Monday, July 24, 2006


In Order to Avoid "Blaming the Victim", It helps if the Victim Tries to be Blameless

There is an attitude among some Jews that, since we are victims of prejudice, whatever we do, even if it explicitely re-enforces old stereotypes, can not engender anti-Semitism and if it does, to blame certain Jews for it would be blaming the victim. Indeed, one can argue that it is an interesting lapse of liberal fair-mindedness that somehow Lebanese civilians are given a benefit of the doubt as to their "civilian-ness" (*) lest we blame the victim even as Israelis are not given a similar benefit of the doubt as to the bona fides of their response.

But I think that, while it is bad form to blame the victim, it is also imperative to avoid being a victim (and it's amazing how the very same righty-tighties who damn, based on this imperative, Lebanese and NOLA residents, who were really blameless in that they had not the means to avoid being victims, would deny this imperative exists when it is applied to obnoxious fundies "victimized" by being challenged in their "rights" to use state resources for prostelization, Israelis, and others wont to claim the status of victimhood without claiming any responsibility to avoid rather than embrace it). Who wants to be a victim except for wingers with martyrdom complexes?

It's bad enough that people think we Jews are evil. It's worse when people in the ostensibly Jewish State do things that, even if explanable or justifiable, could reasonably be argued to be evil, thus giving credence to how some people think of us Jews. Call it blame the victim if you want -- but I say Jews acting exactly how anti-Semites claim we would act if given the power to so act is rather giving anti-Semites a victory they don't deserve. Israel is the Jewish state and as such, whether it wants this to be the case or not, its actions reflect the Jewish people. Thus, Israel has a moral and practical responsibility to not just avoid attrocious, albeit all too common, acts of statecraft, but to avoid even the appearance of such things that can arguably be considered horrendous and thus reflect badly on the Jewish people as a whole. Self-defense is one thing -- but a response that is by all measures disproportionate to the attacks and not productive in eliminating the threat (bombing supply routes in theory should end a threat but, as the US experience in the Vietnam war showed, all you do is harm innocent civilians, further destablize civilian governance in the areas bombed while doing nothing to stop a determined enemy from attacking you) is simply not justifiable.

Part of the problem is strategic. As was discussed in the comments thread following this post, few people actually get the goals of Hezbollah, which Israel is playing right into. Part of the problem is one of becoming a dragon to fight dragons. But part of the problem is philosphical: Zionism is based in part on the idea of "Jewish strength" -- that we Jews must never even appear weak (originally Zionism also had an element of Jewish sovereignty, which goes exactly against the AIPAC ethos of the "special friendship" between the US and Israel but rather along the lines of the prophetic tradition's rejection of an alliance with Egypt, and Zionism also had an ethos of Jews not being again "victims", but nowadays the right wing martyrdom complex seems to have started to seep in along the lines of "you can't blame us for what we do, we're victims!"), thus there is a preference to, no matter how strategically bad it is to do so, to show "those people" that Israel is not going to take being attacked without a strong response. Of course, whenever that attitude is taken, there is the problem that you show the wrong people that your country will respond strongly to any attack and thus anger a bunch of innocent people against your country all the while convincing the guilty they can get away with attacking you and you'll respond in such a way that the guilty are not harmed (or get to be martyrs if they are) while innocent people are driven to the cause of the guilty!

(*) Let me say here the Dershowitz's argument per se is racist bunk and exactly the sort of collective guilt theory that (1) when applied to Germany after WWI (as if Germany was the only guilty party) led to the Holocaust, (2) when applied by the Nazis to the Jews (of course, there were Jews in the Prussian bureaucracy) led to the Holocaust, (3) we purposefully avoided applying to the Germans after WWII and (4) if applied to all Jews based on what Israel is doing will put Dershowitz and I in the camps (after you, Alan). But the reason why this argument resonates among many is that:

(1) there is a reasonable debate about how to handle innocents in a war zone -- obviously the "Israel has a right to do anything to defend itself" argument is wrong as is even the "Israel should be allowed to do whatever any other state would do" argument (since when is it a good thing to place Israel on the same moral level as every other pissant state? it's frankly un-Jewish ... as the righty-tighties would call it in other contexts, it's "the soft prejudice of low expectations" and as such is, according to the logic of Israel's rabid so-called supporters who merely want Israel to instigate Armeggedon, anti-Semitic itself) -- but there presumably are some cases where a country can respond to attacks, not only directly to attacks but also against infrastructure used to supply attacks even if such a response necessarily harms civilians (although what's the deal with Israel bombing convoys after it's warned people about bombings but not so long after so that it ends up bombing the very people it's claimed to be protecting? admittedly, this is probably more stupidity than venality on Israel's part, but since it looks like venality, it must be stopped lest it give credence to anti-Semitic slurs -- which is, cf. Fackenheim (sp?), granting Hitler the posthumous victory of being seen as possibly right about us) ... and here it may be useful to compare Israel's actions with other, reasonably "civilized" countries and ask about double standards as well as what are the de facto, vs. ideal, standards as well.

(2) indeed, it is true that not all of the "innocent" civilians are so innocent ... while presumably a family being held hostage, so to speak, by rocket launching terrorists, is indeed innocent of the actions of those terrorists ... and the collective guilt theory of Dershowitz is racist bunk, it is generally understood by many (and even if it's somewhat racist in its blanket assumptions of guilt, it does have a grain of truth -- and why should it be surprising or viewed as an aspersion on Arabs that some would support violent groups in a cause they feel as just? look at "mainstream" support for Operation Rescue in this country ... but are those who support Operation Rescue really innocent? what about those who support Hezbollah? -- and casts Israeli actions in a new light) that not all "innocents" in this zone are truly innocent. It isn't as if the rockets are appearing from nowhere. Someone is firing them -- and often, experience has shown, the people firing them appear to be civilians. Thus, while the shear numbers of "civilian" casualties indicate Israel is harming innocents (while some act as if the vast majority of "innocents" hurt or killed by Israel in it's retaliations are actually terrorists of some sort, if Israel has so many terrorists attacking it, it's powers of defense are miraculous, but it has worse problems than a few extremists -- the assertions of those who claim the actual, not collective, guilt of even the majority of the killed, injured or displaced are laughable if not racist), it certainly is true that not all "civilian" casualties are really civilian casualties. Dershowitz might have become a racist jerk, but his point about civilianity does raise issues in fighting the sort of war Israel is fighting.

And let me add that part of the issue raised is what we faced in Vietnam and are facing in Iraq -- when a civilian population is against our actions, does the civilian population become our enemy? If not, then we cannot go after those who attack us as to do so would harm those against whom we are not supposed to be fighting. Of course, a Christian would say, this is the problem with trying to fight an "enemy" (cf. below). But even for non-Christians, there are very real moral dilemmas here. Of course, in the case of our involvement in Vietnam and Iraq, we can always "cut and run" away from this dilemma, but Israel cannot cut and run away from these issues without disappearing entirely. Which is why Zionists tend to perceive those who want Israel to avoid fighting (due to moral concerns) when the civilian population of your enemy states (or even that you are occupying) are themselves arrayed against you as not necessarily having moral concerns but rather wanting Israel to disappear as a "Jewish State". Which begs the question, from the Zionist point of view, why deny to Jews what so many other nations have -- a state of their own? Of course, we Jews are different -- but that's a Jewish and not a Zionist belief.

Of course, from the Christian (and I mean real Christians, not the faker fundies in power) point of view, this whole notion of guilt and innocence is a red herring anyway, as who among us are truly guilty or innocent? That some justify Israeli attacks as being against the guilty is abhorrent from such a Christian point of view as any action, no matter how horrendous, can be so justified: so what's to stop Israel from, e.g., a genocide and justifying it as necessary and being targetted to the guilty? -- indeed, the calculus of revenge in the ME is such that, without a total genocide, there will always be those who seek revenge against Israel for its disproportionate responses (the possible reasoning of the Bible's commandment to eradicate the Amelekites -- although there is another interpretation of the Bible's commandment: remember to forget about that incident ... a message of "let's move past that" that many nations including Israel might do well to heed today), themselves based on Israeli (mis)-understanding of the culture of honor in the ME. What is sweetly bonkers about this sort of thinking in its use to criticize Israel, even if there is a certain strategery in Christian statecraft which few have appreciated (e.g. Jimmy Carter's foreign policy was actually a form of "realism"), is, as one fellow Jew put it, "how come Israel is the only state expected to live up to Christian standards?" Israel's not a Christian state ... and when Christian states don't follow Christian principles of statecraft, how can one expect a Jewish state to do so?

Of course, there are good Jewish reasons to want Israel to be more restrained. There are, of course, strategic reasons ... and religious reasons: there are, as I have given them on this blog, Talmudic arguments against targetted assasinations and other Biblically prohibited acts of vengeance. There is the principle of "do not unto others what you would not have them do to you" -- if Israel doesn't want it's infrastructure targetted, it ought not to target the infrastructure of other nations. There is the much maligned principle of "an eye for an eye" which rules out disproportionate responses as well as too strong responses based on merely hypothetical threats. There is the principle of remembering our period of servitude: we mustn't hold others to collective guilt and subject them to ethnic cleansing because we were so treated in our history. And there is even the concept of Chosenness -- Israel must live up to a higher standard as it is "the Jewish State" and in God's Holy Land. But to expect Israel to live up to standards of Christian morality that not even Christian or majority Christian but secular states live up to is a bit odd, pace the good people who suggest this. While it can be argued that morality must be applied universally, and I certainly would be one to argue this and it is part of the Jewish no less than the Christian tradition besides, both the Jewish and Christian traditions (chosenness and the "log in your own eye" doctrines, respectively) recognize that we must hold our own to our own standards before holding others to our standards.

I think Dershowitz, in his own morally bankrupt way, has really helped illuminate the problem with answering terrorist incursions with conventional warfare and air strikes. No matter how careful Israel is, and I believe they are being more cautious about civilian deaths than some are giving them credit for, even one misstep plays right into Hezbollah's propaganda. Israel cannot win this conflict militarily.

The part that puzzles me the most about the Israeli response is the deja vu of it. Israel's been down this road before and I find it hard to believe that there isn't a whole lot of dissent in the upper brass of the Israeli military and the Knesset over this incursion. They've fought this same battle against Hezbollah before and couldn't win it then. I don't understand what Omert and Perez thought would be different this time.
I agree with your point about the illumination due to Dershowitz.

Somebody (was it you?) quoted Dr. Johnson about this phenomenon in Israel ... "the triumph of hope over experience" quote was the one given.

The problem is that "we must respond militarily" is a delusion (there is a Yiddish word that is better here, but I cannot remember it exactly) that is part of the underlying idea of Zionism and hence deeply ingrained in the Israeli mindset. The idea is that for too long we Jews have not had a State to defend or an army with which to defend it -- and now that we have both, we must use them and not let "them" attack "us" without a strong and resolute response. The mindset admits no doubt ... no amount of evidence that this "strategy" doesn't work is accepted -- the response is never "maybe it's so bad 'cause we responded too strongly" but always "imagine how much worse it would be if we didn't respond militarily".

So, of course, there will be little dissent. Of course Israel's failures in the past using these methods won't influence debate. Because the whole idea of Israel to begin with is that we Jews should not anymore be even seen as effete and rootless; that we Jews will now have a state of our own and defend it with all our might. Any other option is going to, at some level, be seen as being anti-Zionist because it goes against the root of the Zionist program, which is (not to be Western colonialist/imperialists as some anti-Zionists paranoidly think ... remember Zionism exists because those imperalistic, colonizing powers wouldn't fully accept Jews as citizens so some Jews began to think -- well, if they view us as a separate nation, where's our state? in a way Zionism is actually as much an anti-colonial movement as any other movement of self-determination, many of which are supported by the left ... and the failure of the left to recognize that, even if it is a myth and not the reality, galls many an otherwise liberal Jew) that we Jews will no longer take being attacked "lying down" but will instead respond with military force to any attack.

Sorry to sound so much like a lefty academic anti-Zionist type (maybe the shoe fits?), but there is an element of unbridled military aggression at the heart of Zionism, and Zionism is about the clearest proof that Nietzsche was right, as you quote him, about monsters and abysses.
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