Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Believing two impossible things before dinner

A couple of astonishing things I learned from Jeffrey Goldberg today:

1. If Jane Harman's opponent in the Democratic primary in California (36th congressional district) wins the nomination, I would be severely tempted to give money to her Republican opponent. Goldberg interviewed her opponent, Marcy Winograd, and writes, "I spoke with Winograd by telephone a few days ago. In our conversation, she said [s]he personally supports the replacement of Israel with a bi-national state; she also argued that the U.S. should engage Iran in "people-to-people" diplomacy; that aerospace companies in her district should re-orient themselves away from manufacturing weapons and to the pursuit of green technologies; and she suggested that Henry Waxman is treasonous."

Her views on Israel and Zionism:
JG: Go this Henry Waxman question. Are you for a bi-national state or are you for a two-state solution?

MW: I consider myself a realist, okay? I'm Jewish. I've labeled myself as a Jewish woman of conscience who is compelled to speak out because of the suffering in the world. I support peace, so whatever both sides can agree to, which would probably be an agreement on a mutual exchange of territory, I would fully support, because I want peace. However, and let me share this with you, I grew up in a strong Zionist family, I sang at my brother's Bar Mitzvah, I sent my daughter to Jewish pre-school, I went to Israel when I was in my 20s. That's my background, and all that being said, I know that Israel was born on land where a million Palestinians lived. For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There's no safety or security in barring people from their homeland. Ultimately, Jews and Palestinians need to learn to live together, just as they lived in peace for many years.

JG: Can you be a liberal and a Zionist at the same time?

MW: Well, there's a less-harmful Zionism. I don't see Zionism as liberal. Zionism categorizes Jews as a race, which makes it easier for Jews to be targeted.

JG: Zionism doesn't categorize Jews as a race, it categorizes Jews as a nation.

MW: To me, there's no safety in creating a nation predicated on either racial or ethnic supremacy.

JG: How did you come to this view?

MW: I've been torn about this for a long time, and not really wanting to look at it, which a lot of Jews probably feel, wanting to turn away from it because it's too painful. It's too tied to our identity, to our neighborhoods, to our whole orientation. My primary concern is peace. I don't feel comfortable advocating for a country based on ethnic and racial supremacy. Personally, I'm a believer in equality, one voice, one vote, Israelis and Palestinians, one voice, one vote, that's my personal position.

JG: Eventual bi-nationalism.
Like Goldberg, I would vigorously disagree with anyone who says that Zionism is predicated on racial superiority - this is the kind of talking point beloved by the antisemites who write for Dissident Voice. Another indication of her left-wing radicalism on the topic of Israel is that she spoke at a "Friends of Sabeel" conference in Pasadena in 2008. Rob Eshman of the Jewish Journal reported on this speech:
In that speech, Winograd said she not only opposes a two-state solution, she supports the end of Israel as a Jewish state “Not only do I think a two-state solution is unrealistic,” Winograd said, “but also fundamentally wrong, because it only reinforces heightened nationalism. You cannot establish a democracy in a state founded on the institutionalized superiority or exclusivity of one of [sic] religion, ethnicity or culture. I do not support the notion of an Islamic state or a Christian state any more than I support a Jewish state." Winograd went on to accuse Israel of “crimes against humanity,” “institutional racism” and “extermination.”
2. In an article entitled Human Rights Watch's Priorities, but which is mostly about Peter Beinart's article on Liberal Zionism, he cites an interesting article from Foreign Policy. According to this article, for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the United States was the top country written about during the 1990s. James Ron and Howard Ramos reported the following on November 3, 2009 on the Foreign Policy website:
We listed each organization's top 10 "hit list" of countries reported on for the 1990s. Human Rights Watch's most written on countries were, in descending order, the United States, Turkey, Indonesia, China, Russia, India, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Sudan, Israel, and Burma. Amnesty's hit list from 1991 to 2000 was similar, including the United States, Israel, Indonesia, Turkey, China, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Britain, India, Russia, Rwanda, and Burundi (there were 11 countries because of one tie). Size seemed to matter, since large countries such as China, the United States, and India received more scrutiny than others. Policy relevance and newsworthiness also counted for something, pushing Turkey, a key NATO ally, to center stage.

Yet these lists were also notable for the countries they did not include. When we used data on poverty, repression, and conflict to identify some of the worst places on earth, we found that few of these countries were covered much by either Amnesty or Human Rights Watch.

At first, this seemed puzzling; why would the watchdogs neglect authoritarians? We asked both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, and received similar replies. In some cases, staffers said, access to human rights victims in authoritarian countries was impossible, since the country's borders were sealed or the repression was too harsh (think North Korea or Uzbekistan). In other instances, neglected countries were simply too small, poor, or unnewsworthy to inspire much media interest. With few journalists urgently demanding information about Niger, it made little sense to invest substantial reporting and advocacy resources there.

Their study doesn't cover the 2000s, but it's hard to imagine that either the United States or Israel has fallen very far in the dubious standings of these two "human rights" organizations. I find it unbelievable that the United States, which is a democratic country with a very open media, belongs at the top of the list of human rights offenders. We certainly violate human rights in a host of ways - but more than Iran? Venezuela? China? North Korea? It's ridiculous that the U.S. is at the top of the list. Guess who I'm not ever going to give any money to!


  1. Hi Rebecca,

    I agree with you entirely.

    While we have discussed the point before, I want again to draw your attention to the fact that any criticism of Israel - yours or anyone else's - is, at present, made in the context of a powerful and ascendant world-wide movement which wants to delegitimize Israel. That means, I think, that people need to think long and hard before condemning this or that supposed Israeli wrong. Why? Because such argument are pulled into the wake of the eliminate Israel argument - and argument that is growing and that, as you can see, even has proponents among prospective members of Congress.

    So, before worrying so much about whether Israelis want to build in this or that neighborhood in Jerusalem, the line between Israel haters and Israel's friends needs to be clearly enunciated to the extent that the public, which hears criticism from any and all corners, is pulled into the eliminate Israel movement.

  2. Correction:

    Delete: "So, before worrying so much about whether Israelis want to build in this or that neighborhood in Jerusalem, the line between Israel haters and Israel's friends needs to be clearly enunciated to the extent that the public, which hears criticism from any and all corners, is pulled into the eliminate Israel movement."


    So, before worrying so much about whether Israelis want to build in this or that neighborhood in Jerusalem, the line between Israel haters and Israel's friends needs to be clearly enunciated so that it is well understood by the average person on the street. Otherwise, what is heard are arguments from all corners that Israel is bad, the only difference between the two sides being whether or not to execute the wrong doer. The hang them crowd wins that sort of argument, most of the time.

  3. I understand your argument, but I disagree with it. If I think a particular Israeli policy is wrong, I will criticize it. If I think that Israel is being demonized, I will criticize those doing the demonizing.

    I'm not willing to refrain from criticizing Israeli policies that I think are wrong because some people are unable to read and comprehend simple prose that distinguishes between criticizing the actions of the Israeli government and demonizing the very existence of an Israeli state. If I do as you suggest, then it seems to me that I'm entirely forbidden to criticize anything that Israel does.

    I don't like the Netanyahu government (I didn't like the first Netanyahu government either, in the late 1990s) and I don't like its policies. I do vigorously support the state of Israel and its right to exist as a Zionist state. If some bigots are too thick to understand that disliking the Netanyahu government's policies is not the same as advocating the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state, then it's their problem.

    I think that your argument plays right into the hands of the Israeli right-wing, because it enables them to argue that any criticism of Israel, even by people who are strong supporters of Israel, is equivalent to supporting the abolition of Israel.

    I don't like being pushed into the ridiculous position of being forbidden to speak publicly about my political beliefs because of how other people might misread them. I try to write as clearly as possible. I am not willing to be pushed by advocates of either the right or the left on the subject of Israel into shutting up about my political opinions.

  4. Rebecca,

    I do not think that I advocate being silent about Israeli policies about which you or I may disagree. I believe what I said is that we should think carefully and hard before doing and saying things that will help Israel's enemies. That means being careful in what we write. That, in my mind, is a very different thing from what you think I think.

    I read an interesting article about Peter Beinart, about whom I do not care about, which included a discussion about Joe Slovo, which interests me and has direct bearing on our discussion.

    Slovo, it turns out, knew all along about the horrors of the Soviet bloc and other communist tyrannies yet chose to remain entirely silent while that bloc was able to support his cause. I do not agree with Slovo. However, I do see how you could think my view resembles his view. The difference here is that I think that most of the allegations against the Israelis are essentially trivial, which is why Israel's enemies exaggerate and dissemble so extensively.

    So far as the Netanyahu government is concerned, I am neither fan nor enemy. In my mind, Israel is in a war and that has to define first and foremost whether its government is good or bad. It is not clear that his policies are helping his country. On the one hand, his country is, compared to the period under his recent predecessor, is having fewer of its citizens massacred and there are fewer rockets falling willy nilly. So, that has to count as a positive.

    On the other hand, I am not an advocate for the greater Israel project. While I do not think it the problem that many on the left have deluded themselves into thinking, I do think it does nothing positive for Israel and, at its worst, is crazy (both offering to cede and meanwhile settling the same parcels of land). So, on that front, I am not a Netanyahu fan. But, given Israel's circumstances and the unlikelihood of any resolution to the dispute, I cannot wax elegant against someone who holds his view and I do not think his an immoral point of view.

    Economically, he has done more to transform Israel into a rich, modern, technologically proficient and self-sufficient country than any Israeli leader ever. So, to that extent, he is certainly a positive. You should consider that point when you say you do not like his government because economics is something that the Israelis have never, prior to his time in government, excelled at - yet it is necessary to his country's long term survival.

    I clearly hold very different views than you about settling land that is conquered. While I think the Israelis may be crazy to both settle land and then offer to cede it, I lose no sleep over it, believing it an irrelevancy, given that peace is not coming anyway. I might add: I do not understand the argument that it is immoral to build villages on "Arab" land. That argument reminds me of the argument used by Whites in the US to prevent Blacks from moving into White neighborhoods as occurred with Block Busters, back when we were both much younger.