Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our Silence Buys Death For Others, Not Us. by Anthony McCarthy

Note: This was originally written the other day just after reading the column referenced. This mornings letters in the Boston Globe show I wasn’t the only one who was thinking along these lines.

Laziness is an endemic disease among newspaper columnists. Having to produce three pieces a week, trying to go through the motions of being a journalist while not doing any of the actual work of producing accurate information - the job of the real journalists, the reporters - the lesser columnist will often fall back on repeating themselves, and others, and of making the same tired arguments provided by propagandists for various interests . Successful bloggers, not hired by publishers or editors, but sustained only by their ability to attract non-paying readers, often do a better job than the columnists. The good blogs are regularly better than the paid opinion scribblers, even those at some of our most prestigious papers and magazines.

As such, Jeff Jacoby’s attempt today to equate criticism of Israel’s attack on Gaza with classic anti-Semitism is a pretty threadbare tactic wielded automatically to silence the critics of Israel’s government and military. Though he tries to muddy the waters by disclaiming what he does in the rest of the column, he puts criticism of the Gaza invasion in the basket marked anti-Zionism and calls that the equal of anti-Semitism. He even quotes The Rev. Martin Luther King jr. saying pretty much that in 1968. Well, raise your level of skepticism when Jeff Jacoby quotes MLK, and take into account that even King’s words, taken out of their context and applied to a situation forty years after his death might not mean what he might have concluded today. The equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism was inaccurate even back then, though both often exist in the same person. An anti-Semite is regularly also a paranoid anti-Zionist. The undifferentiated equation of the two ideas, though, is a habit that should have been broken in the time since then. It survives because it is useful to those who don’t want an unbigoted, rational, factually informed body of critics of Israel to be heard. Certainly not here, in the United States. It is the tool usually used to silence those of us who are not anti-Jewish but who can’t see how the present situation, aided and abetted by the United States, can do anything but make things worse.

First, anti-Zionism isn’t the same thing as the pathological hatred of Jews. I once heard an old Jewish man in New Hampshire tell the mild joke that “A Zionist is someone who thinks YOU should move to Palestine”. There are Jews who haven’t thought that the establishing an Israeli state was a good idea. Some even citing religious reasons for that up to this day. Such anti-Zionists can’t be considered to be anti-Semites, certainly. And there are those who think Zionism wasn’t such a great idea.

And there are non-Jews who have deep misgivings about the location of Israel. I’m one of those who, at times like these, regret that the Jews who wanted to escape persecution in Europe and elsewhere weren’t given a part of the United States to create a state after the war. Or, even better, I wish they were offered American citizenship as humanitarian refugees. I’d have preferred a history of the world in which Jews were allowed to come here BEFORE they were slaughtered in Europe by the Nazis and others. It is instructive to remember who would have opposed the mass immigration of Jews to the United States at that time, many of them were the ancestors of those who pretend to be the greatest friends Israel has today. And one of the great reasons they would have been opposed, other than their virulent hatred of Jews, is because Jews have largely been a great force for liberalism and progress here. A lot of the far-right Jewish activity here is the direct consequence of having a state created out of war and sustained only at the cost of nearly constant war. I don’t think the influence of those right wingers has been good for the United States or the world in general. So, would someone who wishes that Israel had never displaced Palestinians but who wishes that Jews had come here instead belong in Jacoby’s basket?

But Zionism is largely a moot point today. Israel as a strong military and nuclear state is there and has been for sixty years. It’s there and it isn’t going to disappear without taking the millions which comprise Israel and many other millions with it. If Israel used nuclear weapons on its neighbors, the position of Jews world-wide would become incalculably more dangerous than it is now. While there are those insane enough to risk that, using that fact as a gambit in some demented political chess game, they cannot be allowed to control the situation. The Bush II policy in that region doesn’t seem to even achieve that level of responsible consideration. Bush-Cheney have produced the most irresponsible record of American nonfeasance in the history of that horribly serious crisis. The disasters of Lebanon and Gaza are just some of the results. That disaster, the reactions, back and forth, will continue into the future.

The creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was supposed to provide Jews a place where they could live in security and safety. Has it worked? Is there any evidence in the sixty years since the creation of Israel that Jews there are safer there than in many other places in the world? Did Zionism deliver on what it promised? In some ways, certainly. The resurrection of Hebrew, the focus on a single location, a Jewish nation and in many other ways Zionism delivered some of its intended results. But that state has never been secure, the idea that it will is decreasing as time passes but the dangers don’t diminish. Some of the worst cases of anti-Semitic violence, such as the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, are motivated by the existence of the Israeli state. This is hardly the first time that fact has been noted.

I haven’t been able to find figures on the post-Stalin Soviet Union, one of the major cases of anti-Semitic practice in recent history. Were more Jews killed or maimed there than in Israel itself during those years? I wonder if anyone has ever examined the record of Zionism in those terms. I have a suspicion someone in Israel might have. If they had the bravery to translate into English and risked the enmity of those who want an iron wall of silence on questions like that in the United States, I’d like a citation. If Zionism is supposed to make Jews more secure in the world, it hasn’t been an unalloyed success.

But, as stated above, that is all entirely irrelevant to finding a way to stopping the killing, now. Israel is there, it is going to be there. The Palestinians are there too and they are not going away. Alas, Israelis are not going to be offered the deal to come here to live in security and peace. I’m absolutely certain that many of the safe, secure ultra-Zionists, those quickest to pull the anti-Semitism card on any but the most primitive dichotomous thinkers on these issues, those who replace loyalty tests with attempts to find a way out of the killing, would be among the strongest opponents of such an idea. In the reverse- chop logic of that kind of ultra-Zionism, the wish to have more Jews living and voting in the United States would be “anti-Semitic”. Many of the right-wing “christian” “friends of Israel” would suddenly find that they wouldn’t welcome Jews with open arms under that non-violent, anti-apocalyptic scenario. That peculiarly American , right wing dynamic , the alliance of the American far right with the domestic Israel lobby, is getting people there killed.

The exercise of wishing that things done in the first half of the 20th century is something I gave up on a while back. Though I did think about emptying out Mississippi and offering it as a “New Israel” after one of its politicians proposed the genocide of another country and that the land be given to Israel. You have to wonder what the "christian" fundamentalist reaction to that proposal would be. Certainly it would get more opposition than the proposal that started that fantasy in my mind.

In the mean time Palestinians are getting killed, as are Israelis, but many hundreds of times more Palestinians than Israelis. I think the Olmert government, one of the more incompetent in Israeli history, a chief ally of the United States, invaded Gaza largely for political reasons. The upcoming elections there, which his party might well lose and the outgoing Bush regime here, which gave that government tacit permission to do just about anything, are certain to have figured into the timing. As stated before, I want to see as many of the people are yet to die in this invasion live full lives and die of natural causes. That’s my bottom line in judging any policy. I don’t think the present situation will become anything but worse and that the Bush II administration and its policy of letting the Olmert government invade Lebanon and now Gaza is one of the worst ideas that worst of all American Presidencies has had.

A lazy, dishonest columnist, such as Jeff Jacoby, slopping “Jew-hater” tar over people who have had enough of this situation, plays a crucial role in keeping failed policies going. It’s time we asked people who do that what their bottom line is. It clearly includes hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people getting killed into the far distant future. That is certainly more important an issue than the awful words some ignorant people in angry opposition to the invasion of Gaza spout before going back to their comfortable, relatively secure and affluent lives. I’m not answerable for any anti-Semitic ranters of the kind he catalogues in his tiresome and dishonest column. I’d have no problem if every one of them miraculously lost the ability to speak or act. They are as much an impediment to finding our way out of insanity as the right-wing Israel lobby here is. Indeed, I’ve declared that I have no intention of defending bigots’ rights to free speech here or anywhere, early and often in my blogging life. I will, however, exercise my speech rights on this topic without worrying about the likes of Jeff Jacoby trying to associate me with neo-Nazis. I will condemn Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets fired from Gaza or their refusal to take a chance on Palestinians having what their ideology claims as the right of all people, a real state to call their own. I will also condemn any other side which, for political gain, gets people killed.

Instead of reading Jacoby’s stenography, you might rather read this article.

Yet American politics moves in a parallel, disconnected universe when it comes to the Middle East. Here, being “pro-Israel” requires only mouthing scripted talking points about staunch support for Israel, the special American-Israeli relationship and the shared bond in the war on terrorism.

For the sake of Israel, the United States and the world, it is time for American political discourse to re-engage with reality. Voices of reason need to reclaim what it means to be pro-Israel and to establish in American political discourse that Israel’s core security interest is to achieve a negotiated two-state solution and to define once and for all permanent, internationally recognized borders.

For me, this isn’t just an abstract issue of politics or public policy. It is rooted in my family’s history and a generations-long search for safety and for a home for the Jewish people.