Thursday, March 05, 2009


Is Opposition to Israel a Necessary Component of Liberalism?

A friend of mine disputes my facebook profile in which I label myself very liberal because liberalism requires one to have positions that lean even more pro-Arab than my own positions lean in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While certainly I would imagine that any liberal would have positions "to the left" so to speak of, e.g. my friend Nate, on the Arab/Israeli conflict (and my own positions are indeed more friendlier to Arab concerns than Nate's are, e.g.), I fail to see how the positions identified as "on the left" in any way have anything to do with liberalism or leftist thought.

While there is a strain of liberalism (with which I often do battle) that holds, AFAIC, the position of "we will always listen only to the narratives of the oppressed, and we get to decide who is oppressed and thus worthy of having their narratives heard by us", I fail to see how one must hold such a position, which I would think should be relegated to conservative strawmen versions of liberals rather than to any actual liberals, in order to be considered a liberal. Actually, my friend (immortalized in the blogosphere as Timmy at one point) has very, very good arguments (he says I'd make a good appellate lawyer, but his arguments show that he's a master at the appeal) as to how the liberal position on the Arab/Israeli conflict is to the left of my own position (which includes Israel keeping the Golan Heights, e.g.). But I'd like to hear from all of my readers (all ten of them) about this issue. How is "the left wing view on the Arab/Israeli conflict" in any way a necessary component of left wing thought? How is Zionism (originally a left wing movement) incompatible with liberal/leftish politics?

Relatedly, it does feel very odd that people with whom I agree about everything else should have views so divergent from my own about Israel. Does this mean I am somehow inconsistent or wrong about Israel? Or that I need to reconsider my liberal views about other things (like a good neo-con would)?

One issue of course that gets tossed around a lot in liberal circles is Israel's (debatable) "refusal to comply" with international law. The problem here, however, is a problem in general with any liberal or progressive position (including "neo-liberal economics", e.g. ... which most liberals would actually oppose): liberals/progressives believe in reform of unfair rules and the institution of a fair and just rule of law. However, whenever you change the rules -- even if those changes are in the name of fairness -- it always creates a bit of unfairness.

Under any status quo there are winners and losers. A good liberal (for reasons outlined by Rorty and others) is most concerned about the losers and wishes to changes the rules to make things more fair for the losers (e.g. to level the playing field). The problem comes in that there are not just winners and losers but also agents who are new to the game. When you change the rules, you say to the newbies and even to some of the losers, "those winners may have won under the old rules, but to make things more fair we are changing the rules -- so now you won't lose so badly, but you won't be able to win either". On the one hand it is not fair to ask winners to give up their winnings if they won them fair and square playing by the rules. On the other hand, it is also not fair to say "well, the winners won fair and square by unfair rules, but since those rules were unfair, we won't let you win by them". So what does a liberal do? Maintain an unfair system? Do you deny that the winners actually won via unfair rules and Orwellianly claim the rules were always the newly instituted fair ones?

Consider the case of neo-liberalism and globalization. Though it is denied by neo-liberals, many nations got rich precisely via approaches contrary to the prescriptions of neo-liberalism. But now developing nations are hindered from getting rich because neo-liberalism is ascendent (thanks for keeping it that way Obama ... gag!). Even if neo-liberal free trade is somehow more "fair" -- is it right that the winners of the old system should keep their winnings from that unfair system whilst nations that are developing now have to play by new rules that will prevent them from winning? OTOH, should nations that played by the old rules and did well have to give up anything simply out of fairness?

Similarly it happens with the State of Israel. Under the old rules, so to speak, if you were bullied by other nations, fought back and then ended up winning the war and land with it, de facto if not de jure, you got to keep most, if not all of that land you won. But now we have this system of international law that says nations must return occupied territory. But shouldn't this apply to all nations, even those who managed to win territory under the old laws? Is it fair to ask them to return land they won playing by the rules?

Of course our new system of international laws has been put into place in part to prevent what happened to us Jews from ever happening to anyone again. OTOH, it is awful "convenient" (as the Church Lady might say) that, now that the Jewish State is in a position to benefit from the old rules, the rules are magically changed so that we Jews never win. How is that fair that so many other nations get to continue to benefit from a defunct system while Israel gets condemned for doing things as would be considered normal under that old system.

One could argue that is true of any up and coming new nation. But what happens is that, since all the other up and coming nations realize they can't get the winners under the old rules to give up their winnings, they just pick on Israel instead. Of course as a liberal, I am in theory in favor of a robust system of international laws. But the current system, without any real separation of powers (which is the sine qua non of a fair system of laws as far as liberalism is concerned, IMHO) -- in which a bunch of nations gang up on Israel 'cause nobody can win under the new rules and yet the winners under the old rules cannot be made to give up their winnings, is hardly something any liberal can support, is it?

And yet, according to some, supporting such a system and opposing Israel is a necessary element of liberalism? I still don't quite get that.

Hey thanks for the mention!

You're not a liberal on Israel... maybe other stuff... maybe you try to be a liberal on israel.. but you just cant bring yourself to really take the side of the Hamas scum.
You're welcome.

I would say that my views on Israel are pretty mainstream within Israel. In terms of the views of American Jewry, I'd say your views are more in the mainstream and mine are relatively "to the left" ... but indeed, as you and "Timmy" point out, my views on Israel are hardly "liberal" (indeed even very few elected Dems have such "liberal" views on Israel). However, I still question why the "liberal" position on Israel is what it is.

Having empathy for Yussef Palestinian is liberal. But I fail to see how taking the side of Hamas scum is in any way liberal. Yet, even many so-called liberals will say such illiberal things are required in order to be a real liberal. Heck I had a "liberal" interlocutor on (IIRC) Matt Y.'s site give an argument about international law and who gets to interpret it (the executive authority?!?) that was the same argument that Bush & CO applied to federal law. What is so liberal about that?
Timmy?? How is ol' Timmy and his tummy? I like it when we have this crossover from one blog to the next.. its like a special 2 hour Greys Anatomy - Private Practice episode!

Im actually very right wing when it comes to Israel. A person could be to "the left" of my thinking and still be considered middle of the road.
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