Friday, June 04, 2010

Sudden Travel

I'm flying out to Minnesota today immediately after work, and won't be back until Sunday night. I'll be essentially entirely disconnected for that entire time. The blog's half-hiatus extends yet again.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Color Me Stunned

In an entirely shocking decision, the UCU Congress has decided it has absolutely no problem hosting known anti-Semites to drum up support for its BDS campaign. I'd say people wonder why Jews are fleeing that union in droves, but wait, the UCU notoriously refused to wonder about that at all either.

Operation Make The World Hate Us

Leon Wieseltier has a brilliant column up on the Gaza flotilla incident. Seriously -- it might be the best thing I've ever seen him write (and, while I find Wieseltier maddeningly inconsistent sometimes, when he's on, he is on. So to say it is his best work is high praise). I'll try to excerpt, but it's one of those cases where I really have to resist the temptation to copy and paste the whole thing:
Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.

I leave it to others to make the operational criticisms of the Israeli action, and will say only that even my amateurish understanding of the tactical challenge posed by the interdiction of the boats suffices to suggest that there were other ways to do this. I also will not pretend to a perfect grasp of what happened on board the Mavi Marmara. I have pondered the videos that both sides have released, and concluded that the Israeli soldiers sliding down that rope had no intention of attacking the people on board and that the people on board had no way of being confident of this. I cannot expect Palestinians and their supporters to believe the best about the Israeli army. (This is what Israeli hardliners call “the restoration of deterrence.”) I do not doubt that some of the activists on the ship welcomed a confrontation with Israel, but the Israelis should not have obliged them. In any event, what took place on that deck looks to me like a tragic misunderstanding. Yet there was no reason to think that anything else would have transpired.
It is also the inevitable consequence of Benjamin Netanyahu’s cunning pronouncement last year that the Israel is now endangered by “the Iran threat, the missile threat, and the threat I call the Goldstone threat.” The equivalence was morally misleading, and therefore dangerous. Ideological warfare is not military warfare. I have studied the entirety of the Goldstone Report, and whereas I do not doubt (and wrote in this magazine in the days before Goldstone) that Operation Cast Lead caused the unjustifiable death of non-combatants, I also do not doubt that the Goldstone Report, which was nastily indifferent to Israel’s security predicament and to the ethical challenges of Israeli self-defense, was an instrument in a broad campaign of delegitimation against Israel—and yet the threat of delegitimation is not like the threat of destruction. It is different in kind. A commando operation is not an appropriate response to an idea. “This was no Love Boat,” Netanyahu said yesterday. “It was a hate boat.” He is right, but so what? The threat of delegitimation is not a military problem and it does not have a military solution. And the attempt to give it a military solution has now had the awful consequence of making the threat still greater. The assault on the Mavi Marmara was a stupid gift to the delegitimators.

You do not have to be a general to grasp these distinctions. In fact, judging by Israel’s recent history, it might help not to be one. But the militarization of the Israeli government’s understanding of Israel’s situation—this has been the most sterile period for diplomacy in all of Israel’s history—is not all that led to the debacle at sea. Rules of military engagement that allow soldiers to fire on political activists (I leave aside the question of their humanitarianism for a moment) may signify something still deeper and even more troubling. It is hard not to conclude from this Israeli action, and also from other Israeli actions in recent years, that the Israeli leadership simply does not care any longer about what anybody thinks. It does not seem to care about what even the United States—its only real friend, even in the choppy era of Obama—thinks. This is not defiance, it is despair. The Israeli leadership seems to have given up any expectation of fairness and sympathy from the world. It is behaving as if it believes, in the manner of the most perilous Jewish pessimism, that the whole world hates the Jews, and that is all there is to it. This is the very opposite of the measured and empirical attitude, the search for strategic opportunity, the enlistment of imagination in the service of ideals and interests, that is required for statecraft.

The complication—the one that deprives anybody who acknowledges it of membership in any of the gangs of commentary—is that there is a partial basis in the actually existing world for a degree of Israeli pessimism. There are leaders, states, organizations, and peoples whose hostility to the Jewish state is irrational and absolute and in some cases murderous. Things are said critically about Israel that wildly burst the bounds of thoughtful criticism. The language in which Israel is described by some governments and international organizations is lurid and grotesque and foul. Anti-Semitic tropes—the conspiracy theory about the Jews, most conspicuously—is regularly encountered in otherwise respectable places. The analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that absolves the Palestinians of any significant role in it is widespread. I do not see how any of this can be denied, or shunted aside, or explained entirely in terms of Israeli behavior. But it is emphatically not the whole picture, except for those Israelis and Jews whose political interests and ideological inclinations prefer it to be the whole picture. For there are forces in Israel, and in its government, that have a use for Jewish hopelessness.

Again -- read it all.

(Blogging on my lunch break -- that's right, I'm committed).

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Still Alive

I'm making a note here, huge success....

Work is very interesting, but a lot of, well, work. It's quite the time consumer. But I am still around, and I even (occasionally) am able to keep an eye on the news.

On Alas, a Blog, I wrote what I think was a pretty solid comment detailing less my views on the Gaza flotilla incident than my views on the best reaction to the incident. One of the things I said was that even amongst defenders of the legality or justifiability of the Israeli reaction to the blockade, you can find very few defenders of its wisdom. It would have been great to able to cite to Alan Dershowitz to back that assertion up, but unfortunately I hadn't seen this column yet. Oh well.

Meanwhile, I absolutely agree that the efforts of some Republicans, here Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), to turn this into a political issue is incredibly damaging to the notion that support for Israel ought to be bipartisan. By constructing partisan divides where none truly exist, McCain is only enforcing the idea that Republican equals pro-Israel and Democrat equals anti-Israel -- possibly good politics, but bad for the state of Israel in a context where image often becomes reality.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Hope that your observance is both relaxing and reflective. I start my new job tomorrow, which I assume will drop off my blogging considerably. If I'm more scarce for the next few weeks, hope y'all have a great summer, and see you on the flip! (But I do plan to be around at least somewhat).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gaza Aid Convoy Reportedly Attacked in International Waters

Reports are still sketchy, but the word is 2-3 dead after Israeli missile boats attempted to board ships trying to bring in various goods and aid to the Gaza Strip, in defiance of an Israeli blockade.

More as reports come in, and I don't want to prejudge when information is so scarce. But if this is what it sounds like, it is unacceptable behavior. You don't fire on an unarmed convoy, in international waters. I don't care how risible the Hamas regime that will receive the aid is, I don't care how suspect the motivations of the convoy organizers are, and I certainly don't think even justified fears over the misuse of cement, are good enough rationales to resort to a violent seizure. And I would bet that the (justified) international backlash over this will spell the end of the blockade anyway.

UPDATE: Okay, some new information coming in that sheds some additional light.
The IDF's official account of the incident is now up, the other main sources are here and here. Same caveats as above apply -- what we really have now are two sides to the story, not "the story".

1) The clashes apparently occurred on only one of the boats. Reports are that this boat represented a particular Turkish charity that was known as the most radical of the groups in the flotilla.

2) Israeli sources are claiming that the activists on the boat were armed with light weaponry (slingshots, clubs, bats, and knives, with conflicting reports about the possibility of pistols) and attacked the boarding commandos first. They're claiming they've got video to back up the assertion that the activists attacked the soldiers first, and soldiers fired back only to save fellow soldiers in mortal peril (and that these were the standing engagement orders for the operation).

I think this whole sequence of events can be broken down into several constituent parts. We can debate whether or not the flotilla was justified in trying to breach the blockade, rather than unloading in an Israeli port and transporting (most of) the goods by land. Even if we say they were not, we can still debate whether or not Israel was justified in commencing a boarding action to stop the flotilla. But again, even if they weren't, we can debate whether the activists had the right to violently resist the commandos. And finally, after that, we can ask whether the Israeli use of force was justified given that resistance.

Quote of the Day

Back in DC!
[A] one-sided focus on the behavioral causes of black disadvantage often gives rise to .... the temptation to substitute self-help programs for political action aimed at removing ideological and structural obstacles to equal opportunity. When political resistance to progressive change is formidable or stubborn, there is a dangerous tendency among elites to overemphasize self-help strategies or, worse, to opt for these strategies exclusively. Peer counseling, religious proselytizing, moral exhortation, and charitable giving, as worthy and worthwhile as they might be, do not constitute a politics. They are simply survival tactics.

Tommie Shelby, We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2005), 146.