Israel’s problem isn’t Thomas Friedman

It is Jerusalem's transparent fallacies that are self-destructive.

By
December 19, 2011 22:47
Ma'aleh Levona overlooks Luban in W. Bank

Ma'aleh Levona overlooks Luban in W. Bank 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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There is a common thread linking The Jerusalem Post’s attack on Thomas Friedman last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s refusal to write an opinion column for The New York Times and an attack on my views by Haifa resident Ella Berkovitz on the Post letters page last Thursday. In all three instances, the individuals in question showed they prefer to take the easy road of crowd-pleasingly attacking the New York Times and one of its senior columnists, without addressing the fact that similar views are held by the United States government and most Western democracies.

To begin with, Berkovitz’s honorable and intelligent letter drew a comparison between Palestinian Israelis and Jewish residents of the West Bank. She is certainly correct that\Israeli Arabs live on a nearly equal footing with Jews in Israel, and that the Israel we love and are so proud is an admirable and egalitarian democracy. So if Arabs can live as citizens in Israel, goes the argument, why can’t Jews live in Palestine?

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But the comparison is fallacious because the Palestinians had lived throughout Palestine as 98 percent of the population for many centuries before 1948. In contrast, Israel has only recently settled the West Bank, outside her internationally recognized boundaries.

Some will argue that the colonization of Judea and Samaria was the logical continuation of the Zionist project. After all, Jewish immigrants flooded the country from Europe decades before there was a Jewish state here. Why should the West Bank settlements be seen in a different light? At first glance, that is a persuasive argument, but there is one, decisive difference: the mass immigration from 1880-1948 was an internationally legitimate and indeed moral movement. Jews had to escape the burning anti-Semitism of Europe and Russia, and the drive for the rebirth of Jewish self-empowerment and statehood was laudable.

In contrast, the post-1967 settlement drive occured at a time when we already had a country to call home, and Jews around the world had a safe haven to run to in case of persecution. The Zionist dream had indeed been met. Israel had no choice but to fight the Six Day War, but there was no need to plant civilian communities around the newly conquered territories in the aftermath of that victory.

SECOND, “NORTHEASTERN Jewish liberals” are attacked for having a “guru” (Friedman). But the claim that Tom Friedman “doesn’t understand” Israel because he doesn’t live there is preposterous, especially in light of the fact that Friedman DID live in Israel and the region for many years. Furthermore, we Americans get our understanding from thousands of liberal Israelis, including journalists, all of whom do live in Israel. The Jerusalem Post is one of the prime sources of the perennial complaint that most of the “liberal” Israeli press basically agrees with Friedman.

Third, senior Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer, in his letter explaining the prime minister’s refusal to write for the Times, repeats the orthodox line that the Palestinian refugee crisis arose because the Palestinians rejected partition and attacked, and he says denial of this “should not have made it past the most rudimentary fact-checking.”



This is transparent propaganda that both ignores the fact that most modern Israeli historians disagree, and also the question why the Palestinians should have accepted a plan in 1947 that called for a sudden, massive influx of Jewish refugees, the partition of Palestine and the eviction of three-quarters of the people from the land they had lived on for centuries.

Most modern Israeli historians conclude that the yishuv – the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine – knew full well that as a tiny minority, it needed to “cleanse” the area in order to create a Jewish majority and to make the new state viable. Jewish leaders at the time said as much, and carried through. Those are the historical facts and are well known around the world. That is also the (obvious) reason why Palestinians, even women and children, were not then allowed to come back home. In this light, it is Dermer’s view, not Friedman’s, that could not survive elementary fact checking.

Fourth, the Post editorial repeats that fallacy there was a conflict even before the the settlements began and so that the settlements are irrelevant. Yes, there was already a conflict – for the obvious reasons just stated – but the fallacy here is a simple one; time moves on. In contrast to Khartoum’s “three nos,” the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table for a decade, but Israel has resolutely ignored in order to keep its settlements.

Finally, the accusation that Friedman is mistaken about “proportion” is accurate and significant. “Only” one mosque has been burned, “only” one IDF base was attacked by settlers. These do not represent all of Israel.

But again – the fallacy here is that the half-million settlers who currently live in the tiny fraction of Palestine left for their future state are in fact proportionally representative of the Israel that wants to keep these territories.

Unfortunately for the Post, and for Ron Dermer, and for Ella Berkovitz, the democratic world just isn’t buying the transparent fallacies put forth by current Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy). It’s not just Tom Friedman, The New York Times or their “liberal Northeastern Jewish” readers. Israel is unfortunately on a path to over-extend itself demographically and to force upon itself either a one-state solution or an unjust apartheid state. That will lead violent uprisings and a worldwide South Africa-style BDS movement, and eventually to national suicide.

In that way, Jerusalem is imitating a pattern that has been repeated so many times since the dawning origin of history – successful nation-states that have made all manner of fallacious, sophistic, unjust and ironically ultimately self-destructive excuses for taking over the lands of other peoples.

The writer is a Cataloger in World Religions in the Harvard University Library, and an alumnus of the Harvard Divinity School.

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