back on this a bit, not because I disagree with any of the particular points Chait makes, but because of the broad framing. The idea of “pro-Israel,” like its mirror “anti-Israel,” is the enemy of rational thought and debate on this topic. Unless you’re talking about whom you’re rooting for in the Olympics, talking about who’s pro-Israel and who isn’t, and to what degree, almost never helps illuminate anything. This is something I brought up a few months ago, but it has a new urgency now, because this conflict is going to cause a lot of people to reevaluate how they feel about Israel.

One of the interesting things about Chait’s post is that he mentions an emotional connection to the country, but the specifics he brings up are all practical questions, on things like the Netanyahu government’s sincerity when it says it’s committed to a two-state solution. Since we’re talking about a democracy where the government and its policies are open to change, in theory that shouldn’t bear much on one’s basic commitment to the country. But of course it does.

So let’s step back for a moment. What do we mean when we say someone is pro-Israel? At the most basic level, we mean that she believes Israel ought to exist (there was a time when this was a matter of some debate in the West, but it isn’t any longer, at least not in mainstream circles). Beyond that though, you can take varying positions on almost any particular area of disagreement and still be pro-Israel. You can think Israel ought to exist within its pre-1967 borders, or that it should hold every inch of land it took since then (and retake what it gave away), and both positions can be “pro-Israel.” You can think that West Bank settlers are heroes for holding the land God granted the Jewish people, or that they’re a bunch of bigots and thugs who make peace infinitely more difficult, and both positions can be “pro-Israel.” You can think that Netanyahu’s decision to launch this war was the only appropriate reaction to the murder of those three teenagers, or you can think that decision was a disaster, and both positions can be “pro-Israel.”

In other words, the idea means almost nothing, unless you’re using it to indicate that someone is laboring to put aside their own capacity for reason and morality in order to justify whatever their side happens to have done, either lately or decades ago. And frankly, that’s how I’ve come to think about it. When I think of someone who’s “anti-Israel,” I think of someone who apologizes for terrorism committed by Palestinians and thinks that there’s only one country in the world where human rights abuses occur; in other words, a moral idiot. And when I think of someone who’s “pro-Israel,” I’m increasingly likely to think of some Palinesque dolt who believes that the Israeli government is perfect in all things, and that that very terrorism gives Israel a pass to treat every Palestinian man, woman, and child with as much cruelty as it likes; in other words, another moral idiot.

Once you stop worrying about whether you’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you can judge the Israeli government’s decisions, developments within Israeli society, and other questions related to the country each on their own terms. You can also make judgments about the conflict that are freed from the necessity so many feel to continually compare the Israeli government’s actions to Hamas’ actions, or the opinions of the Israeli public to the opinions of the Palestinian public, with the only important question being which side comes out ahead. Those comparisons end up dulling your moral senses, because they encourage you to only think in relative terms.

If you’re still stuck being pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you end up asking questions like, “Which is worse: for Hamas to put rockets in a school in the hopes that Israel will bomb it and kill a bunch of kids, therefore granting Hamas a momentary PR victory; or for Israel to bomb the school anyway, knowing they’re going to kill a bunch of kids?” If you’re pro-Israel, you’ll answer that Hamas’ action is worse, while if you’re anti-Israel, you’ll answer that Israel’s action is worse. But if you’re neither, then you’ll give the only moral answer, which is: who the hell cares which is worse? They’re both wrong. Questions like that end up only being used to excuse one side’s indefensible decisions.

Believe me, I realize that it isn’t easy to get rid of the pro-Israel/anti-Israel dichotomy. I grew up in a home where Zionism was our true religion. Israel is different than other countries; no matter how much you love going to Paris, eating French food, and reading French literature, it would be weird to describe yourself as “pro-France.” That’s because it makes sense only in the context where there are other people taking the opposite position; while there are people who don’t like France, there isn’t a significant “anti-France” movement.

But you don’t have to buy into the dichotomy. And once you step outside it and stop worrying about which team you’re on, it can become easier to see things clearly.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 29, 2014

July 30, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Palestine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Demagogic Paranoids”: Communism’s Collapse Leaves GOP Far Right Without A Real Foe

When Allen West, the Republican congressman from Florida, said he had “heard” that up to 80 members of Congress were members of the Communist Party, but refused to say who they were, I began once again to worry about the declining standards of excellence in American life. Once upon a time, Joe McCarthy (eventually) named names.

Oh, what a falling off was there! To see figures like West stumbling around and accusing liberals of communism, the Democratic Party of socialism, Obama of militant Islamic sympathies is like watching a Broadway revival of Oklahoma! performed by tone-deaf weightlifters from Bulgaria. There were once high standards for rabble-rousing. Think Father Coughlin. Think Joe McCarthy. Think Pat Buchanan. They played on American paranoia as if on a violin. (OK, fiddle.) They had a unified vision of conspiracy that encompassed Jews, blacks, Zionist bankers, greedy plutocrats, and Bolsheviks. The problem with today’s demagogic paranoids is that they are struggling with the same relativistic, politically correct universe as everyone else.

Consider the Jews. Completely off limits. Partly this is because of the presence of Jews in every dimension of American life, but it’s also because Jews are spread across the political spectrum. Back in Father Coughlin’s time, finding a Jewish Republican was something like searching for the afikomen on Passover. Even during McCarthy’s heyday, right-wing Jews were still a rarity, despite the Jewish Roy Cohn at McCarthy’s side. But since the rise of the Jewish neoconservatives in the 1980s, there have been a substantial number of Jews on the right. If you had had Sheldon Adelson in 1950, you might never have had the Hollywood 10.

The same goes for Zionist bankers, a staple of right-wing conspiracy-mongering rhetoric. You can’t use “Zionist” as a slur because Israel is that holy ally who is constantly being betrayed by Obama and his ilk. Then, too, it’s hard to go after bankers when your entire political agenda revolves around ensuring that the wealthiest people in the country—i.e., bankers—pay as little in taxes as possible. As for greedy plutocrats, goodbye also—and hello!

That leaves blacks, who gradually usurped Jews as the right’s favorite national specter. But just as Jews became “normalized” throughout American life since Father Coughlin’s tirades in the ’30s, so have blacks followed, though more slowly and painfully, a similar process since Reagan’s welfare queens. It’s hard as well to get the rising numbers of prominent blacks in the GOP to reliably pursue the subtle context of racial politics. West himself denounced George Zimmerman after the killing of Trayvon Martin.

But the most important element of right-wing demagogic populism is the most impossible to retrieve: Soviet communism. Commentators and pundits love to draw tiresome analogies between today’s Tea Partying radical right and the rise of the radical right in the Goldwater, John Bircher, National Review ’60s, but there is simply no basis for comparison without the Cold War. Bolshevism was the linchpin that held all the other facets of conspiracy together. Jews, unions, Zionists, even plutocratic bankers somehow all comprised a tainted trail that always led back to Moscow.

The effect on the radical right of the loss of communism is incalculable. The right wing is like a vulnerable adolescent who has suddenly been jilted. Hatelorn, you might say, the right is on the rebound from one substitute bête noire to another, but nothing sticks because there is no unifying adhesive on the order of the menace from the Kremlin. This is why you get the utter weirdness of the right talking about Obama’s Washington as if it were actually Soviet Moscow: a totalizing, centralizing monster out to collectivize American life and crush personal freedom and individual rights. There was a time when Stalin’s murder of tens of millions haunted the American imagination. Now it’s the possibility that everyone can have his tonsils out for free.

From hipsters to Mad Men to A Streetcar Named Desire to pompadours and victory rolls, nostalgic revivals are everywhere. In the political realm, expect the next six months to be full of retro-red menace, as the GOP searches desperately to recapture the love of its life.


By: Lee Siegel, The Daily Beast, April 12, 2012

April 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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