Sunday, January 04, 2009

Politics Barbie

I'd just gotten through pointing out the problem with assuming feminism implies solidarity with the Palestinians, when I found even more embarrassing girl-responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, over at Jezebel. The post itself is neither here nor there, a reminder that serious things happen on a blog that is not by its nature about hard news, which is fine.

But the comments are, for the most part, painful to read. No, I'm sorry, but "I haz a sad" is not an appropriate response to war. This is not a kitteh war, but one between, you know, people. Nor is "The world would be almost perfect if everyone just lived out every day simply NOT BEING AN ASSHOLE." That's one step away from, 'If women ruled the world, it would just be cupcakes and rose petals all day long!'

Nevertheless, an audience primed to side with all that's vulnerable and adorable and to embrace the least thought-out forms of progressive politics has, surprise, not so much sympathy with the Israelis. But beyond that, there's a truly impressive lack of insight across the ideological spectrum. From one commenter: "I do not object to Jews having a country. I do object in the taking of other people's land. There are many people on both side who want peace. But the ultimate truth is that you can't create countries where other people have lived for thousands of years." Luckily the following commenter points out the slight problem with this, but what ensues is a discussion of how, if Israel had been in Uganda and not Palestine, that would have been OK, because of course Africa does not contain people.

The pro-Israel side, meanwhile, gets some pathetic representation as well: a commenter intending (I think?) to make the (altogether reasonable) comment that perhaps if the US media is pro-Israel, the media in Europe is pro-Palestinian, i.e. it's not that the US is alone in not seeing The Truth About The Situation, but that every media source has a slant. Instead, this commenter helpfully explains that "Parisians are mostly comprised of Muslims."

Of course, this isn't even about women. It's about how all comment threads on a topic like this make one lose whatever hope for humanity one had after reading the news stories themselves. Like, did you know that Jews control the media? Or, recommended by 170 readers, that "What they [the Israelis] have done to the Palestenians [sic] since 1947 is far worse than anything they experienced during WW 2." I give up. I haz a frustrated.

11 comments:

Petey said...

"Nevertheless, an audience primed to side with all that's vulnerable and adorable ... has, surprise, not so much sympathy with the Israelis."

While I agree that this is no surprise, isn't it worth pondering on occasion why this is no surprise, and maybe even being slightly upset about the fact that we're playing the characters in jackboots in this episode (and other recent episodes) of the telenovela?

As always J Street talks sense...

alex said...

On the other hand, have you ever seen a comment section with thoughtful, well-argued comments? This is sometimes possible on "small" blogs, but I don't think that this ever happens on "large" ones like jezebel.

Miss Self-Important said...

Alex is right. Comments never warrant attention. Especially when the blog-to-post mismatch is so extreme that it's like Perez Hilton posting about geostatistics.

Giving up works though. I, for one, haz a pro-Israel apathy, and it's been working pretty well.

Phoebe said...

Petey,

As the saying goes, you're entitled to your opinion.

Alex and MSI,

Blog-size does certainly matter, as does "blog-to-post mismatch." Newspaper comments are another world of oddly fascinating evil. But even at smaller blogs with often-civil comments (say, this one), once the Middle East comes up, you get a lot of people incapable of thinking those not on their side (be it that of Hamas, settlers, JStreet, 'real Americans' who've had it with the Jewnited States, whatever) might have a point. Which is why lately, although I'm not quite apathetic, WWPD is a prime example of "pro-Israel apathy." It's not as if one especially cleverly-written comment is about to fundamentally change how I think about this issue, let alone bring peace to the Middle East. Whereas if someone has an idea how to fix the library checkout at NYU, I'm all ears.

alex said...

Although I am generally not apathetic as far as Israel and Hamas go, right now I also find it hard to care about the public discussion inspired by the Gaza crisis. Didn't we have exactly the same discussion two years ago during the crisis with Hezbollah?

From the overeager claims on the Israeli side that this operations will destroy Hamas/Hezbollah, to the exaggerated claims that civilian casualties = war crimes coming from the other side - everyone seems to be playing from the same script.

Phoebe said...

Alex,

You're right. The only difference now is the idea in many people's minds that Obama will somehow fix the situation, either by bringing about world peace or by, as many would put it, alas, finally putting an end to Jewish domination of the United States. I should not read newspaper comments, clearly.

Side note: What keeps getting missed in terms of the psychology of all of this is exactly what the relationship is between Israel and Holocaust memory. It's not that we (i.e. Jews, i.e. I speak for myself) think Israel is some kind of reparations. It's more that we (same 'we') do not find it super convincing whenever pro-Palestinian Westerners announce that everyone but the U.S. condemns Israel's latest who knows what, existence, military operation, it doesn't matter. We remember that everyone but the U.S. and not too many others was, not that long ago, prepared to rid the world of Jews, offering up many of the same arguments now used against Israel. In other words, we're wary of 'world opinion,' especially when it is unanimously against us. Perhaps unnecessarily so, but understandably so all the same.

alex said...

I agree. If you deconstruct the argument from public opinion, it really is quite silly. Why would you expect that averaging the opinions of so many people - very few of which are likely to be knowledgeable about the situation - will provide something close to the truth?

I think the term for this is "Chinese emperor's fallacy," popularized by Feynman in his collection of stories. When confronted with this sort of argument, Feynman is supposed to have replied with a parable. Suppose no one in China is allowed to see the emperor, but you would like to know how long his nose is. Suppose you went from village to village asking people how long they think it is, and average the numbers once you're finished. How much confidence would you have in your results?

Petey said...

"We remember that everyone but the U.S. and not too many others was, not that long ago, prepared to rid the world of Jews"

It's also worth remembering that from 1948 to 1967, Western public opinion was pretty solidly on the side of Israel.

This ought to make us think a bit about precisely how the current era is different from the '48 to '67 era, and if an explanation other than anti-Jewish sentiment might not be the most parsimonious explanation...

-----

"Petey, As the saying goes, you're entitled to your opinion. "

If you read the opinion polls, you'll find I'm speaking for the majority of American Jews. Not that majority opinions are necessarily correct, but it bears noting that I'm not exactly expressing a fringe viewpoint here.

FuzzyFace said...

It's also worth remembering that from 1948 to 1967, Western public opinion was pretty solidly on the side of Israel.

This ought to make us think a bit about precisely how the current era is different from the '48 to '67 era, and if an explanation other than anti-Jewish sentiment might not be the most parsimonious explanation...


The explanation is quite simple, and yes is more than simply antisemitism. Before 1967, Israel was clearly the underdog. The world loves Jews when they are pluckily dying or just managing to survive. In 1967, however, Israel did more than just survive. It demolished the armies of its three homicidal neighbors and captured territory from them. At the same time, the PLO, which previously had explicitly denied all interest in the Jordanian-controlled "West Bank" and the Egyptian-controlled Gaza strip, now declared itself their champion and claimed that those lands were Occupied Territory.

In a flash, Israel was transformed from an endangered tiny nation trying defend itself to a Colonial Oppressor, even though its actions had been specifically part of that self-defense. Israel is now not just a Jewish State. It is the whipping boy for Western colonial guilt. By bashing Israel, those who are either guilty of colonialism or resentful of it can express their hatred of the phenomenon, even though Israel is not a colonial power in any sane sense of the term.

Petey said...

"The explanation is quite simple ... Before 1967, Israel was clearly the underdog."

The issue is quite a bit more than just underdog-ism.

Pre-'67, Israel lived within international borders, and post-'67, it hasn't. Countries that don't respect international borders like Serbia with Bosnia and Kosovo, or Russia with Georgia, or Iraq with Kuwait, tend to find international opinion shifting against them. And with very good reason.

"even though Israel is not a colonial power in any sane sense of the term."

If you are a democracy that controls territory outside your borders for more than a generation without giving the inhabitants of that territory a vote in your elections, it's difficult to come up with a better term the one you say shouldn't be used...

Rebecca said...

Actually, Israel did not live within international borders before 1967 either. The 1949 lines were armistice lines. Since 1967 and the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan Israel does have internationally recognized borders with those countries. Israel is still in a state of war (technically) with Syria and Lebanon, as no peace treaties have been signed with either country, nor have the borders been ratified by the UN or other international bodies. As for the Green Line border between Israel and the West Bank and Israel and Gaza, both of those are still the 1949 armistice lines. I'm not saying this to justify Israel's actions - I support the establishment of a separate Palestinian state, dismantling of the settlements in the WB with border adjustments, etc. - but to say that the situation is actually still more fluid than you've described it, Petey.