Saturday, August 09, 2003

WHY NORMBLOG IS INDISPENSABLE: There are plenty of reasons, of course, and I've already pointed to several. Note also his fisking of Edward Said (not so easy as it may first appear; sure, Said is egregious -- but it's so hard to know where to start, and when to stop!). And, while defending Israel itself is getting harder and harder, attacking the anti-Israel bias and pro-terrorist inanities of Guardian journalists remains a useful pastime -- and Norm does it very well.
And then there are the polls and rankings, which are always fun -- even if Norm's tastes are not always impeccable (Bach after Beethoven? Ok, that may be allowable -- barely. But to leave Johnny Cash and the Carter family off of a top-10 Country list? Good god, man, what are you thinking!?) He also points to this contest for the best German of all time
Now, ranking the top [category x] of all time is, of course, silly. But that won't keep me from offering my own list:
1. Bach (J.S.; sorry, kids)
2. Beethoven
3.Weber (Max)
4. Kant
6. Brahms
7. Hegel
8. .Marx
9. Schiller
10. Clausewitz
I'm not counting Freud or Mozart, who were Austians, or Einstein, who gave up his German citizenship twice; nor am I counting German-born thinkers and artists who fled the Nazis, and wound up becoming citizens of other countries -- I don't think Germany should derive any reflected glory from those she persecuted and drove out.
UPDATE: Reader RL points out that Thomas Mann gave up his German citizenship, and never re-claimed it, so he, by my own standards, doesn't belong on the list. Pity; but that's 20th century German history for you. DL also contests my placing of Kant and Weber above Goethe. THe Weber I'll admit is a personal quirk of mine; but I still think Kant by any standards is fair competition for Goethe, though it'd certainly be close in any case. But, it's my list, so I get to do weird things like putting Weber 3rd. With Mann gone, I've also added Clausewitz to the list, in honour of my friend AD.

CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: It's already received plenty of coverage on the blogosphere, but this really is remarkable. It's hard to know what to say about such things. The obvious temptation is to speak on my own behalf, and note that it's distinctly uncomfortable to see such blatant re-treads of Nazi anti-semitic propaganda still being produced. That much I take it is obvous; and it is, I imagine, no more or less than the artist intended (whether one's aware of the precedent or not, depicting the Star of David as a prison-camp fence is difficult not to take as a slap in the face against Jews.) However, I would instead emphasize the following -- a word of advice, to the artist in question, and his comrades: trafficking in blatantly anti-semitic images may provide a certain frisson, and may be very gratifying as a means of exorcising one's own rage. However, it is politically stupid. Critics and opponents of the Israeli government and its policies -- for whom, as readers of this blog in recent days will notice, I'm not entirely without sympathy -- do the cause of valid criticism of Israel and opposition to its policies a great disservice by defiling it with such sentiments and images. So long as this sort of thing occurs, defenders of Israel will be able to deflect criticism by crying anti-semitism -- and they will not be wholly wrong in doing so.
I came across the above via the invaluable Normblog, on which I also note this quote from an interview with Derrida.
As someone once said of Derrida (I heard it was Richard Rorty, but he disputes this): It's talk like this that gives bullshit (and, I might add, postmodernism) a bad name. How Derrida ever became a respected public intellectual spouting pretensious piffle like this, I can't imagine.

FUNNY BECAUSE IT'S TRUE: There are really too many good posts over at Crooked Timber for me to cite all of them; but this one is particularly near and dear to my heart, documenting, as it does, the sartorial (and, all too often, spiritual) wasteland that is the APSA convention. Thus, Henry writes:
"We have our badly fitting blue suits. Anyone who’s ever been to the APSA annual convention, and seen several thousand of these suits milling about a hotel lobby, checking out each other’s name badges, has glimpsed the very bowels of fashion hell."
And Chris adds this from Alan Carling: "….you have to hand it to US academics: they sure know how to organize a conference that feels like a serious business convention. There were actually men and women there in suits, especially those silver-sheeny ones in a mottled semi-reflective material that looks as if they descend from a job-lot of curtain lengths delivered by UFO somewhere over Colorado circa 1955… By dressing below this level, it was possible to regard oneself as a marginally dangerous intellectual presence, or at any rate a marginal one."
This brought back memories of my first brush with the APSA annual convention, last year in Boston (for those interested in these matters: I hadn't brought a sport-coat with me, supposing that my linen one would get too wrinkled on the trip up, and not having any other ones with me in New Haven, so I borrowed a dark-blue suit jacket from the friend I was staying with, and wore it with khakis, dress shirt, and borrowed purple tie. Happily, I wasn't giving a paper or applying for a job, so it didn't much matter). The atmosphere really was terribly dispiriting, though it wasn't a wholly unenjoyable experience, since I was able to see a few friends there.
Not sure why I'm thinking of going back, though. And I'm not sure what I'll wear if I do.

MANY THANKS to Brett Marston to linking to my posts on the Israeli Marriage Law (and for declaring me right; now THAT makes for pleasant reading).
Unfortunately, Brett's permalinks seem not to be working, so I can't return the favour and point any readers to his post on Federalist 37; but anyone interested in constitutional law/US politics/political theory should got to Marstonalia and scroll down to find it.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

YET MORE ON ISRAEL: Eliana replies to my last post -- and with characteristic generosity offers me the last word. So, here goes:
1) Eliana points out that many people do hold Israel to higher standards than they do other countries -- something I acknowledged. This is certainly true, and its generally unjust. However, two points need to be made:
a) I think that we -- by which I mean Jews who believe in liberal democracy -- can, and should, hold Israel to a higher standard, because it is in some way ours, and because it claims to be -- and should be -- a democracy which respects human rights. This doesn't mean we should ignore the crimes of other countries, by any means. Of course, I take it as given that Iran or Saudi Arabia is worse than Israel (or have been). But it's precisely because Israel, as a (largely) secular democracy, claims to be better than these countries, and is, at least in theory, conscious of and sensitive to the claims of justice, that we should make a fuss when Israel violates its own principles, and ours.
b) The 'cosi fan tutte' argument has never struck me as morally persuasive. As my mother always told me, 'Just because all the other kids violate basic human rights, doesn't make it ok for you to do so, too.' (I went to one tough primary school) (Kidding. I'm kidding.) The fact that other countries do terrible things, and often worse things, than Israel doesn't make it ok when Israel does terrible things, and it doesn't mean that we must remain silent.
2)Eliana also points to the repeated failures of the Palestinian people to accept offers of statehood in the past. Fair enough. There's no denying that the current situation is largely of the making of generations of Palestinians, who have behaved intransigently and irresponsibly. But, first of all, I think one basic principle of justice, as modern liberals understand it, is that individuals should not be punished for the crimes and follies of their ancestors. And I've always found it troubling that prescriptions for current action and future goals should depend so heavily on who did what to whom in 1948 or 1937 -- or even at Taba.
Of course, to some extent the situation remains the fault of those Palestinians who embrace terrorism, and those who allow it to occur, and those who refuse to compromise with Israel or accept its existence. But I don't think this justifies making all Palestinians (or Israeli Arabs) suffer. Furthermore, I might point out that the Palestinians can also point to a long record of Israeli aggression, crime, and oppression. Maybe they're right to do so, maybe they're wrong (I think they're often wrong, but also all too often right).
At some point, though, we're just going to have to stop allowing the blood-letting of the past to inspire and excuse bloodletting in the present and future. At some point we're just going to have to move ahead. Abu Mazen seems willing to move ahead, and while I'm far from sanguine about his ability to do so (I can't claim any insight into his willingness), I think that Israel should, however cautiously, follow suit -- by halting construction of settlements in the West Bank, by showing itself open to, and serious about, the idea of withdrawing from the occupied territories altogether -- and by respecting the rights of non-Jews living in Israel.
In other news, my friend ES points out that EVEN the ADL can't quite bring itself to defend Israel's marriage law. The ADL doesn't actually call on Israel to repeal the law instantly, or condemn it for passing the blasted thing in the first place; but it does express the hope that Israel will repeal the law after this year is up, and that the government will be able to find a way to combat terrorism which doesn't force married couples to live apart or leave the country.
In other words, the ADL would like to believe that Israel can manage to fight terrorism, and behave morally. I'd like to think that, too. I'm not sure if it's the case. But I also, frankly, don't think that Israel CAN completely defeat terrorism, even if it does act immorally. And, between behaving morally and being prey to terrorist attacks, and behaving immorally and being prey to terrorist attacks, I'd urge the former.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My good friend Eliana has taken up my challenge to defend Israel’s repulsive (so I say) law banning Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from holding citizenship.
Unlike others who refuse to criticize Israel, and choose to simply look away whenever Israel does something they can’t defend, Eliana is very far from being either dishonest or cowardly. Unfortunately, she happens to be largely – though not entirely -- wrong from start to finish. Here’s why:
Eliana starts by handsomely describing me one of those “well-intentioned, superbly intelligent people who unconsciously impose standards (of perfection) on Israel that they would never think to impose on other (non- Jewish) states.” Now, I’m familiar with the holding-Israel-to-a-higher-standard argument. It’s valid to some extent. There are people who focus on Israel’s wrongdoings, while ignoring those of other countries; and there are people who criticize Israel for actions that, performed by others, they would not regard as wrong. However, I’ve never been one of those people, and I don’t think I am now.
Let’s look more closely: standards of ‘perfection’? Since when were the only options perfection, or apartheid? I hardly expect perfection of Israel – I’ve refrained from condemning Israel for a good many things which I don’t like, but which I can accept as necessary and tolerable under Israel’s circumstances. But this goes too far. There’s perfection, which is nice but shouldn’t be our standard of criticism (some would disagree, but that’s another story); and there’s minimal decency, which should be. Now, some might dispute that denying citizenship to certain people based purely on their race/ethnicity is beyond the pale of minimal decency. Defenders of the Jim Crow South or the Nuremburg laws, for example. But I’ve never found myself convinced by such people.
As for ‘never think[ing] to impose’ such values on non-Jewish states: yeah, you got me. Because I defend racist citizenship laws for other countries all the time. And readers of this site will know that I NEVER criticize other governments or peoples.
Actually, I criticized Israel, first, because I DO hold Israel to the same standards I apply to other states. I don’t generally like Israel/South Africa comparisons; but, every now and again, they’re accurate. And this new law does seem to me a significant, if not a decisive (though it may be that too) step towards an actual apartheid system. Having always regarded South African apartheid as evil – and its defenders in the Western world (of whom there were many) as either deluded or despicable, or both -- can hardly allow myself to let the same behaviour go in Israel’s case.
Of course, I don’t feel the same about Israel and South Africa. I’m a Jew and a Zionist. When Israel does something wrong, it hurts more; and as someone who believes in Israel’s right to exist, and cares a great deal about its future and well-being, I feel it important to voice my objections, my disappointment, my anger.
Now, Eliana justifies the law based on the need to protect Israel against Palestinian terrorsm. However, there are surely other ways to defend Israel against Palestinian terrorism – aren’t there? And how many Palestinian terrorists have actually gained access to Israel by marrying Israeli citizens? Surely there are easier ways – sneaking in, say, perhaps with false papers, or getting work or study permits? How common is marriage as a means of suicide bombing? And how many innocent people have to be stripped of their rights to protect Israel against terrorists? And does anyone really think that this law, in itself, will really solve the problem of terrorism?
Often we’re faced with situations which seem to call for extreme measures; often, we are tempted to throw away individual rights in the name of public order. Such situations are deeply painful, because they demand sacrifices of genuine values. There will always be debate among honest and reasonable people over what the threshold for sacrificing individual rights to public safety will be.
I can only say that it seems to me that the good that will actually be achieved by this law will be very slight – that it does not actually address or resolve the sources of terrorist menace – and that the price, both to individual Palestinians and Israelis, and to Israel’s national identity, will be too high. I could of course be wrong. But history is too full of examples of governments justifying the worst of crimes against individuals in the name of public safety, for me to accept that argument without great skepticism.
Eliana also defends the law based on the need to keep Israel racially pure. This isn’t exactly her term, of course, but it seems to be what it amounts to. And this of course gets at the great problem at the core of Zionism, which makes libera Zionists such as myself so uncomfortable, and makes all of my anti-Zionist friends say to me, whenever something like this happens, ‘Well, OF COURSE Israel’s racist – Zionism’s racist – it’s based on the idea of a racially-defined state!’
There is alas a grain of truth to this: Israel is by definition a Jewish state. Now, I don’t think of Jewishness as a racial matter. On the other hand, I think the point of having a Jewish state is to provide a haven for those subject to persecution, discrimination, and exclusion as Jews. And since many anti-Semites define Jewishness racially, that means that the Jewish state must define it racially, at least in part (someone once said that, as far as Israeli policy is concerned, a Jew should be defined as anyone who would be considered Jewish by others).
However, I’m not sure that barring other people from citizenship is the only or best way to preserve a Jewish state; or that because some amount of, frankly, racism is necessary and even, in my view (and I can well understand how many people whose moral views I respect and agree with would disagree), excusable.
As it is, any Jew can move to Israel and become a citizen; and, as it is, it is very difficult – for security reasons, to be sure, and also for racial reasons – for non-Jews to enter Israel, and gain citizenship there. Orthodox Jews, no less than Palestinians, practice a policy of politics-by-reproduction – to the extent that the Israeli population is becoming increasingly Orthodox, and thus Israel is becoming a less secular, tolerant country. But you don’t see secular Zionists like me going around arguing for population control of the Orthodox, or for secular Israelis to begin having lots of children (though, come to think of it …) Up to a certain limit, one can try to pursue policies to control demographic trends; but at some point, as I’ve said, the sacrifice of basic individual liberties becomes too great. Again, I think this law passes that threshold.
I also think that, if one really wants to reduce the number of Palestinians/non-Jews in Israel, there’s a better solution. You could find another place for the Palestinians to go – say, a Palestinian state, alongside Israel – and you could try to make it a reasonably pleasant place for most Palestinians to be – say, by building up its economy with massive international aid, and fostering fair, democratic governance and institutions.
Of course, for that to happen, Israel might have to withdraw from some of the territory it’s currently occupying. Which wouldn’t put an end to the desire to destroy Israel ‘by any means necessary’ on the part of some Palestinians. But it might make such a program less attractive to the mass of Palestinians. And it might make Arab-Israelis, including those Palestinians already living, peacefully, in Israel, less sympathetic to the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic cause.
Because, frankly, if you tell Israeli Arabs that their non-Israeli spouses can’t be citizens – and if you go further and deny citizenship to their children – they’re not going to be very happy, and I see no reason for them to be very loyal, aside from the goodness of their hearts. And if Middle Eastern history teaches us anything, it’s not to trust in benevolence.
The other thing that I think it teaches us, though, is not to practice malevolence. This is a lesson Israel must learn if it is to survive.
Because, as Eliana suggests, the Arab population is growing. And because Israel is dependent on foreign support for its survival. And even the US will only tolerate so many violations of basic internatonal norms on flimsy security excuses (as I say, I don’t buy that this law is either so necessary to combat, or will be so effective at preventing, terrorism – though I could be wrong). Israel could well wind up alone, without allies, outnumbered inside and outside of her borders by people who desire her destruction – and who, after a lifetime of oppression at Israeli hands, have good reason to, even if they aren’t rabid anti-Semites (and of course many of them will be).
In such a situation, Israel will be destroyed.
Israel’s only hope is to come to terms with the Palestinian people. It’s only hope is to make peace. This will require sacrifices. It will reqire Israel to give up some of the land it currently occupies. It will require Israel to give up control over the Palestinian population in these areas and its political activity, and to do business with those the Palestinians choose to represent them. It will require Israel, in some cases, to turn to the Palestinian authorities, or other nations, to help them deal with the terrorist threat, rather than taking care of it themselves.
If Israel’s Palestinian partners fail on their end of the bargain – if they don’t crack down on terrorism, if they refuse to compromise, if they don’t accept generous concessions, if they collaborate with terrorism, if they don’t discourage and repudiate the ideology of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel genocide – then Israel may be justified in cracking down on those who would destroy it. This has often happened in the past – the failed and futile attempt to make peace with Arafat being a prime example – and it could happen again.
Again, it’s a matter of perception, and I could be wrong. But I don’t think the government of Ariel Sharon is giving the Palestinians or their leaders a chance. I don’t think the Israeli government is showing any willingnes to compromise or control itself. And I don’t think it’s showing any serious respect or concern for the Palestinian people, or for Israeli Arabs. I think this is morally wrong, and I think it’s politically foolish. And as a liberal Zionist, both of these things seriously bother me.
Of course, we’ll see. Maybe this law WILL put a end to bus-bombings. Maybe it won’t piss Israel’s Arab residents and neighbours and the rest of the world off to the extent of Israel making even MORE enemies. And maybe it WON’T lead to a whole lot of individual misery and injustice.
Still, I remain skeptical. I still think that the price exacted by this law is too high that the idea of banning a paticular category of people from a basic civil right is so inherently unjust, and that the security excuse is so hard to test and so all-encompassing, that it cannot, ultimately, be accepted – not if the idea of inalienable human rights is to have any meaning.
Of course, maybe it isn’t to, or doesn’t. Maybe Israel can’t afford to respect human rights or human decency.
But if that’s true: how sad is that? And how have we gotten to such a point? And what is to be done now?
ADDENDUM: The above was written in some haste, and so contains a number of muddles and evasions which I (hope I) would've spotted and fixed with more time. For one thing, there's the use of the term racist: in most, though not all, of the places where I wrote 'racist', I ought to have written 'racialist' (the distinction, as I see it, is that racism involves the belief that a certain race of people is inferior because they're of that race, or it involves treating a certain race of people as inferiors because of their race; while racialism is an ideology that sees the world in racial terms, and defines, for instance, national identity in racial terms. So, for instance, Zionism has a racialist component -- though I like to think that there's much more to it than racialism -- but is not inherently racist (contra the UN), since it doesn't state that Jews are racially superior to other peoples. On the other hand, many Israelis do seem to have embraced racist views, not only of the Palestinians and their other Arab neighbours, but of certain Jews (while we're talking about double-standards regarding Israel, it is interesting that a fuss is made about discrimination against Palestinians -- quite rightly -- while little attention is paid to Israel's often discriminatory treatment of its own Ethiopian Jewish population. In this case, mea culpa); and the proposed law, which in effect strips a certain category of people of civil rights enjoyed by other classes of people, based purely on racial identity, does seem to me to be racist.
I also ought to have confronted more fully and honestly the dilemma on the horns of which I and other liberal Zionists find ourselves impaled: the fundamental conflict between liberalism and zionism -- a conflict which is inherent to the nature of both positions themselves, but which only becomes agonizing in cases such as this. But that's a topic for another, even longer, and hopefully better thought-out post.

Monday, August 04, 2003

LEAVING AN IMPRINT: Chris Bertram shouldn't have to be the only one puffing Imprints, the journal of 'Analytic Socialism' in which he's involved. Among the most interesting and rewarding features of Imprints -- and, happily, the portion that is most regularly posted online -- are the interviews, which feature long, thoughtful conversations with some of the best thinkers on the Left today -- such as Jerry Cohen, Michael Rosen (not available online, alas), Philippe von Parijs, Norman Geras, and, latest and far from least, Michael Walzer, who, not surprisingly, manages to advance a position on the Iraq war that I fully agree with -- or, to put it another way, manages to think through and state the view of the war that I held far better than I ever managed to do myself.
So, read the Walzer interview, by all means -- and then check out the rest of this fine periodical (and see if you can find any hardcopies of the current issue or backissues -- as I plan to do)

MORE ISRAEL BASHING: In the same article that mentions Israel's new, apartheid-ish marriage law, we read:
Also today, Israel solicited construction bids to build 22 new homes in a settlement in the Gaza Strip. The new peace plan, the road map, plan calls on Israel to freeze settlement construction, but Israel says it must keep building to accommodate "natural growth."
Now, there were many things that sunk Oslo; and Arafat's inability or unwillingness to rein-in Palestinian terrorism or accept compromises, or act honestly, were foremost among them. But Israel's failure to follow through with its promise to freeze settlements -- settlements which are illegal and, as even Ariel Sharon seems to recognize, both unjust and ultimately a major threat to and problem for Israel -- was a contributing factor in fostering and confirming Palestinian distrust of Israel and its claims to want, and be willing to work for, peace.
And Israel's still expanding the settlements.
If a country can't learn from its mistakes, even in the face of violence and near-universal condemnation, there doesn't seem to be much hope for it.
At this point, it seems to me that, if Israel is incapable of acting responsibly and honourably in this regard -- and it seems she is -- the only solution is for the US to maker her do so. If the Bush administration is serious about promoting peace in the Middle East, it needs to tell Israel that it will either drastically slash, or better yet freeze, its economic aid to Israel until Israel freezes, and indeed begins to dismantle, settlements in the West Bank, revokes its apartheid-style laws, and stops trying to wall off parts of the Occupied Territories (which makes Israeli promises to withdraw from the West Bank rather less than convincing).

DEAFENING SILENCE: The Knesset has passed a bill (53-25) banning Palestinians (and only Palestinians) who marry Israeli citizens from receiving citizenship.
This is outrageous -- and, to a liberal Zionist such as myself, deeply, indeed heart-breakingly, disappointing. I've spent more time than I'd like listening to people accuse Israel of being an apartheid state, and defending it against these charges (without defending, I hasten to add, the occupation of the West Bank in itself).
Well, I don't feel I can honestly defend Israel against such charges anymore, with actions like this; and I don't really want to anymore.
This isn't to say that I've ceased to care about Israel and its people, and hope for their survival and safety. But it's clear that the moral sickness that's been growing in Israel -- the result both of being in a constant state of anxiety in their war against those who would destroy them, and of the nationalist, chauvinist, racist, self-justifying and self-pitying strains in Israel's national mythology and self-image -- has reached a point where Israel, far from recognizing the evils and errors of its past and renouncing them, seems intent on continuing and embracing them.
After I recovered from my initial, over-riding response of being appalled at hearing about this, my second thought was: what are all of my strongly pro-Israel friends -- leftist, liberal, and conservative alike -- going to say about this? How are the more resolutely and unvaryingly pro-Israel among them, who always defend Israel's actions, going to justify this?
Well, thus far, I still don't know. I haven't done a proper survey, but there seems to be a strange silence in the blogosphere about this. Not that I've done a comprehensive search. But so far, my fellow OxDem-ers haven't said anything (partly because Steve and David are on vacation, Patrick's just returned to DC, and Josh is -- well, Josh is apparently shopping for thongs online), nor Dan Drezner, nor the Volokhs. Nor, for that matter, have Brett Marston -- not one to coddle anyone who's acted unjustly, from what I know of him -- and Jacob Remes -- who isn't one to pass up a perfectly good (or even dubiously good ...) opportunity to criticize Israel -- mentioned this, nor Matt Yglesias, nor Norman Geras, whose opinion I've come to be particularly interested in hearing.
All of which makes me wonder: what the heck is going on here? Am I alone among the pro-democracy bloggers I know and read in finding this to be a big deal?
Most strangely, perhaps, I haven't yet seen anything about this on either Kesher Talk or GedankenPundit -- blogs that devote most of their time to covering, and defending, Israel.
On the one hand, I'm glad that no-one seems to be trying to justify this heinous law. But I'm also a little disturbed that Israel's defenders' way of dealing with those actions of Israel's that are indefensible is -- to ignore them. That's a morally cowardly and intellectually dishonest way to go about serving a cause; and it seems to me that, if history teaches us anything, it's that few things are more likely to corrupt and ultimately sink a cause, however good, than moral cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

TOO MUCH FREE TIME: My friends Jacob (especially), and also Josh Chafetz, seem to be looking for things to fill up their hours of non-productive activity.
I, on the other hand, have been enjoying my semi-forced break from the New Media. Don't get me wrong; discussions of German penis size and funky Jewish websites selling thongs are all well and good. But if you really want to make good use of your necessary and delectable hours of idleness, I'd recommend picking up a Patrick O'Brian novel instead (or, if the idea of mental relaxation is foreign or noxious to you, how about some Hannah Arendt, or something?)

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