27 February 2008 - Five stupid things smart people believe about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
This evening a host of Harvard groups co-sponsored a lecture by Khaled Abu Toameh, the "Israeli Arab Muslim Palestinian" journalists for the Jerusalem Post. Toameh offered a refreshing dose of reality, advising Israel to spend less time worrying about the Palestinians and more time worrying about the status of Arabs in Israel. Israel should be open to negotiations with anyone who wants to talk to it, he said, but should not seek talks with Hamas unless certain preconditions are met.
Earlier in the day, I had made that point to a very prominent Harvard Law School professor who insisted to me that Israel ought to negotiate with Hamas because "time is running out." This gentleman, who had sat in once or twice on Duncan Kennedy's Israel/Palestine class last semester and participated in last year's panel discussion on the Israel-apartheid analogy, argued with me for a full hour and a half, causing me to miss my class on constitutional law.
It amazes me how little some of these highly opinionated, Obama-backing Harvard intellectuals know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The professor, for example, attributed the saying "A land without a people for a people without a land" to Golda Meir, and claimed seriously that Israeli textbooks show Israel extending from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, when in fact that is the way Palestine is commonly portrayed by Palestinian textbooks.
Here are five other stupid ideas--fairly common, sadly, among left-wing intellectuals--that my interlocutor put forth during our voluble debate:
1. There is no difference between suicide bombing and Israeli seizures of Palestinian land. You don't have to like Israel's settlement policy, but there's something seriously wrong if you can't distinguish between officially-sanctioned attempts by Palestinian terrorists to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, and wrongful expropriations of land that are subject to challenge in the Israeli court system.
2. Violence and fundamentalism are equally present on both sides. Loosely related to the point above, this false co-equivalence is the first resort of weak arguments when they run into trouble. Extremists are present in Israel but they do not enjoy anything near the same level of influence and official support they do in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world in general.
3. Israel desperately needs a peace deal in the short term. People try to justify this false argument by referring to the bogus demographic threat, or by saying that Israel needs a peace deal in order to join the Arab world in confronting Iran. The flipside of this argument--made explicitly by the professor--is that Israel must be prepared to accept a steady level of casualties from terror in order to prevent a nuclear attack. Simply absurd.
4. Peace would be easier to achieve if the U.S. joined the world in criticizing Israel. On the contrary, both Israelis and the Palestinians are more likely to make concessions if U.S. support for Israel is strong. This particular fallacy is accompanied by all sorts of other self-serving dogma, such as the idea that critics of Israel are intimidated in the U.S. and so on. I challenged the professor to name one example; he could not.
5. Israel needs to negotiate with Hamas without preconditions. After all, one negotiates peace with enemies, not with friends, right? But if those enemies aren't willing to obey basic ground rules, talks only strengthen their hand. Toameh answered this objection well, saying that Israel should talk with whoever wants to talk with it and shoot whoever wants to shoot at it. Around the world, negotiations have succeeded only when both sides have suspended violence, at least temporarily.
This latter point has become one of the dividing lines in the U.S. presidential elections. My interlocutor revealed that he, like the bulk of Harvard professors who have backed a candidate, is supporting Barack Obama. Obama supports unconditional talks with the world's rogues, a position that Hillary Clinton has rightly ridiculed, and which John McCain will make full use of against Obama if he is the Democrat nominee.
In the end, these nutty professors fail to understand a) the nature of the threat posed by radical Islam and b) the depth of the profound failure of Palestinians to build successful institutions, starting with a monopoly on force, the basic foundation of all nation-states. They blame everything on Israel because this self-repudiation is the price, and the proof, that they belong to the intellectual elite.
These folks are often willfully ignorant of basic facts in the conflict, and are prepared to ignore inconvenient evidence when it emerges. Later today, in France, an appeals court will hand down the long-awaited decision in Philippe Karsenty's libel case. If he wins, then the credibility of the Muhammad al-Dura story and the journalists that created it will be dealt a mortal blow. Watch this space...