Monday, November 28, 2011

J. J. Goldberg Should Seek Another "Occupation"

The New York Times Op-Ed page has always been a comfortable place for liberal Zionists, those who genuinely bemoan the 1967 Occupation, the settlements, and its effect on both Palestinians and Israel.  When op-ed writers stray too far from the Zionist consensus, i.e., when they air too much of Israel's dirty linen before the goyim (in New York?), the Times routinely publishes letters defending Israel, and bravo for them. Even this amount of courage on their part loses readers, although, frankly, are there any rightwing Zionists reading the New York Times anymore?

In short, opinion on Israel in the New York Times ranges from progressive Zionist  to liberal hawk Zionist, mostly of the Democratic persuasion. You won't see any regular columnists on Israel who are not Zionist. You barely hear pro-Palestinian voices (unless they are close to the Palestinian Authority or the American Task Force on Palestine,)

Occasionally, though, the Times lets an op-ed through that is actually tough on Israel, and not just on the post-1967 Occupation. Two such cases recently raised the ire of liberal Zionists like the Forward's  J. J. Goldberg and AJC's David Harris (the former is a progressive Zionist; the latter, a liberal hawk Zionist), who, like other liberal Zionists, monitor how much criticism Israel is allowed to get from the paper of record.

The first was an op-ed published by Sarah Schulman about what has been known for some time as "pinkwashing", the trumpeting of Israel's recent record on gay rights as a hasbara tool to deflect criticism on other human rights issues.  In that article, Prof. Schulman cited Prof. Ayal Gross of the Tel Aviv University to the effect that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.” Schulman did not deny that Israel was a better place for gays than elsewhere in the Middle East, only that the
gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. 
I won't spend much time on David Harris's piece, which shows clearly that he hadn't heard of "pinkwashing" before he read Schulman's op-ed.   The academic who has written about it in the context of what he calls "homonationalism" is Prof. Aeyal Gross of Tel Aviv University. (Gross has a  representative  piece here that will provide some background for Harris, who seems strangely out of touch with the Israeli human rights scene, unless he only reads the New York Times. By the way, Gross himself finds the term "pinkwashing" inaccurate, because, unlike "whitewashing," which implies concealing the truth, there has been relative progress in LGBT rights.)

Harris is thus  unaware of how the Israel recent record on gay rights has been appropriated in recent years by Israel advocacy groups like Stand-With-Us to shore up support for Israel in the  LGBT community, and the Israeli government's encouragement of this. Israel's position here is consistent with its natural desire to garner support with other groups of all persuasions, whether homophiliac or  homophobic, such as evangelical Christians. When it comes to alliances, Israel has always found itself with incompatible bedfellows.

Israel advocacy in  LGBT circles  is a good way of weakening criticism in groups that tend to be leftwing. In a sense, the strategy is reminiscent of Israel's "divine-and-conquer" approch to Israeli Arabs.  By fostering Druze identity, and playing Druze off against their erstwhile Muslim persecutors, Israel attempted with some success to slow the progress of a Palestinian national identity. Why can't the same approach be tried in a leftwing community like the LGBT community, where if Israel can pick up support among mainstream gays who really don't give a hoot for anything outside their parochial interest, why not? And why should David Harris be opposed to this?

Actually, my main gripe is with J. J. Goldberg, who attacks -- get this -- the headline of a piece he likes, Gershom Gorenberg's op-ed against the increasing delegitimization of Palestinian Israelis. The headline, "Israel's Other Occupation," is a bone-headed mistake, according to Goldberg,  because it implies that Israel is occupying territory "within its own internationally recognized borders." Apparently the editor of the Op-Ed page,  put down by Goldberg as "a former fashion and culture maven," simply doesn't understand the Middle East.

The only problem for Goldberg is that Israel has no internationally recognized border. Nor did it ever have. In fact, it never wanted them, and  David Ben Gurion saw  its lack of recognized borders as an advantage, since it gave him negotiating power in future peace talks.  Liberal Zionists like to mislead themselves into thinking that the 1949 armistice lines are recognized borders, but I will be happy to donate money to the Forward if Goldberg can show me serious, diplomatic support of his claim.  In fact, even the UN Partition Plan borders are not recognized borders for the Jewish State, since they never existed except on paper. When the State of Israel was recognized by many countries, and later when it was accepted into the United Nations, there was no claim that these were Israel's borders, and that it was inappropriate for the Palestinians and bordering Arab countries to contest these borders. Can a state without borders be recognized?

Ask Mahmoud Abbas that one.

Ah, you will say, this is pilpul, Talmudic hair-splitting. Even if there are no recognized borders, everybody recognizes that the lands on which the Palestinians sit belong to the State of Israel. However, that is not so simple. Let's not forget that the Palestinian citizens of Israel had their much of their land systematically taken away from them after 1948, often in expropriation, or in land purchases against their will -- and Jews were settled on those lands, or forests were planted after razing villages. While that may  not be "occupation," it is not far from the situation of the Palestinians on the West Bank, with all the differences in status between the two Palestinian populations. And there is something else that they share, and is missed in Goldberg's reference to "ethnic discrimination" -- the feeling of official and foundational exclusion from the state that governs their lives without their having any control over those lives in key areas. Israeli Arabs have the vote, but their vote has no political weight. Palestinians in the territories do not have any vote over policies that directly control their daily lives.

The truth is that the term "occupation" is problematic  both in the case of the Palestinian Israelis and in the case of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. "Occupation" is, as Goldberg points out, used with reference to territory, but the terms that are  relevant here are "domination" and "control. In fact, Israel provides three models of control, or, perhaps four models, corresponding with the four types of Palestinian populations: exile and dispossession (Palestinian diaspora); remote military control (Gaza); direct and indirect rule (West Bank); and curtailment of civil rights based on exclusion from the nation (49 armistice lines).    All this control is necessary, argues Israel, for the sake of its security and in order to guarantee the ethnic character of the state. And, quite frankly, most liberal Zionists don't dispute this. They have no desire for direct control over the lives of Palestinians, but they insist that Israel's security requires some persistent measure of control over a potentially hostile population.

Potentially hostile or enemy populations are often occupied. As long as poll after poll show that the majority of Israelis view Palestinian Israelis as potentially or actually hostile, or an enemy fifth column, they can certainly be considered occupied. The answer for Palestinians, both inside and outside of the 49 armistice lines, is to grant them equal rights, equal authority, and equal dignity.

The political framework is not the issue. Let it be two states, one state, no state, many states. The real issue is ending the control of  the Palestinians's life, liberty, and property -- on both sides of the Green Line.


Sheldon Richman said...

Excellent commentary. You have hit the nail on the head. How can people who claim to cherish justice and righteousness allow this to go on?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't have an internationally recognized border? Do Egypt and Jordan not count? Or hell, Israel was recognized was confirmed as leaving Lebanon by the United Nations, a body that isn't inclined to be... fair to it, to say the least. You can claim they're not internationally recognized, but the fact that the three nations seem relatively content with the borders, and it's in accordance with the UN, is enough for me to call it 'internationally recognized'.

'Israeli Arabs have the vote, but their vote has no political weight.' Really now? Last time I checked, they've got the ability to vote freely and have representation in the government, which is more then many minorities have in other democracies. Oh, wait; am I 'political-washing' Israel by bringing it up?

'Foisting a Druze identity'? Walid Jumblatt would probably be surprised that Israel is responsible for his identity. You think Israel needs to create groups so as to retard Arab unity? Give me a break. The Druze have their own opinions independent of any insidious meddling, and as you said, they've been persecuted in the Middle-East, which has doubtlessly affected their opinions. You say that Goldberg doesn't have an 'understanding of the Middle-East', but the three points above are basic facts.

And my final point: Should Israel not be proud of -anything- it does, or use it to advocate for its cause? Israel and the Middle-East are, like the rest of the world, nuanced and complicated; if the world followed these examples, then almost -no- country could be proud of its accomplishments. Applying a dualistic standard (Israel shouldn't be praised for its GLBT policies because of the occupation because it's used to 'pinkwash' it) strikes me as another example of the discussion blinders that causes many, if not most of the discussions of Israel, to both sides spouting propaganda at each other. (Take a look at any talkback session on a blog or news source for dozens of examples).

Jerry Haber said...


Egypt recognizes its border with Israel; Jordan recognizes its border with Israel. Neither has formally recognized Israel's other borders. Lebanon, Syria, and the Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, have not recognized borders.

The United Nations pointedly did NOT recognize a border line between Israel and Lebanon when it ascertained that Israel had withdrawn its military. That withdrawal may be good enough for you, but who cares what you or I think? We are talking about international law.

Check out this decent Wiki article:

You write that "Israeli Arabs" have the right to vote freely and to participate in the government. I will pay you ten dollars for every day in the last sixty-four years that an independent Arab political party participated in the Jewish state's government coalition, despite the fact that they represent around 20% of the population of the State. And you will pay me ten cents for every day that a party with 2 or 3 non-Arab members of parliament sat in the Parliament.

Sure, you have the right to be invited to the White House every Hannukah for latkes. But when do you think you will be invited?

The Druze obviously predate Zionism. I talked about fostering identity, not creating the identity. When I was a kid, books that I read fostered my Zionist identity. That doesn't make me the first Zionist.

The exploitation of Druze identity to drive a wedge between them and other Arabs was in order not to prevent the Druze and Muslims from fostering a common Palestinian identity -- and this is well-documented by scholars of Palestinian Israelis. I refer you to the book Good Arabs, by Hillel Cohen, chapter six, where he outlines the Israeli policy of attempting to sever the Druze from the Muslim Arabs in Israel in the 1950s in order to weaken their allegiance to the Palestinian national movement.

Sure, Israel should be proud of its achievements. But when the same rightwing politicians who castigate gay pride marches within Israel head ministries that boast about Israel's liberal policy to gain points with some groups, while ignoring that policy with other groups -- some may call it "statescraft"; others may call it cynical exploitation.

Read Prof. Aeyal Gross, and you will get some idea of what is going on. In fact, stop reading blogs and start reading scholarly books!

Anonymous said...

Those are weasel words. Israel has recognized borders; yes, some of them are undefined, but many countries have them and aren't accused of it. And yes, the withdrawal is good enough for me; if the world wants the lines to be re-drawn, then Lebanon can start by recognizing Israel's existence. Same goes with Syria, but it has problems that preclude it from negotiations at the moment. It takes two sides to negotiate, and I don't think we'll see much of a change in the above-mentioned states. (Palestine will be a hopeful exception.)

So you're against disproportionate numbers of Arabs in the Knesset? So am I (although I'm not always a fan of the concept as it relates to elections). Should something be done? Yes. Does that erase -some- of the successes of Arabs, such as an Arab judge on the Supreme Court sentencing the president of Israel? I don't think so. Israel is a work in progress, like other states, and I'll do my best to contribute to it.

I have problems with most states, and Israel is no exception. If it had the policy of attempting to woo over Druze/separate them from Palestinians, it was a cynical tactic (and I don't have much reason to doubt you.) Do I think the right-wing is stupid and hypocritical? Yes, and the left-wing is rarely better. But it's still possible for people unaffiliated to the dualistic system and be proud of the achievements while recognizing that on other fronts it's problematic, to say the least.

I'm a student at the moment, and I've read quite a few scholarly books (but my severe degeneration of Hebrew has limited me). I know a few topics pertaining to statecraft, politics, and the international community. If you'd like to have a discussion about them, I'd be happy to oblige; unlike many of the commentators and blog writers I've seen, you have the decency to maintain etiquette.