Disclaimer: This is a combination rant/analysis of a problematic type of person in the world today. I acknowledge that the majority of the readers of this blog do not fit this description. Therefore, if you do not see yourself in the post following this disclaimer, do not be offended. If you do see yourself, you might give some thought to how you formulate and express your political views.
I occasionally find myself debating with bloggers and commenters in the blogosphere. Most recently, I mixed it up a bit with someone on Westbankmama’s blog.
I am not the most eloquent spokesperson for Israel, and I am also not naïve enough to think that what I write changes anyone’s mind. Someone who thinks that Israel was the aggressor in Operation Cast Lead, who thinks that the Goldstone Report is a valid document, or who bleats incessantly about Israel’s “occupation” of “Palestinian land,” is someone whose mind is made up, and the facts are unlikely to change that.
I should point out that I am not a critic of liberal politics in general. I think it is no accident that, as Matt Santos on “The West Wing” points out, “Liberals got women the right to vote. Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act.” Why did liberals effect all of these social and environmental changes? Because they care about people. I think that’s laudable, and I agree with it.
In the policy changes listed above, liberal politicians and activists identified the vulnerable, the underprivileged, the oppressed—in short, the underdog—and sought to change the social equation to give that underdog an advantage. That habit of identifying the underdog and championing those who appear to be weak or put-upon has continued. But something I have found disturbing in recent years is the fact that while liberals claim to care about people, they don’t always care about facts. Well, not all of the facts. And only about SOME people.
If I’m a liberal thinker, my first job is to find the underdog. And these days, quite frankly, it’s hard to pick out the underdog in a line-up. The guy who appears to be the underdog may not be right. He may be immoral, or devious, or hateful, or oppressive, or just plain wrong. Sometimes the guy who looks like the underdog is not really the underdog at all. It takes a well-informed person with a critical eye and the ability to ask questions and scrutinize the situation to spot when this is the case.
I don’t believe that liberal-minded people are unintelligent. Most of them are very bright, thoughtful people. But I have noticed that there are some liberal-minded people who have serious blind spots in the way they view the world. They are underinformed. They don’t ask questions. They don’t know which questions to ask, or even how to ask questions. They assume that the people they think are underdogs are all truthful and sincere. They assume that those who have any power over the underdogs are heartless, self-serving, and bloodthirsty. In short, they are as ignorant and prejudiced as they accuse others of being.
At the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, Israel was the darling of Planet Earth. The world had just seen a tiny country with very limited resources go head to head with its much better-supplied, better-trained neighbors intent on destroying it utterly, and crush them in less than a week. What happened between 1967 and 2009, when Israel is without question the pariah of Planet Earth? Has Israel’s essential nature changed in the intervening years? Has the Arab world’s? No, and no. But in the last 42 years, Israel has grown from a small developing nation to a world leader in science, technology, and agriculture. Even in its worst years, with buses blowing up, tourists staying away, and high unemployment, it has had the capital to continue to build its cities, its roads and railway system, and its industry. Meanwhile, the Arab world has changed very little from the cluster of “monarchies” and despotic regimes, where the haves live in palaces and the have-nots live in squalor; where non-Muslims have few (if any) rights; where women cannot drive or vote or walk out of their homes unaccompanied; where gays and adulterers are stoned in public; where peaceful protesters are gunned down in the streets by lawless thugs hired by the government to keep the “peace.”
So why doesn’t the world’s liberal-minded populace still champion Israel? Because they cannot. In their view, economic success precludes “underdog” status. Rooting for Israel would be like rooting for Microsoft (in the Cap’n’s words)—an impossibility for someone who can only see the underdog as poor, third-world, non-White. The worldview of many liberal-minded people has become very simple. Too simple, in fact.
I’ve given considerable thought to what would actually transform such well-meaning people from champions of terrorists and despots to champions of the actual underdog. Here are some of my conclusions:
-Refrain from automatically romanticizing the underdog. Love of the disenfranchised has traditionally been a strength of liberal activism. It worked many times in the past few hundred years and allowed Western civilization to advance in fairness and equality, but the world has changed, and things are not always what they appear to be anymore. Some wealthy, successful white people use their money and influence for great good in the world, while some non-Western poor people spout hatred and relish spilling the blood of innocents.
-Let your values be your guide. When judging other societies, take a look at what their core values are. If you value freedom, civil rights, tolerance, rule of law, and democracy, look at how the people you sympathize with view these same values. Do they share them? Do they embrace them? Do they treat each other and their neighboring societies the way you believe human beings ought to treat one another? And if they don’t share your core values, ask yourself why you support them.
-Let your opinions and positions be determined by ALL the facts. In arguing with someone on Westbankmama’s blog, I argued that Palestinian Arab leadership has turned down three very generous offers of a state in the last 10 years. My opponent ignored that, and blathered on and on about Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land and “aggression” against its people. He either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about how the Palestinian Arabs ended up without a state in the first place, and which countries are actually responsible for their statelessness (Jordan, Egypt, Syria) and who is responsible for the failure to resolve their refugee status (the UN). Buzzwords like “occupation” and “aggression” and “war crimes” trump the facts with such people every time.
-Learn the facts. When I stop to reflect, I remember that when I first came to Israel in 1996 I had a very left-wing view of politics in Israel. I believed that they had been harsh in their dealings with the Palestinians. I believed that the handshake between Yitzhak Rabin z”l and Yassir Arafat y”s would put both peoples firmly on the road to peace. When I heard someone on NPR read a news story in which the Israelis had demanded that the PLO renounce their goal to destroy Israel as part of the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process, I was angry that the reader added, “The PLO is not expected to agree to this.” Why not? I believed the Arabs wanted a peaceful conclusion to what I viewed as a simple turf war as much as the Israelis. Then I set out to learn the facts. In reading books about the history and background of the conflict by many different authors (journalists, diplomats, popular writers), I realized that the conflict is much more complicated than newspaper stories, radio and television segments make it out to be. And those newspapers and other media outlets are often limited in their access to the events and facts, rely on not-always-reliable witnesses, don’t always check their facts carefully, and are naturally limited by deadlines and the ignorance and prejudices of their reporters. In other words, those sources often present half-truths and cockeyed stories to the public, and don’t always print their retractions on the front page.
To gather the facts takes time, and many people find themselves pressed for time these days. Nonetheless, if one feels strongly enough about a subject, one should do it the justice it merits to find out all they can about the history of the conflict or region, and weigh different perspectives in figuring out where their sympathies lie. If I were sitting in my comfortable chair on the other side of the world from where the events are happening, I would make damned sure I’d done my homework before I started leaving comments on people’s blogs, defending a people about whom I know nothing against people about whom I know even less.
Since my debates tend most often to be about the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, I will take the liberty of listing some recommended reading about the issue from different points of view, from insiders and outsiders, eyewitnesses, journalists, and academics, who look at the issue from many different angles.
Hands down, best book I’ve read about the conflict. Irishman O’Brien cannot be accused of belonging to either camp, and I am amazed at how well he “gets” both sides of the issue, and explains their motivations and actions.
The most up-to-date of these books, having been published just last year. It describes the toll on the psyche of Jews both in Israel and abroad of the wars and terrorism, but also why those should not define Israel’s character or its sense of purpose. Beautifully written.
This small volume covers the history of Israel from shortly before the War of Independence to current events. It lays out commonly held beliefs about the conflict—e.g. “Palestine was always an Arab country,” “The West’s support of Israel allowed the Jews to conquer Palestine,” and “Israel is militarily superior to its Arab neighbors in every area and has the means to maintain its qualitative edge without outside help”—and then debunks them with the facts. (My volume extends to shortly after the Gulf War in 1992; I believe there is an updated version. And Mitchell Bard has a less concise volume which may provide even greater depth.)
Friedman’s account of his stints as New York Times bureau chief first in Beirut during the First Lebanon War, then in Jerusalem during the Intifada. Gives some dated, but valuable, background on the first direct conflict between the IDF and the PLO, as well as a look at what one might view as the turning point in how modern wars are fought (particularly between national and terrorist entities).
A thorough, slightly romanticized view of Jerusalem during the War of Independence, particularly the siege of the city and the role of the British who tacitly supported the Arabs during the war. The reported massacre at Deir Yassin is presented here as fact; it has been hotly disputed through the years, and has been discredited by those who investigated it.
A down-to-earth account of Israeli society in the wake of the Yom Kippur War (1973) and how it changed the Israeli government, its people, and ultimately, the Middle East.
Contrary to the accusations that Rav Kahane was a racist and a terrorist, I have never read anything by him that suggested he was either. This book includes the most sympathetic analysis I’ve read of how Arab Muslims and Christians cannot be expected to take joy or wish to participate in the Zionist adventure that is the Jewish State, and what the options are. It also includes a house-to-house description (very difficult to read) of the massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929. Kahane had no love for Arabs, but I believe he understood them better than most people, and did not shrink from turning a critical eye to their TRUE plight in Israel.
A sparsely-written, yet somehow elegant history of the Jews, and one that takes as its starting thesis that when Hashem closed a door on the Jews in Jewish history, He opened another somewhere else. A Jewish history with a decidedly Jewish perspective.
In addition to these books, I have found articles by others with expertise in various areas to be helpful:
J.H.H. Weiler is an expert on “international law” and its limitations.
Khaled Abu-Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is one of the best journalists on the Jerusalem Post staff, and is an eloquent critic of the Palestinian Authority.
Sarah Honig’s biting critiques of Israel in the Jerusalem Post don’t sound like those of most of the rest of the world, but they are nearly always valid, in my opinion.
Daniel Gordis’s essays, available on his website, detail his family’s struggles with the politics and realities of living in Israel, with discussions of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the unresolved hostage situation of Gilad Shalit, the waning interest in Israel by Diaspora Jews, and the need in Israel for a new leadership training institute.
I have been grieved to see the European Union, the United Nations, and even many in the United States lose their moral compass. Whether the excuse lies in political correctness, a natural antipathy toward Jews (i.e. anti-Semitism), fear of their own growing Arab/Muslim populations, or a hope of winning those populations over to them through appeasement, I don’t know. But failure to tell the truth, look the facts in the eye, and stick to what they know is right cannot lead civilization to any good.