Sunday, May 15, 2011

pay no attention to the oppression that is personally inconvenient to me

So Jeff Goldberg does as Jeff Goldberg does and somehow manages to make the recent rebellions in the Arab world a reason to undermine protests of the occupation of Palestine. What's interesting is that Goldberg is doing what he accuses the repressive Syrian regime of doing: he is using another set of protests as a distraction from the moral valence of the protests that are inconvenient to him. Whatever the machinations of the corrupt and dictatorial Assad regime, it does nothing to undermine the fact that people are protesting at the border because the treatment of the Palestinians is a travesty.

Incredibly, Goldberg calls the nakba "largely self-inflicted" because "the Arabs rejected the U.N. partition plan for Palestine, attacked the just-born Jewish state and then managed to lose on the battlefield." I'm sure that if the UN decided to partition and repopulate Texas with no meaningful democratic mechanism for resistance and then helped enforce that decision militarily, Goldberg would say that Texans brought it upon themselves.

Goldberg ends his post with a video of some of the atrocities carried about by the Assad regime against protesters, which is interesting, given his distaste for the use of similar images of Palestinians killed by the IDF. I'll resist the urge.

Incidentally, Palestinian activist Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, an acquaintance of mine from my antiwar activism days, has (again) been arrested, as part of a protest march towards Al Walaja, with three other Palestinians and seven internationals. The last I heard, he was being taken to Atarot, near Ramallah. For Palestinian activists who live and work in the United States like Dr. Qumsiyeh, there's always a particular fear of returning to Palestine to protest; it is not unheard of for the Israeli government to prevent them from returning back to their homes in the US.


North said...

I suppose it goes without saying that in denouncing what you feel is Goldberg's pro-Israel bias you come off sounding like you're replicating his mistake but just in the opposite direction?

Freddie said...

Questions of bias are irresolvable; I'm not interested in prosecuting the case against bias. I'm interested in pointing out that these protests have value regardless of the Syrian government's motivations.

North said...

If all you’re saying is that then I’m in total emphatic agreement and I applaud you for saying it. Goldberg undersells the non-jewish perspective a lot in his writing. Anything that jolts Bibi and his imbecile right wing clown brigade is good in my mind. Anything that offers a promise of stirring the increasingly apathetic, jaded and rightward shifting Israeli electorate is even better.

But if that’s all you’re saying then your entire second paragraph seems to have snuck in from a separate piece since it’s not germane to the issue at hand. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to have a debate about Israeli/Palestinian history and dueling founding myths but that paragraph strikes me as a gross simplification at best and at worst a biased and mischaracterization of the history of the region.

Freddie said...

What do you dispute? That the Palestiniansvwere opposed to the forced partition of their lands? That the UN materially supported the partition, despite Palestinian resistance? I'm not sure that those facts are credibly disputable.

North said...

Well, firstly there was no Palestine prior to the division of course. There was just the British Mandate which had been carved off of the haunches of the Ottoman Empire after WW1 and they had taken it from the Arabs who had conquered it from the Romans who had conquered it from the Jews (and maybe the Jews clubbed some tribe off of it back in prehistory, who knows). So right off there was no “Texas” to be divided at least not as we understand Texas as a coherent state and people. So was it all "their land"?
This also seems to assume the presence of the “Texans” and the mass violent invasion of non-Texans. As I read the history of it the majority of the Jews in the region who had arrived prior to the “nakba” obtained their land by buying and developing it. Never let it be claimed that they didn’t steal/expropriate some of it after the hostilities commenced; Israel was as much born in sin and blood as any other young nation on Earth but again it didn’t start out as an invasion and were it not for the excuse of the war (commenced by the Arabs as a whole with enthusiastic Palestinian participation) I do not see how the Israeli’s would have been able to expropriate so much land.
And heck, that’s just the tip of the objections without even delving into it in depth. No group covered themselves in glory during that sorry mess but still, looking back on it the nakba was an astonishing act of self destruction on the part of the Palestinians and Arabs at the time and let us not forget that their aim was to exterminate or cleanse every Jewish person in the Middle East from the region regardless of their involvement in the happenings in the British Mandate.

I understand that you automatically side with the underdog in any given situation but surely you don't intend to infantalize the Palestinians by taking away from them any of their historic agency in the events of their past?

Bore said...

Yes North, that's precisely what Freddie's doing. By comparing the (hypothetical/counterfactual) comparison you'd expect of Texans to the (actual) reactions of Palestinians, he's infantilising Palestinians.

Because everyone knows that all Texans are historical agency devoid babies. Even those cute Austin hipsters.

North said...

Well he could have used Minnesotans, Canadians or Frenchmen for that matter, it wouldn't change my objection.

Matt said...

I fail to see how agency is the issue here. Certainly the Palestinians are historical actors, but that doesn't mean they had any power in this particular situation. Your argument almost seems to suggest that any form victimhood is historically untenable lest we deny those victims their "agency."

The Palestinians (and the fact that there was no state doesn't change the fact that they were a people) were presented with an option that they found unacceptable. Reasonable people might disagree on whether or not they should have held that perspective, but it was certainly their right to feel that way. But the idea that it was a self-inflicted wound or an act of self-destruction because they did not accept an option that was clearly foisted upon them is some deeply perverse logic. The UN partition plan was never a plan they had a role in developing, so pointing to their "agency" in this situation is just ahistorical and incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Goldberg writes what Bibi What A Yahoo pays him (offshore via two LLCs and a handful of dummy companies) to write.

North said...

Perhaps I'm being unclear. I think Freddie's second paragraph was irrelevant and inaccurate to the issue at hand. I'm not trying to argue the morality of the foundation of the State of Israel (What nation exists that was founded morally?) but merely observing that I think Freddy is oversimplifying a complex event in that part of his post and that it is simultaneously demeaning to Palestinians and unfair to Israelis.
Obviously Palestinians and Arabs don’t have perfect agency here, but they didn’t anywhere in that era more is the pity. How many states were founded in the Middle East by Arabs acting on behalf of the expressed will of their people? Why are we picking out this one?

And as for Bibi? Goldberg is very much not a fan of the current PM, as anyone who reads anything the man writes would be well aware.

Matt said...

I don't think Freddie's second paragraph was irrelevant and I certainly don't think it was inaccurate. The idea that we're still disputing what are a pretty clear set of facts about what happened in 1947-48 speaks to the efficacy of Israel's propaganda machine, but it doesn't change the basic facts: yes, Palestinians were given a choice by the most technical definition of choice. But it was hardly a real choice by any normative definition of the word.

As for your question as to why Israel is singled out, I think the reasons are pretty simple and I'm amazed that this is something intelligent people still ask. Here are the basic reasons:

1. There's no debate outside of extreme fringes about whether or not countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc., are run by hideous and brutal autocrats. Spending a lot of time on that issue is nothing more than preaching to the choir.

2. Unlike those aforementioned countries (and many others in the region), Israel is regarded as a democracy - the region's only democracy, we so often hear. I think its critically important for writers to point out that the "region's only democracy," was founded in a deeply undemocratic manner and has millions of people living under its control with no democratic rights. If the Israeli government were widely regarded as being morally on par with other Arab governments then this exercise wouldn't be as important.

3. As an American, I think I (and other citizens who share this concern) have a particular duty to point out the global injustices that my government helps to perpetuate. Israel is, arguably, America's closest ally. It is certainly the American ally whose actions, good or bad, are most enabled by American support. I think Ahmadinejad is a monster, but so too does the American government and public so advocating change in our attitude towards his government would be a waste of my time given that existing consensus.

So really its quite simple why Israel gets singled out. But this whole idea of Israel being singled out in the first place is a little preposterous. Singled out by whom? By a small portion of folks on the left who have no influence on actual policy outcomes and are generally too ostracized from the debate to have any influence on public perception? Israel is treated with a level of deference by the media and political class that is literally unparalleled in American history.

Most of the commentary around the Mavi Marmara and this most recent issue at their borders has stridently portrayed Israel as the victims and without a hint of irony has suggested that Israel has been under attack. You don't have to be some dyed in the wool Palestinian activist to see that that perception is irreconcilable with the actual outcomes like injuries, body count, and general human suffering.

North said...

I don't disagree with any of that in particular but it all remains beside the fact.

I certainly don't consider the Israeli's as pure as the driven snow but I simply don’t agree with Freddie’s implication in paragraph #2 that the Arabs are responsible for none of the problems they’ve suffered in the history of the region. They were given a bad deal and their choices (and the Israeli choices) from that point on made the situation worse.

I'm mildly curious though, how many young democratic nations pop into your mind that weren't founded on the victimization of oppressed groups? I’m drawing a blank myself.

Matt said...

I'm not sure where in paragraph #2 Freddie implies that the the Arabs are responsible for none of the problems they’ve suffered in the history of the region. That seems like a huge straw man.

I read that paragraph as saying this and nothing more: the Palestinian people are no more responsible for the nakba as any other people whose displacement was foisted upon them would be. There's zero implication there that Arabs bear no responsibility for some of the region's problems.

As for your second point about young democratic nations being founded on the victimization of another oppressed group, I think thats a red herring. I could think of many examples that don't really fit with that understanding, but thats not the point. If a nation is founded on the victimization of an oppressed group then it should be addressed on the merits of each case. I am not forgiving the genocide of American Indians that helped found this country, nor would I ever overlook the role the rape and pillage of the Congo played in establishing modern Belgium (and you can go on like this for a while.)

Those, however, are mostly historical cases. The suffering of the Palestinian people is one of the great humanitarian issues or our time and we have the opportunity, right now, to speak out against it. To the extent that we can provide a redress for the injustices of the genocide of American Indians and other older causes, I am completely for it as well.

North said...

I have no doubt different people can read the same short paragraph differently.

You can think of many examples of immaculately conceived young democratic states eh? Such as?

But in any event, I have little to disagree with you at this point. Once it's conceded that Arabs share a measure of the responsibility for the fiasco of those wars then we can agree they share some of the responsibility for solving the unique Palestinian problem. Just as Israel is going to have to slap their religious mouth-breathers down and either get the hell out of the Territories or else integrate the people in them into their polity (and thus cease to be a Jewish State demographically) the various Arab nations that launched the assaults on them are going to have to stop imprisoning the descendants of the Palestinians in inhumane camps and let them integrate into their host countries just as millennia of refugee populations have been absorbed before them all over the world.

Matt said...

Reading the paragraph differently? You wrote that it implies, "the Arabs are responsible for none of the problems they’ve suffered in the history of the region." I'd really like to know where you read that implication in the text.

As for your question about the origins of democratic states, I'm really not sure where your skepticism comes from when you ask the question, "how many young democratic nations pop into your mind that weren't founded on the victimization of oppressed groups?" Who were the oppressed groups being victimized in the french revolution? The oppressed were rising up and it was a violent and bloody struggle, but the basis for the founding of French Democracy was not due to any group's victimization. In fact, thats the case for virtually all modern democracies - countries like Israel and the US are the exceptions. You could certainly argue that the prosperity of most European democracies was built on the exploitation and victimization of oppressed groups and I would agree with that argument, but thats a different issue. Its just a very bizarre argument.

Matt said...

In case I wasn't clear, when I wrote: "the basis for the founding of French Democracy was not due to any group's victimization" - I didn't mean to imply that oppression didn't create the conditions for revolution because obviously I did. What I mean to say is that the democracy was not established by means of victimizing an oppressed group.

Obviously the conditions of Israel's founding could not be more different.

Freddie said...

Of course, the situation is complicated; of course, there is a lot that happened in the founding of the modern state of Israel, the nakba, and related events. None of that changes the fact that saying that the Palestinians brought the forcible partition of the land in which they lived upon themselves is not credible.

North said...

Freddie, I agree whole heartedly. Goldberg overstates the case when he says that it was largely self inflicted. I'd say it was more of an even partnership of bad decisions on both sides. J.L. Wall has written what strikes me as a fair short summary of the events over at the League.

The French Revolution Matt? I'm struggling to see how the event that was the direct parent of Madame Guillotine comes off less bloodstained than the wretched brawl that birthed Israel. The only different between Israel and her older brother democracies that I see is that the older countries were either more thorough, more ruthless or simply had more time to dispose of the people and cultures that were crushed in their birth throes.

Matt said...

North, yes, the French Revolution. No one said that the founding of democracies is never bloody and violent. If thats the case you were trying to make then I agree with you, but of course its such a broad statement that it becomes meaningless. But regardless of what you were trying to say, what you actually wrote was: "how many young democratic nations pop into your mind that weren't founded on the victimization of oppressed groups?"

So yes, the France is one of many that don't fit into that category. The basis of the French Revolution and the establishment of democracy in that country was not the victimization of an oppressed group (unless you consider the 18th century French aristocracy to be an oppressed group) it was the opposite. It was the oppressed rising up against their oppressors. If you'd like a more modern example, just look at the democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt. They were not grounded in the victimization of an oppressed group.

Virtually every democracy has involved bloodshed as a part of its birth, but the US and Israel are fairly unique in the sense that the birth of those democracies was inextricably linked to the dispossession of land and the general oppression of a specific people. Comparing Israel's democratic origins to other nation states requires extreme historical reductionism. Moreover, as I alluded to in previous comments, Israel's oppression is ongoing - there are still 4 million people living under occupation with no civil or political rights. I'm not terribly interested in history for the sake of moral comparisons. I'm interested in historical legacy and for whatever historical comparisons you might make between Israel's founding and that of another democracy, the most relevant question is not how similar they are or are not based on the historical record, but what outcomes those events have had on present conditions.