Sunday, September 2, 2007

Jews, Power, and Garbage: Part One

I haven't finished looking at the Sunday Times, but I did manage to see two items of interest.

First is Steve Erlanger's frontpage story, "West Bank Boys Dig a Living in Settler Trash," which describes how some Palestinians are quite literally living off the garbage of Jewish settlers out of sheer desparation and poverty.

This is the sort of human interest story one doesn't see enough of in the Times, which usually bashes Israel for making the lives of the Palestinians miserable.

The Zionists always claimed that the Arabs of Palestine would benefit from a Jewish state, and here is the proof: after ruling 3 1/2 million people for forty years without granting them citizen rights, expropriating their lands, restricting their movement, and building walls between their villages and their fields (for the purpose not of security -- ok, not just of security -- but also of providing "living room" for the settlers -- at long last the settlers are doing something for the Palestinians. They are producing garbage that supports the natives -- and the natives aren't paying for it.

The second item is a "review" of Ruth Wisse's new book (published by Nextbooks/Schocken) on Jews and Power, by the British lawyer, Anthony Julius, who has, to my knowledge, no background or professional expertise in Jewish history, but who is not too far from Wisse's ideological camp (more liberal hawk than neocon): he has been sponsored by the ADL in speaking out against the so-called "new antisemitism," and wrote a thesis and book on antisemitism in T.S. Eliot.

Not surprisingly, the review is positive, without a single word of criticism, but that may be simply the nature of a Julius-Nextbook-NY Times review.

You see, Julius reviewed for the Times Sherwin Nuland's book on Maimonides, also published by Nextbooks, showing that just as you don't have to be a Maimonides expert to write a book about him (Nuland is a Yale physician and not a Maimonides scholar), you don't have to be one to write a review, either.

But there is something in the puff that caught my eye. The London barrister writes:

Certainly, the book reads as a setting-down of conclusions reached across several decades of controversy and reflection. But it also has a certain delicacy, in particular in its openness to alternative histories, alternative political arrangements. “It is worth considering how the Middle East might have evolved had Arab rulers accepted the partition of Palestine,” she writes. There would have been some voluntary shifts of population. Arab Palestine might have federated with Jordan. Regional priorities would have dictated new patterns of trade, commerce and development. Jews and Arabs who wanted to live in the other’s land could have traveled back and forth.

It is good to be reminded of such possibilities by someone who is also such a doughty defender of Israel. It has always been an aspect of Zionism’s utopianism, this vision of Jewish-Arab cooperation, a mutual flourishing in the one region. This book is both an acknowledgment of that openhearted, clearsighted desire for peace, but also — and so to speak — in the meantime, a celebration of the new Jewish ability to await its arrival. If there is not to be peace, Jews at least will be able to defend themselves against their self-declared enemies. This, in the end, is what it means for Jews to have power.

What Wisse is saying that had the Arabs accepted the Partition Plan, then a utopia -- or at least, something a lot better than the present -- would have ensued, in which Jews and Arabs who wanted to live in the other's land could have done so. Note the "delicacy" of the comment about "voluntary shifts of population," i.e., a transfer of natives out of the Jewish-designated area to the Palestinian area (there were few Jews in the Palestinian area to be shifted out of.) This standard Zionist argument is presented by Julius as an "openness to alternative histories, alternative political arrangements"! Alternative to what? Certainly not to straightforward Zionist narrative!

To put Wisse's point differently -- had the Palestinians accepted partition, and cleared out of the Jewish state "voluntarily" -- the ultimate Zionist fantasy -- then peace and harmony would have reigned. There would not be a refugee problem (because of the voluntary "shift" -- such a nice word, that), but a two-state solution.

But that is an entirely unproved assertion. On the contrary, it is arguable that had the Palestinians accepted partition, the Israelis would be today occupying the West Bank and Gaza.

How so?

Well consider that there was a strong irredentist camp of Zionists that opposed the partition plan, and just as strong a camp of Zionists that were unhappy with the 48 armistice lines, and who were prepared to take the West Bank at the first opportunity. Consider that Ben Gurion himself said that the acceptance of the partition plan was only tactical, a first stage in the conquest. Consider that the newly founded State of Israel never formally accepted partition and worked against it. Consider the 1956 invasion of Sinai and the 1967 invasion of the West Bank, despite the armistice lines.

Now: even if these military operations were absolutely justified in Israel's eyes, they happened, did they not? And who can guarantee that they would not have happened had the Arabs accepted partition?

The "woulda-coulda-shoulda" school of history is part of the propaganda war. It may be true that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as Eban said. But it is also true that the Zionists never refused to offer them an eminently refuseable offer. Of course, the Zionist always considered the offer generous, since they felt that by right all of Palestine belonged to them, including the East Bank of the Jordan.

It is time to put the rest the counterfactual canard that had the Arabs accepted partition, things would have looked better today. We simply don't know that..

According to Avi Shlaim, the Jordanians and the Israelis agreed to split mandatory Palestine to the detriment of the Palestinians -- yet this did not guarantee that Israel would neither invade nor settle the West Bank when the opportunity arose.

It may be that had the Arabs accepted partition, Jews and Arabs would have lived together in harmony. It may be that had the Zionists accepted permanent minority status in a secular Palestine, the two groups would have lived together in harmony. The Zionists rejected minority status; the Arabs rejected partition. No doubt, in retrospect, an Arab acceptance of partition would have placed them in a better position tactically to pursue their aims. It is hard to see that their situation could have been worse.

But arguably in any event they would have been outfinessed by the Zionists, given the power differential.

And that's what it is about, according to Wisse -- power.

The rest is garbage...


Anonymous said...

great post. thanks

Peter H said...

Ecellent post. By the way, I think Wisse is a neoconservative, as that word is properly understood. She writes frequently for Commentary, and she wrote a book criticizing Jewish liberalis.

Jerry Haber said...

Peter, I don't know how she characterizes herself, but she has been with the neocons for a long time.

I was referring to Julius, who is a founding member of the Euston Manifesto and Engage, and an organizer, together with Alan Dershowitz, of the anti-academic boycott petition. The line between neocons and liberal hawks is a fine one, but on the whole, I think you know what I mean.

I plan one day to write a post devoted to the "I-am-also-opposed-to-the-Occupation" kind of liberal Jew, whose strident public defence of Israel against people like Tony Judt and yes, Norm Finkelstein, is, in my opinion, getting Israel nowhere fast. Like Abba Eban, z"l, they run interference for the state in ways that damage it in the short and the long run. I don't for a moment doubt their good intentions. But when pinch comes to shove, these self-styled liberals will go the way of Alan Dershowitz and find themselves with the New Republic or Commentary crowd. And does anybody consider him to be a liberal anymore?

levi9909 said...

Jerry, I've been following your blog since a friend of mine from the Just Peace UK list recommended it to me. In fact I have linked two or three posts of yours in my blog. You say "I don't doubt their good intentions" with regard, it seems, to Engage and the Eustonistas. I have to disagree with you there.

Push (you say, "pinch") came to shove some time ago and Engage has promoted Alan Dershowitz as a sincere opponent of the occupation. Engage puts far more energy into campaigning against campaigners against the occupation than it does into opposing the occupation it purports to oppose. And Anthony Julius has published a work on the "blood libel" purely as a means of intellectual bullying against those of us who speak out against Israel's killing of disproportionately high numbers of children.

Twice I have caught prominent Eustonistas/Engageniks using false ID on my blog to either smear people with whom they disagree or simply to harrass me by cluttering up my comments section with wildly contrary nonsense. This isn't done with the best of intentions. It is done to undermine honest people who they fear may be effective in their own campaigning against the occupation or "non-Magnes" varieties of zionism.

You say they are not good for Israel. Frankly that's not my main concern. For all the Engageniks claim to be a resource against antisemitism, they are not much cop for Jews in general either.

But you are right in that they are no good for the Israel that Israel wants to be right now. Their campaigning is so over the top they seem to be driving people into the pro-boycott camp. Now that I can't complain about.

I am more than willing to back up what I am saying here with evidence, so by all means email me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the brilliant review of the ridiculous NYT review of Wisse.
I don't know who Julius it; I've never heard of him. But Wisse is an utterly predictable right-wing Zionist. I forgive her though. Her specialty is the culture and language of Eastern European Jews which means that intellectually she exists in a pre-1948 world. And she does wonderful work when she confines herself to that world. She fails abysmally when she addresses post-'48 Jewry and Israel in particular. For Wisse, Israel is in 2007 the living expression of those humane (and doomed) Jews of Kiev and Warsaw and Budapest and, accordingly, it is beyond criticism. It is as if Moredchai Anilewicz, the 24 year old hero of the Warsaw Ghetto, had an atomic weapon to fight back. Who would not applaud that? But it's not 1943. There is a powerful Jewish state and the goal of Jews who care about it is to end the occupation that threatens its survival and to preserve Jewish values undermined by the occupation. Sadly, Wisse would sacrifice the State and our values in the name of "Jewish Power." There is a paradox here, but not for Wisse, for whom it is and will always be 1942, the Mazis will always be at the gates, and Israel is still the yishuv, an island in an Arab sea.