Monday, May 17, 2010

A Fighting Faith, Redux

Peter Beinart has an extremely important, extremely provocative, and extremely necessary piece out in the New York Review of Books, entitled The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment. It argues, more or less, that most American Jewish organizations have been unsuccessful either in cultivating any sense of connection between young, (relatively) secular American Jews and Israel. Moreover, their approach to "pro-Israel" politics does not do justice to the liberal Zionist tradition, further turning off young Jews and exacerbating a generational and sectarian divide within the Jewish community on the proper stance towards Israel. The result is that the territory of "pro-Israel" is, more and more, becoming the province of the growing Orthodox right-wing youth and, more importantly right-wing Christian evangelicals (what Matt Yglesias terms to the "post-Jewish pro-Israel movement". This shift is happening at the exact same time as Israel's own youth cultural has taken a decided rightward shift. For those of us who think demographic realities and approaching binationalism represent an existential threat to Jewish existence, this is a grave prescription indeed.

Beinart is mostly right. There are quibbles -- there are always quibbles (I think he overstates the degree to which the behavior of American Jewish institutions is motivated by "illiberalism" versus a sort of paralysis in the face of the siren's call of Evangelical support). But the quibbles don't obviate the major point, which is that liberal Zionism -- and with it, the Jewish Zionist dream, are in a state of crisis, and the current guard of American Jewish leaders is not responding appropriately. They've forgotten, first and foremost, who they represent.

Beinart's most powerful points are about the poisonous influence of the Israeli religious far-right, and its growing influence in American orthodox quarters. Most American Jews, of course, still are Conservative or Reform. I'm Conservative not because I'm not motivated enough to be Orthodox, I'm Conservative because I fundamentally think we have a more comprehensive, more compelling, more engaging, more authentic, richer, deeper, and more meaningful conception of what Judaism means. Yet in its public persona my denomination has rarely managed to come up with a coherent self-identity beyond "Jews too lazy to be Orthodox". No wonder we're not considered real Jews amongst the Israeli religious authorities! I wouldn't respect me either, if that were my outlook. You want to know why young Jews don't affiliate with mainstream Jewish organizations anymore? Perhaps its because they don't want to have their Judaism defined by those who -- on the key issue of Jewish concern of the age -- write policy with two eyes on Evangelical Protestants.

It's past time that American Jewish groups begin representing their constituents, and that means taking a hard line on folks who would exclude us from the canon. It also means vigorously promoting our own view of what it means to be Jewish. I'm on the record as saying certain extreme proponents of settler violence and anti-Palestinian racism (I'm talking here of folks who are publicly in favor of exterminating Palestinians, or folks who say "You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic" as justification for permanently barring Arabs from voting in Israel) should be excommunicated from the faith, and I think the Rabbinical authorities of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism should begin that process forthwith. If non-Orthodox Judaism is to emerge from its current decrepit state, it will need to take bold steps like this -- to show it is a "fighting faith" (to use an older phrase of Beinart's). I think we should defend our positions on abortion, and gay rights, and anti-racism, and religious liberty, as Jewish virtues, not just liberal ones. I think we should come to our policy positions with eye on what we want and what we need, not what John Hagee or Sarah Palin do. Fundamentally, the Zionist dream was about achieving democratic autonomy for the Jewish people. It's a faint autonomy if -- still -- we take marching orders from our Christian "superiors".

Israel Matzav, responding from the right, already recognizes these battle lines. He sneers at what he considers to be the faux-Judaism of young liberal Jews (indeed, he claims -- without support -- that many of them aren't Jewish at all "under Jewish", by which I take it he means Orthodox Jewish, "law"), and forthrightly declares that he'd prefer the support of the Evangelical Christian community over that of the bulk of American Jews. And, as Spencer Ackerman correctly notes, liberal Jews can't expect anybody but liberal Jews to care whether Israel stays a liberal, Jewish state. Illiberal Jews won't care if it remains liberal, non-Jews won't care if it remains Jewish. It's on us -- we can't rely on other people to do our dirty work for us.

The time has come for liberal Jewry to flex its muscle once again -- to stop taking its cues from the Orthodox right (or, needless to say given my past work, the fringe left) and stand up for our own values. If we think the dream of liberal Zionism is important, then it's up to us to preserve it. There is nobody else.


wolfa said...

This is a huge issue. I don't support the religious community here because they give too much time and energy (financial support to discussions in every single sermon) to Israel. I am a Reform Jew (well, I probably am Reconstructionist, but the congregation here is Conservadox at heart, so we do not get along -- I am not kidding), and it's because I think other denominations are mistaken, not because I am too lazy to keep kosher. (I mean, I am too lazy to keep kosher, but so are lots of Orthodox Jews.)

But I refuse to support financially a country which says that Reform Judaism isn't good enough for them. I don't think it's that "well, non-Orthodox Jews lack identity": I don't really know enough about Conservative Judaism to say much, but Reform Judaism has a very clear identity. This means that I will not visit the country -- which is too bad, I am sure it is beautiful. But I refuse to visit a place that enshrines a single, sexist, inflexible definition of Judaism.

Israel knows it gets support from the mostly liberal diaspora Jews whatever its religious regulations are. And of course, it should make its laws based on its own needs -- but people who don't support what it's doing need to look at how they show that lack of support.

N. Friedman said...


An interesting post. My take here is that the liberal community in the US is moving, like their European counterparts, further and further away from liberalism - the dissatisfaction with Israel's supposed imperfections in a very imperfect world, one far less perfect than Israel, being a good example - not to mention the willingness to accept the premises, often without reading the books on which they are based, of the anti-Israel critique and refusing to see that such premises have in mind to delegitimize Israel and eliminate it.

This is not, however, a post for settlers. They are not my brief and never have been. I just do not think they are the real issue being addressed by Israel's critics; rather, the premises undermine Israel's entirely and that is the reason for the attacks on the settlers. If it were not them, it would be something else.

Hence, the issue here is a fundamentally liberal issue, namely, allowing Jews to be entirely within the same human community as the rest of humanity, both as individuals and nationally. I do not believe that the movement to force Israel to concede unilaterally and to dismantle settlements as an end in itself is the least bit liberal.

This is to be distinguished from your views which, while I believe them sometimes to be wrong headed and naive, are certainly well intentioned so far as Israel is concerned. Moreover, if peace requires Israel to cede territories and dismantle villages, I am for it wholeheartedly. Unlike you, I am not religious, I rather doubt that peace is here and I see the push against Israel's imperfections as merely a means to delegitimize the entire country. Read the British rag, The Guardian, if you doubt that and note the comments by readers (and, sometimes by writers) on their Commentsarefree page. Those comments provide a free education on the state of mind of many of those who push hard against Israel's activities. And, it is a very illiberal state of mind.

N. Friedman said...

Minor correction: the site is called Comment is Free.

joe said...

I do not believe that the movement to force Israel to concede unilaterally and to dismantle settlements as an end in itself is the least bit liberal.

Supposing your claim on unilateral concessions is true, N., what does that have to do with whether the settlements are just or not? If they're an unjust land grab, then yes, dismantling them is a perfectly liberal goal in and of itself. Say I'm a staunch activist against the death penalty. That's a liberal goal. Even if I don't say squat about, say, life sentences for juvenile offenders -- hell, even if I support life sentences for some juveniles -- that does not stand in the way of anti-death penalty being a liberal goal. It may say something about how liberal I am, holistically speaking, but that's it.

joe said...

Put another way, if it's not about the settlements, as you claim. Why doesn't Israel discontinue the practice, and force all these critics to tip their hands by stripping them of any moral high ground?

Because for the Israeli government it is about the settlements.

And why is it that we can take the government's word for that (in an area of foreign policy, where states lie all the time), but everyone else must just be using the issue as pretext?

N. Friedman said...


Human beings living where they want is a liberal cause. So, the issue here politics and law, not individual people building homes on land that, except in fantasy land, is the subject of a dispute and that was won fairly and squarely - and with the unfortunate sacrifice of human life - in a just, defensive war.

While I do not support building on land that Israel says it is willing to cede - it being nuts to say you want to cede land to end a dispute and then act as if you plan to keep the land no matter what -( and I do not support taking land from any actual property owners living on a parcel of land, so that we are clear here), it is simply not immoral or illiberal to build a home on land won in a war, whether or not it is legal. Which is to say, we are speaking of malum prohibitum. That is necessarily the case or, frankly, most of the world's people live on land won in a war, which case, we have rank hypocrisy.

And, I should add, if it is wrong for the Israelis to build on land they won in a war, why is it moral for Americans to build today, years after vanquishing the "rightful" owners of the land, in the North American continent? The issue, of course, is one of politics and law, not morality. And, it is certainly not a liberal position to deny individuals the right to build homes, even on disputed land.

Again. The aim of those who attack Israel's actions is mainly to delegitimatize Israel, raising phony arguments, just like you have raised them - arguments applied to no other dispute.

joe said...

What. The. hell. Under no legal definition are defensive wars about "winning" land (although "defense" is often cited as a pretext). At most they should end with an occupation of the defeated state.

joe said...

And, I should add, if it is wrong for the Israelis to build on land they won in a war, why is it moral for Americans to build today, years after vanquishing the "rightful" owners of the land, in the North American continent? The issue, of course, is one of politics and law, not morality. And, it is certainly not a liberal position to deny individuals the right to build homes, even on disputed land.

Piffle. Your way of thinking justifies any present injustice because some past one happened somewhere. And for good measure you throw in a little bit of false equivalency because not only is the hostile takeover of North America not in living memory, but Native Americans at least have been given U.S. citizenship. Eighty years ago, I might add, long before the events of 1948 and 1967.

Let me know when either the settlements (which you happily defend even while claiming it's not a pet issue) are ended or the Palestinians are given Israeli citizenship.

Of course, Israel seems content to run out the clock. The longer the settlements remain the greater the inertia is, as with every other theft of land in human history. And with citizenship rights or recovery of land out of the question, what recourse do the Palestinians have left? Cash damage reparations? Ask the African American community how easy it is to get people to give money over a century after the fact "for something I never did."

So yeah, we live in a world where brute force draws the lines on a map. But do your own intellectual honesty the favor of not pretending that makes it moral. Is lying moral because everyone does it? Are war crimes (or do you prefer the term "war crimes"?) moral because you can find some instance of them on either side of any historical conflict?

Let me know. Because you can't have it both ways. You can't condemn people for some alleged "illiberal" attitude and then dismiss the very moral judgments that make for liberal values. Unless, of course, hypocrisy is the only moral wrong in your book.

But you want to talk law and politics? Alright. International law (and even some unenforced Israeli law) is that the settlements are illegal. The politics are that with the stance adopted by the Obama administration, Israel is now alone on this issue.

I also love that you are claiming an apparent personal monopoly on what "liberal" values are, even if most self-described "liberals" disagree with you.

Sorry if this is a badgering tone, but I am really incredulous at your statements.

N. Friedman said...


In fact, most - not all, but most - defensive wars are exactly about winning land. That is how one deters future aggression. Must I give you a list of such wars, starting with the US revolutionary war, for Americans that is. In WWII, Germany lost land permanently to those it had attacked. The same for the Turks, who were clearly the aggressor in their part of the war, in WWI. Etc., etc.

The issue is what a country does with the land it wins in a war - in the case of Israel, the Six Day War being clearly being a defensive war, by any stretch of the imagination. UN 242 says that Israel is entitled to secure and recognized boundaries and that the parties should resolve their dispute on that basis.

Again, joe: On what imaginable basis are persons denied, as a moral right, the right to migrate and settle on any land? It is not a moral issue at all. It is strictly one of politics and law.

If you want to claim that Israel has no legal right to build homes on the land it conquered in the Six Day War, that is an argument. Legal scholars take all sides on the issue and there is no obvious correct answer. But, to say that there is something immoral for Israelis to build on land which, as recently as 1922, the League of Nation said they had a legal and moral right to build on, you are speaking nonsense. And the Palestine Mandate, after all, is incorporated, by the UN Charter itself, into International Law and, as such, is still part of the law. So, this is not a black and white matter, even on the law.

I reiterate: I have no brief for Israel settling on land it has offered to cede. That is, to me, crazy. But, the building of homes is not immoral and, arguably, not illegal. And, like the rest of the world, where land is built on by victors, not unusual at all.

joe said...

I guess I missed the part of the Revolutionary war where the U.S. invaded England and left settlements. And if you're going to say that one colonial power taking over the holdings of another as spoils is moral, I must beg to differ.

Again, joe: On what imaginable basis are persons denied, as a moral right, the right to migrate and settle on any land? It is not a moral issue at all. It is strictly one of politics and law.

I'm no libertarian, but it's hardly controversial to say the right to be secure in one's property is a moral right. (Or, the kindergarten version: "stealing is wrong.") If I take the land of another for my own use, I am violating the rights of another even if I put the land to good use.

N. Friedman said...


You have confused in your head ownership of a parcel of land with governing many parcels of land that are owned by a variety of owners (or even one owner). I oppose stealing one person's land to give to another person's ;amd, absent unusual circumstances. Which is to say, I agree with the general proposition that one should not steal. That, however, is a different question than who governs a territory on which there are owned tracts of land.

If the US were to be conquered by a country which respects property rights, you should be allowed to live on your land, based on your ownership of it. The issue, however, is whether non-Americans of the group that conquered the land can also live on the conquered land - perhaps on land that was previously not owned by a specific person (e.g. on land that was formerly a park). Morally speaking, there is nothing wrong with individuals living where they will, subject to the rights of existing land owners to continue owning their land. Politically and legally speaking, it depends.

The opposition to Israel, however, intentionally conflates living on land with ruling land - just as you have done. And, they rely on a legal theory, one not enforced anywhere on Earth, claiming that it is illegal under the Geneva Convention, to move a population onto conquered land, even if that population wants to move. The problem with that theory, however, is that it is contradicted by the history of the writing of the noted prohibition, which was to prevent people from being moved against their will, ala what the Nazis did, onto land that was conquered. Maybe, the complete prohibition theory is correct, as a matter of law. Maybe, it is not. But, for the individual, it is certainly not immoral to move onto conquered land or any other land, unless that specific land in question is owned. That, to be clear, is the liberal position - and not just the position of libertarians - except among the new crowd of anti-liberal liberals who have rather illiberal ideas about the most basic of all human rights - the right to migrate and to make a place for oneself.

Were your theory correct, then all of us must give up our homes. We are on land that was conquered.

You inquired about the Revolutionary War. The land, on your theory, was owned by the British - they were the prior rulers. American colonists booted out the British and kept the land for themselves, ruling it according to American, not British, whim. So, in fact, there was a conquest, one that was justified in the Declaration as a defensive war - due to the abuses of power of the British crown.

joe said...

Well, I haven't been discussing this as a matter of individual morality, but as the Israeli government as a moral actor. And it is surely immoral for a government to tailor its policies for one group to just move on in, all the while turning a blind eye to that group's harassment of another calculated to marginalize and force out that second group (and taking many actions -- all in the name of security -- to make life harder for).

All that sounds vaguely familiar. You're the one who brought up the plight of the Native Americans in the face of US expansion, and aptly so. While every historical injustice is unique, we cannot help but note the above parallels.

But under your argument, if history was a couple hundred years slower, it would be wrong (or at least hypocritical) to protest the policies of Manifest Destiny because the white residents of the states and territories just wanted a place to live and go about their lives. Because everyone lives on land that's been conquered by someone, and that historical fact moots the point of criticizing any ongoing encroachment.

N. Friedman said...


Well, I have, from the beginning, discussed this as an individual rights matter, because that is an important, if not the most important, part of the mix when it comes to liberal values.

Your theory, of course, chooses to bypass the content of liberalism entirely, focusing on supposed impropriety and inequity of an Israeli government policy designed to allow individuals to make a life for themselves, a life free from being killed by angry Palestinian Arabs who think that only they ought have the right to rule and to live on the land. To remind you of the other side of this dispute, Palestinian Arabs employ classic eliminationist theory and policies to drive the Israelis away, arguing, as Arafat did, that the Israelis will go away like the Crusaders did or, as Hamas argues, that Jews will be forced out by massacres as they were from the Hijaz, just after Mohamed's life ended.

I made clear from the beginning and repeatedly thereafter that my focus was on individuals - the normal content of liberalism. The issue I see is the illiberal attitude of supposed liberals - you, evidently, included.

You have drawn legal arguments against people moving to land that was conquered that are, legally speaking, not resolvable and will never be resolved and about which scholars disagree and then you, for reasons I cannot imagine except that you read a lot of propaganda, make believe that such is a settled matter. No, Joe, this is not a settled matter and a great many scholars think it is perfectly legal for a country to settle people on conquered land - assuming that such people are not settled against their will.

Again, the rule that exists all over the Earth - except when it comes to the Israelis - is that people who conquer land, especially in defensive wars, can settle on the conquered land. You offer no practical argument - and the only practical argument I know of is the one that I advocate, namely that it is crazy to offer to cede land and then settle that land.

Which is to say: I do not support the Israelis settling on those parcels of land that they will cede. Apart from the land the Israeli would cede, I think it perfectly moral, legal and practical to settle the remainder of the land, small as that portion of the conquered land is.

The Israelis, on your theory, should be denied the same thing that every other country on Earth, whether liberal or communist or fascist or imperial or whatever, allows itself. That, notwithstanding the fact that such rule of life is the only known moral deterrent to war - especially in a part of the world like the Middle East where, frankly, International law is essentially a non-factor - because if there is no penalty for starting a fight and then losing, war is far more likely.

As for your interpretation of Israeli policy, I think that such policy is not accurately presented by you. Were the Israeli government to want to force the Palestinian Arabs out - as you suggest -, why, praytell, did the Israeli government cede land in Gaza and offer to cede most of the West Bank? Why did the Israeli government offer to create a land bridge between West Bank and Gaza?

Your theory, frankly, cannot square such proposals from the Israeli government (not to mention the actual ceding of Gaza) with the bald notion - not a fact - that the Israelis have eliminationist intentions against the Palestinian Arabs. How about examining the facts that exist and stop imagining intentions that the Israeli government lacks.

The issue is not to marginalize Palestinian Arabs either. The issue is to support the Israeli population. It is the Palestinian Arabs who, by their stupid intifadahs and shahids and jihad/fatah policies, have marginalized themselves - a self inflicted wound born of pride that is based on past glory and contemptuous views about Jews that are the norm for centuries in that part of the world.

joe said...

I will probably need to take a few separate short posts to fully respond.

First, liberal values encompass individual rights, but they don't end there. Take the self-determination case for Zionism. Self-determination is about collective rights -- what a distinct group of people bound by some sort of common culture is entitled to, as a national entity.

And in any event if you think there are no individual Palestinians (or for that matter, Arab Israelis) who have been victimized, I have a land bridge to sell you.

why, praytell, did the Israeli government cede land in Gaza and offer to cede most of the West Bank?

Demographics. It doesn't mean there aren't various groups of settlers taking (choicer) bits of land under the aegis of the Israeli government, and in many cases (as David has observed) terrorizing the Palestinian population. And I don't think any government should get a biscuit just because it falls short of a systematic eliminationist policy. That's not how morality works; there's no pass granted anyone for doing wrong just because he could do worse (or because someone else is an even bigger wrongdoer).

N. Friedman said...


I would agree that national self-determination was a liberal value. Given the position take by a great many liberals, especially but not only in Europe, that such is no longer a value or, in any event, a value that that applies to Jews (see the many articles taking that view in The Guardian newspaper, e.g., on the Comment is Free page), that I think your comment supports my theory that liberalism has become rather illiberal. Think Tony Judt.

I certainly think there are individual Palestinian Arabs who have been victims. I think I made clear at the outset that land theft is wrong. That ought to tell you that I respect individual rights. Were it the case that Palestinian Arabs held the same view - their leaders and communities taking the view that selling property to Jews is a crime, punishable by death.

I do not understand your response to my statement about Israeli offers in negotiations and Israeli ceding all of Gaza to Palestinian Arabs. Your reply begins with the word "demographics." The last I knew, the Palestinian Arab population of the region is rising, which is the exact opposite of what your view that Israel has tried to run them out of the area would imply.

I have no brief for the behavior of settlers who harm their Palestinian Arab neighbors. I have no brief for Palestinian Arabs who harm their Jewish neighbors. I remind you that people are not always very respectful and that is something that both parties could live with. Your contention, however, was earlier was about not settling land because it is illegal. And, my response was that such is a highly debatable proposition and that there is no consensus on the issue. My response was also that it is crazy for the Israelis to settle people on land that they are offering to cede. Such is bad policy but it is not immoral, which is my point.

You write: "And I don't think any government should get a biscuit just because it falls short of a systematic eliminationist policy. That's not how morality works; there's no pass granted anyone for doing wrong just because he could do worse (or because someone else is an even bigger wrongdoer)."

The Palestinian Arab population is rising - in fact, rising substantially -. We are not dealing with falling short of a systematic eliminationist policy; it is a non-eliminationist policy. Your point is a nonsense, a product of propaganda, not fact.

So far as one party acting worse than the other, that is entirely relevant. In WWII, the Germans were systematically turning conquered peoples into slave labor that would have caused, had the plan been completed, the deaths of millions and millions of, e.g., Poles, Russians and Ukrainians. And, that does not even count the German effort to eliminate Jews from the planet. Frankly, preventing the planned eliminationist policy regarding the Poles, Russians and Ukrainians (and other supposedly sub-human groups) justified quite a bit of violence to prevent the logical outcome of such German policy.

In the case of the Palestinian Arabs, the leading political party, as of the last election, the Hamas, has as part of its official covenant, the elimination, worldwide, of all Jews. It, moreover, advocates dying for that cause and borrows materials used by the Nazis - materials that found their way into the Middle East from Nazi Germany before and during WWII, by radio broadcast, etc. As part of that agenda, came the attacks from the Arab side which focus, as the intended targets, primarily on civilians. That is not sort of eliminationist. It is the real thing and, frankly, there are no examples in history of a group controlling a territory which has be as overt about their intentions as the Hamas party has been.

What prevents the implementation of Hamas's overtly stated program is the Israeli military. To me, the Israelis are justified, morally at least, to act as necessary to prevent Hamas from advancing its plan. And, frankly, that justifies a great deal more than today's phony liberals think appropriate.

N. Friedman said...


Delete "I remind you that people are not always very respectful and that is something that both parties could live with."

Substitute "I remind you that people are not always very respectful and that is something that both parties ought not have to live with."

joe said...

It may be moral to impose some harm to stop a greater harm from occurring (if the new harm to be imposed actually is necessary and sufficient to prevent the greater). This is a simple causative analysis, to which the question of whether the greater harm is from a bad actor, random happenstance, or unintended consequence, is tangential. But "The Indians got screwed some centuries ago so I guess it's only fair for some other group on the other side of the globe to suffer in the present"? That's quite another thing (unless the suffering of group B somehow makes the American Indians whole, which it won't).

I do not understand your response to my statement about Israeli offers in negotiations and Israeli ceding all of Gaza to Palestinian Arabs. Your reply begins with the word "demographics." The last I knew, the Palestinian Arab population of the region is rising, which is the exact opposite of what your view that Israel has tried to run them out of the area would imply.

I think you are misconstruing my posts something fierce. No, as Sharon realized, holding on to every bit of territory is not feasible unless Israel gives up on having a Jewish majority. So what's your point? Brownie points to Israel for abstaining from genocide? What kind of moral universe is that? Let me know where they're handing out the "not a serial axe murderer" awards.

But since you already admit that some land theft by settlers is ongoing, and you have not actually denied the Israeli government's complicity in that (or its silence in the face of the terror tactics of many settler groups, which says a lot about that government when compared to the attitude toward, say, Hamas), I trust you understand my point.

And, frankly, that justifies a great deal more than today's phony liberals think appropriate.

Ah yes, there it is. Collective punishment and its assorted code phrases. Funny how the justification for oppression is always some matter of national security. Talk about illiberal attitudes that trample on individual rights.

N. Friedman said...


It would help if you actually said things that address points.

Your argument was that the Israelis had an eliminationist plan. That was and is untrue. Having been shown that such is untrue, you make a mockery of being shown wrong.

The same for your other argument.

I did not say the Israelis are angels. However, they are not, on the whole, doing things that are either immoral or unusual.

Collective punishment is not, as you claim, morally wrong, at least if done in self defense. Targeting civilians as the primary target is. And, morally speaking, it is justification for collective punishment.

joe said...

N., you are the one who keeps bringing up eliminationism. I said nothing of the sort, having focused on factual matters rather than that sort of rhetoric. Rhetoric being, all too often, a refuge from factual argument.

And the things I have said all addressed the point of liberal principles. Up to and including drawing out your conflicting assertions that individual rights are important and collective punishment is a fine idea.

And on that note, since we know well that settlers have targeted Palestinians (which you keep dancing away from with your "eliminationist" shell game), the only question is what kind of collective punishment %i(you) think is called for as a "liberal" policy.

joe said...

formatting mess-up:
%i(you) = you

N. Friedman said...

You now say that you had said nothing about an eliminationist policy. Here are your words:

"And I don't think any government should get a biscuit just because it falls short of a systematic eliminationist policy."

But note: there is an eliminationist policy at work here. AGAIN: SUCH IS THE OFFICIAL POLICY OF THE HAMAS, THE PARTY WHICH, IN THE LAST PALESTINIAN ARAB ELECTION, WON THE ELECTION. So, this is not a situation of the Israelis having anything even remotely like an eliminationist policy but, instead, defending against people who not only have adopted an eliminationist policy but have taken steps to advance that policy.

Come on, Joe, stop denying that your argument insinuates Israeli wrongs that are not occurring in any sense of the word in order for you to carry forward a weak argument. Which is to say: absent the vilification of Israeli policy, the actual facts support Israel acting as it has acted, by and large; not in every case but, frankly, for the most part.

N. Friedman said...


I overlooked your question regarding collective punishment. My comment represents responses to the terror policy directed at Israeli civilians, which, in fact, is the sum and substance of the collective will of the vast majority of the Palestinian Arab people towards the Israeli people, as shown by poll after poll after poll.

Blockading Gaza is perfectly moral. As was the Gaza war. As was the war to stop the second intifadah - itself, a war openly proclaimed by the Palestinian people against Israelis.

joe said...

Yes, I once used the word eliminationist because you kept harping on it, as if the mere absence of the most radical of agendas wipes clean an actor's moral slate.

I'm not going to play the Sean Hannity/David Horowitz "why don't you condemn Hamas and stop beating your wife" game. If collective punishment was so effective, Hamas would not be winning elections. Unless you advocate simple revenge as a moral (and liberal) value, you can't embrace harms that are ineffective at reducing some greater harm.

The rest of your post speaks for itself.

N. Friedman said...


The issue here is not what I advocate but what is moral. They are two very different things because there can be more than one moral approach.

Note that you have an inability to argue without resort to classifying arguments as, for example, in the Fox news or David Horowitz category (in your words: "I'm not going to play the Sean Hannity/David Horowitz 'why don't you condemn Hamas and stop beating your wife' game"). Ad hominem arguments are really unbecoming.

Again, the issue to address is a policy by the Palestinian Arabs which is eliminationist in the classical sense. It overtly advocates the murder of all Jews all over the world. And, making Israeli civilians the intended target - not just the inevitable result - of that policy shows that the Palestinian Arab side means business. That fact has consequences and, for whatever reason, you have failed remotely even to consider any of them - conflating eliminationism with a mere dispute.

So, how does one proceed morally against people with such beliefs not only on the margin but in the center of their politics? I would like an answer. Also... How does one respond to people who send missiles willy nilly into cities? How does one respond to people who cheer when they send people in to massacre students? I frankly think you have no remote idea what this dispute is all about.

Your post suggests that you think that this is simply a matter of striking the correct policy or sitting down at the table. No, Joe. It is not. Mr. Abbas can try to settle the dispute. Do you really think that the Hamas will end the dispute just because there is a paper deal? Do you doubt that such group will discontinue its policy despite their thinking that they are doing God's work?

On your view, the US should have listened closely and addressed German "grievances" prior to WWII. And, of course, the West used horrendous tactics against the Germans, tactics that the Israelis have not even considered much less employed. Did that mean the US's fight against Nazi Germany was immoral? On your view, that is a serious question.

N. Friedman said...


Strike: "Do you doubt that such group will discontinue its policy despite their thinking that they are doing God's work?"

Substitute: "Do you really think that such group will discontinue its policy despite their thinking that they are doing God's work?

joe said...

All moral questions where lives are on the line are serious. And I'd note that many if not most historians believe the reparations leveled against Germany from its defeat in World War I were one of the causes of the rise of the Nazi party. (Unintended consequences in international relations are called

But I sure as hell won't play the Bill O'Reilly "If you think that you must favor appeasing Hitler" game either. And I don't think anyone should insult the victims of the unique attrocity of the Holocaust (to say nothing of insulting common sense) by justifying every policy choice under the grounds of "Or its the Holocaust all over again."

As for the "Palestinian Arabs" being, under your paradigm, basically barbarian fanatics who will never stop unless they either succeed at genocide or have civilization subjugated into them, you can cite the Hamas charter all you like, but you need a lot more than that to back that claim about an entire people and the harsh solutions implicit in that classification. For example, if I listen to all the speeches, take in all the rhetoric from politicians of all these different political parties in the developed and developing world, and read all the climate treaties, I might be under the impression that most people actually give a damn about global warming.

If I were born yesterday.

But under a schema that dehumanizes the "Palestinian Arabs," of course we should make the much bigger leap of faith and attribute to them the most monstrous motives possible. At least, to the majority of them. Maybe there's a small minority of "the good ones" mixed in there, but forget any of their individual rights.

It's all so simple when we just decide to evaluate some people under a different standard.

joe said...


(Unintended consequences in international relations are called blowback.)

N. Friedman said...


You must be kidding. Why ought I not read the Hamas covenant as representing that group's view.

And, as for the view that I have called Palestinian Arabs barbarians, that is in your head. Eliminationist ideologies have arisen all over the world, including among British, Germans, Turks, the Hutu, Cambodians, Russians, Belgians, etc., etc. Such ideologies develop and, in the last 100 years, not infrequently. However, to doubt that the Islamist ideology is eliminationist is to hold your hands over your eyes and ears.

Note that I have also made the point of distinguishing the likes of Abbas from the Hamas. You, however, conflate my words and then label me. How easy. Then, you do not have to think.

How much rhetoric from Hamas does one need to read and hear to understand their agenda? What evidence would do for you? Clearly, on your logic, the Mein Kampf is insufficient evidence of Nazi intentions. If, however, you read Winston Churchill's wonderful book, The Gathering Storm, it was exactly Hitler's book which, as Churchill's noted, set out rather clearly what Nazism was about and as a blueprint for what Nazis would do if they could.

Now, the issue of addressing reparations from WWI misses the point entirely. Such issue might have been addressed prior to the time that Hitler came to power. After that, England and France tried hard to address German concerns. But, the Nazis were not about grievances. They were an eliminationist movement with ambitions to conquer the world. The same goes, frankly, for the Islamists. And, at this point, while there is a basis to address Arab grievances in theory, there is essentially no way to address grievances of people who are eliminationist and have ambitions that cannot be reconciled.

My suggestion is that you read Benny Morris' fascinating book, One State, Two States. You will see just how unlikely it is that the dispute could be settled. And, that is only considering the traditional issues. The Islamist elimination ideology is a completely different ball of wax. Such ideology is eliminationist and beyond reconciliation, just like the Nazis, the Turks vis a vis the Armenians (and Greek Christians), the Hutu against the Tutsis, the British against the Kikuyu, the Cambodians against all those they wanted gone, the Soviets against their own, the Belgians in the Congo. The list goes on and on.

joe said...

I doubt we will see the dispute ended in the next century. That does not mean "anything goes."

You've essentially gone beyond condemning Hamas and indicted most Palestinians, arguing that the only thing they will understand is oppression (which works so well against hard-line nationalist movements). For someone who admires Churchill so much, I'm surprised you're so eager to allow Hamas to cast itself in a Churchill-like role in the Palestinian consciousness.

One of the many reasons your WWII analogies are specious is that they totally ignore what the real world looks like. Hamas does not have a major world economy to drive a war machine. Blockading Gaza (to say nothing of enabling the predations of militant settlers) does nothing to modify the zero chance that Hamas will gain control over such an economy. The Alabama KKK might emulate the Nazis "if they could" as well, but that does not justify carpet-bombing the South.

As for all the Hitler business, you can defy Godwin until you're red in the face, but the fact remains that taking a politician at his word is hardly a sure bet. I for one am glad the U.S. did not take Kruschev at his word when he said "We will bury you." All things considered, I'm glad we're not having this conversation in a fallout shelter.

joe said...

Also, I like a good hagiography as much as the next guy, but I'd remind you that Churchill said the following:

"We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilisation will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the Great Germanic nation. "

So that's Churchill for you in 1935. As you probably know, that would be ten years after Mein Kampf came out. Self-serving* memoirs aside, Churchill sang a different tune when not operating under the benefit of hindsight.

*This isn't particularly intended as a slam on Churchill. All memoirs are self-serving.

N. Friedman said...


You write: "Hamas does not have a major world economy to drive a war machine."

Neither did the Hutu. Neither have the Islamists who managed to destroy roughly 2 million Christians and animists in Southern Sudan - and that is before the Darfur horror. Neither did the Cambodians. Etc., etc.

I am not a big Churchill fan. I do note, however, that in his The Gathering Storm, which consists of materials written contemporaneous and not merely in a self-serving fashion, he indicated early on and in public that, in fact, one could pretty much know where Hitler would go in power by reading Mein Kampf.

But again: why should we not take the Hamas at its word, when it spells out an agenda in the group's covenant? Have you a cogent reason for your view? Do you not think that we should take the group's covenant seriously? Or, do you not respect Arabs and Muslims enough to take what they write seriously? I suspect you do not take them seriously and, as such, think that what they write need not be taken seriously.

And, in that Hamas has acted on its publicly stated agenda, massacring civilians as it policy of choice, why ought I not to match its covenant with its actions that seemingly fit the ideology?

You may want to read a fascinating article, some years back, in Scientific American. I wish I had the title and author but, oh well. The gist of the article related to the spread of small weapons - AK-47's and the like. The author argues rather effectively that these small weapons have killed far more than armies, allowing even a group like Hamas to commit genocide without an army. So, frankly, I think you are confused. The genocides of the post WWII period (and many more) have often be the work of fanatical groups, using primitive weapons.

You will no doubt notice that the Israelis are better armed and, as such, can fight against small arms. True enough. My point, though - and the one you have missed - is that Hamas is a big enough group to prevent any settlement with the Israelis on any terms that will result in peace between the Arabs and Israeli peoples. Nothing you have said suggests otherwise and, instead, what you are writing is an evasion, changing the topic and failing to address evidence and argument.

N. Friedman said...


One other point. I have not said that Hamas' eliminationist ideology justifies anything the Israelis do. I have said that it justifies most of what the Israelis have thus far done. That is a very different thing.

joe said...

(My gun enthusiast friends would surely tut-tut the characterization of AK-47s as "primitive," but they are common.)

Hamas is an artificial entity. It cannot "believe" anything. The real issues are membership and support from people, who of course can believe all sorts of things. As far as I can tell you take the position that a large proportion of the "Palestinian Arab" population is a lost cause, therefore "most of" what Israel has done is justified.

Tell me, would "most of" those actions not be an appropriate response applied to the 25% of Israeli citizens who seek to aid and comfort Yigal Amir (who, for assassinating the democratic head of state, can only be described as an unrepentant enemy of the state)?

No? Well then, it starts to look like "most of" those measures are being justified not because of the target's support for violence against Jews or the Jewish state, but according to whether the target is "Palestinian Arab."

N. Friedman said...


The point with the AK-47's is that they are readily available such that a modern, potent army is entirely unnecessary to commit genocide. Think the Hutu.

You write: Hamas is an artificial entity. It cannot "believe" anything. The real issues are membership and support from people, who of course can believe all sorts of things. As far as I can tell you take the position that a large proportion of the "Palestinian Arab" population is a lost cause, therefore "most of" what Israel has done is justified.

A very similar comment appears in Peter Balakian's brilliant book, Burning Tigris, The: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. Such words were said to Theodore Roosevelt, in connection with the onslaught against the Armenians. He was told that most Turks were nice. His response was, the kindness of the average Turk was irrelevant.

The most bizarre line in your above quote is "who of course can believe all sorts of things." Nazis believed all sorts of things. So did Ottoman Turks and their Kurdish allies. So did the Hutu. Did you think before you wrote that line? More than likely, you have absorbed into your mind the group-think that opines, "They are not a monolith" - which is among the most vacuous comments used to disarm those who are concerned by Islamist ideology but have not done their homework. So, No. Not everyone thinks the same thing. It is an irrelevancy.

Instead, the issue here is the ideology, which is driven into the consciousness of a very large percentage of Palestinian Arabs, enough for them to be manipulated. In Germany, the Nazis never won a majority of votes and the vast majority of Germans, even among those who voted for the Nazis, were not devout in their adherence to Nazism. What matters, in fact, is that a sufficiently large group of devout followers of an eliminationist ideology exist and are able to manipulate society by means of their control, rhetoric and ideology.

The ideology which plays a large role in Palestinian Arab society - the Islamist ideology - is overtly genocidal in its explicit content - more openly genocidal than the Nazis, which never issued a party agenda as overtly genocidal as the Hamas covenant. And, other Islamist parties are equally genocidal in their rhetoric. As the leader of Hezb'Allah, Sheik Nasrallah, said: "If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."

It matters not what a majority of Palestinian Arabs really think any more than with any other eliminationist movement. What matters most is the ideology and a sufficient core of committed adherents able to convince their neighbors to commit genocide. It has, so far as I know, been that way in all contemporary genocides.

The rest of what you wrote is unintelligible. If it were better explained, I might have an answer.

joe said...

So "it matters not" what the majority thinks, but screw 'em, they can just soak up some collective punishment anyway? Collective punishment that has done precious little, I might add, to weaken Hamas as a political entity.

I want to get this clear, since you were so insistent that critics of Netenyahu & Friends are illiberal. Is it a liberal value to say, "You there, I don't care what you personally believe or may have done. Because you share a common ethnic identity/hometown, I am going to make you suffer. That's how a free society dispenses justice"?

And if it is, what collective punishments do you as a liberal prescribe for settler communities with strong concentrations of Amir/Goldstein-style militants?jo

N. Friedman said...


Where did you get the idea that I am a Netanyahu supporter or a supporter of settlements. You evidently do not read very carefully. I said I thought that the settlement project, at least the part on land to be ceded, is crazy.

By my recollection, Kadima and Labour also support collective punishment.

Again: if a group makes war on you, you can take your view and say, well not everyone in their group attacked us; in fact, the vast majority did not and, heaven knows, would not have attacked us because most want only peace. So, it is wrong to fight back.

Or, you can take the view that if a group makes war on you, you do what is necessary to survive. That does not mean anything and everything goes. It does not mean you send your people to blow up buses loaded with civilians. It does not mean sending in people to massacre school students as the intended target.

It does mean acting against the population which targets you and seemingly supports the war against you. That is what all countries do when attacked. And, it is collective punishment. However, collective punishment is one of those phony claims made by phony groups which, faced with Pearl Harbor, would say, collective punishment of the Japanese in response is wrong.

Or, do you really think that the majority of Japanese wanted to fight the US? After all - and just as true as it is of Palestinian Arabs - Japanese held all sorts of views and, heaven knows, many, probably the vast majority, were kind, peaceful people who would not hurt a fly. So, how could anyone possibly justify fighting them?

That is what you are arguing, Joe. And, it is that silly.

joe said...

N., the things Israel's doing that are not "necessary to survive" could fill a phonebook. These things tend to line up with geopolitical an domestic political calculations that are increasingly attenuated from issues of "survival."

Now, what's silly is your constant Godwining in this discussion. What's silly is the cognitive dissonance created by the combination of your Us vs. Them mentality and your apparent belief that you are championing liberal values. Or rather, those things would be silly, if they were not so toxic.

Point the third: Why do you strike me as a Netanyahu supporter? Maybe because he is a man who equates even soft Obama-level criticism with antisemitism (or with "self-hatred" when he's confronted with a Jewish critic with whom a straight antisemitism charge is a little tricky). This is the same implicit approach you take when you accuse your "illiberal" American an European liberals of "refusing to see that such premises [of 'the anti-Israel critique'] have in mind to delegitimize Israel and eliminate it."

Beinart already took this apart, so I don't have to: "If [...] Israel’s overseas human rights critics are motivated by anti- Israeli, if not anti-Semitic, bias, what does that say about Israel’s domestic human rights critics? The implication is clear: they must be guilty of self-hatred, if not treason."

If you haven't done so, I highly recommend you read the Beinart piece. It is very responsive to several of your other claims as well. I hope you get something out of it, because I'm out. It's too much time out of my day to explain what someone else already said better, and I must admit I find your shifting definitions of liberalism galling.

N. Friedman said...


I have not raised Antisemitism in this discussion as a motive for your views. In other words, you are basically making things up. I have indicated that liberalism's criticism of Israel is the product of an illiberal strand of thinking that has come into liberalism. I stand by that and your thinking is colored by that illiberalism, from denying the right of self defense to Israel and, presumably, other Western countries - calling self defense collective punishment and the like - to thinking that among the oldest and most important rights, the right to settle land, is immoral when, in fact, that is not the case under any real version of liberalism - which is not to say that such a policy is wise or prudent, which for Israel it is not, at least on land it would cede -,etc., etc.

I suggest, if you want to understand my views, that you read an interesting book of recent vintage, Worse Than War, by Jonah David Goldhagen. He agrees with me that the Islamist movement is an eliminationist movement. It is, on his telling, as much so as the Nazis and the Hutus and the Cambodian and the Turkish Ottoman movements, etc., etc.. And, his book shows this to be the case rather clearly, with evidence that places it in the same realm as other important eliminationist movements.

As for Mr. Beinart... I read his article. I also read an interview he gave. What of it? As Rosner, in his interview of Beinart noted, Mr. Beinart's understanding of the region may simply be incorrect along that with other ill-informed critics who, unlike the Israelis, are actually impacted by what occurs while the critics have nothing at risk, just like you.

N. Friedman said...


Another point. I have not said that everything the Israelis do is merely to survive. I have said that their efforts to survive have mostly been liberal and moral.

The settlement program is not necessary, at least on land to be ceded, for Israel to survive.

I note: You have provided no answer at all to the view that the Islamist Hamas movement is an eliminationist movement that is important to Palestinian Arab politics. You have not dealt with the difficulty that such a movement has on the ability to resolve the dispute. Instead, you have attempted to deflect discussion. That is your privilege.

I would ask you to consider that the entire Arab and greater Muslim region is under the sway of a great eliminationist movement. That movement has been, for the most part, felt by Christians in the region who, quite literally, are on the run, with tens of millions of such people fleeing in among the great migrations in human history. Many such Christian Arabs have come to the US. The point here being that the movement which has impacted, relatively quietly, on Christian Arabs is the same movement that challenges the right of Jews to have sovereignty and even live in the region. My recollection is that about sixty million Christians have thus far fled the region.

Moreover, the numbers killed by the Islamist movement are staggering - in the millions. Yet, you act as if the Arab Israeli dispute were in isolation. No. The assault on Israel is part and parcel of what is well described as a purification movement in the Arab and greater Muslim regions which seeks to reassert Islamic dominance and make all others basically go away. Your view, by contrast, is that if the Israelis are nice, there will be peace. It is not so and that is due to this transnational eliminationist movement that ruins everything it touches.

Mr. Beinart has no understanding of the region, missing the main issues that impact on why there is no peace, just now, in the Arab regions. He is just one of those outsiders unaffected by his own criticism and who criticizes without any deep understanding of the Arab regions, seeing problems in a simple minded way.

joe said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you an American? Yet here you are giving us your opinions on this issue the same as Mr. Beinart. And that's fine, because the Middle East exists in an objective sense, so we can all observe the events there.

So this "nothing at risk" argument is really a red herring. If you really believed it you yourself would have to defer to the judgments of the most vicious members of Hamas. Which would be ridiculous.

And indeed, as applied to Beinart that argument is especially ridiculous, because of course Israel bills itself as "the Jewish state." Netanyahu calls non-Israeli Jews like Rahm Emanuel "self-hating" solely for supporting Obama's policy on settlements. Well, he can't have it both ways. He can't make that claim on the nature of the very identity of American Jews and then deny they have anything at stake.

The rest of that, the Clash of Civilizations/Islamofascism/do-you-know-what-a-dhimmi-is stuff, does not hold my attention. Though I do find it very interesting to note, that whether you're aware of it or not, you've internalized the Frank Luntz ploy described by Beinart-- reminding us non-stop that the Palestinians are Arabs (in fact never writing Palestinian without Arab in the same sentence).

joe said...

Also, color me unimpressed by Mr. Rosner's reverting to the classic You Outsiders Could Never Understand Why My Team Has to Do This line. I don't buy it when it's the LDS church talking about its treatment of women. Don't buy it when reading those old Southern defenses of their "peculiar institution." Not gonna buy it when it's racism Arab citizens of Israel face (which naturally means the non-citizens will really get shafted).

I also think the top reader comments speak volumes of the kind of operation Mr. Rosner is running there. Calling Beinart a "JINO" and a "girlieboy Lib"?

Yeah, sounds like a great font of liberal values.

David Schraub said...

I'm just going to list off several non-substantive pet peeves and then step back again:

1) "Godwin's Law" isn't normative -- it doesn't say that the first person to cite Hitler "loses", or that Hitler references are inherently bad. All Godwin's Law says is that as a comment thread grows larger, the likelihood that a reference to Hitler is made approaches 1. This thread has, needless to say, already buttressed that hypothesis, but that's all Godwin had to say on the matter.

2) Please don't nutpick, and please, both of you, stop strawmanning.

3) The charge that Netanyahu called Rahm "self-hating" is not really substantiated (Netanyahu denies ever saying it, and the original source is entirely unattributed).

You may now return to your previously scheduled futile ranting.

joe said...

Yeah, okay, "futile ranting" is probably fair, and we've been talking past each other.

I know I personally use Godwin as a shorthand for saying someone is strawmanning with Hitler in the mix so we really know it probably won't end well. It's not about "losing." It's about "gimme a break."

Finally, do I Netanyahu? Well, if that quote were accurate he would really have no choice but to lie through his teeth about it. But maybe the whole thing's a total fabrication that falls right into my blinders when I see a right-wing politician whose family members go around publicly calling Obama an antisemite. It is possible to have terrible policies and social circle and still not be a total jerk. But since I don't go in for the Great Man theory of history, I'd say the larger point is that there's a segment of Israeli society that calls Obama an antisemite in all seriousness and that does buy the self-hatred charge. The rough equivalent in the US would be people who genuinely believe that liberals hate America and we need to change all the menus to offer "freedom fries."

N. Friedman said...


Note that when you have no reply, you attempt to label those who disagree with you.

I am an American, in response to your query.

I am not sure what your point is now other than you refuse to deal with substantive arguments, labeling them.

If you have something substantive to add, please let me know.


My reason for mentioning Hitler was not to call anyone names. My goal was to note a quintessential eliminationist movement to which the Islamist movement can clearly be contrasted, for similarities and differences.

joe said...

Okay, N., if I look back to the initial beaten path in this conversation, what I really take issue with is statements like "such premises have in mind to delegitimize Israel and eliminate it."

Well, what premises are we talking about? Most critiques of Israel I see and read seem to be working off of premises like "Israel commits some human rights violations" (which, to be fair, you haven't actually disputed) and "human rights violations are bad."

N. Friedman said...


The answer is that you should read, e.g., newspapers such as the British paper, The Guardian, including its article/blog page Comment is Free. On that page, you can read "liberal" opinion advocating Israel's demise and using the very arguments you make to support that view.

joe said...

But destruction/dissolution of Israel is not a necessary conclusion from the premises I listed. Anymore than, say, vigilantism is the necessary solution if we can agree violent crime is a problem.

N. Friedman said...


I agree with your last point in theory. However, this is not a logic class and, in the world that is, there is an unmistakable campaign to delegitimize Israel that employs your arguments and that has gained substantial momentum.

The reason for this, I think, is on the theory that where there is smoke, there is fire. So, we have two groups of people criticizing Israel, one that seeks the country's demise and the other that thinks the country can be reformed. In such an atmosphere, your argument, however unintentionally, advances the ground of the elimination argument. After all, how is it any different that Israelis have built villages within the Green Line and outside of the Green Line. If it is wrong in one place it sure is wrong in the other. So, the view that you advance is readily turned against Israel's existence and you into a person who fails to recognize the logic of your position.

joe said...

How is building inside and outside the Green Line different? The question itself contains the answer.

Now, if you take issue with delegitimization, I really think you'd be better served attacking the unique logical premises of that argument. And I mean that as a pragmatic matter. To the extent you're basically criticizing large swathes of the human rights community for speaking inconvenient truths it really doesn't lend credibility to your other arguments.

N. Friedman said...


And, the difference between building outside or inside the Green Line is what, exactly?

A small reminder. The Green Line is an armistice line, not a recognized boundary. And, prior to Israel's war of independence, the villages within what is now the Green Line were deemed settlements on what, back then, was alleged to be "Arab" land. Moreover, there were Jewish settlements on the East side of the Green Line, all of which were ethnically cleansed by the end of that war. And, such cleansing was the publicly declared policy of the Arab opponent's to Israel.

So, again, the difference between building on one side of the Green Line and the other is what, exactly? The result of the war of 1948? Get

joe said...

Building on outside the line reduces the chances of an end to the conflict. Which of course much of the Israeli government realizes, but has concluded to be politically acceptable.

N. Friedman said...


I note that your language is now purely political, with the morals of building villages no longer in issue. The Anti-Israel crowd, by contrast, focuses on the moral and employs pseudo-legal assertions to make their case about settling on land conquered during a war.

That argument, which is that settling on land - whether they call it "Arab" land or "Palestinian" land - is an inherently illiberal argument yet it commands the respect of supposed liberals. The movement of people from place to place is the norm of human history and those who say that those who move are engaged in an immoral project are, themselves, illiberal people who merely want to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

joe said...

Everything is political. The politics of settlements are a moral issue because peace is a moral good.

I don't think "norm of human history" gets you to moral action, either. A lot of nasty things can be said to be a "norm." Not to mention that waving things aside because "it's been done before" can lead us to ignore key bits of context.

joe said...

More on morality, we have Sharon's statement explicitly urging additional settlements in the 90s as a land grab. Encouraging that sort of thing isn't what I'd call moral government policy. Not when it's a zero sum game where any eventual Palestinian state ends up even poorer, more crowded, and less contiguous (in addition to the harm done to the peace process). And I think it's telling that Sharon called it a "grab" without bothering trying to justify it in terms beyond realpolitik. Same with his instruction of "let them build without talking" (in criminal law, of course, concealment of an act can be evidence of a guilty conscience). On the individual level, aiding and abetting an immoral government act can itself be immoral. All this ignoring the obvious bad acts you don't defend but do want to gloss over like "price tagging."

And of course, what you call "pseudo-legal" is the considered opinion of basically the entire international community, save Israel and certain evangelical groups in the United States. In other words, the case against Geneva applying is very self-serving and entirely influenced by settlement politics.

I assume you know who Theodor Meron is, and I've got his opinion when this first became an issue backing me up here. How many third party legal scholars do you think take the view that the settlements are okay? (I'd ask for a Palestinian legal scholar, seeing as how Meron worked for the Israeli government, but I assume you'd say that's ridiculous because Palestinian intelligentsia is captive to an eliminationist agenda.)

N. Friedman said...


Let's talk about this supposed legal consensus which, in fact, does not exist except among a group which claims it exists. The consensus, of course, does not include a principle author of UN 242, the late Professor Eugene Rostow, dean of the Yale Law School. He wrote - and I defy you to find a better legal authority than he is not to mention one more familiar with the background:

The British Mandate recognized the right of the Jewish people to "close settlement" in the whole of the Mandated territory. It was provided that local conditions might require Great Britain to "postpone" or "withhold" Jewish settlement in what is now Jordan. This was done in 1922. But the Jewish right of settlement in Palestine west of the Jordan river, that is, in Israel, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, was made unassailable. That right has never been terminated and cannot be terminated except by a recognized peace between Israel and its neighbors. And perhaps not even then, in view of Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, "the Palestine article," which provides that "nothing in the Charter shall be construed ... to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments...."

Moreover, he writes:

The Bush [i.e. Bush I] administration seems to consider the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to be "foreign" territory to which Israel has no claim. Yet the Jews have the same right to settle there as they have to settle in Haifa. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were never parts of Jordan, and Jordan's attempt to annex the West Bank was not generally recognized and has now been abandoned. The two parcels of land are parts of the Mandate that have not yet been allocated to Jordan, to Israel, or to any other state, and are a legitimate subject for discussion.

There is, I should add, a recent article in the neo-con magazine Commentary by a scholar of the Geneva Convention who says that, in fact, the entire legislative history of the anti-transfer population provision in the Geneva Convention was, by its author's expressly stated intentions, not intended to preclude voluntary settlement of land conquered.

Now, these legal opinions may be wrong. However, to say that there is a consensus except among crackpots is, frankly, disingenuous.

N. Friedman said...

Now, Joe, I address your other points. Sharon wanted Israel to retain land that Israel conquered. That is a perfectly moral point of view. It is not my viewpoint but it is one that can certainly be held by a liberal. The US, at the end of WWII was of that view with respect to the ceding of land by Germany to, for example, Poland. That land was, I note, settled by Poles who, in fact, moved onto land that, prior to WWII (and going back many, many centuries) with a German population.

So, why is that OK for Poland - and supported by liberals by the way, notwithstanding the accompanying million ethnic Germans expelled from their ancestral homes in what was not previously Poland - but not for Israel on the West Bank, on which Arabs are allowed by Israel to remain?

N. Friedman said...


One last point. I cite you to an article I just found online which summarizes the views of the various views about settling the West Bank. Evidently, pace your view, there really are differing views and among prominent scholars.

So, it appears that scholars of the caliber of Morris Abram take the view that the Geneva Convention is not intended to preclude the Israelis from settling the West Bank.

Some consensus, Joe.

joe said...

I'd say when the UN Security Council votes twelve to zero on this kind of thing, that's consensus. Your originalist arguments don't hold a lot of weight given the state of international law, where mere custom can become binding.

N. Friedman said...


I was not arguing the law. I was stating that there is no consensus on the issue.

I might add, the Palestine Mandate is not a custom. It is something specifically incorporated, by Article 80 of the UN Charter, into International law. In fact, as Rostow shows, Article 80 was specifically written to incorporate the Palestine Mandate.

So, it is as much a part of International Law with respect to the Jewish settlement within Mandate Palestine as the Geneva Convention.

Again: I do not claim he is correct. What I claim is that the scholarship on this topic is contrary to what you claim it to be, namely, an issued on which there is a consensus.

joe said...

Even though scholars with different canons of interpretation can reach some different conclusions, when all (or nearly all) states but one take a position like this, what can we call that if not consensus? The international community is what makes international law in the first place, so I'd even venture to call the position a "law of nations."

N. Friedman said...


You spoke of law. When you were showed that there is no consensus on the law, you claim that your view is the view of most nations. I was not aware that there is a UN resolution eliminating Article 80 of the UN Charter.

The driving force on any nation to adopt your position is a three letter word, OIL. That is not law. That is simple power politics.

And, to note: the world, back in 1967, rather clearly made a promise to the Israelis, in the form of UN 242, that Israel did not have to give up the entire West Bank or Gaza. Such was plainly stated on the floor of the UN by the sponsors/authors of the Resolution, who said that the Green Line was not a secure boundary - which is why the resolution does not call for Israel to withdraw from all territories it conquered and why it states that Israel is entitled to a secure and recognized boundary and why it suggests mediation to help resolve the dispute, something which, at the time, the Arab side rejected.

So, we can live in a world of law or we can live in the world that you confuse with the law.

joe said...

Good luck ever separating power politics from international law. Which is why I've been focusing on moral dimensions for the most part. (As for your oil argument, it can't co-exist with the rather common and supportable observation cheerfully made by many "pro-Israel" individuals, that the Arab countries in the region don't really give a damn about Palestinians. Now why would oil states deviate from whatever is their optimal economic/geopolitical strategy may be for people they don't care about?)

As advocacy-filled as your analysis of 242 is, 446 is more recent and it's a clear declaration that the settlements are illegal. Perhaps more to the point, without a single "no" vote, it's hard to claim lack of consensus.

N. Friedman said...


You were not focusing on moral dimensions. Your argument is that there is a consensus. That consensus does not exist.

Now, you add a view about the Arab governments' position regarding the Palestinian Arab cause. That is supposed to show that OIL is not the driving force in countries adopting the Arab League line on the Arab Israeli dispute.

Well, it would help if you actually knew what the Arab position is. You confuse opposition to Israel's presence in the Middle East with support for a Palestinian Arab state. Which is to say, your comment is another misstatement of fact.