Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Atrocities and apologies

Thank you, Emily Yoffe.

It's amazing how many commentators, not just Christopher Hitchens, have used the latest Middle East conflict as a reason for why Israel ought not to have existed in the first place. This always makes me think of all the other countries founded on someone else's land (I'm sitting in one such country as we speak). What, other than our forebearers' successful all-but-elimination of the Native Americans, gives the US the right to exist? It makes me think of how Europe could kill off the Ashkenazi civilization, then say 'Oops, our bad,' and can now claim the moral high ground in international debates. So basically, had Israel just wiped out or expelled the Palestinians, then said, 'Oh, we're so sorry for the genocide, we'll never do it again, we promise,' the Jewish state would be in the clear. That this didn't happen, it seems, is why Israel's existence can still be questioned.

And yes, I now haz a sad.


alex said...

The irony is that Israel's founding was directly approved in a UN resolution, so, as long as were counting, Israel's case for existence is considerably stronger than that of most other countries.

You would think this fact would carry a lot of weight among the crowd that tends to equate UN resolutions with "international law," but (un)surprisingly, this isn't the case.

Anonymous said...

This is an obviously silly analogy because of course contemporary Americans, say, aren't supposed to happy about founding a country through genocide. American and modern Europe are also products of, say, the slave trade, but don't promote it as a modern nation-building strategy. And if Emily Yoffe has yet to hear anyone suggesting that the founding of Pakistan and many other post-1945 states were mistakes, then she hasn't been paying attention. (For instance, "wiping Iraq off the map" in the form of a "three-state solution: was one of the most commonly discussed proposals for what do there. It was proposed by many distinguished diplomats, academics, etc.) Israel is essentially a colonial settler state, not to mention the 51st state, which is naturally only going to increase its problems. That's why the people who are best able to justify its existence to themselves in a contemporary context are god-said-killed-fags American Christianists who want Jews to held speed up the Rapture. Maybe "wiping Israel off the map" isn't actually the right idea, although if I was saying it for end-of-days-type reasons, I'd have many friends in that country, not to mention in this one (for instance, Joe Lieberman might compare me to Moses on that account). However, "wiping country X off the map" is in fact a common suggestion when dealing with certain parts of the world.

alex said...

Anonymous, to the extent that we sometimes discuss the wisdom of changing (or erasing) national boundaries, its in deference to the desires of the people who live there - for example, in the case of Iraq, Kurds do not seem very keen on being part of an Iraqi state, and for most of the the last six years or so, many Iraqi shiites toyed with similar ideas.

Israel is the only case in which we talk about destroying a state against the wishes of almost all of its residents.

Anonymous said...

alex, its deference to SOME of the people. besides, haven't you read how often Israel's biggest friends in the U.S. (like John Bolton in the WSJ the other day) suggest, say, making the Gaza Strip part of Egypt and the West Bank part of Jordan against everyone's wishes there? Deference to Jews, death to Arabs.

Withywindle said...

One does at some point have to take the Jabotinsky line: the Jewish nation is superior to the Palestinian one, in virtue and virtu, and has a greater right to the land. The same also applies, mutatis mutandis, to the United States and all other settler nations. (All nations, in other words.)

However, there is poetic justice: the Europeans are indeed no longer willing to claim any superiority for their own nations, and hence they are dying off. Aside from the threat of nuclear destruction, Israel has a better long-term prognosis than Europe, since it still has a will to live. (See the latest Spengler for more on this theme.)

alex said...

Anonymous, you are trying to assert an equivalence between two things that aren't at all alike. Sure, there have been plenty of calls for Egypt to go in the Gaza Strip - this tends to happen during every major crisis. The people who suggest this aren't suggesting to destroy self-governance in the Gaza Strip forever - they are typically suggesting a temporary relief measure for whatever crisis is in progress. Bolton in his op-ed makes sure he does not commit himself to any position on the eventual future of Gaza.

Anonymous said...

Alex: yes, they are talking about "destroying self-governance in the Gaza Strip forever", e.g.,:

Regardless, the term "self-governance" is an obfuscation given that many pro-Israel commentators (and, for that matter, Israeli Prime Ministers) deny that Palestinians exist in the first place.

Look, its simply misleading to claim that Israel is the only country that people talk about "wiping off the map". The only sense in which the discussion of wiping Israel off the map is unique is that its only with Israel that someone can talk about wiping it off the map and be compared to Moses by Joe Lieberman, IF you're proposing to wipe Israel off the map as part of a long-term plan to bring Christ back to earth and send all the fags down to burn in eternal hellfire alongside the Jews. That is really unique, but don't expect to hear Emily Yoffe, Phoebe Maltz, Mary "Arabs are animals" Peretz, Abe "every time I see a bacon bagel its like a little holocaust inside of me" Foxman, Joe "John Hagee is my hero" Lieberman, etc., pointing that out.

More broadly, have you people never read books, scholarly articles, op-ed pieces, etc., that speculate about whether many or most of the post-1945 British land divisions were all a big mistake? Its just not that uncommon. And in the case of Israel there's bound to be more such talk, partly because of anti-semitism, but also just because its expanionist colonial settler state, because its the de facto 51st state, because its a part of the world that Westerners have always cared and known more about than Asia or Africa, because of Muslim immigration to Europe, etc.

alex said...


- I use the term "self-governance" in an effort not to specify the ultimate form that governance will take. Will the Gaza Strip and West Bank be one state or two? I don't know, and it really ought not matter as far as this discussion is concerned. Should the Gaza strip be part of Egypt? I have no problem with that, as long as the residents of Gaza approve it in a free referendum.

In terms of evaluating whether a proposal is beyond the pale, it makes more sense to look at its implication for Palestinian self-governance rather than what effects it will have on a potential Palestinian state.

- You are repeatedly trying to draw an equivalence between some things which are not at all the same. Yes, I can see why you might think calls to redraw borders, or to absorb some (de facto independent) states into others are something like calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. But if you look at the comparison further, you really see the things are not similar at all.

The Pipes column you link to, for examples, spends a lot of time making the case that Palestinians will go for this. There is no suggestion of destroying a state against the wishes of its citizens, which is the key difference.

"More broadly, have you people never read books, scholarly articles, op-ed pieces, etc., that speculate about whether many or most of the post-1945 British land divisions were all a big mistake?"

Again, there is only a superficial similarity. The difference is whether anyone offers such discussions as a constructive program to force on people who do not support it.

Erika D. said...

Thank you for this post, Phoebe. I'm a relatively new visitor to your blog, but I already knew I was on to something good here. Keep up the fine work.

Anonymous said...

Of course, it is not Israel's existence per se which is questioned, but the Jewish people's. The illegitimacy of an Israeli state merely flows from the non-existence of a Jewish people who, seeing as how they don't exist, can hardly assert a right to national self-determination under settled international law.

Anonymous said...

(To the extent the singular indefinite article is ignored in the above: note distinction between "a Jewish people" and, plural, "Jewish people"; the latter are generally agreed to exist, the former typically the object of lengthy discussions of Khazars, proselytism, genetic purity, and other attempts to negate the diaspora. This distinction is easier in French, where peuple and gens don't sound alike at all.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Erika D.,

Thanks for the encouragement!

Alex and Anonymous,

Feel free to continue the discussion, but I'm not up for joining in. I think it's clear where I stand.

Anonymous said...

those are two different anonymouses (anonymi)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Then maybe label yourselves Anon 1 and Anon 2?

Anonymous said...

The post is...well, sort of bizarre, but sort of not. I regularly encounter barely concealed desires from my fellow Jews to ethnically cleanse Greater Israel of Arabs, preferably with extreme prejudice. I guess that's natural enough in an apartheid situation. What's bizarre is that it's generally embedded within this sour complaining about how moral Israel is. If only we weren't so moral and high-minded and superior to other nations...we could finish the job and really wipe those inferior Arab fuckers out. Am I the only one who sees a certain contradiction here?

I occasionally find myself thinking it myself, but I don't maintain it's because of moral superiority. If it wasn't for the international community holding it back, I think Israel would have pretty well decimated the Palestinian population by now and perhaps the Southern Lebanese as well. What's different about Israel isn't that it's Jewish, it's that such behavior is much harder to get away with post-WWII, especially when you're dependent on Western aid.

Israel is the only case in which we talk about destroying a state against the wishes of almost all of its residents.

I don't understand. The non-Jewish half of Israel's residents wish to see it destroyed. Residents here meaning the population under sovereign control of the Israeli any realistic sense the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza are Israeli residents.

I agree with Anon 1 that the international community muses about redrawing national boundaries by force all the time.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Anon 3,

That is quite a misinterpretation of my post. First off, the post is not about what Israel might do now, but about what it might have done early on. Second, and more importantly, that I think expelling or killing the Palestinians might have 'worked' does not remotely mean I think it should have been done. Obviously not. All I'm pointing out is that we do not today hold it against many countries (most countries?) that they were founded in ways we would deem immoral. It is indeed a paradox that, had Israel acted *less* morally early on, it might not today be accused of being the least moral state out there. For Israel's supporters, this paradox is a frustrating one to think about. But not only for them. Also for Americans, who are forced to ask whether decimating the Native American population was 'worth it' so that we can have our country... and so on.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a paradox that, had Israel acted *less* morally early on, it might not today be accused of being the least moral state out there.

this is not true. Throughout its history, Israel consistenly tried to expel the Palestinians. Had it exterminated them, I don't think that would have been forgotten.

Anonymous said...

My take is a little different than yours, Phoebe: I think Israel ought not have been established in Palestine, and that it was shows a lot of disdain both for Jews and for Arabs/wogs/Palestinians on the part of Britain, France, and USSR who decided that it would be, after World War II. I don't see Israel as being responsible for this, I think, imperialism on the part of the victorious powers.
Truman was quite worried about the long-term consequences, and had to be bullied into accepting it, as I remember, so the US was I think somewhat less culpable here. The Jews who came to Israel were powerless miserable people who had just lost their families to fathomless evil, and cannot be blamed for accepting this offer of a national home. Once there, they bloomed, and have made one of the most interesting and vibrant cultures/nations in the world.
I'm with Withywindle, in thinking that this is a superior culture and nation, and worth preserving. I wish it hadn't been done by taking the land from its residents, but that's a long time ago and the people who did it are mostly dead. I have fruitless fantasies of how much better it would be if the Jewish National Home had been put in Schleswig-Holstein, the land taken from folks who were culpable, but that didn't happen.
Given that Israel exists, it has a necessity of defending itself. The people who are there have no fault for the decision to establish it.
I am worried that the Gaza incursion may not be the best way for Israel to defend itself, but I certainly don't oppose its taking actions to defend itself. dave.s.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Dave S.,

Aside from our disagreement over whether Israel should have been placed in Palestine in the first place (where, I want to ask, do you think the US ought to have been placed?), your comment misses the fact that there was an ever-growing movement, led by European Jews, called political Zionism, one that began in the late nineteenth century, i.e. *not* as a response to the Holocaust. Obviously the state of Israel owes its existence in part to European imperialism and the great powers' whims, or to the fact that many non-Zionist Jews ended up in Israel for lack of another place to go following WWII, but it's impossible to take Jewish agency (not to be confused with the Jewish Agency, although that fits quite nicely) out of the equation.

Anonymous said...

I tend to see the political Zionist movement as sort of like Eugene Debs or Vidkun Quisling - not terribly effectual, not in tune with enough people to make things happen. Quisling and the political Zionists got lucky (?) outside events made their desired positions happen.
But, you know, all those guys are dead. Herzl, Begin, Ben-Gurion. There are facts on the ground. I - I'm a secular guy, raised Protestant. Don't really have a 'my-people' dog in this fight, but Israel looks to me like a place I could live and engage and find friends, and where my daughter could make a good life. Women can wear bathing suits on the beach, and become oncologists. Fatah-Hamastan, ick. Books come out of Israel that I want to read. Music I want to hear. I like those people, and I want them to survive and prosper. Doesn't make a lot of difference to me what their grandparents did, or whether Balfour or Herzl was heedless of indigenous rights. dave.s.