Friday, June 09, 2006

Jerusalem Post: Semantic Shenanigans Galore

In the first instalment of a two part article called Israel's image - why the all-time low? by Evelyn Gordon in the Jerusalem Post, the author tries to understand the causes of Israel's wavering International stature and seeks to find ways to prop up its international image. In short, this well-written but quite non-sensical piece, which will only curry favour with the most hard-line Zionists, advocates reinforcing Israel's claims to all of Palestine. In this way any land conceded to the Palestinian Authority will be perceived as a "gift" and this "largesse" will increase Israel's standing in the wider world. A hopeless rearguard fight if I've ever heard of one but here goes...

Conventional wisdom holds that Israel's international standing is directly related to its willingness to move toward peace with the Palestinians. Yet in recent years, despite previously unimaginable concessions, its international standing, far from improving, has hit an all-time low.

Consider some of the past few years' developments:

  • It has become acceptable in academic and media circles to question whether Israel even has a right to exist. Yet 13 years ago, at the height of the "occupation" - before Israel had recognized the PLO, transferred land to the Palestinian Authority or evacuated a single settlement - such discourse was considered beyond the pale.


  • It has become increasingly common to speak of Israel as an "apartheid state." That, too, would have been unthinkable 13 years ago.


  • Decisions to boycott and/or divest from Israel - virtually unknown 13 years ago outside the Arab world - are now commonplace in the West. Several churches, for instance, have decided to divest from Israel; and in the last two weeks alone, both the largest British lecturers' association and a leading Canadian union voted to boycott Israel.


  • Most Europeans, according to polls, consider Israel the leading threat to world peace. That, too, is a new development.

Which polls, Evelyn? Yes, some European people like me accept that the continuing non-resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a cause for future clashes between the Arab and Western worlds, albeit not the only one. But a clear majority? Let's also not forget that broadly speaking, European governments remain squarely behind Israel.

SO WHY have years of Israeli concessions produced not acclaim, but unprecedented international opprobrium? The answer is twofold. One part relates to the general public, and the other to a small but influential group of opinion leaders. I will discuss the first now, and the second next week.

Among the general public, the growing view of Israel as a pariah would be impossible had Israeli (and international Jewish) leaders not abandoned one simple tenet that all of them maintained prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords: that Israel has a valid claim to the West Bank and Gaza.

Clearly, to Evelyn, maintaining that "one simple tenet", if it serves Israel's political expediency and territorial ambitions, is more important than accepting that claims to the land that constituted the British Mandate of Palestine are perhaps more complicated than the constant and disingenuous harking back to over 2,000 BC and the Biblical land of Israel, which we've be inundated with by fervent zionists, since Israel's day of independence to this date.

This claim does not necessitate Israel's retention of these areas; countries throughout history have occasionally ceded land to secure peace agreements. But only if Israel has a valid claim to the territories can giving them up be a "painful concession" that merits reward by the international community. If Israel has no claim, it is merely a thief. And no one would admire, much less compensate, a thief for the "painful concession" of returning some, though not all, of his ill-gotten gains - or for offering to return some, but again not all, of the remainder in exchange for sufficient reward. On the contrary: The thief deserves opprobrium, boycotts and divestment.

Indeed, if Israel has no claim to this land, even its seemingly unassailable demand that the Palestinians end terror in exchange for Israel's withdrawal loses validity. Israel can reasonably refuse to cede land to which it has a valid claim without receiving peace in exchange. But if the land belongs to the Palestinians, then Palestinian violence, ostensibly aimed at retrieving their stolen property, becomes understandable - and so does their claim that Israel has no right to impose conditions on its return.

Again, more deliberate wordplay. It seems at this point the author perceives "truth" as something to be moulded to achieve a particular goal.

[a little snip]

Then, as if this were not bad enough, the unilateral withdrawal craze compounded the problem.

Until three years ago, Israel deemed uprooting settlements a national and personal tragedy - a painful (and expensive) move that merited sympathy and compensation. And the human portion of this tragedy - tens of thousands of people thrown out of their homes - would arguably be undiminished even if the territories were stolen Palestinian land. But now, two successive Israeli leaders have declared that far from being a tragedy, uprooting settlements is an Israeli interest, because they constitute a demographic and security burden. And if dismantling settlements serves Israel's interests, how can this possibly constitute a "painful concession" that merits either sympathy or compensation?

Tens of thousands of people thrown out of their homes... this is factually incorrect. In 2005 the 17 Jewish Gaza settlements were home to some 7,000 to 8,000 settlers. During the withdrawal, most settlers left peacefully, incentivated by generous resettlement compensation. Dismantling the settlements was indeed in Israel's strategic interests. Or is the author claiming the Jewish people also have historical rights to Gaza? Read on: she is not.

THUS IF Israel is to have any hope of reversing the rising tide of worldwide antipathy, it must start by reiterating the basic truths that have disappeared from its discourse over the last 13 years: that Israel has a valid claim to this land, and that ceding this claim is not an Israeli "interest," but a wrenching move conceivable only in exchange for suitable recompense.

The case, briefly, is as follows:

First, this is the historic Jewish homeland: Jerusalem and Hebron, not Tel Aviv and Haifa, were the heart of the biblical Jewish kingdom. This is vital, because the fact that this was our historic homeland is what justifies establishing a modern Jewish state here at all. Otherwise, we are indeed mere foreign interlopers.

Again, the stubborn and foolhardy notion that only those of Jewish descent have any claim to this land by gong back to time immemorial...

[another snip]

At this late date, reversing the international perception of Israel as a thief rather than a legitimate claimant will be a Herculean task. But unless Israel makes the effort, it will increasingly be treated as a criminal rather than a seeker of peace.

Finally, a word of truth in this sorry piece: "reversing the international perception of Israel as a thief rather than a legitimate claimant will be a Herculean task." Too true. But it's a task that can be achieved in a much easier, more honest and direct way.

In Tony Judt's words:
From one perspective, Israel's future is bleak. Not for the first time, a Jewish state is on the vulnerable periphery of someone else's empire: wilfully blind to the danger that its indulgent excesses might ultimately push its imperial mentor beyond the point of irritation, and heedless of its own failure to make any other friends. Yet, modern Israel still has options. Precisely because the country is an object of such universal mistrust, a truly statesmanlike shift in its policies (dismantling of big settlements, opening unconditional negotiations with Palestinians and the like) could have disproportionately beneficial effects.

Such a radical realignment of strategy would entail a difficult reappraisal of every illusion under which the country and its political elite have nestled. Israel would have to acknowledge that it no longer has any special claim on international sympathy or indulgence; that the US will not always be there; that colonies are always doomed unless you are willing to expel or exterminate the indigenous population.

7 Comments:

At 12:17 AM, Blogger Wolfie said...

Hi Gert,

I think there are simple reasons for this shift in perception...

1) The success of the internet has provided a platform which cannot be controlled by the MSM and government.

2) The waning of American power as it finds itself stretched by two rapidly failing wars in the middle-east.

In time I think will start seeing a few more masks slipping.

 
At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Griffon said...

Gert,
This is a great example of the common tactic of exploiters and perpertrators to characterise themselves as the victims and showing absolutely no shame in doing so.
They are doomed by their own delusions. If they retreated somewhat they could cement many of the gains thay have made since 1947. Gains that they simply had and have no entitlement to. But in their hubris will "go for broke", "all or nothing" and that's what they will end up with, nothing. Nothing worth having, that is.

 
At 3:35 AM, Blogger markfromireland said...

Hmmmmm. No I don't think I can agree with Griffon there. 'Though there's a lot of truth in what you say G. I think you need to add some very important qualifiers.

Israeli society is by no means as monolithic as lot of people think. A lot of the current impasse is the effect of an electoral system which allows small groups to exercise a disproportionate influnece.

I'm reminded, in more ways than one, of apartheid era South Africa. A lot of Afrikaners realised either on principle or as a matter of survival that the game was up. Some of that was internal, some external, externally it's no accident that once the claim of the highly militarised South African state that it was the West's "shield" in the region was shown to be hollow that very high levels of tacit support were withdrawn.

As with South Africa cracks started to appear when such things as academic boycotts were instituted. The undiscussable was now discussable.

At present Israel's sponsor, America, is also deeply riven which gives small well-organised groups excessive clout - how many people know that the majority of US Jews disapprove of the US' actions in the Middle East and it's unquestioning support of the Israeli hardliners?

However the Iraqi debacle coupled with for example the ongoing espionage investigations and prosecutions are making the previously unidiscussable discussable.

I agree that a significant part of Israeli society would like to "go for broke" but I detect stirrings both in Israel and abroad of real opposition to them.

Way too short and broadbrush and I'm sure Gert and others here can pick huge holes in what I've said but I don't think the situation is quite as apoloclyptically grim as we outsiders often see it as being.

 
At 5:05 AM, Anonymous Griffon said...

Well, if your comment, Mark, is "Way too short and broadbrush", what does that make mine!
Your right, of course. There are many actors involved. I tend to focus (probably too intently) on the most evil of them; the small band of men who are driving both the US and Israel into military domination of the middle east and by extension the rest of the world. In my view, there is too much history behind them and too much in the way of reward in front of them to change course. But it is just an opinion based on very incomplete knowledge.
And even if my assessment is correct, there are others who may yet stop them. God knows, I certainly hope so.
Anyway, I'm praying for a miracle!

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Mark:

Just a few points:

Israeli society is by no means as monolithic as lot of people think. A lot of the current impasse is the effect of an electoral system which allows small groups to exercise a disproportionate influnece.

No society or other group for that matter is ever monolithic and Israeli society is no exception to this rule. So, yes, there are doves and hawks and anything in between.

I'm not sure where you're coming from re. the electoral system: Israel has a system of proportional representation, something we in the UK should be deeply envious of.

As with South Africa cracks started to appear when such things as academic boycotts were instituted.

I'm not sure of the impact of boycotts on the SA situation. In the case of Israel I'm not in favour of such a boycott.

how many people know that the majority of US Jews disapprove of the US' actions in the Middle East and it's unquestioning support of the Israeli hardliners?

That many American Jews are sceptical of US foreign policy vis-à-vis the ME and Israel is true. But a majority? As someone commented a long time ago on my blog: "don't you know American Jews are the most liberal?" Sorry, but there are plenty, plenty in the Horowitz - Dershowitz - AIPAC school too.

I agree that a significant part of Israeli society would like to "go for broke" but I detect stirrings both in Israel and abroad of real opposition to them.

There is a small but vocal group of Israelis who see Eretz Israel as the solution to all their problems. An even smaller group believe the Promised Land should include huge chunks of their neighbours territories and that all Palestinians should be "sent back to where they came from: Arab countries". I don't believe these extremist groups are very influential but they certainly make themselves heard. The settler protests which we'll undoubtedly hear plenty of when West Bank withdrawal starts are a manifestation of this.

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous bernarda said...

I just posted the following link in a forum that I didn't realize was from May. So it will probably be missed. It is a video conference by Norman Finkelstein about the rise of zionism in the U.S. So here it is again.

http://www.workingtv.com/finkelstein.html

This workingtv site has several other interesting conferences.

 
At 1:08 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Bernarda, thanks for that.

I've seen it before, well worth watching, IMHO.

 

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