Friday, April 28, 2006

Mearsheimer & Walt - "And Now For Some Facts" (Benny Morris)

A critique by the Israeli historian Benny Morris of Mearsheimer & Walt's arguments in their "Israel Lobby" manifesto has just appeared (on-line) in the New Republic. Very solid, very tough, very factual, and very effective--in short, classic Benny Morris. In Morris's work over the years, it is sometimes possible to question his judgments, but not his scrupulous concern with factual accuracy, his intellectual integrity, and his mastery of the relevant history. So even though Morris focuses here on demolishing just a few key assertions made by M&W, the impact of this critique on the overall credibility of their arguments is quite damaging. Morris concludes:
In their introduction, Mearsheimer and Walt tell their readers that "the facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars.... The evidence on which they rest is not controversial." This is ludicrous. I would offer their readers a contrary proposition: that the "facts" presented by Mearsheimer and Walt suggest a fundamental ignorance of the history with which they deal, and that the "evidence" they deploy is so tendentious as to be evidence only of an acute bias. That is what will be not in serious dispute among scholars.
--Jeff Weintraub
New Republic
Post date 04.28.06 | Issue date 05.08.06

And Now For Some Facts
by Benny Morris


John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is a nasty piece of work. Some of what they assert regarding the terrorist tactics of certain Zionist groups during the 1930s, and the atrocities committed by Israeli troops in the War of 1948, and the harsh Israeli measures against the Palestinians during the second intifada, and certain activities of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States over the past decades--some of this is correct, and I realize as I write this sentence that it will henceforth be trotted out by the Mearsheimers and Walts of the world, as by their Arab admirers, while they omit the previous sentence and all that now follows. But what these distinguished professors have produced is otherwise depressing to anyone who values intellectual integrity.

Mearsheimer and Walt build their case mainly by means of omission: they tell certain facts while omitting others, sometimes more apt and crucial. And occasionally they distort facts and figures. The thesis of their study, which was supported by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, is that America's support of Israel runs contrary to American national interests, and that it is not grounded in "a compelling moral case." To establish the latter contention, they deny that Israel is the weaker party in the Arab-Israeli conflict; and that it is a democracy; and that "Israel's conduct has been morally superior to [that of] its adversaries."

In order to highlight the authors' methodology and to give an accurate picture of their scholarship, I wish to focus on several historical points that they make to sustain their case. (I will leave it to others to show what should be perfectly obvious: that the pro-Israel lobby is not the conspiratorial tail that wags the American dog.) I must confess to a personal interest in the matter. Like many pro-Arab propagandists at work today, Mearsheimer and Walt often cite my own books, sometimes quoting directly from them, in apparent corroboration of their arguments. Yet their work is a travesty of the history that I have studied and written for the past two decades. Their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity. Were "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.


I will begin with the question of the balance of forces between Israel and the Arab world--a political-military issue with moral overtones, because it begs the question of who in this conflict was, and remains, the underdog deserving of Western sympathy. Mearsheimer and Walt write that "Israel is often portrayed as weak and besieged, a Jewish David surrounded by a hostile Arab Goliath ... but the opposite image is closer to the truth." For some reason, weakness is commonly seen as entailing moral superiority, an illogical proposition.

I would recommend that they take a look at any atlas and yearbook for the key years of the conflict--1948, 1956, 1967, 1973. Even a child would notice that the Arab world, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, does actually "surround" Israel and is infinitely larger than the eight-thousand-square-mile Jewish state (which is the size of New Hampshire). He would notice also that the population of the confrontation states--Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, who were often joined in their wars with Israel by expeditionary forces from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Yemen--has always been at least twenty times greater than Israel's; and in 1948 it was about fifty times greater. The material resources of the Arab world similarly have been (as they still are) infinitely larger than Israel's.

It is true that Israel's "organizational ability" has enabled it to concentrate and focus its resources where they count in wartime, on the successive battlefields, with far greater efficiency than the Arabs; and it is true that Israel's troops, and especially its officer corps, have always been of a far higher caliber than the Arabs' counterparts; and it is true that the motivation of Israel's troops--often with their backs to the wall--has generally been superior to that of their Arab foes. But this is still a far cry from implying, as Mearsheimer and Walt do, regarding the war in 1947-1949, that Israel won its wars because "the Zionists had larger, better-equipped" forces than the Arabs.

During the October (or Yom Kippur) War in 1973, the Egyptians mustered about one million men under arms, and their Syrian allies some 400,000, when they launched their surprise attacks across the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fielded 350,000 to 400,000 troops at most. The Israelis won that war because of superior "grit" and better quality of troops and organization, even though the wings of their better air force and tank corps were badly clipped by the Arabs' massive deployment of state-of-the-art missile shields.

As regards the war of 1948, the picture is more complex--but it is certainly not the picture painted by Mearsheimer and Walt of flat Israeli superiority. (I don't know about political science, but history--I mean good history--needs to account for complexity and nuance.) It is true that in the first part of the war, the "civil war" between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine (from late November 1947 until May 14, 1948, when the state of Israel came into being), the Jews enjoyed a gradually mobilized military superiority, owed primarily to better organization and only marginally to an advantage in some types of weaponry (mortars and possibly machine guns). But the Palestinians probably had an edge in light arms, the main armaments during the civil war. And they enjoyed the support of the 4,000-man Arab Liberation Army, consisting mainly of Syrian and Iraqi volunteers, which had field artillery, which the Yishuv--the Jewish community in Palestine--did not possess. Except in the last few weeks of the civil war, the Arabs probably had an overall edge in men-under-arms--say 15,000-30,000 to the Yishuv's 15,000-25,000; but they proved unable to bring the advantage to bear in the successive battlefields. The militiamen of Nablus and Hebron, where no fighting occurred, saw no reason to come to the aid of their embattled brothers in Jaffa and Haifa.

During the second and conventional phase of the war (mid-May 1948 to January 1949), which was fought between the invading armies of the Arab states--Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan (supplemented by Sudanese, Saudi, Yemeni, and Moroccan contingents)--and the newborn state of Israel, the Arab side began with an overwhelming, or what should have been an overwhelming, advantage in equipment and firepower. In the first fortnight of the invasion, the Arabs had more than seventy combat aircraft, Spitfires and Furies, and the Yishuv had none. (The Israelis assembled and sent into action their first four combat aircraft, Czech-built Messerschmidt 109s, on May 29, and lost two of them.) During the following months, the Arabs continued to enjoy an overwhelming advantage in combat aircraft. Until the end of June, certainly, the Arab invaders possessed a massive superiority in all other types of heavy weaponry: they deployed about two hundred standard armored fighting vehicles (Humbers, Daimlers, and Marmon Harringtons), many of them mounting two- and six-pounder cannon; dozens of tanks (Cruiser, Locust, Mark 6, and Renault); and dozens of artillery pieces. The Israelis had two tanks, one of them without a gun; and one, then two, batteries of light pre-World War I-vintage 65mm Mountain artillery; and makeshift armored cars, civilian trucks patched up with steel plates in Tel Aviv workshops.

During the following months, until the war's practical end in January 1949 (the war formally ended in a series of armistice agreements signed between February and July), the Arab edge in heavy weaponry gradually decreased, partly as a result of attrition and the failure to acquire spare parts and ammunition, and partly because of Israel's successful arms purchases in Czechoslovakia and the West. But at the end of hostilities the Arabs still had more fighter aircraft and tanks, and perhaps even artillery, than the Israelis--though they lacked the expertise to use them and, over time, progressively lacked the necessary spare parts and munitions to deploy them effectively. The Israelis managed to circumvent the international arms embargo that had been imposed on the Middle East; the Arabs tried to do so, but largely failed.

As for manpower, the picture of relative force remains somewhat murky. The reason for the incompleteness of our knowledge is simple. Israel's archives are open, and the figures for the Israeli side are clear and available; but the archives of all the Arab states, which are dictatorships, remain closed. Thus the figures about Arab military manpower at given stages of the war remain partial and tentative, based perforce mainly on IDF intelligence estimates. But according to the latest research, particularly the work of Amitzur Ilan and Yehoshua Ben-Aryeh and Asaf Agin, the invading Arab troops (in the third week of May 1948) numbered 22,000 to 28,000, bolstered by several thousand irregulars, while the Haganah, the mainstream Zionist militia, which became the IDF on June 1, 1948, fielded some 27,000 to 30,000 troops, with another 6,000 elderly Home Guardsmen, and some 2,000 to 3,000 IZL members. (The IZL was the Irgun Zva'i Leumi, or National Military Organization, a terrorist-militia group of the Zionist right.) But the invading Arab forces were all combat troops, teeth formations, who were backed, in terms of logistics, training, and so on, by at least a similar number of rear-echelon base camp troops; whereas the Haganah figure includes both combat troops (all told, about 16,000 to 17,000) and rear echelon units.

In mid-October, the balance stood at 79,000-95,000 to 47,000-53,000 in favor of the Israelis, who vastly expanded their recruitment. But again, the figure for the Arabs represents the numbers engaged in Palestine, not the full roll call of the relevant Arab armies, with their rear echelons. (All these figures relate to ground forces; the air and naval forces of the two sides, which were negligible in terms of manpower and importance, are omitted.) It is perhaps worth adding that in 1948 Israel suffered just over 6,000 dead, one-third of them civilians, out of a total population of 650,000 to 700,000--or one killed and two seriously wounded out of every hundred in the population--in the course of a year-long war that was launched, in two stages, by the Palestinian Arabs (in November-December 1947) and by the Arab states (in May 1948) after they had rejected the United Nations Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947. (Had America suffered a similar proportion of casualties in the Vietnam War, there would have been more than two million dead and four million wounded.) Arab losses in 1948 are uncertain. It is usually estimated that about 8,000 Palestinians died, and that the Arab armies' fatalities were about half that number.

So yes, Israel won each of its wars against the Arab states. But no, this was not because it had greater manpower or more equipment; it usually had less of each. The wars were decided by the failure of the significantly stronger and more populous Arab world to mobilize its resources or concentrate its forces where they counted, or to provide them with adequate leadership.


This brings us to Israel's recent conflict with the Palestinians, on a lower level of intensity but still ongoing, and to its treatment by Mearsheimer and Walt. Without a doubt, the ratio of Israeli power to Palestinian power in 2000-2005, the years of the second intifada, was at least 100:1 in Israel's favor, in terms of raw conventional military strength. (This, without taking into account Israel's non-conventional military capabilities.) This intifada, this war, was launched by the Palestinians, who enjoyed the propaganda benefit of underdog status. The photograph of the disheveled stone-throwing or Kalashnikov-brandishing fighter facing down the Merkava Mark-III main battle tank became a representative image of this conflict. But it was a misleading representation. For the fearsome Merkava tanks almost never used their firepower against the Palestinians, much as the IAF F-16s and Apache attack helicopters usually (but not always) attacked empty Palestinian public buildings or individual terrorists in cars. The Hamas and Fatah fighters operated from behind a shield of Palestinian civilians and from crowded urban refugee camps and neighborhoods, and so Israel fought with both hands tied behind its back. Its actual firepower--its tanks, aircraft, and cannon--was never unleashed.

This accounts for the relatively low number of Arab deaths (four thousand in five years of warfare), and the relatively low proportion of Arab to Jewish deaths (3.5:1), as compared with the actual calculus of Israeli versus Arab military strength (100:1) and the relative proportion of armed to unarmed Arab casualties (about 2:1). Most of the Arabs killed in the intifada, despite the fact that it was mostly fought in heavily populated Arab areas, were armed fighters, not civilians. And the ratio of armed to unarmed Arab casualties has steadily risen in recent years as the IDF has perfected its modus operandi and become more careful. The famous battle of the Jenin refugee camp in spring 2002 is an illuminating example. Arab lies and gullible journalism about an indiscriminate slaughter notwithstanding (Human Rights Watch and other non-partisan bodies subsequently upheld the Israeli version), only fifty-three Jeninites died, all but five or six of them armed combatants. Israel lost twenty-three infantrymen in the battle. Had Israel dealt with that Fatah-Hamas bastion as, say, the Russians dealt with Grozny--from afar, with massive ground and aerial bombardments--no Israeli lives would have been lost, and Jenin would no longer be standing.

Throughout the second intifada, Israeli policy was to avoid, so far as possible, harm to non-combatants, and the IDF generally took great operational care to avoid civilian casualties. Some "collateral damage" did occur, given the nature of the battlefield. Some Israeli soldiers were trigger-happy and exceeded orders. But generally the targeted killing of terrorists--who see themselves, quite correctly, as soldiers in a war, and hence are legitimate targets for attack--resulted in few civilian casualties. (The Israeli air and artillery attacks in Gaza earlier this month offer a characteristic example: of eighteen Arabs killed, fifteen or sixteen, by Palestinian admission, were combatants.)

On the other hand, during the second intifada Arab attacks on Israelis claimed twice as many civilians' lives as soldiers' lives. (Mearsheimer and Walt bury this fact in a footnote, without explanation.) This was a result of deliberation and intention, not accident. Throughout the intifada, Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad primarily targeted "soft" civilian targets (buses, restaurants, shopping malls, and last week a Tel Aviv falafel kiosk), preferring them to "hard" military targets, which were more difficult and more dangerous. The Palestinian objective was to sow terror in Israel's rear areas. The difference in strategy, and all that this implies in terms of moral orientation, was stark. The Palestinian aim was to kill as many civilians as possible; and the Palestinian masses rejoiced in the streets of Gaza and Ramallah every time a suicide bomber successfully blew up a bus or a shopping mall or a café in Israel. And this, historically speaking, was merely a refinement of the Palestinian tactics of terror used against the Yishuv since the 1920s (and not, as Arab propagandists would have it, only after 1967).

The IDF's aim, by contrast, was to kill guerrillas/terrorists and their commanders, such as Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Mearsheimer and Walt misleadingly call him the "spiritual" head of Hamas. One might, with equal accuracy, call Hitler the "spiritual" head of the Nazi Party. Neither actually murdered anyone with his bare hands. But their differences notwithstanding, both were the organizational and operational directors of their respective movements, as well as the movements' "spiritual" leaders.


In their survey of the conflict's history, Mearsheimer and Walt write that "the mainstream Zionist leadership was not interested in establishing a bi-national state or accepting a permanent partition of Palestine ... To achieve this goal [of turning all of Palestine into a sovereign Jewish state], the Zionists had to expel large numbers of Arabs from the territory that would eventually become Israel. There was simply no other way to accomplish their objective. ... This opportunity came in 1947-1948, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians into exile. ... The fact that the creation of Israel entailed a moral crime against the Palestinian people was well understood by Israel's leaders." Let us examine these assertions one by one.

Mearsheimer and Walt are implicitly arguing that the Zionist movement never really wanted or accepted a compromise--at the very least, that the Jewish national movement was no different from the Palestinian national movement, which always demanded a one-state solution and rejected a compromise based on partition. Now, it is true that Zionism sought the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, not a bi-national state in which Jews would enjoy minority status in yet another Muslim-Arab land or in which there would be temporary Jewish-Muslim parity--which, as everybody understood, given the high Arab birth rate, would quickly be transformed into a state with an Arab majority and a Jewish minority. But the acceptance or non-acceptance of partition is another matter. Mearsheimer and Walt imply that down to (and maybe even beyond) 1948, the Zionist leadership rejected the partition of Palestine. This is simply false, no matter what misleading quotations they cull from eminent Israeli historians.

Until 1936-1937, certainly, the Zionist mainstream sought to establish a Jewish state over all of Palestine. But something began to change fundamentally during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, which was conducted against the background of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe and the threat of genocide. In July 1937, the British royal commission headed by Lord Peel recommended the partition of Palestine, with the Jews to establish their own state on some 20 percent of the land and the bulk of the remainder to fall under Arab sovereignty (ultimately to be conjoined to the Emirate of Transjordan, ruled by the Emir Abdullah). The commission also recommended the transfer--by agreement or "voluntarily," and if necessary by force--of all or most of the Arabs from the area destined for Jewish statehood. The Zionist right, the Revisionist movement, rejected the proposals. But mainstream Zionism, representing 80 to 90 percent of the movement, was thrown into ferocious debate; and, shepherded by David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leadership ended up formally accepting the principle of partition, if not the actual award of 20 percent of the land. The movement resolved that the Peel proposals were a basis for further negotiation.

It is true that Ben-Gurion harbored a hope, in 1937, that such a partition would be but a "first step," to be followed by eventual Zionist expansion throughout Palestine. But the years that followed sobered Zionism and changed the movement's thinking. The movement's formal acceptance of the principle of partition was gradually digested and incorporated into the mentality of the Zionist mainstream, which understood that the Jewish people needed an immediate safe haven from European savagery, and that the movement would have to take what history was offering and could gain no more. The Jewish nationalist leaders called this "pragmatism."

By November 1947, the Zionists' reconciliation to a partial realization of their dreams was complete (except on the fringes of the movement), and Zionism's mainstream, led by Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, once and for all internalized the necessity of partition and accepted the U.N. partition resolution. The 1948 war was fought by Israel with a partitionist outlook, and it ended in partition (with the West Bank and East Jerusalem under Jordanian rule and the Gaza Strip controlled by Egypt), despite Israel's military superiority at its conclusion. During the following two decades, down to June 1967, there was a general acceptance by the Israeli mainstream of the fact, and the permanence, of partition.

As is well known, the Israeli victory and conquests of 1967 re-awakened the controversy about partition and for a time empowered the "Greater Israel" anti-partitionists, until their decline and fall, which began with Yitzhak Rabin's election to the premiership in 1992. Partition--or a two-state solution--remained the goal of all Rabin's successors: Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, and most notably Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert (though not Benjamin Netanyahu), and also of the bulk of the Israeli public. But Mearsheimer and Walt do not venture into this significant field.

The Palestinian story was different. The Palestinian national movement, from its inception up to 2000, from Haj Amin al Husseini to Yasser Arafat, backed by the Arab world, rejected a two-state solution. There was no great debate. The Palestinian leadership rejected the 1937 and 1947 partition plans (and the Begin-Sadat "autonomy plan" of 1978, which would have led to a two-state solution), and insisted that the Jews had no right to even an inch of Palestine. And the Palestinian government of today, led by the popularly elected Hamas, continues to espouse this uncompromising, anti-partitionist one-state position. All of this is completely ignored in Mearsheimer and Walt's "history."


And now to the issue of transfer and expulsion. It is true, as Mearsheimer and Walt observe, quoting me, that "the idea of transfer is as old as modern Zionism and has accompanied its evolution and praxis during the past century." But once again the matter is complicated, and the problem of who said and did what, and where, and when, and why, is all-important. This complexity has proved too great for Mearsheimer and Walt to handle.

Zionist leaders, from Herzl through Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, between 1881 and the mid-1940s, occasionally expressed support for the "transfer" of Arabs, or of "the Arabs," out of the territory of the future Jewish state. But three salient facts must be recalled. First, the Zionist leadership throughout never adopted the idea as part of the movement's political platform; nor did it ever figure in the platforms of any of the major Zionist parties. Second, the Zionist leaders generally said, and believed, that a Jewish majority would be achieved in Palestine, or in whatever part of it became a Jewish state, by means of massive Jewish immigration, and that this immigration would also materially benefit the Arab population (which it generally did during the Mandate). Third, the awful idea of transfer was resurrected and pressed by Zionist leaders at particular historical junctures, at moments of acute crisis, in response to Arab waves of violence that seemed to vitiate the possibility of Arab-Jewish co-existence in a single state, and in response to waves of European anti-Semitic violence that, from the Zionist viewpoint, necessitated the achievement of a safe haven for Europe's oppressed and threatened Jews. Such a haven required space in which to settle the Jewish masses and an environment free of murderous Arabs: this, indeed, was the logic behind the Peel Commission's transfer recommendation.

Moreover, during the 1930s and 1940s, the espoused policy of the leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement, the Muslim cleric Haj Amin al Husseini, was frankly expulsionist about the Yishuv. He repeatedly stated that he was willing, in his future Palestinian state, to accommodate as citizens only those Jews who had been residents or citizens of Palestine up to 1917--say, 60,000 to 80,000 in all. When asked in 1937 by the Peel Commission what he intended to do with the 80 percent of the Jews who had been born in or come to Palestine after that date, he responded that time will tell. The commissioners understood him to mean that they were destined for expulsion or worse.

In other words, the surge in thinking about transfer in the late 1930s among mainstream Zionist leaders was in part a response to the expulsionist mentality of the Palestinians, which was reinforced by ongoing Arab violence and terrorism. The violence resulted in Britain's severely curtailing immigration to Palestine, thus assuring that many Jews who otherwise might have been saved were left stranded in Europe (and consigned to death), while at the same time foreclosing the traditional Zionist option and aim of achieving a Jewish majority in Palestine through immigration. Mearsheimer and Walt rightly take to task the anti-Arab terrorism of the Irgun in those years; but they omit to mention that the Irgun unleashed its bloody operations in response to Arab terrorism, and that in any case it represented only the fringe right wing of the Zionist movement, of which the mainstream--unlike the Palestinian Arab national movement--consistently rejected and condemned terrorism.

During the early 1940s, against the backdrop of the Holocaust and official British deliberations about a postwar solution to the Palestine problem based on partition, all understood (as had the Peel Commission) that any partition not accompanied by a transfer of Arabs out of the territory of the Jewish-state-to-be would be unstable or pointless, as the large Arab minority, if left in place, would be disloyal and rebellious, and would inevitably enjoy the support of the surrounding Arab world. Such a settlement would solve nothing. British officials and Arab heads of state (who, of course, feared to state these views in public) shared this view. That is why the British Labour Party Executive in 1944 supported partition accompanied by transfer, and that is why Jordan's Emir Abdullah and Iraq's prime minister Nuri Said, among other Arab statesmen, supported such a population transfer if Palestine was to be partitioned.

And, indeed, in 1947-1948 the Palestinian Arabs, supported by the surrounding Arab world, rebelled against the U.N. partition resolution and unleashed a bloody civil war, which was followed by a pan-Arab invasion. The war resulted in a large, partial transfer of population. The chaos that all had foreseen if Palestine were partitioned without an orderly population transfer in fact enveloped the country. But this is emphatically not to say, as Mearsheimer and Walt do, that the Zionists' occasional ruminations about transfer were translated in 1947-1948 into a overall plan and policy--unleashed, as they put it, when the "opportunity came," as if what occurred in 1948 was a general and premeditated expulsion.

The Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan, which provided for a Jewish state in 55 percent of Palestine with 550,000 Jews and between 400,000 and 500,000 Arabs. The Jewish Agency called on the Arabs to desist from violence, and promised a life of beneficial co-existence. In private, Zionist officials began planning agricultural and regional development that took into account the large Arab minority and its continued citizenship in the new Jewish state. Indeed, down to the end of March 1948, after four months of the Palestinian Arab assault on the Yishuv, backed by the Arab League, Zionist policy was geared to the establishment of a Jewish state with a large Arab minority. Haganah policy throughout these months was to remain on the defensive, to avoid hitting civilians, and generally to refrain from spreading the conflagration to parts of Palestine still untouched by warfare. Indeed, on March 24, 1948, Yisrael Galili, the head of the Haganah National Command, the political leadership of the organization, issued a secret blanket directive to all brigades and units to abide by long-standing official Zionist policy toward the Arab communities in the territory of the emergent Jewish state--to secure "the full rights, needs, and freedom of the Arabs in the Hebrew state without discrimination" and to strive for "co-existence with freedom and respect," as he put it. And this was not a document devised for Western or U.N. eyes, with a propagandistic purpose; it was a secret, blanket, internal operational directive, in Hebrew.

It was only at the start of April, with its back to the wall (much of the Yishuv, in particular Jewish Jerusalem, was being strangled by Arab ambushes along the roads) and facing the prospect of pan-Arab invasion six weeks hence, that the Haganah changed its strategy and went over to the offensive, and began uprooting Palestinian communities, unsystematically and without a general policy. Needless to say, the invasion by the combined armies of the Arab states on May 15 only hardened Yishuv hearts toward the Palestinians who had summoned the invaders, whose declared purpose--as Azzam Pasha, the secretary-general of the Arab League, put it--was to re-enact a Mongol-like massacre, or, as others said, to drive the Jews into the sea. And yet Israel never adopted a general policy of expulsion (or incarceration--as did the United States in its internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, without being under direct existential threat), which accounts for the fact that 160,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became citizens in 1949. They accounted for more than 15 percent of the country's population.

From Mearsheimer and Walt, you would never suspect that the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem in 1948 occurred against the backdrop, and as the result, of a war--a war that for the Jews was a matter of survival, and which those same Palestinians and their Arab brothers had launched. To omit this historical background is bad history--and stark dishonesty. It is quite true, and quite understandable, that the Israeli government during the war decided to bar a return of the refugees to their homes--to bar the return of those who, before becoming refugees, had attempted to destroy the Jewish state and whose continued loyalty to the Jewish state, if they were readmitted, would have been more than questionable. There was nothing "innocent," as Mearsheimer and Walt put it, about the Palestinians and their behavior before their eviction-evacuation in 1947-1948 (as there was nothing innocent about Haj Amin al Husseini's work for the Nazis in Berlin from 1941 to 1945, broadcasting anti-Allied propaganda and recruiting Muslim troops for the Wehrmacht). And what befell the Palestinians was not "a moral crime," whatever that might mean; it was something the Palestinians brought down upon themselves, with their own decisions and actions, their own historical agency. But they like to deny their historical agency, and many "sympathetic" outsiders like to abet them in this illusion, which is significantly responsible for their continued statelessness.


One last historical point, about contemporary history. Mearsheimer and Walt recycle the canard that Israel and the United States offered the Palestinians nothing of worth, nothing that they should have accepted, in the negotiations in 2000. They write that Barak's peace proposals at Camp David offered the Palestinians "a disarmed and dismembered set of 'Bantustans' under de facto Israeli control." But according to the most reliable witnesses and participants in the talks--and the Palestinian side, for good reason, has never produced a detailed description of the negotiations at Camp David, a day-by-day account of who offered what and when--by the end of the Camp David negotiation in the summer of 2000 Barak had offered the Palestinians a state comprising 90 to 91 percent of the West Bank, 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, and functional control of parts of East Jerusalem. A bridge or tunnel would have connected the West Bank and Gaza. Was this really not a reasonable basis for Palestinian sovereignty? But Arafat said no and walked out, and the Palestinians launched the second intifada.

And unlike what readers might infer from Mearsheimer and Walt, this was not the end of that year's diplomatic process. In December, President Clinton--with Barak's approval--improved the deal, offering the Palestinians 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank (with territorial compensation elsewhere for the 4 to 6 percent lost), 100 percent of the Gaza Strip, sovereignty over East Jerusalem including at least half of the Old City, sovereignty over the surface of the disputed Temple Mount, and massive help to rehabilitate the refugees. Again the Palestinians said no, and continued shooting. The Israeli Cabinet, with a heavy heart, endorsed the Clinton parameters. The Americans and the Israelis, contrary to Mearsheimer and Walt, most certainly offered the Palestinians "a viable state of their own." It was precisely such a state that the Palestinians, in their stupidity, turned down.

Accurate descriptions and maps of the Israeli offer in July and the Israeli-endorsed Clinton parameters of December--as well as the Palestinians' spurious map of what was offered them--may be found in Dennis Ross's The Missing Peace. Ross was the chief American Middle East negotiator. (Mearsheimer and Walt rely on a map contained in The New Intifada, edited by Roane Carey; but Ross, unlike Carey, was party to and knew in great detail what went on, and was privy to all the documentation.) In his autobiography, Clinton backs to the hilt Ross's version of what was said and offered (as does Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was the Israeli foreign minister at the time, in his recent book Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, which elsewhere is highly critical of Israel). All three state clearly that Arafat said no. Mearsheimer and Walt, amateur students of the subject with a political ax to grind, transform this no into a yes.

I say amateur students because there are outrageously incorrect historical assertions in Mearsheimer and Walt's work, often buried in the footnotes. For instance, footnote 10 states: "It is also worth noting that the British favored the Zionists over the Palestinians during the period of the British Mandate (1919-1948)." But during the Mandate, both Arabs and Jews were "Palestinians"; and the Mandate began de facto in 1917-1918, when the British conquered Palestine, in two stages, from the Turks; or in 1920, when the civilian administration was installed and the San Remo conference endorsed the Mandate ("1919" is in any case a meaningless date in this regard). And most importantly, the British government clearly "favored" Zionism in the years between 1917 and 1936 (though many of its officers and officials in Palestine, including some of the high commissioners, did not); but it certainly did not in the years between 1938 and 1948. In 1939, Whitehall published a White Paper that portended and backed the establishment in Palestine of an Arab-majority state (Husseini rejected that, too); and in 1947 the British abstained when the U.N. General Assembly authorized partition and Jewish statehood; and in 1947-1948 the British provided the Egyptian and Iraqi armies with arms and advice, and in 1948 they provided money, arms, and leadership to the Jordanian Army, the Arab Legion, as it battled the Jewish state under the command of a British officer, John Glubb. The British can hardly be described in 1939-1948 as pro-Zionist, though Ben-Gurion's traditional depiction of them in 1948 as orchestrating the pan-Arab assault on Israel was also wide of the mark.

Consider some other examples. On page 6, Mearsheimer and Walt assert that Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst in the 1980s, provided Israel with classified American material, "which Israel reportedly passed onto the Soviet Union to gain more exit visas for Soviet Jewry." To the best of my knowledge, this is a lie. On page 9, Mearsheimer and Walt write that "citizenship [of Israel] is based on the principle of blood kinship." This is an outrageous assertion, with the worst possible echoes. The truth is that since the state's inception, 15 to 20 percent of Israel's citizens have been Muslim and Christian Arabs. In 1948-1949, citizenship was granted to all persons living in the country, regardless of race or religion, and it is granted by law after five years of residency and the satisfaction of various qualifications (as in all western democracies) to applicants today regardless of race or religion--though it is true that Jewish immigrants can and do receive citizenship upon arrival in Israel, and it is also true that Israel is a Jewish state, as France is (and, I hope, will remain) a French state and Britain is a British state. On page 12, Mearsheimer and Walt write, referring to my book Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956, that Israel's retaliatory strikes in the early 1950s "were actually part of a broader effort to expand Israel's borders." This is incorrect--and had they used my book honestly, they could not have reached such a conclusion. On page 10, they observe that "The Arabs ... had been in continuous possession of [Palestine] for 1300 years," which is incorrect, and that there were "only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine" in 1882, which is also incorrect. (Typically, Mearsheimer and Walt cite as their authority Justin McCarthy's The Population of Palestine, without noting that he also assumed the existence of additional thousands of Jews in Palestine who were not Ottoman citizens.) And so on.

In their introduction, Mearsheimer and Walt tell their readers that "the facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars.... The evidence on which they rest is not controversial." This is ludicrous. I would offer their readers a contrary proposition: that the "facts" presented by Mearsheimer and Walt suggest a fundamental ignorance of the history with which they deal, and that the "evidence" they deploy is so tendentious as to be evidence only of an acute bias. That is what will be not in serious dispute among scholars.

Benny Morris , a professor Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University, is the author, most recently, of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge University Press).

Thursday, April 27, 2006

In Defence of the Euston Manifesto (Shalom Lappin)

Shalom Lappin, one of the authors of the Euston Manifesto, explains his understanding of its main thrust and significance (which may or may not be precisely identical to the understanding of other drafters and signatories). This is a characteristically clear, cogent, and intellectually substantial statement. Here are a few highlights, but it should be read and considered as a whole.
1. The Euston Manifesto is not a pro-war document. While many of its signatories supported the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, others did not. I have consistently opposed the war as misconceived. I remain convinced that it has caused more damage than good. [....] Where I (and, I believe, other anti-war signatories of the manifesto) part company with much of the official anti-war movement is in refusing to treat the homicidal regime of Saddam Hussein as a marginal problem, and in not being willing to indulge the grotesque fantasy that the terrorist insurgency currently targeting the Iraqi people is a progressive anti-imperialist resistance.
While disagreeing with my pro-war colleagues on the wisdom of the intervention, I strongly endorse their view that the primary objective in Iraq ought to be the development of democratic institutions that protect the human rights and security of all of its people. [....]

I, like many other signatories, am a social democrat very much concerned to sustain the integrity of the public domain against the onslaught of privatization and expropriation that have resulted from the dogmatic pursuit of neo-liberal ideas. The manifesto focuses on the core values of social egalitarianism and support for organized labour within free unions, but it does not commit its supporters to specific economic models. [....]

The Euston Manifesto does not engage in cheer-leading for globalizing economic trends, nor does it regard globalization as an unmitigated disaster to be resisted at all costs. It sees the emergence of increasingly integrated world markets as analogous to the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In both cases rapid technological and economic change produced wrenching social upheaval and new wealth. [....] The current revolution in global markets and methods of production has rendered the traditional constraints on the power of private capital ineffective. [....]

The great challenge of progressive politics in the current era is to redefine the social-democratic project in internationalist terms in order to promote the creation of an effective set of public instruments for managing a dynamic global economy in the interests of wage earners and consumers. By contrast, part of the left has embraced a radical anti-globalization view. In so doing they have placed themselves in the position of latter day Luddites and romantic agrarians. This is a reactionary stance that seeks to halt development rather than to harness its benefits for the alleviation of poverty and underdevelopment. A progressive political response to globalizing economic patterns does not seek to suppress change or to block development. Its primary objective is to use the opportunities of economic growth to promote social and environmental rationality.

4. The Euston Manifesto is not a cover for disillusioned radicals seeking to adopt a neo-conservative agenda. It is an attempt by people deeply committed to the values of the democratic left to respond to the profound political crisis that now grips Europe and most of the West. This crisis threatens the fabric of liberal democracy, as large swaths of what presents itself as the left make common cause with religious extremism, totalitarianism and anti-Semitism, while xenophobia and social brutality emerge as dominant themes on the right. We find ourselves continuing the struggle of our predecessors in previous generations of the social-democratic left, who fought the perversions of Stalinism and its apologists on one side, and the supporters of a social order designed to service the interests of established privilege and power on the other. [....]
Read the whole thing (below). --Jeff Weintraub

Guest-posted on the weblog of Norman Geras (Normblog)
April 27, 2006

Platform six (by Shalom Lappin)

In Defence of the Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto has attracted considerable reaction both among bloggers and, increasingly, within the mainstream press. A significant part of this comment, even when it has been favourable, has misrepresented the manifesto. It is important to clarify some of the misunderstandings that have emerged. Although Alan Johnson has covered several of these issues in his fine post, a number of points bear further amplification. I will briefly address four of them.

1. The Euston Manifesto is not a pro-war document. While many of its signatories supported the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, others did not. I have consistently opposed the war as misconceived. I remain convinced that it has caused more damage than good. Specifically, it seems to me that the likely long term outcome of the campaign will be a severe fracturing of Iraq along sectarian lines, with Iran securing a virtual protectorate in the Shiite areas, and the Sunni-dominated sector providing an expanding haven for Islamist and Baathist terrorism that threatens not simply the people of Iraq but much of the Middle East. Where I (and, I believe, other anti-war signatories of the manifesto) part company with much of the official anti-war movement is in refusing to treat the homicidal regime of Saddam Hussein as a marginal problem, and in not being willing to indulge the grotesque fantasy that the terrorist insurgency currently targeting the Iraqi people is a progressive anti-imperialist resistance.

While disagreeing with my pro-war colleagues on the wisdom of the intervention, I strongly endorse their view that the primary objective in Iraq ought to be the development of democratic institutions that protect the human rights and security of all of its people. Some of the most vocal figures in the anti-war movement have brought disgrace upon their cause by first serving as virtual apologists for a fascist regime, and then as propagandists for the terrorists who now seek to destroy any movement towards democratic reconstruction. Moreover, opposing the war in Iraq does not entail rejecting any intervention motivated by a concern to prevent mass murder. Each case must be evaluated on its merits. Unfortunately, this is not the view of a significant number of the high profile leaders of the anti-war movement. They also opposed the American bombing campaign (and any other effort) to halt Milosevic's assaults in Bosnia and Kosovo. They have sustained an appalling silence over the large scale violence and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and they would, one suspects, strongly object to any serious move to halt it. This is hardly a progressive political stance. It is a primitive isolationist (and anti-Western) reflex parading as anti-imperialism.

2. The Euston Manifesto is in no sense an endorsement of Third Way economic and social policies or a defence of New Labour. I, like many other signatories, am a social democrat very much concerned to sustain the integrity of the public domain against the onslaught of privatization and expropriation that have resulted from the dogmatic pursuit of neo-liberal ideas. The manifesto focuses on the core values of social egalitarianism and support for organized labour within free unions, but it does not commit its supporters to specific economic models. It is not intended to serve as a detailed party programme or an ideological blueprint. Instead, it identifies a general location in the political spectrum at which liberals, social democrats, and other progressives converge in their view of the basic conditions for sustaining a decent social order.

3. The Euston Manifesto does not engage in cheer-leading for globalizing economic trends, nor does it regard globalization as an unmitigated disaster to be resisted at all costs. It sees the emergence of increasingly integrated world markets as analogous to the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In both cases rapid technological and economic change produced wrenching social upheaval and new wealth. Initially, this wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small business elite with resulting exploitation of labour and expanding class inequalities. As the welfare state and the labour movement emerged, the benefits of industrialization were distributed more evenly and class inequality reduced. The current revolution in global markets and methods of production has rendered the traditional constraints on the power of private capital ineffective. In the face of globalizing pressures European social-democratic governments have largely given up their traditional role as agents of social reform and egalitarianism. Instead, they have been reduced to ameliorating the anti-social effects of change while pursuing business-friendly policies in order to stem the offshore flight of investment to low wage economies.

The great challenge of progressive politics in the current era is to redefine the social-democratic project in internationalist terms in order to promote the creation of an effective set of public instruments for managing a dynamic global economy in the interests of wage earners and consumers. By contrast, part of the left has embraced a radical anti-globalization view. In so doing they have placed themselves in the position of latter day Luddites and romantic agrarians. This is a reactionary stance that seeks to halt development rather than to harness its benefits for the alleviation of poverty and underdevelopment. A progressive political response to globalizing economic patterns does not seek to suppress change or to block development. Its primary objective is to use the opportunities of economic growth to promote social and environmental rationality.

4. The Euston Manifesto is not a cover for disillusioned radicals seeking to adopt a neo-conservative agenda. It is an attempt by people deeply committed to the values of the democratic left to respond to the profound political crisis that now grips Europe and most of the West. This crisis threatens the fabric of liberal democracy, as large swaths of what presents itself as the left make common cause with religious extremism, totalitarianism and anti-Semitism, while xenophobia and social brutality emerge as dominant themes on the right. We find ourselves continuing the struggle of our predecessors in previous generations of the social-democratic left, who fought the perversions of Stalinism and its apologists on one side, and the supporters of a social order designed to service the interests of established privilege and power on the other. Above all our politics are informed by the assumption that for a movement to be progressive in substance rather than in name only, it must seek to sustain and deepen democratic institutions and human rights in any context that it addresses rather than to undermine them. Although this assumption may seem obvious to the point of triviality to some, the ease with which many who speak in the name of the left have discarded its obligations has compelled us to place it at the centre of our manifesto. (Shalom Lappin, King's College, London)

Juan Cole's misplaced defense of Mearsheimer & Walt

Juan Cole announces (in his Informed Comment website) that he is circulating a petition in defense of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, authors of a recent manifesto attacking the "Israel Lobby" and its alleged stranglehold over US Mideast policy. (Cole has already written a defense of Mearsheimer & Walt and an attack on their critics, which I found unconvincing.) With all due respect, the basic premise of his petition is a red herring.
I've started a petition drive for college and university teachers to defend John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt from baseless charges of anti-Semitism.
The petition begins as follows:
We note with dismay that when eminent political scientists John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard published their “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy” in the London Review of Books, they were subjected to a barrage of ad hominem attacks. In particular, they were smeared as “anti-Semites”. This epithet was hurled at them by the Anti-Defamation League, Eliot A. Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, Representative Eliot Engel, Richard L. Cravatts, and many others.
I am not familiar with the relevant statements of Representative Eliot Engel. [Update: Congressman Engel did, in fact, use that "epithet," but none of the others. --JW] However, I have read the critiques of Mearsheimer & Walt's "Israel Lobby" analysis by Eliot Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, and Richard L. Cravatts (included here). None of these critics--nor, for that matter, any serious critic I am aware of--has charged that Mearsheimer & Walt's arguments were motivated by anti-semitism. (This is the criterion that Cole himself spells out.) Nor has the Anti-Defamation League.

That is a different matter from asking whether, in practice, Mearsheimer & Walt's piece recycles arguments with anti-semitic overtones and implications, and does so in irresponsible and potentially pernicious ways. I think the answer happens to be yes, but at all events, that is a completely reasonable and legitimate question to ask in this case, and to declare by fiat that Mearsheimer & Walt's arguments are out of bounds to such criticisms makes no sense. (If we ask whether their arguments are marked by pervasive anti-Zionism, that is, by systematic bias and misrepresentation directed against Israel and its supporters, then that's an open-and-shut case.) Cole himself often criticizes arguments that he considers biased against Islam, Arabs, Muslims, or Palestinians without necessarily claiming that the people who make them are personally racists or anti-Islamic bigots. Are such criticisms inherently out of bounds, too?

I don't know what other critics Juan Cole has in mind when he speaks of "many others" (here are some serious critiques that I know about). But the three academic critics whom he mentions by name in his petition have all offered critiques that engaged Mearsheimer & Walt's actual arguments--something that many of their defenders have failed to do, as I noted here and here. One can agree or disagree with the substance or tone of their assessments. But Cole's accusation against them in his petition is simply inaccurate (or, to use his term, "baseless").

Of course, not all reactions to Mearsheimer & Walt's manifesto--negative or positive--have kept such distinctions carefully in mind. Let me emphasize that, based on everything I know about Mearsheimer & Walt, I am confident that there is no good reason to believe that their arguments are motivated by anti-semitism, and to make this charge is both unfair and a harmful distraction from the real issues. However, the claims that Cole is making here about serious criticisms of Mearsheimer & Walt's arguments equally unfair and harmfully misleading. Juan Cole should rewrite or withdraw his petition, and no serious person ought to sign it.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. Several correspondents pointed out, to quote one of them: "Good, but IMO the most outrageous thing is that the petition is addressed to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Apparently, Juan believes that they are the Elders or will deliver it to them." I'm afraid they have a point. Does Juan Cole believe that people like Eliot Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, Richard Cravatts, et al. get their talking points from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations? As another correspondent put it: "The Conference does important work, but what is Cole thinking in directing the petition there? That it's some sort of headquarters where opinions are coordinated?"]

Finkelstein’s Follies: The Dangers of Vulgar Anti-Zionism (Tobias Abse)

Stuart Elliott alerted me to this devastating piece on the appalling Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, that appeared in the British journal New Interventions (which appears to be broadly Trotskyist in orientation) in 2000. I don't know the journal, but this examination of Finkelstein is quite good--cogent and to the point. Some highlights:

Finkelstein intermittently poses as a rigorous Marxist theoretician concerned with ‘power’, ‘interests’ and ‘ideology’, contemptuously remarking: ‘Novick’s central analytical category is "memory". Currently all the rage in ivory towers "memory" is the most impoverished concept to come down from the academic pike in a long time.’ (p.5)

Finkelstein, who as brief asides in his critique of Goldhagen, co-written with Ruth Bettina Birn, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth (New York, 1998), showed, has always been contemptuous of the value of oral sources for the history of the Holocaust, seems to have next to no knowledge of the extensive literature on memory, whether collective or individual, that has been a by-product of the growth of oral history over the last 25 years or so, so this attack seems to be gratuitous abuse without any substantial theoretical or empirical underpinning. In any case, such lofty condescension about methodology ill-becomes Finkelstein, given that his own work soon degenerates into a journalistic rant that frequently lacks a coherent structure, particularly in the longest and worst chapter, ‘The Double Shakedown’, a bizarre paean to Swiss bankers and German industrialists that is notable for its lack of any real conceptual rigour, to which I will return in due course. [....]

However, as the book progresses, any initial sympathy one might have had with Finkelstein as a leftist engaged in an unequal battle with the American Zionist establishment vanishes. [....]

With ever increasing frequency, the overall tone of Finkelstein’s work becomes increasingly reminiscent of a neo-Nazi tract; no non-Jewish anti-Stalinist left-wing opponent of Zionism would ever dare to indulge in such blatant anti-Semitic stereotyping, at least in Europe and the USA, although such a discourse would be widespread in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and might find an echo in one strange British sect originating in the Stalinist milieu (whose rentier theoretician was once the youth organiser of the ultra-Stalinist New Communist Party) that has become notorious for its convoluted apologias for Irving and Le Pen. [....]

If parts of the second chapter, ‘Hoaxers, Hucksters, and History’, start to induce nausea, the third chapter, ‘The Double Shakedown’, is impossible to stomach for anybody not already committed to an anti-Semitic world-view, and changes the overall balance of the text from a tract that might have been written by a sincere Jewish socialist whose awareness of a wider context in which his work might be misused is obscured by an excess of anti-Zionist zeal, to a truly pathological example of Jewish self-hatred the like of which has probably not been seen since early twentieth century Vienna. In his ‘Introduction’, Finkelstein claims: ‘The time is long past to open our hearts to the rest of humanity’s sufferings.’ (p.8) Most readers would naturally assume that this means opening our hearts to the wretched of the earth, and the book contains a fair number of references to the sufferings of native Americans, African Americans, Vietnamese and Palestinians, even if these people’s genuine woes are largely deployed to relativise the seriousness of Jewish grievances. [....]
In this context, Finkelstein’s solicitude for the Swiss bankers and, to a lesser extent, the German industrialists, whose alleged persecution by Jews receives a less extended treatment, is truly extraordinary.


But read the whole thing. --Jeff Weintraub

New Interventions
(Vol. 10, #2 2000)
Finkelstein’s Follies: The Dangers of Vulgar Anti-Zionism
Tobias Abse

NORMAN Finkelstein’s new book, The Holocaust Industry, does no service to the left, to Jews or to genuine anti-fascists of any variety. Objectively, this book, whose very title echoes the rhetoric of Holocaust denial rather in the way that the phrase ‘race relations industry’ is a hallmark of all British racists, provides considerable comfort to every Holocaust denier, neo-Nazi and anti-Semite on the face of the planet. It was no accident that the Evening Standard I bought on my way home from Finkelstein’s book launch in Bookmarks (where his presentation had somewhat disingenuously barely mentioned his third, longest and most controversial chapter) in July contained a ‘Diary’ item in which David Irving expressed his pleasure that Finkelstein had vindicated him against his critics.[....]

The questions that Peter Novick raised in his much longer and far more carefully considered work first published in 1999 in the USA as The Holocaust in American Life, and reissued a year later in Britain under the slightly misleading title of The Holocaust and Collective Memory, are perfectly legitimate ones, and deserve serious discussion. [....] Novick’s book is a serious and scholarly attempt to answer these questions, resting on years of research and reflection, in sharp contrast to Finkelstein’s hastily-written pamphlet which from internal evidence seems to have been cobbled together between January and April 2000 in response to Novick – whose book Finkelstein had reviewed for the London Review of Books (6 January 2000) – rather than out of some longstanding interest in the phenomenon. [....]

Undoubtedly, memorialisation has taken different forms in different countries, and Novick’s book clearly raises legitimate concerns about the form it has taken in the Washington Holocaust Museum, where, for example, the opening sentence from Niemöller’s famous list – ‘First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist, so I said nothing.’ – is omitted, but Finkelstein’s intemperate attack on any kind of memorialisation makes no useful contribution to such debates, and merely plays into the hands of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

[The rest is here. --JW]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jane Jacobs is dead (Chris Bertram)

Jane Jacobs is dead
Posted by Chris Bertram (Crooked Timber)

Sad news. Jane Jacobs, thinker about cities, eclectic economist and brilliant nonconformist, about whom I’ve blogged a couple of times , died this morning in Toronto. Globe and Mail and Toronto Star among others have reports.
Update: I’ll add links to other coverage and obituaries sporadically. Douglas Martin in the New York Times . Jeff Pruzan in the Financial Times .
posted on Tuesday, April 25th, 2006 at 2:45 pm

[All the items linked to here are well worth reading, including Chris Bertram's earlier posts, as well as this Wikipedia entry and this brief piece by Witold Rybczynski. A few snippets of my own thoughts about Jane Jacobs her ideas are accessible here. For some sense of her influence and contributions, surveying the pieces in Phil Kasinitz's very useful edited collection, Metropolis: Center and Symbol of our Times, is not a bad place to start. --Jeff Weintraub]

What Bush's new Press Secretary thinks of him

Tony Snow On President Bush: ‘An Embarrassment,’ ‘Impotent,’ ‘Doesn’t Seem To Mean What He Says’, etc.

Perhaps Tony Snow deserves to be inducted as an honorary member of the Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill and presented with his own copy of the Krugmanomicon? (True, Snow did refer to Bush's "brilliant foreign policy," but maybe that was some kind of subtle joke?) OK, Tony Snow's political ideas are a bit nuts, too ... but who's perfect, after all? How about it, guys?
--Jeff Weintraub

Darfur catastrophe spreading to Chad (Eric Reeves)

[One more reason why serious international action is urgently necessary. --Jeff Weintraub]
Boston Globe
April 26, 2006

The looming chaos in Chad
IDRISS DEBY, the president of the central African country of Chad, may soon lose power to a group of variously motivated rebel movements. The deposing of Deby might not seem occasion for much regret: he is a cruel, tyrannical, and corrupt man who has squandered a great deal of Chad's new-found oil wealth. But the rebels who would replace him have the deeply troubling support of the genocidal regime in Khartoum, Sudan. In recent months, as Human Rights Watch has authoritatively reported, the National Islamic Front in Khartoum has supported the Chadian rebels, even as it has loosed its own murderous Arab militia allies on the non-Arab tribal populations of eastern Chad. Indeed, Human Rights Watch reports that ''the Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support."
Chad's capital, N'Djamena, is far to the west of the Chad/Sudan border; but as Deby has begun to feel more threatened, he has redeployed his military forces westward and into major garrisons in a desperate bid to retain power. In fact, N'Djamena itself was attacked by the rebels on April 13, and though the assault was repelled, military assets will be increasingly concentrated in the capital and larger towns. This is bad news not only for the Chadian civilians in the east, who now have almost no protection, but for the quarter-million Darfuri refugees who are increasingly threatened in camps up and down the very long Chad/Sudan border. Aid organizations have already begun to withdraw from some refugee camps, and after the April 13 attack, the UN's World Food Program (the lead UN logistical organization in Chad) ordered the evacuation of all non-essential personnel from N'Djamena. Humanitarian access and security in eastern Chad continue to deteriorate badly as Khartoum turns the region into an extension of the Darfur killing fields.
And things will soon get worse. Heavy seasonal rains begin in late May or June, and these will sever the key east-west road arteries in Chad (as they do in Darfur). It will become impossible for humanitarian supplies to move overland. Moreover, a new government -- beholden to Khartoum -- may decide to obstruct humanitarian aid in the same way that Khartoum has in Darfur. Even air drops of food and medical supplies could be hindered.
This may in the end have more to do with the chaos that will ensue if Khartoum succeeds in its effort to topple Deby. There is little evidence of common cause among the various rebel groups fighting under the vague umbrella of the ''United Front for Change." The end of Deby's rule is likely to usher in a period of infighting and chaos. Neighboring Cameroon and the Central African Republic may also be destabilized.
None of this much matters to the genocidaires in Khartoum, who perceive Deby simply as a supporter of the Darfuri insurgency movements, which have two particularly prominent Zaghawa leaders. Deby is also a member of the non-Arab (or ''African") Zaghawa tribe, which is found on both sides of the border, and he has traditionally drawn a good deal of political and military support from his fellow tribesmen. But while Deby has certainly supported the Darfuri insurgents, most Zaghawa fault Deby for not doing nearly enough to serve their cause in Darfur.
At this point in the crisis, however, it is fruitless for the international community to apportion blame. Humanitarian needs must be addressed, and anticipated, in the most urgent fashion. Plans must be made for the continuation of humanitarian assistance to the many hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians in eastern Chad who are faced with the total loss of protection and humanitarian access. Under international pressure, Deby has backed down from his threat to expel from Chad the large Darfuri refugee population; he must be told forcefully any further such threats will diminish his support within the international community. The UN, which has dithered unconscionably in providing security for humanitarians in Darfur, must begin emergency planning for a UN peacekeeping deployment to eastern Chad. Part of its mandate must be to staunch the flow of genocidal destruction from Darfur into Chad.
All this will be only a short-term solution; the crises in Chad and Darfur are inextricably linked. If the world wishes to end genocide in Darfur, and prevent massive human destruction in eastern Chad, it must exert immediate, concerted, and substantial pressure on Khartoum.

Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Some thoughts on anti-Zionism & anti-semitism

[Re-posted from September 2003, with the addition of these introductory remarks:]

For anyone who might be interested, here are some of my thoughts on the relationship (and interplay) between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism--a relationship which I think is quite complex, and quite fascinating from the perspective of the historical sociology of culture and political ideology. What I mean by “anti-Zionism” in this context is not “intellectual disagreement with Zionism” (which has long ceased to be its central meaning, any more than “anti-semitism” really meant “disagreement with semitism”), but rather systematic bias and hostility against Israel and Israelis, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization that is often accompanied by far-fetched conspiracy theories about real or imaginary "Zionists". This is a pervasive phenomenon of the past half-century, and unfortunately it shows no signs of fading away.

Anti-Zionists and their defenders, among others, argue that anti-Zionism is not necessarily the same as anti-semitism. They are correct. True, their reasons for making this argument are often self-serving, misleading, and/or insincere; they sometimes overlook or try to obscure the fact that, in practice, there often are significant links between the two, and that genuine anti-semites may simply use "Zionists" or "international Zionism" as a transparent code word for "Jews"; and they rarely try to seriously confront the peculiar (and pernicious) character of contemporary "anti-Zionism" itself. But fundamentally, I have long thought that for the sake of moral and intellectual clarity it is important to recognize, and even insist, that there is a significant analytical distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, and that simply equating the two is wrong and misleading (though it's also important to pay attention to all the ways that they often are closely intertwined in real life).

My motivation for doing this is not to excuse, whitewash, or exonerate anti-Zionists. On the contrary, one reason that simply equating anti-semitism with anti-Zionism is not a good idea, aside from the confusions and blind spots this can cause, is precisely that doing so often lets anti-Zionists off the hook too easily. When they are confronted with their bias against (or hysterical demonization of) Israel and Israelis, they try to change the subject to whether or not they're anti-semitic (which, sometimes, they're not). The point is that anti-Zionism is itself dangerous and morally despicable—even if it’s peddled by Jews (which does happen) or by people who claim their best friends are Jews.

One of the distinctive features of our era is that, over the past half-century or so, anti-Zionism has emerged as an important and complex ideological formation in its own right, which is not always a direct product or expression of anti-semitism. Indeed, it sometimes happens that anti-Zionism helps promote anti-semitism almost as much as the other way around. Insisting on the analytical distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism is not a way of denying that there are ever connections between the two. It is an essential basis for understanding those connections and their dynamics—which are often complex and subtle (though at other times crude and direct).

Some of my thoughts on these matters are conveyed the two e-mail messages below, which I sent to friends of mine (one non-Jewish European and one Jewish American) during 2002 & 2003. (I've deleted their names, from privacy considerations.)

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

[This first message was part of an exchange with a non-Jewish European political sociologist, whom I will call X, in November 2003. Part of the background to our discussion was an article in the Guardian, "Anti-semitism: Our dulled nerve” (9/18/03). –JW]

[X] On the issue of anti-semitism I must admit to being skeptical about media reports. To put it another way: I believe indeed that there is a strong Anti-Israeli sentiment in Europe, which I share (that is, with respect to its governments). I know there is anti-semitism in the world, especially in Arab countries. I do not think that within Europe or in the US anti-semitism is more widespread than other sorts of ethnic prejudice. At least, one would have to be careful about differentiating between countries.

[JW] True.

[X] This brings me to my last point: In the West there is a great deal of prejudice. Its main victims, however, are not Jews but, rather, people whose skin color spans the brown to black spectrum. This includes indeed many Jews, but mostly it includes Mexicans, Arabs, Gypsies, Turcs, Africans in general, Indians, etc...

[JW] Yes and no. I agree that, on the whole, there seems to be a lot more popular prejudice against Arabs, Africans, Muslims, and so on in western Europe than against Jews. And, by all accounts, the great majority of actual physical attacks against Jewish targets in Europe seem to be carried out by young men from Muslim "immigrant" minorities and/or left- and right-wing sectarian loonies. In some parts of the world, as you note, there has been a startling upsurge in blatant and toxic anti-semitism reminiscent of the 1890s or 1930s (and this has been pervasive in the Arab world for some time). But from everything I know, this is not what's happening in western Europe.
The main problem in western Europe has been an increasing tendency to tolerate, excuse, "explain," or whitewash anti-semitism, and even to blame the victims more than the perpetrators. One of the after-effects of WWII and the Holocaust was that, to a historically unprecedented extent, open expressions of anti-semitism ceased to be "respectable" or acceptable, particularly in educated and "enlightened" strata, and such expressions were generally condemned. All this has been visibly eroding lately in western Europe. Blatant expressions of anti-semitism in other parts of the world, in international forums, and by local Muslims and radicals are increasingly tolerated, ignored, or even defended as "understandable" (e.g., the Jews bring it on themselves, after all, by defending Israel, or by making the US invade Iraq, or whatever); and various forms of disguised or "genteel" anti-semitism are becoming more respectable. Much of the time, of course, these go together with, or are disguised by, anti-Zionism (by which I mean not criticism of Israel or the policies of its government, which I engage in myself, but one-sided and hysterical demonization of Israel, which has become distressingly common in many sectors of European public opinion, including "educated" and "progressive" public opinion).

(If you think I'm exaggerating, do you recall the enormous outrage about the wholly imaginary "massacre" and "genocide" in Jenin in the spring of 2002? These fantasies were not confined to radical demagogues and lunatic-fringe websites. I read them in newspapers like the Guardian and Le Monde.) [See, e.g., here and here and here.]

But it's important to add that anti-semitism and anti-Zionism do NOT always, or necessarily, go together. Which brings me to your next point.

[X] And let's not turn anti-Israeli sentiment into antisemitic attitudes. I think it is wrong. It is also wrong to think that underlying anti-Israel attitudes are antisemitic attitudes. It may be so among some groups but I doubt it is the case with the majority of the population.

[JW] I very much agree--though I would draw different conclusions from the ones you imply. I don't see that we necessarily have to choose between condemning different forms of racism & bigotry, but it's true that we need to keep a sense of proportion. I also agree very strongly that it's a mistake to simply equate "anti-Israel sentiment" with "anti-semitic attitudes." Doing this confuses the issues in a number of ways.

In fact, for decades I have argued strongly and explicitly that it's very important to distinguish analytically between anti-semitism and anti-Zionism, and NOT to automatically equate them. (In some cases, clearly, "anti-Zionism" really IS just a euphemism for anti-semitism ... just as the term "anti-semitism" was originally invented by the anti-semites themselves as a "modern" and "scientific" label for Jew-hatred ... but often it's not.) On the other hand, it's also important to distinguish between criticism of Israel & its policies, which can be perfectly legitimate, and anti-Zionism (by which, again, I don't mean "disagreement with Zionism" or any criticism of Israel, but systematic bias against Israel, shading off into hysterical and paranoid demonization, in a strikingly close ANALOGY to the kind of political anti-semitism that emerged in late 19th- and early 20th-century Europe, and has since been exported to the rest of the world).

Equating anti-semitism with anti-Zionism is wrong and misleading, not just on factual grounds, but also because it lets anti-Zionists off the hook too easily. Actually, the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism over the past half-century has been extremely complex and shifting. Anti-Zionism has been one of the most remarkable and significant ideological formations of our era, and it still awaits an adequate and systematic analysis. (For example, doesn't it strike you as interesting that, unless I am mistaken, precisely one country in the whole world has ever had its national movement condemned as inherently racist by the United Nations? Or that when Jacobo Timerman was being tortured by Argentine fascist soldiers during the military dictatorship, they believed that he was part of an Israeli plot to seize Patagonia? Or that an EU poll just found that European respondents, incredibly, named Israel as the #1 threat to world peace? Or that Ariel Sharon is a lot more hated in western Europe than Saddam Hussein?) Often anti-Zionism has roots that are independent of anti-semitism; and it is not uncommon for anti-Zionism to lead to anti-semitism as much, or even more, than the other way around. (This happened, for example, in certain tendencies within the German New Left in the 1970s and 1980s--which had the psychological bonus that they could stop feeling guilty about the Jews.)

To avoid any easy misunderstanding: I am not saying that all criticism of Israel, even harsh criticism, is necessarily equivalent to anti-Zionism (just as not all criticism of Idi Amin, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Louis Farrakhan is necessarily an expression of anti-black racism). And, in fact, it is very important not to dismiss all serious, reasonable, and/or correct criticism of Israel by dismissing it as anti-Zionist bigotry. But anti-Zionism is a real and important phenomenon, and (in my humble opinion) it is a dangerous and morally despicable phenomenon in its own right--even when it is not combined with a more generalized anti-semitism ... and even, for that matter, when it is promoted (or excused) by Jews.

(Thus, I feel no contradiction at all in criticizing the lunatic and immoral policies of the Sharon government and criticizing anti-Zionism, whether in its blatant or more "genteel" forms. In fact, I feel very strongly that someone who criticizes one of them without criticizing the other has no moral or intellectual credibility. And the same is true for rabid anti-Zionists who, when confronted, try to change the subject and deny that they're anti-semitic. That's too easy. As far as I'm concerned, even if they're not anti-semites--sometimes they are, sometimes they're not--they're still wrong and ought to be ashamed of themselves.)

In the real world, as I said, the interconnections between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are very complex. They are often more or less independent, though it is increasingly the case that the former promotes and/or excuses the latter.

This is a very big subject, which would require a book to explore adequately ... but just to convey some of my thoughts on the matter, you might be interested in looking at the message below, in which I responded to another friend who, I thought, had been too ready to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism. (Although his intention was not to downplay the odiousness of anti-Zionism, as your remarks implied, but the opposite.)

=> More on this later.

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Just in passing, with respect to one other point you made:
[X] Probably, like with any other minority, prejudice increases with group presence.

[JW] Actually, not always. This often holds true, but with some interesting complications. Historically, one of the most intriguing features of anti-semitic ideology is that it can often flourish quite strongly even where there are very few Jews--or even in the absence of Jews. For example, at the time that Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, Jews had been legally barred from living in England for several centuries (in fact, between the time of the Crusades and 1492, we were expelled from almost all of western Europe, except for the Netherlands, parts of Italy and a few other pockets). And how many Jews do you suppose live in Malaysia now? Almost none, but for decades Prime Minister Mahathir has been fond of anti-semitic outbursts that draw directly on themes from "classical" European political anti-semitism, and he also likes to distribute copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (For that matter, in the 1920s and 1930s less than 2% of the German population was Jewish.) For various reasons, we have always been disproportionately "conspicuous" in the imagination of some societies (and, during the past half-century, that has become true of Israel, too).

[The following is an exchange with a Jewish American friend, referred to here as Y. –JW]

Date: Sat, 02 Nov 2002 13:59:18 0500
From: Jeff Weintraub
To: Y
Subject: anti-semitism & anti-Zionism
I was going to make the point that this kind of anti-Zionism is just a respectable form of anti-Semitism...but in Jewish terms it doesn't really matter because Jewish law teaches that people should be judged by their actions and not their thoughts.
[JW] I understand what you're saying here, and to some extent I'm sympathetic to it. Along the same lines, I think Larry Summers's recent formulation--that some actions can be anti-semitic in effect, even if they're not consciously anti-semitic in intention--is essentially correct. Furthermore, it's obvious that in many cases "anti-Zionism" (by which I mean, not disagreement with Zionism, but systematic bias against Israel, shading off into obsessive hatred and demonization) is simply a euphemism, front, and/or excuse for straightforward anti-semitism (ranging from genteel to rabid). And one shouldn't be shy about pointing this out, when this is what's going on.

But the relationship between anti-semitism and "anti-Zionism" is often more complicated than that--ideologically, morally, and politically--and I believe that keeping the analytical distinction in mind is important for the sake of both moral and intellectual clarity. Contemporary "anti-Zionism" is to some degree a distinct phenomenon with independent roots--which, in our era, sometimes promotes anti-semitism as much as the other way around--and I have long believed that it's important to recognize this fact explicitly. This is not in order to excuse or whitewash anti-Zionists. On the contrary, I think it's important precisely to avoid giving them the opportunity to take an easy way out, by changing the subject to anti-semitism when the immorality of their rabid anti-Zionism is pointed out.

In fact, discussions of anti-Zionism often get too easily sidetracked into arguments about whether anti-Zionism = anti-semitism. Well, often it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But when it doesn’t, so what? This is not at all the only moral question involved, and most of the time this kind of discussion is often just a red herring. It needs to be made clear that "anti-Zionism" (which, again, in the real world means something different from "disagreement with Zionism," just as "anti-semitism" never meant "disagreement with semitism") is morally despicable in its own right. Failing to insist on this just makes life easier for anti-Zionists (and anti-semites).

(Furthermore, it goes without saying that criticism of Israeli policies, or of Israel more generally, doesn't necessarily or logically = anti-Zionism. But so what? Very often, in practical reality, it does amount to anti-Zionism.)

=> But the reasons for recognizing the analytical distinction between anti-semitism and "anti-Zionism" (which is precisely the starting-point for analyzing the complex interrelationships between them) go beyond questions of moral and political polemics. Facing up to this complexity is also important for understanding the historical, cultural, and political dynamics of the problem and figuring out how to confront its dangers in practical terms.

Let me put this in a historical-sociological framework. I have been struck for decades by the remarkable analogies between two of the most potent and far-ranging international ideological currents of the past century and a half: (a) the strain of political anti-semitism developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (the term "anti-semitism" was, of course, invented by the anti-semites themselves, as a way of re-defining the object of Jew-hatred) and (b) the world-wide "anti-Zionist" movement of the second half of the 20th century. Part of this parallel is the set of analogies between the symbolic roles played (a) by the Jews in "classic" political anti-semitism (e.g., the power, influence, and threat of the Jews was wildly inflated for the sake of demonizing them, while they were in fact simultaneously a small and vulnerable target, which made them useful scapegoats for larger, more threatening, and/or more abstract and impersonal threats) and (b) the symbolic role of Israel (and "Zionism") in the ideological structure of contemporary anti Zionism.

(To repeat myself, this is a different matter from the more usual discussions about whether "anti-Zionism" is simply an expression of, or euphemism for, anti-semitism. Often it is, and let me reiterate that I don't want to deny that for a moment; but the relationship is often more complex than that. In our epoch, in fact, I think that "anti Zionism" often leads to anti semitism as much as the other way around. A historical sociologist several centuries from now, who's trying to make sense of the political and ideological pathologies of our era, should be struck by the symbolic, ideological, and socio-political ANALOGIES between these two ideological formations.)*

In some important ways, the political "anti-semitism" that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not, fundamentally, just "about" the Jews; instead, the Jews were used as a symbolic focus for a whole range of grievances and anxieties about modernity--capitalism, socialism, urbanism, industrialism, secularism, sexual emancipation, decadence, and so on--which had the additional advantage that anti-semitism could be used as an ideological bridge between movements and constituencies with very different, even contradictory, concerns. This demonization of the Jews was, among other things, one symptom and symbolic expression of a larger civilizational crisis.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of parallels to contemporary "anti-Zionism." In the Arab world, for example, the obsessive demonization of Israel (and the use of Israel as an iconic symbol for imperialism, colonialism, western domination, and the misery and impotence of Arab societies) is one symbolic expression of a larger civilizational crisis. There are millions of Arabs (as well as sympathizers elsewhere) who sincerely believe that Israel and "Zionism" are somehow the source of their problems (not just the problems of the Palestinians, but of their problems); but, of course, this world-view is delusional. Instead, the fact that Israel is defined as the central problem, both within the Arab world and in so much western discussion, is itself a problem and also, as I just noted, a symptom of some larger problems.

(As I'm sure you know, the 19th-century German socialist August Bebel memorably described left-wing anti-semitism as "the socialism of fools." As Paul Berman pointed out a few decades ago, during the 1970s and 1980s left-wing anti-Zionism increasingly emerged as "the anti-imperialism of fools." Now we're seeing a resurgence of all that.)

However, even though political anti-semitism had more to do with the anti-semites than with the Jews, it did succeed in largely destroying the European Jews in the process. Likewise, the Arab obsession with, and demonization of, Israel (along with the larger "anti-Zionist" movement of which if forms a part) is not, in the end, mostly about Israel. But in the long run, it's quite possible--indeed, I'm afraid I think it's more likely than not--that it will destroy Israel (without, in the process, solving any of the real problems of Arab and Islamic societies).

I've thought more than once of writing something about this subject, but after 1989 I was lulled into a false sense of security or complacency, since the situation seemed to be improving in a number of ways. On the level of world politics, "anti-Zionism" was one key symbolic cement of the three-way coalition between the Soviet bloc, the Arab world, and the rest of the so-called Third World (particularly, but not exclusively, in Africa). With the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the whole international Communist movement, among other developments, many of the foundations for anti-Zionism outside the Arab world seemed to have collapsed as well (symbolized by the repeal of the UN's infamous Zionism-is-racism resolution). And the period of the alleged "peace process" brought an enormous boost in international acceptance of the legitimacy of Israel's existence. So I thought that the virulence and political significance of "anti-Zionism" had drastically decreased. During the two years, it has become clear that the disease was simply in remission, and that it's now starting to return in force (and, here again, there are analogies to the historical rhythms of the older political anti-semitism).

=> More on all this another time ...

Yours in struggle,
Jeff Weintraub

(* Incidentally ... this analogy, and its significance, was first brought home to me by reading an article by Ruth Wisse back in the early 1980s. She didn't frame the problem in precisely this way, but some essential insights were there, and when I pondered them a bit, a lot of things that I had been puzzling over since the mid-1970s suddenly fell into place. Unfortunately, Wisse's analyses are always spoiled to some extent by the Likudnik political conclusions she draws from them--which strike me as wrong and pernicious--but there's always a lot in them that's penetrating and illuminating.)