Thursday, November 13, 2003

Juan Cole's Israel obsessions

Juan Cole, "Informed Comment" - November 10, 2003

Israel Connections to the Iraq Occupation

Delinda Hanley charges that there is a strong Israeli connection to US plans for Iraq, citing three developments. One is the Israeli demand that an oil pipeline be built from northern Iraq to Haifa. The second is the opening in Baghdad of an office of MEMRI, an Israeli propaganda project that translates only articles that make Arabs look bad or that advance Likud agendas. The third is Ahmad Chalabi's pressing for a peace treaty with Israel. Most other members of the Interim Governing Council have said Iraq will not recognize Israel until the Arab League does.

(Informed oil economists I have read say that the oil pipeline plan is not economically feasible, and that the northern fields are anyway declining. Turkey is extremely upset by the plan.)


This item from Juan Cole's website reminded me of a curious thing I've noticed about him. On almost all subjects, I find him consistently well informed, thoughtful, perceptive, and sensible. So his analyses are almost invariably illuminating and usefully thought-provoking, even when I don't fully agree.

On the other hand, when the subject of Israel comes up, his judgment often becomes a little unhinged. (Less so than a lot of other people's--but the contrast is more noticeable in his case, since he's usually pretty level-headed.) Regarding the three main points in this brief discussion:
(a) Even the (quite tendentious) article to which Cole links here didn't claim that Israel ever "demanded" reopening the oil pipeline to Haifa. This was just a speculative suggestion floated very hypothetically by a few Israelis, which no one seriously believes is likely to happen any time soon.
(b) The idea that MEMRI should be banned from Baghdad, while Al Jazeera and other Arab propaganda media operate freely (to the great resentment of many Iraqis) is a little curious. And the characterization of MEMRI here is quite crude and dishonest. Yes, MEMRI has an agenda, but it actually covers a range of material from the Arab world. And not even its harshest (honest) critics have accused it of being dishonest or misleading in its translations--nor of restricting itself to lunatic-fringe or wildly unrepresentative voices in the Arab world. If honest translations of what Arab writers, clerics, and government officials say make them look bad--well, whose fault is that?
(c) Cole's discussion here also reflects a misplaced obsession with Ahmed Chalabi that is more common in circles that (unlike Cole) opposed the war in Iraq. But even within that context, this particular issue is bogus. Chalabi has said at various points that a peace treaty between Iraq and Israel would be a good idea--and what's so inherently outrageous about that, I have to ask?--but I've seen no serious reports that suggest he's "pressing" for this in the IGC.

It would be one thing to report the kinds of more-or-less-paranoid conspiratorial fantasies circulating in Iraqi & other Arab circles, and in articles like the one to which Cole links--that's useful and informative. It's another thing to pass them along uncritically, as Cole does here. No, Cole doesn't explicitly endorse these "charges" here (though he's flirted with similar ideas elsewhere). But on any other subject, Cole would have indicated his own position in a more careful and nuanced way--after all, he cites pieces from a wide variety of sources, with which he agrees or disagrees to various extents, so he tends to be careful about contextualizing them. Cole describes the author of the article, Delinda Hanley, ac "citing three developments" (not "making three claims" or "recycling three myths"). Most readers of his weblog would be justified in concluding that he thinks these charges have some plausibility. This is either careless, or irresponsible ... or else Cole really believes this, which would be sad.

Curious. But then, none of us is perfect, after all.

--Jeff Weintraub