Monday, May 03, 2010

My Letter to Andrew

I just sent this email to Andrew Sullivan, regarding his defense of Professor Mearsheimer's recent division of the American Jewish community into its good and bad Jews


Regarding your defense of Professor Mearsheimer's division of the public American Jewish community into the righteous and the profane: You focus your attention on the folks Mearsheimer lumps into his list of "new Afrikaners" -- a group that ranges from Mort Klein (a despicable right-wing thug if there ever was one) to David Harris (whose organization, the AJC, vociferously denounced the Israeli government's announcement of new settlements during Vice President Biden's visit). But more interesting to me are the folks Mearsheimer lists as "righteous Jews", and how their own outlooks track what Mearsehimer claims to be his and their position on the optimal solution to the conflict.

The way I understand Mearsheimer's argument is that the first-best solution to the conflict is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. However, he claims, this may be becoming impossible, forcing us to move to a decidedly second-best (to put it mildly) outcome -- the so-called "one state solution", whereby Israel is dissolved into a single (perhaps bi-national) state with Palestine. My understanding of your own position is that you agree that this would be a bad thing, but perhaps it is rapidly becoming the inevitable thing as the best solution grows ever-more distant (and agree with Mearsheimer as far as that goes).

The reason I find Mearsheimer's list of "righteous Jews" odd, then, is that far fewer of them would agree with the above paragraph than the names on the "new Afrikaners" list. While I admit I don't know the positions of all the folks on both lists, the only person I could say with confidence would disagree that the two-state based on '67 borders solution is the best outcome is Mort Klein. By contrast, several of the "righteous Jews" are either indifferent or outspokenly opposed to that position. To be sure, there are folks on Mearsheimer's list of righteous Jews that do agree with you and I that a two-state solution is the preferable one; that if we do enter a world where a single state was the only viable outcome, that would constitute a tragedy, not a triumph. And some of these folks are people I'm proud to associate myself with, like J Street (interestingly, the only group amongst the "righteous" that Mearsheimer equivocates on -- who, I wonder, does he think amongst the J Streeters is flying a false flag?). But opponents of this vision are well represented. Norman Finkelstein is indifferent but thinks a two-state approach is more practically feasible in the near-term. Tony Karon prefers a unitary state but also thinks two states are acceptable if that is easier to attain. Philip Weiss prefers one state. Tony Judt calls the idea of a separate Jewish state an "anachronism", he too thinks one state is the first-best outcome. Naomi Klein is indifferent between the two.

Mearsheimer also groups the entire list -- "righteous" and "Afrikaner" -- under the broader label of "American Jews who care deeply about Israel." This is the fulcrum of your defense of his delineation -- that Mearsheimer's objection to the "New Afrikaners" is that, within the broader class of people who care about Israel, their political prescriptions are deeply misplaced; the "righteous Jews" are the ones who truly care and know best. But again, to characterize them as folks who "care deeply about Israel" is simply not an accurate description of several of his "righteous Jews". I mean that in an entirely value-neutral way -- not that their politics are inconsistent with a deep concern for Israel (though I think in many cases they are), but simply that they wouldn't characterize themselves as folks who "care deeply about Israel". Finkelstein and Weiss, I imagine, simply think that Israel is responsible for a significant amount of evil in the world, and are working to try and rectify it -- there is no sentimentality behind it, anymore than efforts to end North Korean brutality are motivated by deep caring about North Korea. Naomi Klein got her start in this whole field by proclaiming herself to be a "Jew against Israel".

Put simply, by their own admission a goodly portion of Mearsheimer's "righteous Jews" are not folks who "deeply care" about Israel and are committed to achieving a two-state solution for as long as it is a plausible goal. Their commitments and desires lie elsewhere. They are not our friends. They are not our allies.

But allies do exist. J Street, and its new European cousin J Call are two. TULIP -- Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine -- is another. Engage and OneVoice are two more. They are the real deal. And now, more than ever, they need our help, and cannot afford that the folks who are true friends of Israel, who recognize the current path is unsustainable, dissipate their energy by affiliating with charlatans.


David Schraub
The University of Chicago Law School '11
Articles Editor, the University of Chicago Law Review
The Debate Link:


Rebecca said...

Good letter - I hope he publishes it. Less angry than I would be, which is a good thing.

M said...

You think J Street is pro-Israel? They have supported every single one of Obama's anti-Israel policies.

David Schraub said...

All of which I support as well. And yet, here I am, writing this letter. Makes you think, doesn't it.

ArlenSpectersPressSecretary said...

"I heart this blog.... he referenced Wittgenstein, and it was entirely appropriate and non-pretentious."

I see two fundamental problems with this: 1) it's never appropriate to reference Wittgenstein about any topic (one of his many commentators is likely to have made some sort of attempt at clarifying whatever the W's original point was...) 2) I'm afraid no one *really* gets Wittgenstein: 1) he himself seems to have given up on the idea that he was actually sketching some sort of "philosophical system". 2) this is someone most well-known for having claimed a] to have solved all of the problems of philosophy (or gotten close) in his first book and b] that we have no intentional states anyway. Sorry for the hate, man, but how in God's name cold you reference such a person "non-pretentiously" on any topic? It defies belief.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "All of which I support as well. And yet, here I am, writing this letter. Makes you think, doesn't it."

It makes me think. The issue here is not whether you or I think we support Israel. The question is which policies are in Israel's interest. By 1933 - long before Chamberlain's tenure, by the way -, Churchill was already screaming that the policies of Britain's PM regarding the then new German dictator would be a disaster for the UK. He was rather specific, even that early, where Britain's policies were leading. Obviously, the British government thought it was acting in the UK's best interest - i.e. it obviously considered itself a friend to the UK.

My point is not to call you a Baldwin or a Chamberlain. The point to note that the issue is which, from intentioned people, policies are correct. In other words, I think you are well intentioned but opting for views which are harmful to Israel's survival.

My viewpoint: Israel, no matter what it does, is facing a gathering storm - to quote the title of Churchill's truly brilliant book about UK policy before WWII. The storm comes from Iran, from Europe, from Arabs and, now, from an administration which thinks it can quiet Iranian and Arab hostility towards the US by distancing itself from Israel. That, not an attempt to resolve a dispute which, in fact, the administration surely knows cannot, at this point, be settled, even on paper, is what drives the Obami.

Such a policy is not just bad for Israel but for the US, but that is another day's topic. For you to assert that you favor what Obama is doing is naive beyond imagination.

As for your letter: I thought it was well written and you make, in addition to naive points, some good ones.

David Schraub said...

It's obviously true that folks who have good intentions with regard to the future of Israel can still promote policies that lead to ill. But that does not tell us which of us is Churchill and which is Chamberlain. To quote a famous wizard, "not even the wisest can see all ends".

That we both are well-intentioned towards Israel and hold the positions that we do is proof in of itself that we each imagine ourselves to be Churchillian and the other Chamberlainian. There's no way to adduce which one of us is correct in advance -- only the events can bear that out (and then only to a certain extent, because history alas does not allow for double-blind controlled experiments).

M said...

So you think that pressuring Israel to give away land to the PLO (sudetenland style) and allowing Iran to build nukes makes you "Churchillian"?

N. Friedman said...


M has a good point. You may or may not be correct but, either way, your view is wholly unrelated to anything that might remotely be associated with Churchill.

I suppose you were saying that Churchill showed great foresight. That, however, does not make one be on the side of Churchill. Read The Gathering Storm because you would never write what you wrote if you had. The book is a pretty good antidote to views like yours, in any event, so I would highly recommend it to you. Apart from his support for colonialism - which is appalling, in my view - and apart from some facts which, at the time his book was written, he could not have known, the book is among the greatest works of political/historical writing of the 20th Century.

I certainly do not claim to be the Churchill here. And, I am no devotee of his point of view. I, however, do think that Israel's situation is not in a position, just now, to be improved and I do not think there is any basis for a peace. I cannot imagine how you think otherwise. And, having the President adopt policies towards Israel that might as well have been written - and, in some ways, are the same as those adopted - by the Arab League is not my idea of a government that is friendly to Israel. Rather, Obama's views are giving succor to people who hate Israel and to the Antisemites - which is, I trust, an unintended consequence of his policies.

Some Obama supporters advance the view that we must save Israel from itself - or some such word. Such, however, are the views of arrogant, self-righteous people. I do not think that Obama's people actually think they know Israel's business better than the Israelis but, instead, are using the Israelis to advance an American goal, to wit, to make Arabs and Muslims better like the US. No friend of Israel can support that policy and, almost certainly, such is the policy adopted by the Obama administration. And, I might add: the chances of such a see-through ruse convincing Arabs and Muslims (or anyone else) that American stands with Arabs and Muslims is slim to none.

David Schraub said...

You cited Churchill and Chamberlain for the proposition that two people who both had good intentions vis-a-vis Britain had radically different policy prescriptions in response to its situation; showing that good intentions do not guarantee advocacy of correct policy. This is obviously true, my objection merely being that it cuts both ways: it is entirely unknown whether the policies you prefer, or the policies I prefer, will lead to the better outcome.

M said...

I agree with you that Neville Chamberlain was a man with good intentions, but bad policies. With Obama, I am not so sure about his intentions. I just hope that when the shit hits the fan, Obama will have the decency to resign like Chamberlain did.

joe said...

Hey M, is "intentions" the new code word for "birth certificate"?

; )

N. Friedman said...


I understood your comment. I do not, however, understand your attempt to use my mention of Churchill, etc., to portray either of our views. And, your view is so unlike that of Churchill - whether you are right or not - as to have me recommend that you actually read him. He is a wonderful writer and the book I mentioned is such that it is difficult to put down.

David Schraub said...

You brought Churchill into the discussion, not me.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "You brought Churchill into the discussion, not me."

And, of course, that gives you license to misinterpret Churchill.

David Schraub said...

Not misinterpret -- interpret in the context you brought him in for, to wit: "The question is which policies are in Israel's interest. By 1933 - long before Chamberlain's tenure, by the way -, Churchill was already screaming that the policies of Britain's PM regarding the then new German dictator would be a disaster for the UK. He was rather specific, even that early, where Britain's policies were leading. Obviously, the British government thought it was acting in the UK's best interest - i.e. it obviously considered itself a friend to the UK."

Within this broad narrative, both of us think we're friends to Israel/UK, and both of us are screaming our preferred policies (although I'm more Churchillian insofar as I'm the outsider screaming that the current policies are leading them astray). The moral of the above paragraph wasn't something about militarism versus pacifism, it was to say that even friends can disagree on end policies, and even well-intentioned folks can be grievously wrong (but which one of us wrong is, of course, up for dispute).

N. Friedman said...


My words: "My point is not to call you a Baldwin or a Chamberlain. The point to note that the issue is which, from intentioned people, policies are correct." Note the word NOT. You, by contrast, decided to do exactly that, wondering which of us is Chamberlain and which Churchill.

For the record, your point of view could not be like Chamberlain. He, were he an Israeli, would likely favor Israel taking the WB and Gaza - kicking out recalcitrant Palestinian Arabs along the way - because such was his view of conquest and governance. That is not my viewpoint and, clearly, it is not your viewpoint.

My view, to be clear, is that there is, for the foreseeable future, no possible settlement to the dispute, for a whole host of reasons. While there can be a paper document called an agreement, that is different from saying that the dispute can be resolved.

In fact, if past is in any way a guide to the future, efforts to resolve the dispute are more than likely to make the situation worse, as they did in the last real effort to resolve the dispute by negotiation. That round ended with 1,000 dead Israelis and maybe 5,000 dead Palestinian Arabs. And, the idea of unilateral withdraw by the Israelis led to Southern Israel being a war zone and then to perhaps more than 1,000 dead Palestinian Arabs. That is not something to give any sane person confidence.

So, forgive me for being skeptical. I think that before we re-start what will almost certainly lead again to bloodshed - but no peace -, we look carefully at why the dispute really does not settle.

As always, I highly recommend the book One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, by Benny Morris. He shows that, in addition to the practical problems of dividing up a small parcel of land, the ideology, most particularly but not only of the Arab side will not allow for a settlement.

Returning to the Chamberlain/Churchill thing, I reiterate my view that you - which was your prerogative - wanted to draw them into which of our views is more like which of these famous men. On that topic, no one who has read Churchill could ever confuse your point of view with his. Your way of thinking is, to be frank, the opposite of his way of thinking.

And, since I am not a colonialist or imperialist, I also could never be seen as holding a view like Churchill.

As for Chamberlain, his views were less well developed than Churchill. In fact, he thought he was being pragmatic with Hitler, playing for time while Britain re-armed. Which is to say, his viewpoint was not as different from that of Churchill as Churchill thought (or, as versions of history not available in Churchill's time concluded).

Which is why I chose not to make a phony comparison.

David Schraub said...

When people talk about Churchill and Chamberlain, it's rarely to make an observation about specific points of substance. Rather (and this was what you were citing them for), it is to observe that some people are alert to a coming catastrophe, whereas others misread the situation entirely -- states of being perfectly compatible with good intentions. Within this broad articulation, both of us could be the Churchill or Chamberlain, depending on which one of our views prove prescient. I'm not making a claim regarding Churchillianness or Chamberlainianness at any greater level of specificity than that.

N. Friedman said...

Fine, David. This is not an important enough argument to have taken this many posts.

U of Chicago Law School Grad said...

David -

U of Chicago law school must really have deteriorated since I graduated from there. For one thing, your name-calling is extremely inappropriate and uncalled for. And your views on Israel are naive and dangerous.

The majority of Americans and Jews have the exact same view as Mort Klein. The majority is opposed to a(nother) Palestinian state at this time, because, like the de facto PA state in Gaza, such a state will simply be a launching pad for more rocket and other terrorist attacks on Israel. The PA continues to incite terror against Israel at every opportunity, on television, in schools, etc., etc. We will never have peace until the Palestinian culture of violence is completely transformed. Until that occurs, further concessions will only endanger Israel further.

A U of Chicago Law School grad

David Schraub said...

What I love about the above comment is that until "such a state will simply be a launching pad for more rocket and other terrorist attacks on Israel" (i.e., about halfway through) I had no idea if I was about to be attacked from the left or the right.

I'd love to see polling showing that "The majority of Americans and Jews have the exact same view as Mort Klein".

M said...

"U of Chicago Law School grad" is correct. The majority of Americans disapprove of Obama's Middle East policies:

Since only 4% of Israelis approve of Obama, and Israelis make up more than 40% of the worldwide Jewish population, it is fair to say that most Jews don't like Obama.

So the original statement is correct. Americans and Jews don't like Obama.

David Schraub said...

What makes Mort Klein Mort Klein isn't some generic disapproval of Obama's Israel policies. It's opposition to pursuing a two-state solution -- a position that is not supported by either a majority of Israelis, or Jews, or (I imagine) Americans.

In any event, the fact that a majority of American Jews support Obama's Israel policies and -- more importantly -- support policy positions fundamentally at odds with Mort Klein's vision of the world is, I think, kind of essential in a thread that's focusing on the behavior and outlook of American Jews. You can keep on pretending like most Jews adopt a hard-right outlook on the world, but you're going to continue to be quite the lonely fellow amongst fellow members of the tribe (assuming you're Jewish at all).

David Schraub said...

Also worth noting is that Israeli opposition to President Obama is dramatically overstated. As of December 2009, his approval split was 41/37 in Israel. A more recent poll found that 51% of Israel's considered Obama to be "fair", with another 18% saying he is "friendly" to Israel (21% chose "hostile").

In general, polling has consistently established that a plurality of Israelis think Obama is neutral between Israel and Palestine (i.e., neither "pro-Israel" nor "pro-Palestine"). The 4% figure is a myth stemming from a misunderstanding of a poll asking precisely that question (see footnote 1 of the NAF poll, supra). There has never been a poll showing Obama's approvals in Israel are anywhere near as low as 4%.

M said...

If you use polling data from the New America Foundation or Haaretz, of course it will show Obama in a positive light. The NAF poll was conducted by Jim Gerstein, who is a board member on J Street, so that in itself makes the poll unreliable. And the Haaretz poll was debunked as a manipulated fraud.
Not to mention that both polls included Israeli Arabs, which further skews them in Obama's favor.

I don't blame liberal American Jews like you for shitting on Israeli Jews at every opportunity. It is a good way to deflect the shame of being a Jew, and maybe one day you'll be lucky enough to be invited to Obama's Chanukah party with your J-Street Jewboy friends.

N. Friedman said...


You go way to far. While I disagree with David on Israel and think his views, to be frank, naive and not even thought through, I do not curse him or call him names. Civility is the name of the game.

On the other hand, I have to agree that the caliber of law school grads is deteriorating. Practicing attorneys have been saying that for years - and even of grads from top schools.

David Schraub said...

Ah, "Jewboy". Anti-Semitic name calling gets you banned, so, off the blog you go.

N. Friedman said...

This time, David, I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Obama's policies or handling of the issue aside -- some of which are good and was adroit -- respectively, J-Street and perhaps JColl need to get a bit more introspective before they can be "pro-Israel" in a Leftist Zionist sense.

BTW, JCall's petition is pro-Israel in a Leftist Zionist sense; but the group itself doesn't seem like it's going to be yet.