Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It's All Too Much

Emily Yoffe snaps at her colleague, Christopher Hitchens, for going off the rails and saying it would have been better off if Israel did not exist and that it should not exist now:
For most who wish to see the elimination of the state of Israel, it is not sympathy for the Palestinians that drives them (Where were the voices asking Hamas to stop its daily rockets into Israel so that this incursion could have been prevented?)—but a lust for the end of the tiny Jewish state. Pakistan, which was founded just about the same time as Israel, can hardly be called a success. It is a corrupt nuclear state with regions run by terrorists. But I have yet to hear anyone suggest the founding of Pakistan was a mistake and it should be wiped off the world map. Somalia became independent in 1959. It is now an anarchic terrorist redoubt whose main export is pirates. Again, no one is saying Somalia was just a mistake and let's get rid of it. For some reason, Israel seems to be the only country whose very existence can be casually dismissed.

Phoebe Maltz continues on the same vein:

It's amazing how many commentators, not just Christopher Hitchens, have used the latest Middle East conflict as a reason for why Israel ought not to have existed in the first place. This always makes me think of all the other countries founded on someone else's land (I'm sitting in one such country as we speak). What, other than our forebearers' successful all-but-elimination of the Native Americans, gives the US the right to exist? It makes me think of how Europe could kill off the Ashkenazi civilization, then say 'Oops, our bad,' and can now claim the moral high ground in international debates. So basically, had Israel just wiped out or expelled the Palestinians, then said, 'Oh, we're so sorry for the genocide, we'll never do it again, we promise,' the Jewish state would be in the clear. That this didn't happen, it seems, is why Israel's existence can still be questioned.

This is a point that can easily slide (both in the minds of its proponents and in the interpretation of its readers) into the appalling "Israel should have wiped out/expelled the Palestinians, so we wouldn't have this problem now." That is not what Ms. Yoffe or Ms. Maltz are arguing. What they are saying is that the bar for forming a country in a way such that it continues to deserve existence is not particularly difficult to leap. America crosses it, Pakistan crosses it, Somalia crosses it, European states cross it. All of these countries were formed by and/or continue their existence through a constant shroud of pain and death. This includes expulsions, genocide, terrorism, and warfare far beyond anything Israel can reasonably be said to have done. None of these countries, though, seem to be existentially indicted by it.

In all the places Jews have historically lived -- Israel, North Africa, the Middle East -- there seems to be very little recognition that, to a large extent, the current state of affairs was built over and on top of the backs of (among others) Jews. It's not like we weren't there. We're obviously aware of the brutality latent in the history of these places, because often times we were the victims of it. For these people to turn around after their own experiments with genocide and accuse us of being uniquely and paradigmatically demonic, and expect to be seen as credible, is unbelievable.

It's not that Israel can't be criticized. But history has told us what crimes deserve the punishment of state-destruction, and it's beyond apparent that Israel's actions don't fit. The speakers don't have credibility, and have ulterior motives besides. So when the criticism branches off into that territory, it's facial evidence that we're no longer in the realm of fair-minded moral critique. We're now in the business of bashing the Jews. Because if there are two things that stand out in the history of the Gentile view of the Jew, it's (a) they can't stop us from having our way with them, and (b) they deserve whatever we mete out.


PG said...

1. When did Christopher Hitchens get back on the rails?

2. But in fairness to Hitchens, here is what he actually said:

"As one of the most stern of the 'revisionist' historians of Israel's founding who went deep into his own country's archives to show that Palestinians had been the victims of a deliberate ethnic cleansing in 1947-48, Morris is accustomed to looking disagreeable facts in the face. I strongly recommend a reading of his Dec. 29 op-ed in the New York Times. In it, he described not so much what he saw when he himself looked facts in the face as what Israelis see when they look outward and inward. To the north, Hezbollah local missiles backed by Syria and Iran, two dictatorships, one of which may soon possess nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. To the south and west, Hamas in Gaza. In the occupied territories of the West Bank, the same old colonial rule over the unwilling and the same mad confrontation with the Messianic Jewish settlers. Within Israel itself, an increasing tendency for Israeli Arabs to identify as Arabs or Palestinians rather than Israelis. Overarching everything, the sheer demographic fact that Israeli law, and Israeli power, governs or dominates more and more non-Jews, fewer and fewer of whom are interested in compromise. (It was this demographic imperative, if you remember, that made even Sharon give up the idea of 'greater Israel,' a scheme for which many state-subsidized Israeli settlers are still very much willing to die—and to kill.) ...

"To read Benny Morris is to be quite able -- and quite free -- to doubt that there should ever have been an Israeli state to begin with. But to see Hamas at work is to resolve that whatever replaces or follows Zionism, it must not be the wasteland of Islamic theocracy."

I am not sure it is quite accurate to say that Hitchens says, "it would have been better off if Israel did not exist and that it should not exist now."

Unknown said...

I like to call him Christopher Bitchens.

Shaun Mullen said...

Hi David:

I respond to this post and make some other observations here:

Best, Shaun