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Sunday, October 15, 2023
Speaking of Which
Note: I ran out of time Sunday evening, so I posted what I had, hoping to fill it out with my usual sources and clean it up and repost Monday. I've added a few things (none new articles -- the Kaplan and Silverstein sections are largest, and a couple links to MEE), but my eyes are glazing over, and I need to take a break and move on to other things. So I've done very little rewriting, and no reorganizing. Sorry about that. Consider this final for the week. I believe that there are enough ideas and words here for a coherent essay, but despair of getting them structured right.
I started writing an introduction on Friday night, and spent all of Saturday laboring over it, only to find it impossible to say everything I wanted to say in the limited time I had. What I wrote wasn't worthless, so when I hacked it out, I moved it to the end of this post. It is, however, incomplete, and not as convincingly fleshed out as I would like. I did manage to write up a fantasy sketch on how what they're calling the "Israel-Hamas War" might come to a soft landing, given a considerable (and unexpected) change of heart in Jerusalem and Washington (and probably Cairo).
That's followed by one paragraph on why that's unlikely, which I might have followed up with three or four more on the genocidal psychology Israelis have cultivated for over a century. (It predates the Holocaust, which itself was the ultimate example of nationalist, colonial, and imperialist plots against whole peoples. I could give you a long list, probably starting with the extermination of the Arawak in Hispaniola, but one vivid example from American memory if the Trail of Tears. By the way, the deeply cultivated memory of the Holocaust in Israel probably acts more to inhibit its repeat than to inspire it, which is one reason why it's so difficult to write up analogies between Nazis and Israelis -- not because they boggle the imagination but because they're often so easy: you won't find a closer historical antecedent to the eruption from Gaza that started this episode than the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.)
My wife also recommended this piece, dated [2018-08-14], so old as news goes, but had the movement it covers been more successful, we might be having less news this week: Nathan Thrall: BDS: How a controversial non-violent movement has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian debate. I've said a lot of negative things lately about sanctions, especially as a much-overused tool of American foreign policy, but in all things you need to consider the circumstances and the alternatives. One key case where a BDS campaign was successful in affecting much-needed change was South Africa. As with Israel, the established Apartheid regime was so entrenched and so powerful it was hard to imagine them getting overthrown, and impossible to think that a foreign power might persuade them. Yet economic pressure, along with an appeal to conscience, finally did the trick.
Perhaps the single best book I've read on Israel is Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004). He starts with an old Jewish parable which I'd have to look up to get right, but it basically says never give in to pressure now when you can put it off until later. Israeli leaders (even Netanyahu) have always been smart and flexible. They've repeatedly conceded points, but almost never have they followed up on those concessions. They begged for the UN partition resolution in 1947, then ignored its borders. They agreed to cease fires, only to reload and resume the attack. They signed armistices in 1949-50, promising to turn them into peace treaties, but never did. When Eisenhower insisted they halt the 1956 war, they did, but dragged their feet for six months on the necessary withdrawal. They agreed to UN resolutions after the 1967 and 1973 wars, then made a mockery of them, annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. They invaded Lebanon in 1978, and when Carter insisted that they withdraw, they did . . . until they invaded again in 1982, which Reagan let them get away with. The signed the Oslo Accords, then dragged their feet, taking advantage of a loophole allowing "natural growth" of settlements. Even Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accord, then did nothing to implement it. The list goes on and on and on, but they got away with it, because in the end no one (well, other than Eisenhower) held them to their word. Give them an inch, they'll take a couple feet, then pretend you didn't understand, and talk about what great allies we are. That all fits the parable in the book.
The other point of the book is that Jewish Israel is actually divided into several distinct camps that basically don't like each other. But the conflict, having a common enemy, holds them together, so much so that they fear dissolution and despair if they should ever lose that common bond. And that conflict, not just the local one with Palestinians but the global, existential one between Jew and Gentile, is baked into every nook and cranny of their culture, their very being, the space they inhabit. The Holocaust Museum has halls full of nightmares, but you exit onto a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, and that's Israel's deliverance, or at least that's the lesson. Cramer's book is 20 years old now, so he's not totally up to date. He hadn't yet seen how tightly wound that psyche would become, how viciously it would explode. Max Blumenthal's 2013 book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, was one of the first to really expose that, though books on the settler movement offered glimpse of that earlier (e.g., Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, from 2007).
Back around 2005, someone wrote to me and asked whether I thought Israel would commit genocide. I don't have the letter any more, but my answer was basically no. While there were forces, from deep within the racist, colonialist soul of Zionism, that could drive them in that direction, there were also other forces that would inhibit them, and save them from going off the deep end. I'm still not sure they will go through with it, but they're talking the talk, and walking the walk. And the time has come to talk them off the ledge.
Top story threads:
Israel/Gaza: I just grabbed a lot of articles below. I'm less interested in detailing the atrocities than I am with the broader thinking about the war and its future consequences. There's way too much here to fully digest, but I think the outlines and imperatives are clear. The outline: that despite the initial shock, the only story now is Israel's (and the world's) response. The imperative: to talk Israel down from committing genocide. As usual, there is a lot of good reporting at Middle East Eye, MondoWeiss, +972 Magazine, Tikkun Olam.
[PS: As I was trying to wrap this up, there is this report: Egypt-Gaza crossing set to open for aid, says Blinken; 24 hours' more fuel at Gaza hospitals, says UN.}
Donald Johnson: [10-15] How would the 'NY Times' know if Israel valued human life? They say it over and over again, "but a reexamination of Times coverage of Israel's 2018 massacre of peaceful protesters in Gaza shows that the Times itself does not uphold such values."
Rashid Khalidi: [10-15] The U.S. should think twice about Israel's plans for Gaza.
Nicole Narea: [10-13] How the US became Israel's closest ally: Whole books have been written on this, dating back to Kathleen Christison's Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on US Middle East Policy (1999), with John B Judis: Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict (2014) focusing on Israel's creation. But while American sympathies with Israel grew mostly through Democratic presidents from Truman through Clinton, they shifted when GW Bush's neocons explicitly aligned with the Israeli right to destroy the Oslo framework and use Israel as a free agent in striking out at supposed enemies like Iran. Obama struggled to return to a Clinton-level of fawning embrace, but by then the "facts on the ground" and the hardening of Israel's right had made that impossible, so he ultimately gave up. (Josh Ruebner's Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace covers this, as does Trita Parsi's A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy With Iran.) Trump, on the other hand, sided whole hog with Israel, and Biden has made no effort to reverse Trump's surrender (unlike in Europe and the Far East, where his reassertion of American leadership has already produced one war and made another more likely). While the bond has been real and deep, this has never struck me as a true alliance. Israel does what they want, and America helps clean up the mess. As Moshe Dayan put it: "America gives us arms, money, and advice. We accept the arms. We accept the money. We ignore the advice."
John Nichols: [10-14] Israelis are rejecting Netanyahu. So why is Biden giving him a blank check?
AW Ohlheiser: [10-12] Don't believe everything you see and hear about Israel and Palestine: "Misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war is easy to find online. Here's how to avoid spreading it." Fairly generic reminder about how social media is regularly used to spread propaganda and other mischief. The problem it doesn't go into is how readily mainstream media falls for carefully tailored propaganda lines.
Kenn Orphan: [10-13] Israel and the Gaza prison break.
Eve Ottenberg: [10-13] Euphemisms for war are deadly: "How we talk about war matters." Refers to David Vine's Words About War guide. Actually, I think these could use some more work. No doubt we should avoid "terrorists" -- it's not just a loaded word, by now it's become a conditioned reflex to kill -- but I'm not sure "militants" is a better alternative. That word is almost exclusively used these days as a synonym for "dead Palestinian male." I also want to note that while "ethnic cleansing" has come to the process of driving a group out of a land (as, for instance, is now happening in Nagorno-Karabakh, or happened in the 1830s with the Trail of Tears), the phrase was originally just a euphemism for mass killing (specifically, what the Serbs did at Srebrenica in 1995), a cutesy way of saying genocide.
George Packer: Israel must not react stupidly: I didn't read this, due to the paywall, but I did manage a laugh. I counsel people against saying "never forget," but I guess I haven't. I then took a look at some of Atlantic's other links, reminding myself why I don't pay them money (besides that I'm cheap, I mean), and found: Conor Friedersdorf: "Students for Pogroms in Israel"; Helen Lewis: "The Progressives Who Flunked the Hamas Test"; and Bruce Hoffman: "Understanding Hamas's Genocidal ideology." They're all on board, though one article could go either way: Hussein Ibish: Israel is walking into a trap: "Storming into Gaza will fulfill Hamas's wish." The author is a resident scholar at an Arab think tank in Washington, and every reference to Hamas in what I can see links them to "their Iranian backers." The trap I see is that Israel will lose what little's left of their souls. He probably seems martyrdom of Hamas as feeding into Iran's bid for leadership of the Muslim world. I doubt that's even a fantasy in Tehran -- although the Saudis are still reeling from a nod in that direction back in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini was in the first throes of revolution, so it could well be on Ibish's agenda.
Trita Parsi: [10-15] Biden refuses to talk 'ceasefire' though it could prevent a regional war: "It's strategic malpractice for the White House to give Israel carte blanche when he knows it could drag the US into a wider conflict." This isn't my big worry right now. Although Israel has shelled Lebanon and bombed Syria in recent days, their demonization of Iran has always been more about manipulating Washington than confronting a serious enemy. The real risk, short-term, is genocide in Gaza, and as that is unveiled -- and there's little chance that this one won't be televised -- the bad feelings that will be generated could come back to attack Israel and its allies (and the US is much more exposed than Israel is) in all sorts of unpredictable ways. And as long as the US and Israel remain committed to policies of massive reprisals, the real damage kicked off by provocations will mostly be self-inflicted. Why haven't they learned this much by now?
Matthew Petti: [10-13] Why does Egypt fear evacuating Gaza?: As noted here, Azerbaijan recently solved its Armenian enclave problem by setting up a "humanitarian corridor," driving residents of Nagorno-Karabakh to escape to safety in Armenia. Israelis -- and it sounds like the US is going along with this -- have called for something like that to depopulate Gaza through Egypt, which doesn't like the idea, and has so far Moved to prevent exodus of Palestinians from besieged Gaza. An influx of two million Palestinians would cause significant stress to Egypt's fragile not-really-democracy, especially given that many would align with the banned Islamic Brotherhood, and many understand that Egypt's cozy collaboration with Israel and the US has kept Gaza isolated and precarious. As Israel's plan seems to be to kill everyone in Gaza who can't get out, exile doesn't sound like the worst possible outcome. On the other hand, if Israel gets away with the depopulation of Gaza, they're sure to try the same thing in the West Bank. One can even argue that with the government supporting settler pogroms, they've already started. The Nazis had a term for this: Judenrein. I wouldn't be surprised if there is an analogous Hebrew term, translating to "Arab-free."
Mitchell Plitnick: [10-08] Hamas offensive the result of Washington's hostility to Palestinian rights.
Vijay Prashad: [10-13] The savagery of the war against the Palestinian people.
Meron Rapoport: [10-11] The end of the Netanyahu doctrine: "Did his plan to preserve Hamas in Gaza as a tool for keeping the strip separate from the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority weak finally backfire?"
Nathan J Robinson: [10-14] You can't selectively pay attention to certain atrocities and ignore all others: "How is it possible to be outraged by Hamas killings of Israeli children, but ignore or rationalize the killing of Gazan children?"
Kenneth Roth: [10-11] The attack on Israel has been called a '9/11 moment'. Therein lies a cautionary tale.
David Rothkopf: [10-15] The war's just started, but Benjamin Netanyahu has already lost: "No matter what happens following Israel's siege of Gaza, the Israeli prime minister's political ambitions are likely damaged beyond repair."
Norman Solomon: [10-11] 'Israel's 9/11' is a slogan to rationalize open-ended killing of Palestinian civilians. It's also a phrase meant to appeal to Americans, and solicit their support for indiscriminate slaughter.
Jeffrey St Clair: [10-13] Roaming Charges: Gaza without mercy: "You won't have to interrogate them afterward. They are explicit about the war crimes they're planning to commit." Sample quotes (read it all):
The column eventually moves on to his usual wide range of issues, plus some books and music at the end.
Bret Stephens: [10-15] Hamas bears the blame for every death in this war: I've mostly picked sensible, judicious opinion pieces, because they're the ones that deserve reading and distribution. But this one, obviously, is included just to show you how horrifically wrong an American pundit can be. The clear implication is that Israel's political leaders have no free will, no brains, no morals, no capacity for managing their own behavior. Sure, to some extent, that does seem to be the case, but to what extent won't be determined until Israel stops running up Hamas's tab. And here I was, foolishly thinking that not just people but nations should be responsible for whatever they do. [PS: Well, I also gotta admit some of this is pretty funny. E.g., the paragraph that begins with "But Hamas spends fortunes building a war machine whose only purpose is to strike Israel." Or: "Hamas launched an attack with a wantonness like what the Nazis showed at Babyn Yar." Nazi Germany attacked Russia with 134 divisions, about three million men, but at least Hamas matched their "wantonness"?]
Matt Stieb: [10-13] The violence is spreading outside Gaza: The West Bank, obviously, where Ben-Gvir is distributing another 10,000 rifles to settlers, and the border with Lebanon, as Israeli rhetoric threatens to morph into open season on Palestinians, some of whom could be inspired to fight back. Not included here is another piece of spillover violence: Hannah Allam: [10-16] U.S.-born Palestinian boy stabbed to death in hate crime: six-year-old Wadea Alfayoumi, in Illinois.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos: [10-10] In blistering remarks, Biden commits aid, intel, and military assets to Israel.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos/Blaise Malley: [10-12] Presidential hopefuls outdo each other on Hamas, Israel war: "Candidates across the spectrum urge overwhelming force and blast Biden's weakness." Republican candidates, that is, although Biden's own statement came off as the strongest, because he didn't detract from his message by talking nonsense about anyone else, even Iran. The article credits Vivek Ramaswamy with "restraint," because he stopped short of committing the US to war against Iran. Marianne Williamson waffled a bit, while assuring us she hated Hamas. Cornel West had a more coherent critique of US/Israel, but he too took pains to condemn Hamas, giving you an idea of how deep the party line has sunk in. RFK Jr strayed from his fellow Republicans in applauding Biden's statement, but more verbosely. I don't mind if he describes the Hamas attack as "ignominious" and "barbaric," but "unprovoked"?
Robert Wright: [10-13] Israel, Hamas, and Biden's failed foreign policy: After linking to this piece, I started to write the original intro (now at the end of the post), so I lost the thread here. I will say that the idea that Hamas attacked to keep Saudi Arabia from joining the Abraham cartel is a lot like saying an estranged friend killed himself to spoil your birthday party. Sure, he spoiled your day, but how could you think that's really the point? The real reasons are probably as simple as: Hamas has been trying to figure how to make enough of an explosion to remind the world that Palestinians are suffering but can still hit back and make Israelis feel some of the pain they've long subjected to; and the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War attack would heighten the element of surprise. The 1973 war was rebuffed easily enough, but the shock caused Israelis to doubt their security forces, and ultimately to negotiate peace with Egypt. But I doubt Hamas was so optimistic: they know better than anyone how determined Israel is to grind Palestine into oblivion. Second point, I really object to Wright's "assume that Hamas isn't motivated by actual concern for the Palestinian people." People who deliberately start doomed revolts may be misguided or foolish, but the idea of laying down your life to free your people goes way back, including every revolutionary we still honor, even as martyrs. I don't doubt that many Palestinians don't appreciate Hamas's efforts -- indeed, that they actively curse them -- but you need to understand their sacrifice, else you understand nothing.
Here are a couple statements from concerned groups:
Trump, and other Republicans:
Biden and/or the Democrats:
Legal matters and other crimes:
Climate and environment:
Kyle Chayka: [10-09] Why the internet isn't fun anymore: "The social-media Web as we knew it, a place where we consumed the posts of our fellow-humans and posted in return, appears to be over." News to me, not that I'm unaware of the decline of fun.
Jim Geraghty: [10-12] Why RFK Jr.'s independent bid makes sense, even if he doesn't: Having gotten no traction running in the Democratic primary, with most of his support coming from Republicans just looking to muddy the waters, this move keeps him in the game, but it also changes the game. The real curse of the third-party candidate is that you have to spend so much time defending against charges of being some kind of spoiler you never get to talk about your platform, or why the two parties accorded a chance are wrong.
Oshan Jarow: [10-13] Basic income is less radical than you think.
Sara Morrison: [10-11] We're in a new Gilded Age. What did we learn from the last one? Interview with Tom Wheeler, whose forthcoming book is Techlash: Who Makes the Rules in the Digital Gilded Age?
David Owen: [08-14] What happens to all the stuff we return?
Greg Sargent: [10-12] The GOP's 'southern strategy' mastermind just died. Here's his legacy. Kevin Phillips, dead at 82, wrote a book in 1969 called The Emerging Republican Majority, landing him a job in the Nixon White House. His painstaking research on voting trends not only validated the "southern strategy" -- Barry Goldwater and Strom Thurmond worked that hard in 1964 -- but showed Democrats losing their commanding position among Catholics and other ethnic groups (e.g., Spiro Agnew) in the north, especially as they moved to the suburbs or the "sun belt." In the late 1960s, I did roughly the same work, plotting election results from World Almanacs on county maps, so when I read Phillips book, I recognized many of the same patterns -- the main difference being that I had near-zero sense of ethnic identity, but also I was less pleased with his conclusions, and therefore more resistant. Sargent collected comments from several figures, none striking me as quite correct.
For example, Michael Barone points out that Eisenhower has already won 49-50 percent of the popular vote in the South, then claims that southern whites "turned away from national Democrats not so much because of civil rights but because of [McGovern's] dovishness." But Eisenhower's southern support was all in the peripheral states, where Republicans at least had a party structure. The deep south (South Carolina-to-Louisiana) flipped for Goldwater because the local Democrats did, as they did for Wallace in 1968). But by 1972, when Nixon swept the region, he was ducking his association with war, but dog-whistling race like crazy.
The Nixon strategy was more sophisticated than just playing up civil rights backlash. It was deeply rooted in his psyche as an all-American petit bourgeois everyman -- Gary Wills' Nixon Agonistes is probably still the most exacting psychological profile -- but he was smart, cunning, and ruthless. Phillips' job was to feed him data, but it's use was pure Nixon. (Pat Buchanan, who worked closely with Phillips, helped convert that data into the sort of bile Nixon could spew.) Nixon's use of Phillips is a big part of the reason Republicans are so artful at gerrymandering and other dark arts.
Not mentioned here are Phillips' other books. He started moving away from the Republican monster he had helped create, perhaps as early as 1982's Post-Conservative America, certainly by 1993's Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans, and the Decline of Middle Class Prosperity. I didn't start paying much attention until his scathing 2004 book on the Bush family: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. He followed that up with American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which argued that financialization begot disaster in three world-empires (Netherlands, Britain, and most assuredly America next). That was 2006, so he was well prepared for 2008's Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.
In a piece I cite below, Robert Wright starts by noting, in italics for emphasis:
The first point is the sort of boilerplate lawyers write, in this case to anticipate the moral judgments insisted on in Zack Beauchamp's essay (also cited below), so the author can move on to something more interesting than virtue signaling. I went ahead and quoted the rest of the note because he points out that critics of twenty-some years of American foreign policy toward Russia had to first condemn Putin's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine before we -- I did this, as did Wright, and even Noam Chomsky -- before we could get around to the background that one must understand in order to make any sense out of what Putin did (and again, we all had to reiterate that Putin was still in the wrong). Still, every time we did that, we helped validate the people who provoked as well as fought back against Russian aggression, freely ignoring any concerns or fears we had, or doubts about their motives.
I could go on about Ukraine -- I have in the past, and no doubt will again in the future -- but the point I want to make is: I'm not sure that we need to repeat this exercise here. Sure, if you could isolate select events in the initial Hamas attack, like the mass shooting at the concert, or the abduction of hostages, they were things we were shocked and appalled by. But the Hamas attack came up far short of a war. When Russia launched a war into Ukraine, they came with thousands of heavily armed troops, tanks, artillery, missiles, aircraft, a navy, backed by massive industry safely beyond reach of retaliation, one that could sustain operations for years with little fear of crippling losses.
What Hamas did was more like a jail break followed by a brief crime spree. They shot their wad all at once: a few thousand of their primitive rockets; 2,500 or so fighters infiltrated a few miles of Israeli territory, killing over 1,000 Israelis and taking 200+ captive. But that's basically it, and all it could ever be. Israel regrouped, killed or drove back all the fighters, patched the breaches in its defense. Hamas appears to have had no external coordination or support, and has no capability to inflict further significant damage on Israel. The attack was very dramatic, but never had a chance of being anything but a suicide mission. The only thing the attack could accomplish was to embarrass Israeli politicians, who had assured Israelis that their "iron wall" defense and the threat of massive, indiscriminate retaliation would keep them safe and render the Palestinians powerless. Unless, of course, Israelis responded in a way that exposed themselves as cruel and murderous. Which it was almost certain to do.
Even now, it isn't hard to think of a plausible path forward. Israel reseals its border, but ceases fire, contingent on no further fire from Gaza. (Similar cease fires have been negotiated many times before.) Israel allows humanitarian relief supplies to enter Gaza, under its inspection, and eventually via Egypt, as well as neutral observers and facilitators. They negotiate the release of hostages, with both sides committed to no more hostilities. Some number of refugees will be allowed out, to countries that agree to take them, with assurance that they will be allowed back in when requested. A non-partisan civil administration is constituted, in liaison with the UN, with a world-funded reconstruction budget. An indemnity fund will be set up and at least partly funded by Israel. Reparations will be drawn from this fund for any later cross-border damage by any source. Gun control will be implemented, and the region effectively disarmed. Egypt, with UN supervision, will assume internal security responsibility. Israel will renounce its claims to Gaza, which may remain independent or join Egypt. Other issues may be negotiated (e.g., water, air control).
Of course, this won't happen. Israel will insist on taking its revenge, and will kill a truly scandalous number of Gazans, further turning the area into a wasteland. Israel will probably get the hostages killed, and insist on taking further revenge for that. In short order, more people will die of starvation and disease than they can kill directly. Basically, they will kill and destroy until they tire and/or think better of it, then look to stampede whoever's left out the gate to Egypt, or let the American Navy organize a flotilla elsewhere -- like the service the British provided in 1948 moving Jaffa to Beirut. People will think up new euphemisms for this, but the root term is genocide.
I also wrote this fragment, which got moved around and is now stranded: