Monday, February 07, 2005

It's Only Genocide, Part II

Sick, sick, sick. Eric Alterman defends Arab boycotts of Holocaust memorials on the grounds that
"I don’t expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people’s suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters—and in this I include myself—are causing much of theirs...The Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world—in the form of the United Nations—reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists. They call this the “Nakba” or the “Catastrophe.” To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic..."

Eugene Volokh smacks Alterman down, as does Kathy Young in the Boston Globe. First of all, I cannot fathom how Alterman can "include himself" as a supporter of Israel when he appears to oppose its entire existence. Meanwhile, he contradicts himself when he writes the Palestineans "lost their homeland," then, in the same sentence writes that it happened when the UN awarded "half of Palestine to the Zionists." Now, I'm not a math major, but if one loses a half, one still possesses another half, yes? So the Palestineans appeared to still possess one half of their homeland, at least prior to the Arab aggression that led to the Independence War. And of course, this doesn't even get into the implication by Alterman that only Palestineans had a valid claim to the land in question. To argue that Jews have zero legal, historical, or cultural claim to Israel/Palestine as a homeland is such a gross distortion of history it should not even bear mentioning. Only in a morally twisted world could an analyst, in evaluating two valid claims to the same territory, argue that giving the dispossessed party (Jews) part of the land they had been kicked out of in years past would constitute stealing from the party that had managed to possess all the land. To be 100% clear: Claiming Jews "displaced" Palestineans by gaining a state in Israel only makes sense if one believes the Palestinean people have an absolute, complete, and hegemonic right to total dominion over this territory. Such a view is blatantly anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the worst forms of dictatorial oppression.

The moral claims of Alterman are equally sophomoric. As Volokh notes:
"Now let's briefly analyze this: Alterman is not just saying that Muslim groups are not interested in commemorating the harm done to a group that they're now hostile to. (He is partly saying that, which acknowledges that many Muslims are hostile to Jews, and not just to Israel, but that's not all he's saying.) I should say that such a view would be understandable, though not laudable; it's human nature not to much feel the suffering of others, especially if you have some hostility to them.

Rather, he's analogizing the victims of the Holocaust (those who suffering is honored) to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots." It's not the Israelis who are being honored, it's the slaughtered and nearly slaughtered European Jews. Yet somehow they reverse-inherit the supposed guilt of Israelis and other Jews today. Men, women, children butchered in Auschwitz, even ones who had never had much interest in Palestine and who had no opinions at all to Muslims — quite analogous to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots," yes, indeed.

This strikes me as the classic morality of group guilt. Jews of the 1940s are morally tainted by their supposed sins today; we should hate ethnically Japanese because of Pearl Harbor; Jews killed Christ (assume for a moment that this is historically accurate — the hostility to Jews would remain wrong even then) so Jews today are culpable; many Arabs support suicide bombers, so I shouldn't care about wrongs being done to completely innocent Arab-Americans."

Many post-modernist theorists get spectacularly frustrated by the inability of liberal philosophers to see people in terms of groups. This is why. Far too often, group identification becomes the basis for irrational ethnic hatred, with the prejudiced party conflating all of the members of a certain group into a universal, monolithic whole, equally responsible for each other's sins. Jews who live today, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, are responsible for killing Christ. Jews who died in Concentration Camps, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, are responsible for the deaths of the intifada. This makes no sense unless one gives group identification meaning and vitality that overrides the actions of individual members.

When I originally blogged on the Arab boycott of the Holocaust memorial ceremonies, I wrote that:
"Obviously, on a visceral level I'm infuriated that anyone would have the gall to compare the intifada with the holocaust. Anyone who engages in moral relativism at that level of myopia is ethically bankrupt, and deserved to be labeled as such."

I stand by that statement: Alterman is ethically bankrupt. And the subsidiary point of the article holds as well: genocide is rapidly becoming a meaningless term. Consider Alterman's implicit argument: the suffering of Palestineans (we'll assume--though this may be giving him too much credit--that he means innocent Palestineans who are not taking part in hostilities against Israel) in the context of an ongoing theater of war, culminating in the tragic deaths of several thousand people, is morally equivilant to the deaths of 6 million Jews and 5.5 million other persons in a deliberate, planned genocide utterly unrelated to any military objective. Alterman has been, to quote from Mark Graber, "led astray by rhetoric that conflates all forms of disadvantage" into one indistinguishable mass of oppression. In doing so, he trivializes genocide and mass murder by putting it on the same moral status as the incidental death of civilians in a land dispute. This should be intolerable, but in modern society it appears genocide just doesn't mean what it used to.


jack said...

"Claiming Jews "displaced" Palestineans by gaining a state in Israel only makes sense if one believes the Palestinean people have an absolute, complete, and hegemonic right to total dominion over this territory. Such a view is blatantly anti-Semitic and reminiscent of the worst forms of dictatorial oppression."

Huh? Claiming Jews displaced Palestineans is a historical fact. There were Palestinians in present day Israel... Zionists kicked them out. That isn't anti-Semitism thats WHAT HAPPENED. I assume what you really mean is that the Zionists did not steal any Palestinian homeland. Fine, certainly not all of it.

The irony though is that later in the post you (correctly) condemn
Alterman's group guilt morality yet the very basis of Israel's self-justification is that groups are moral agents. Let me slightly rephrase part of your post,

"Jews who live today, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, are enitled to a homeland in Palestine. Jews who died in Concentration Camps, by virtue of the fact that they are Jews, justify the existence of Israel. This makes no sense unless one gives group identification meaning and vitality that overrides the actions of individual members."

The logic is identical.

All that said, Alterman obviously has an ass for a conscience and I don't really understand why he keeps getting published. While not honoring the victims of the Holocaust might be understandable coming from an oppressed group it certainly isn't morally justified.

N.S.T said...

Jack, the point is that one can get around calling it a "displacement" if one considers that it is hard to give any single group an absolute claim over such bitterly disputed land. The fact is that Jews did not kick arab residents out of the new Israeli state, they were allowed to stay. This Jewish tolerance of the existing Arab population lasted right up until the war schraub mentions, started by Arab agression. And even at the time of this agression, Jews told the Arabs to stay, promising no harm would come to them. They chose to listen, instead, to their invading arab brethren and left their homes. When the Jews beat back the Arab agressors, the former Arab occupants of Israel were rewarded for their faithlessness, forced to live in the Arab states around Israel in their current squalor. To say Jews "displaced" arabs IS a gross distortion of history, Arabs "displaced" themselves.

Baron Violent said...

Alterman is good. . .for a laugh. He's so NYC post-modernism New Left The Nation-writing he's starting to become a caricature of himself since Bush won his second election. And to answer how he gets published, I gesture to the Nation's audience. The point about displacement is a sticky one. Theoretically, they were not displaced because they were not forced to leave. HOWEVER, they were suddenly part of a state that defined itself in terms of a particular ethnicity: A Jewish State. That has been the problem since day one of Israel, is that it has always clung to this one ethno-religious basis for its statehood that keeps it from becoming a truly Universal, Modern Liberal State in the usual since of the term. There was a huge debate about this issue, particularly from Hannah Arendt, amongst the Zionist cause when they founded Israel.

jack said...


Benny Morris, "The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: the Israel Defence Forces Intelligence Branch Analysis of June 1948," Middle Eastern Studies (London), January 1986, pp. 5-19.

An excerpt (pp. 5, 6-7, 9-10, 14, 18):

A great deal of fresh light is shed on the multiple and variegated causation of the Arab exodus in a document which has recently surfaced, entitled "The Emigration of the Arabs of Palestine in the Period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948. . . ." Dated 30 June 1948, it was produced by the Israel Defence Forces Intelligence Branch during the first weeks of the First Truce (11 June-9 July) of the 1948 war. . . . Rather than suggesting Israeli blamelessness in the creation of the refugee problem, the Intelligence Branch assessment is written in blunt factual and analytical terms and, if anything, contains more than a hint of "advice" as to how to precipitate further Palestinian flight by indirect methods, without having recourse to direct politically and morally embarrassing expulsion orders. . . .

On the eve of the U.N. Partition Plan Resolution of 29 November 1947, according to the report, there were 219 Arab villages and four Arab, or partly Arab, towns in the areas earmarked for Jewish statehood -- with a total Arab population of 342,000. By 1 June, 180 of these villages and towns had been evacuated, with 239,000 Arabs fleeing the areas of the Jewish state. A further 152,000 Arabs, from 70 villages and three towns (Jaffa, Jenin and Acre), had fled their homes in the areas earmarked for Palestinian Arab statehood in the Partition Resolution, and from the Jerusalem area. By 1 June, therefore, according to the report, the refugee total was 391,000, give or take about 10-15 per cent. Another 103,000 Arabs (60,000 of them Negev beduin and 5,000 Haifa residents) had remained in their homes in the areas originally earmarked for Jewish statehood. (This figure excludes the Arabs who stayed on in Jaffa and Acre, towns occupied by Jewish forces but lying outside the 1947 partition boundaries of the Jewish state.) . . . [The report] stress[es] that "without doubt, hostile [Haganah/Israel Defense Force] operations were the main cause of the movement of population. . . ."

Altogether, the report states, Jewish -- meaning Haganah/I.D.F., I.Z.L. and L.H.I. -- military operations . . . accounted for 70 per cent of the Arab exodus from Palestine. . . . There is no reason to cast doubt on the integrity of I.D.F. Intelligence Branch in the production of this analysis. The analysis was produced almost certainly only for internal, I.D.F. top brass consumption. . . .

Ie. No, your wrong and I have documents backing me.

Now I'm not arguing all Palestinians were expelled. But many were.

The Holocaust doesn't compare to the Intifada, but that doesn't justify the latter.

David Schraub said...

Wow...that's one hell of a power tag. The quote Morris provides doesn't even come close to proving what he says it does. He quotes the report "without doubt, hostile [Haganah/Israel Defense Force] operations were the main cause of the movement of population..."

Now, I'm a wee bit skeptical that the bracketed portion is an accurate interpretation of the report (would the IDF really label its OWN operations "hostile"?], but even if it were true it wouldn't be relevant. Basically, the report says that much of the refugee problem can be ascribed to...warfare in the region where the refugees lived. Whoa...there's a newsflash. Of COURSE there would be refugees from combat environments...that isn't disputed. But it seems that under international law, the aggressing party would be responsible for refugee problems caused by its own war, and it 1948 the aggressing party clearly were the Arab states. Indeed, one might argue that the fact that there WERE Arab refugees actually speaks well of the Israeli forces. There weren't any Jewish refugees, after all, becuase "the Arab armies tried to kill Jewish civilians and did in fact massacre many who tried to escape...when the Arab Legion's Sixth Battalion conquered Kfar Etzion, they left no Jewish refugees. The villagers surrendered and walked, hands in the air, into the center of the compound. [Benny] Morris [IE, your author] reports that the Arab soliders 'simply proceeded to mow them down.'...This was part of general Arab policy: 'Jews taken prisoner during convoy battles were generally put to death and often mutilated by their captors.' It is precisely because the Israeli army, unlike Arab armies, did not deliberately kill civilians that the refugee problem arose." [Alan Dershowitz, "The Case for Israel", (Hoboken: John Riley and Sons, 2003), 79. Quoting Benny Morris, "Righteous Victims," (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), at 201 and 219. See generally Dershowitz, 78-90]. Of course, having refugees is not a good thing, but in war, it is inevitable--unless of course, one party decides that there should be no civilian survivors at all.

In any event, as Morris himself admits, "the Palestinean regugee problem was born of war, not by guiding hand or central control is evident." [Morris, "The Birth of the Palestinean Regugee Problem," (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988), 286-289. So if a) the war was initiated by Arab parties (it was) and b) the refugee problem can be attributed to the war (as Morris admits) than c) we can logically fault the Arab invaders, since Morris himself cannot find any "guiding hand" on the part of the Israeli forces to cause a refugee crisis.

N.S.T said...

Aside from whether or not the intifada is justified, Jack, it is, as Schraub pointed out in the original post, an insult to the six million Jews and 5.5 million others who were brutally murdered in the Holocaust to a) say what alterman said. and B) even open a discussion comparing the two. As to the rest of your argument, I won't even waste breath reiterating what David already said, and I'll only go as far as to say I couldn't have said it much better myself.

jack said...

But look at the date of the report David. Those refugees didn't all lose their homes in the 15 days since the war had started.

Jon Kimche, Seven Fallen Pillars: The Middle East, 1945-1952, New York: Da Capo, 1976 (eyewitness report by a Zionist historian, also recounting the fact that well before May 1948 the Jewish guerrilla group Irgun and the Zionist military organization Haganah had driven most of the Arab population from Jaffa and from large areas of the proposed Palestinian state by force). An excerpt (pp. 226-227):

The battle of Mishmar Haemek [in the first half of April 1948] was an obvious sign of the turning tide, but the Jews were at the same time developing another tactic which, as we now know, made a far greater impact on the Arab population of Palestine. . . . Marching at night, they penetrated to Arab villages far in the heart of Arab-held territory. Occasionally they blew up a house occupied by an active Arab nationalist or by foreign Arab volunteers; in other villages they confiscated arms or plastered the village with warning notices. The effects of such nightly visitations soon made themselves felt throughout the Arab hinterland. They caused great disturbances and started an exodus from the areas lying near to Jewish districts. . . .


Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, New York: Norton, 2000. An excerpt (p. 31):

The aim of Plan D was to secure all the areas allocated to the Jewish state under the U.N. partition resolution as well as Jewish settlements outside these areas and corridors leading to them, so as to provide a solid and continuous basis for Jewish sovereignty. The novelty and audacity of the plan lay in the orders to capture Arab villages and cities, something the Haganah had never attempted before. Although the wording of Plan D was vague, its objective was to clear the interior of the country of hostile and potentially hostile Arab elements, and in this sense it provided a warrant for expelling civilians. By implementing Plan D in April and May, the Haganah thus directly and decisively contributed to the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. . . .

Plan D was not a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs: it was a military plan with military and territorial objectives. However, by ordering the capture of Arab cities and the destruction of villages, it both permitted and justified the forcible expulsion of Arab civilians. By the end of 1948 the number of Palestinian refugees had swollen to around 700,000. But the first and largest wave of refugees occurred before the official outbreak of hostilities on 15 May.

And why are you using a source you claim is intentionally misconstruing documents?

jack said...

Nick, I'm suspicious of anyone who condemns conversation- no matter the topic. Moreover, I'm not sure what your point is. I agree that there is no comparison and I disagree with Alterman.

But since you want to argue I'll take something else up with you. You mentioned in your previous post that 'arabs were rewarded for their faithlessness by being forced to live in the surrounding Arab countries.'

I assume you're referring to Israel prohibiting refugees from returning to their homes? So families that leave their homes because they fear for their lives should have the door coldly and heartlessly shut on them when they try to return? Ethically bankrupt anyone?

David Schraub said...

Alas, as much as I want to be a Harvard Law Prof., I am not Alan Dershowitz. The reason he uses Morris (all of the Morris quotes are from citations in Dershowitz's) is because he wants to sometimes "emphasize the point [by using] overtly anti-Israel sources." Essentially, the logic goes that "if even someone who would distort the record to prove the Palestinean side concedes X point for Israel, we can assume X is true." In law, this is known as an admission against interest, and it carries weight even if the witness is later proved to have perjured him or herself.

The Kimche and Shlaim "analysis" are very similar to each other, and both extremely distortive. They achieve via dark tones and evil rhetoric what the actual content of their points doesn't bear at all. The "content" of the argument is essentially that Jewish forces sought to acquire territory in the process of a war (as Shlaim says, territory necessary to secure other Jewish settlements). Sometimes [gasp] the did it at NIGHT! But such gross horrors not withstanding [/sarcasm], the only content that is actually warranted by those two authors is that Israel sought to acquire territory to protect Jewish settlements, in the process some Palestineans became refugees. Shlaim essentially admits this, but throws in a random conclusory statement that is wholly unnecessary and bears no independent warrant:
"Plan D was not a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs: it was a military plan with military and territorial objectives. However, by ordering the capture of Arab cities and the destruction of villages, it both permitted and justified the forcible expulsion of Arab civilians. By the end of 1948 the number of Palestinian refugees had swollen to around 700,000. But the first and largest wave of refugees occurred before the official outbreak of hostilities on 15 May."
Now, insofar as he's saying its a military plan, he's right and essentially making the same argument I'm making above. Refugees are a byproduct of warfare (at least when the objective isn't ethnic genocide, as it was for the Arab invaders). But the ascription of nefarious purposes to the deal is not borne out by the facts. This is a duck. It talks like a duck (the IDF never made any policy to expel Palestineans), and walks like a duck (the refugee situation would be an expected outcome of any similar warfare situation, without active expulsion), but Shlaim wants you to believe its an Elephant (evil Jews were trying to cleanse Arabs!!!). He might do well to remember Occam's Razor. Also, Shlaim probably overstates the amount of refugees. The official Israeli tally was 520,000, and the UN tally was actually lower, at 472,000 (but see Dershowitz, 86: the UNRWA created a looser definition of "refugee" for Palestineans than it did for any other group, so even its tally may be too high).

Now, as to your challenge to Nick: What you're advocating is known (as I'm sure you're aware) as the "Right of Return." As I'm also sure you're aware, it would mean the death of Israel, as such. So when you make said advocacy, you're advocating for the destruction of Israel entirely.

Of course, the problems of borders and new political arrangements is one of the stickier issues of refugee situations. However, the normal solution is for an exchange of population. If there are two states, one for each ethnic enclave, then persons who have ended up on the wrong side of the line, per se, go to the land of their own people. This occured between India and Pakistan, and Greece and Turkey. Certainly, both of those examples had their problems, but none anywhere near as pervasive as the Is/Pal conflict (Dershowtiz 87). The "exchange" part of it is the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab nations that were quite literally forced by Arab violence to flee their homeland to Israel (which, unlike Arab states and the Palestineans, willingly accepted them). Also, unlike the Palestinean situation, the Jews were forced in a very direct and personal way to leave, facing riots, mobs, and other attacks for those who stayed (needlessly to say, unrelated to any military objective whatsoever). And if that wasn't enough, some states (most notably Jordan, part of historical Palestine and the first Palestinean state) passed laws that specifically banned Jews from becoming citizens and prohibited anyone from selling land to Jews. That law is still on the books. Now, Israel has offered compensation to the refugees (even though, as I've argued earlier, they shouldn't be held accountable for the problem under accepted norms of international law). Nobody has ever seriously argued that the Arab states which were far more culpable in expelling Jewish persons should have to do the same.

jack said...

1. I don't advocate any "Right to return" now. But to be proud of it is a little disturbing.

2. You're still missing the point that all those cards are there for. The displacement occured before MAY 15 1948. Ergo, you can't blame it on Arab invaders.

David Schraub said...

Ah...I missed that tidbit. But as Morris notes, the amount of refugees from that time period was around 75,000...not even close to a majority of the total (Morris 255). During this time, Morris points out, there was a "general breakdown of law and order in Palestine after the UN partition resolution" with British law enforcement replaced by "Arab irregulars, who extorted money from prosperous families and occassionally abused people in the streets." (Ibid.). All of this occured in the midst of interethnic combat between Jewish and Palestinean forces, though admittedly outside Arab forces hadn't invaded yet. So while that absolves outside Arab responsibility for the 1st wave of refugees (though my analysis proves their culpability for the 2nd wave), there was still a combat environment which prevents the assignment of culpability to Israel. Again, going back to the "aggressor culpable" theory, the Jews, who accepted the UN partition plan can not be seen as the aggressors compared to the Palestineans, who didn't accept the plan and launched a war of extermination against the Jewish people in Israel.

N.S.T said...

Jack, my point was that those Arabs who LEFT their homes in the first place-- even as Israel assured them no harm would come to them if they stayed-- did so not because they feared for their lives, but because they supposed that their arab brethren would destroy Israel in the subsequent war, something which didn't, obviously happen. As such, having left voluntarily and with malice towards the Jews, those Arabs have been forced to live in the truly derelict, destitute UN camps and border towns in the Arab nations surrounding Israel.

jack said...

But your response to the last two cards I posted was that the Zionists were simply trying to claim territory during a war. But that justification doesn't apply since there were no regular troops in the vacinity. Moreover, the Zionists used these tactics to capture land that wasn't part of the '47 partition agreement. Compare the maps.


Look, I'm not sitting here arguing that Israel doesn't have a right to exist or that Ben-Gurion is Hitler or that the Jews control the media. I'm just arguing that both sides bare responsibility

jack said...

Nick, thats absurd. A) the country WAS being invaded so how could one not expect them to leave. As Dave has already pointed out when there is war there are refugees... thats cause people don't want to die. For you to suggest the Palestinians deserved what they got for trying to protect their families is disgusting. B) As the evidence I have already presented tells us the Zionists employed tactics that, if weren't INTENTIONALLY used to get Palestinians to leave had that very result. Thus, the Arab claims that they wouldn't be safe remaining in Palestine, if not true, had already been substantiated by the Zionists themselves. C) At this point, many of the original refugees are dead surely you don't blame the children for the flight of their parents?

N.S.T said...

Jack, you're riht, I don't blame the children of the original refugees for their plight. I do, however, blame them for encouraging THEIR kids to be suicide bombers and carrying out countless acts of violence against Israel themselves. Israel, contrary to what you've previously implied you believe, is at less fault in this case than the Palestinians, especially considering any nation, if attacked in such a way, retaliates in self-defense. As to your other main point, that i'm a heartless right wing lunatic for blaming the aforementioned original Arab refugees. I am not heartless, and I'm less of a right-wing lunatic than I once considered myself(my views become more refined with age, as is natural). I think it would be a lot easier for me to see things as you do, as a result of equally agressive actions by both parties if the United states weren't the only country which consistently stands up for Israel. In other words, from the "glass-half-empty" perspective, if the rest of the world, both in the UN and in individual state foreign policies, weren't so openly, blatantly hostle towards Israel in a way which IS transparently anti-semitic.

jack said...

1st, poverty and desperation breed hate and violence. Israel, even if it hasn't actually done anything wrong, has positioned itself as the agressor and the oppressor. How anyone could expect the West Bank not to be a terrorist incubation chamber is beyond me.

2nd. While I respect you admitting you pro-israel view is a somewhat subjective one I can't say I understand the reasoning. Much of the world might be anti-israel, but regardless its hard not to notice that the Palestinians have drawn the shitty straw. If you feel a need to balance the discourse why not take a Pro-Palestinian side in what is a rampantly pro-Israel USA.

N.S.T said...

Jack, since when did drawing the "shitty straw" entitle someone to a wasted life of violence? We'd better hide this new revelation from all of our poor people here in the U.S.A, or they just might feel they're entitled as well. At some point one has to blame the Palestinians for actually perpetrating the terror. Secondly, regardless of who has it worse off, there are reasons why I cannot support Palestinians. 1) They perpetrate sensless terror on innocents to get their message heard. 2) The entire Arab world is pro-palestinian, and not coincidentally, the entire Arab world is the most rabid hotbed of anti-semitism known to man. 3) If you stop looking at it from the perspective of the "pro-Israel" U.S., you will find that Israelis, and not Palestinians, are the vicitimized, underdog party.