Monday, July 31, 2006


The Left and Israel

I guess I am as obsessed with Israel as the neo-cons and anti-Zionists, but I'll make yet another blog entry (Nate's ruing the day he wondered why I didn't blog more on Israel, I reckon) -- but this one's short.

Some leftists seem to "hate" Israel not out of anti-Semitism nor out of any particular hatred of nationalism (otherwise why embrace the Palestinian cause?), but, almost admittedly, out of a reflex anti-colonialism. But is Israel really a colonial project? Was the migration of Jews to the Land of Israel really done in order for other nations to have a colony in the Middle East? Or was Zionism as much a movement, however misguided, of national liberation as it claimed and not really any different than any of the movements that the left has supported? After all, those movements also resulted in displacement of various peoples. And post-WWII, the peace in Europe was in large part kept by the movement of minorities into somewhat arbitrary national boundaries: something the left has accepted in Europe (indeed, siding with the causes of those moved is seen as a right wing thing to do -- and how much more aligned with the Nazis were Karelians than Palestinians?) but not in the Levant. Perhaps the neo-cons are correct here: the double standard does reflect anti-Semitism?

I'm not going neo-con yet, though: I still am more afraid of Israel's so-called friends on the right than its enemies on the left. I just don't trust anyone hoping that Israel will start the ultimate world war to have the best interests of Israel in mind. And those who think such rubes are tools are often tools of the rubes ... as the Rabbis of yore would have said.

Youre damn straight.. I feel like Dr. frankenstein! Again.. the view from the right.. and as you know right is the opposite of wrong... let these terrorists return our heroic soldiers and then Im sure this will all end quietly.
Have you noticed the new spin from the media (at least from NPR, this time playing the role of National Petroleum Radio rather than the Nice Polite Republicans role it's lately been playing -- although I think the spin originates from Robin Wright of WaPo being overly credulous regarding the statements made to her by the leader of Hezbollah in an interview -- remember when journalists were famed for their scepticism? those were the days, nu?): Hezbollah made a "miscalculation" by doing what they did; they were really after trying for a prisoner swap?

I don't know about you, but I don't believe this for a second. Hezbollah can't be so stupid that it couldn't have predicted Israel would respond the way it did -- so I doubt they miscalculated. Anyway "miscalculation" tends to imply something bad for the person doing the supposed miscalculation -- but how have the events lately been bad for Hezbollah? They've emerged as the defenders of Lebanon against Israeli aggression: what more could they want?

Do you think people with the power to affect Israeli policy will believe the spin? I should hope they don't, although it may be tempting for them to do so as the spin effects a certain confirmation bias in claiming that Israel's response was correct in as much as due to it Hezbollah supposedly made a miscalculation. Israeli leaders should take the international media's and Hezbollah's comments with as much of a truckload of salt as Democratic strategists should take comments by the media and GOP types about what the Democrats should do to win elections. Alas, Democratic strategists believe what the media and GOP tell them. I worry that Israeli leaders will be no more clever than Democratic political functionaries.

Actually a general observation for your consideration: Israel and its enemies are equally clever or not. The problem is that both Israel and its enemies buy into anti-Semitic rhetoric about the cleverness of Jews: so Israel thinks it's smarter than it's enemies and has the expected problems due to its hubris, while Israel's enemies sometimes do better than they expect but sometimes do indeed miscalculate because they assume they are dealing with an infinitely clever enemy instead of dealing with fellow humans as prone to foible as they.

Do you think that I'm on to something?
I like to hope that most on the Left here in the U.S. have problems with Israel's foreign policy rather than the existence of the country itself. I think trying to make any point that calls into question the founding of Israel is really an impossible dead-end to debate. Whether or not it was morally acceptable to re-establish Israel where it currently sits is moot; Israel is there and is certainly not packing up and leaving. Personally, I think if the Allies had wanted to help create a Jewish state, they should have done it by donating Florida or Texas instead of planting Israel in an oil-free zone surrounded by enemies. I realize there is a religious and cultural connection to that particular area, and I confess that I don't understand very well the religious importance placed on certain bits of real estate, but maybe the traditional location of Israel wasn't as important as its symbolic existence.

In any case, I agree to a point: some on the Left just do not maintain any sense of reasonableness about Israel. While I am very critical of the IDF and the current Israeli government's foreign policy, I certainly don't extend that blame to all Israelis or all Jews, anymore than the invasion of Iraq is the fault of all Americans or all Christians. I think the Right tries to draw an equation that says Criticism of Israeli government policy = hates the Jews, which is patently absurd. Similarly, I think some on the Left create an equation that looks something like Support of Israel = loves war and hates Arabs. As is usually the case in political matters, the lunatic fringe shouts the loudest.
I dont equate being against Israel as being anti-Jewish.. there are a lot of Jews who take a liberal approach.. yet I don't call them self-hating Jews. They are entitled to their opinion.. but in this case it is an opinion I won't agree with since I trust the judgement of the Israeli military.

And it's not that Israel is "more clever"... they just have a fantastic well run military.
Nate -- would you happen to know the degree to which large scale questions of strategy (e.g. the degree to which war will be waged via air vs. ground; degree of response to an attack, etc.) are determined by career officers "in the field" or by civilians and quasi-civilians in the political leadership?

There are advantages of each and in this country the balance has shifted one way or the other at various times. I presume it's the same in Israel? It could very well be the case that Israel's military is showing bad judgment ... but I suspect that the bad judgment (as in similar situations in the US) in strategy of response is being shown by the civilian leadership.

Israel does have a fantastic, well run military (arguably the best around) -- but the issue is one of strategic deployment of the tools of military power ... not how well those tools work when deployed (the same issues occur with our military, which is very good at what it does, but is often given non-sensical tasks by the civilian leadership), My "clever" comment is not that Israel is more clever but rather that many in Israel (as well as many of Israel's enemies) think that just because Israel is filled with Jews its particularly smarter than other nations about it's foreign policy -- when it isn't.

And Sam, I actually knew in HS some Muslim Arabs that think Israel is the best of the lot in the ME and who pretty much reflexively support Israel doing whatever is necessary to maintain it's security. And I knew some Muslim non-Arabs who went even further and felt Israel was the greatest thing since sliced bread ... interestingly and FWIW, at my HS when I went there, in general the Muslim students were pro-Israeli and it was the Christian Arab kids (whose parents took great pains to separate themselves from the Muslim world) who embraced the Intifada, etc.
Of course the Arabs like living in Israel.. they live better there than they do in very other Arab country!

And it's not my place to question the wisdom of the military. The #1 priority is to get those HEROIC soldiers back and to eliminate as many cowardly Hezbollah terrorists that it takes to get rid of these people. Nothing else concerns me at this point.
as many cowardly Hezbollah terrorists that it takes to get rid of these people. - Nate

Well, there are several problems here.

One is that Israel is not merely getting rid of "Hezbollah terrorists" but rather is, even if not on purpose (although either those executing the bombings are far less competant than you might think -- and this is not to criticize too particularly Israel's military rather than the functioning of any institution like a military, remember SNAFU is a military term meaning Situation Normal and well you know the rest -- or Israel is indeed deliberately targetting civilians: if you are neither, why would you go through a song and dance about spreading leaflets to warn civilians to leave an area to be bombed and then bomb the people who are fleeing!) targetting civilians and civilian infrastructure. While this may or may not be a justifiably proportional response (depends on what you are measuring in terms of proportionality), you must remember the calculus of revenge (why, e.g., it was so important to set up cities of refuge for manslaughterers lest the Land of Israel turn into a bloodbath): for every civilian you kill, many of that civilians male (and some female) relatives within a certain age range will become terrorists bent on destroying Israel ... so killing civilians, even if they are "collatoral damage" to killing terrorists and destroying terrorist infrastructure, will eventually increase the number of terrorists, rendering your attack futile.

The other is the issue of cowardice. You gotta be really careful in assigning "cowardice" or "bravery" to people. If you assume your enemy is a coward and act accordingly, you'll get burnt. That is why, e.g., Sontag, rather than being vilified for pointing out the bravery of the 9/11 hijackers, should have been viewed as pointing out something we needed to remember about them -- they were people willing to die for their cause, which makes them more dangerous a foe.

OTOH, it would seem you are right about Hezbollah -- they do launch their rockets and then hide behind civilians, which seems pretty cowardly. But the Israeli military can also been seen as cowardly: after all it tends to rely on heavy airstrikes (which are never as precise as claimed) before sending in the ground troops to fight in person. This may work to our advantage in causing our enemies to underestimate us. But to the extent that Israeli strategy is "we need to be perceived as strong so that next time our enemies will think twice about attacking us", such reliance on air-strikes is rather counter-productive to the stated strategy, nu? I know I'm arm-chair quarterbacking here (as well as being a chickenhawk -- I certainly would choose the cowardly way of fighting myself) ... but if the goal is for Israel to be seen as "strong" (and that we Jews are no longer going to be weak and take attacks without response), it just ain't workin' ... 'cause Israel's response is, in a certain sense, actually quite proportionate to what Hezbollah is doing -- and thus Israel will obviously be seen as cowardly the same way we see Hezbollah as such -- and at least in the assessment by popular opinion of bravery, Hezbollah gets points for going against a technologically superior enemy ...

Also, we Jews believe in "do not unto others what is hateful to you". Hezbollah is the de facto army in South Lebanon. Supposing Israel kidnaps a Hezbollah "soldier" (i.e. to use as a bargaining chip -- which may very well be a good strategy, FWIW) and then starts firing a few (defensive, of course) rockets into South Lebanon to pre-empt an immanent (terrorist, of course) response from Hezbollah. How would Israelis like it if Hezbollah responded as Israel has responded, and attacked a wildly disproportionate number of civilian targets. Of course, any attack is horrendous, but targetting civilians, even if not entirely deliberately but at least in a manner which is seen as deliberate, would be hateful to us -- therefore, we must be very careful about doing it to others. Remember, we Jews also believe in "an eye for an eye", not "two eyes for one eye".
The #1 priority is to get those HEROIC soldiers back and to eliminate as many cowardly Hezbollah terrorists that it takes to get rid of these people. Nothing else concerns me at this point.

Well, getting back those soldiers is certainly a laudable goal, but while that may be your number one priority I seriously doubt it is Israel's first priority. I suspect that, much like in the U.S., Israeli military use has some political benefits with certain segments of the population and I suspect Olmert would like to take advantage of that much as Bush did here.

As far as Hezbollah being "cowardly terrorists", I think I'd be careful there. In 30 years of fighting, Israel has not managed to significantly stop Hezbollah. In fact, it was largely because of Hezbollah that Israel chose to abandon its occupation of Lebanon. Just on principle, though, it's awfully dangerous to underestimate your enemy by labeling them "cowardly" or "weak". Even were Israel to throw all sense of decency to the wind and go on a genocidal rampage, I seriously doubt they could kill enough members of Hezbollah to stop the organization. At least, not without alienating nearly the entire world and creating a source of militant inspiration for decades to come. There is no evidence to support and no reason to believe the idea that conventional warfare and ariel bombardment will ever defeat an entrenched militant group. Israel is not fighting the same war Hezbollah is, and they're losing because of that.
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I call them cowardly because they hide behind innocent women and children. If they were real men they would be out in the front lines fighting their battles, and not endangering innocent people by setting up camp in these neighborhoods.

Its all about priorities. As I will mention in my next column which will appear within a day or so... I see that Mr. Gibson apologized to the Jewish community. Will this be the next item on the liberal Jewish agenda to launch a "lets forgive Mel" campaign? I hope that doesn't take a priority over "Lets rescue the 3 soldiers".

And I doubt these military attacks would not have taken place by Israel if 3 HEROIC soldiers had not been kidnapped.

You liberals are nice people.. but you need a smack in the tuchus.
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