Friday, August 26, 2011

Last Post on Israel For A Bit

The individual whose e-mail prompted me to post “History Lessons” From Idiots sent me a response and encouraged me to post it, so I will. I intend to retire the issue for a time, because it bothers my wife when I talk about it. She grew up Orthodox Jewish and has an expired Israeli passport, and is sick of talking about the issue, and me writing about it inevitable leads to me bringing it up in conversation. It’s not that she disagrees with me, she just married a non-Jew in no small part because she wants nothing to do with her Jewish past. She can clarify if she wants, but it’s my impression she sees the situation in a similar fashion as I do, in that Palestinians are being mistreated by Israelis.

Anyway, I think the only thing you need to know up front to catch up on these e-mails is that the person who wrote to me is an atheist of Jewish heritage and lives in Israel… and took a sort of sick glee in pointing out it was disputed settlement territory. Reading the “History Lessons” From Idiots post might help, but is not necessary.

Dear Ginx,

Thanks for the encouragement though I don’t really care enough about that any more to try and work around blogger’s hidden restrictions on comment length. I’ve been away from my inbox this week so I’m receiving your response a bit late. Yesterday I was amused to read your response (“history lessons from idiots”). I particularly liked the part where you refer to Israel itself as an anti-semitic plot by the west. Ha! I bet that isn’t so far off from the truth, at least as intentions go.

You seem to have taken particular offense to my characterization of you as an anti-semite. It’s a charged word, but one that I suspect may be altogether fair in your case. For sure yours is a more sophisticated brand of anti-semitism. One that feels the need to rationalize the hate. Maybe you don’t buy into crude conspiracy theories such as the Jewish conspiracy to Rule The World, but you cherry pick facts that support your bias while discarding the rest. It’s confirmation bias gone wild, and I suspect the seed of that is good old fashioned Christian anti-semitism. Perhaps something that was planted in your mind before you could build up any defenses against it. Before you completely rejected the other baggage that came with religion. Something that lingers as a subconscious impulse, which your rational mind serves but can not master.

Or maybe not. I can’t truly see into your mind. Maybe I shouldn’t attribute to malice what can equally be attributed to incompetence. Then again, you’re so passionately black and white about a situation that is so full of subtle shades of grey (with blame enough to go around). Any ignorance you exhibit seems to be so suspiciously selective that one requires a more satisfying explanation.

Regarding irrational impulses, I’m not preaching from some lofty pedestal. In fact, I’m not accusing you of anything I haven’t been guilty of myself. The part of my mind I control are rational, atheist and humanistic. But I’m not deluding myself. There are dark corners where the collective subconscious still rules. Knee-jerk racist emotional reactions against “the others”. For example, you are a “goy” and I remember people saying that word in my childhood as if there was something dirty, unwholesome about it. Nobody would ever say as much in polite company but the undercurrent was always there. That sort of impression sinks in. The same goes for “Aravim” (arabs in hebrew). The word and its uses in the Hebrew language is associated with primitivism at best, dehumanized blood thirst at its worst. Most educated adults would never voice such an opinion out loud, but talk to the children who haven’t learned political correctness yet and the truth is laid bare.

Again, I do not claim to truly know your mind. That would be hopelessly arrogant. I’m just making an educated guess and may be completely off the mark.

I also have a somewhat simpler competing theory. Pick your poison if you like. It’s not as interesting as a “new brand” of anti-semite though: maybe you’re just a knee-jerk contrarian leftist. Anything that the neocons are for, you are against. You just don’t want to be in the same camp on any issue with them.

I wouldn’t expect you to admit it either way, but you can tell if this is true if your political opinions on most issues align with one side of the false right/left political dichotomy. If so, that really is just lazy minded of you. But better than being an anti-semite I suppose.

Oh dear, am I rambling again? It must be that funny mood again. Well, at least it’s not 6 pages worth this time.

Anyhow, as I said before you have my leave to publish my rambling correspondence if you like on your blog. Anonymously. I doubt you will though perhaps you would be more eager if my views were easier to dismiss or make fun of, such as those of the uneducated, tribal, short-sighted people that are the majority (on both sides) in my particular part of the world. But It wouldn’t do you much good to call me an idiot if your readers could judge to the contrary for themselves. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly surprised that you published only the first paragraph in which I accuse you of anti-semitism without anything else to balance that out. At least you’re consistent.

My response:

I don’t take offense at being called an anti-Semite, but largely because I don’t get offended. If anything, I’m perturbed at the over-use of the term, and I feel like Jews would be better off not crying wolf. If I hated Jews, I wouldn’t have married one, and if I hated Israelis as a matter of principle, I wouldn’t have married someone who has an Israeli passport. I also assure you that Christian prejudices don’t carry over into my views as an atheist. I think it’s fine that you use the blood of blonde Christian kids in Matzo, which is why we call white people “crackers.” I kid, of course.

If anything, I was taught through Christianity that Jews had to be in the Holy Land in order for daddy Jesus to come back, which is why most Christians in America feel morally obligated to defend Israel: they want the end of times to come. I heard this idea mentioned maybe twice before I became an atheist; Israel just wasn’t a common topic for me growing up.

I personally don’t think what happens in Israel has anything to do with the end of the world, but I do think it is a disaster waiting to happen upon the Jewish people, which is a shame. It’s already been a disaster for the Palestinians, and I don’t want the same hardship visited upon anyone, be they Jewish or any other religion or race.

But if it comforts you to call me an anti-Semite, by all means. I am technically against Judaism, in that I see the religion as an archaic form of institutionalized prejudice, so it’s not as though it cannot be argued that I am an anti-Semite, but I am probably more strongly anti-Christian and anti-Muslim, if only because I prefer picking on the bullies, not the bullied. It just so happens that on this occasion, Israel is the bully, and that Israel is full of Jews.

I urge you to see my view on Israel not as black and white, but as the result of a long, continuous interest in the matter going back to high school, when I dated a girl who was born in Israel (not my current wife... what can I say, I have Jewish-fever). I teetered on neutrality and siding with Israel for years while I dated her, rationalizing the treatment of the Palestinian people based on the actions of a few in their number who violently attacked innocent Israelis. I re-assured myself that the secular Jewish state was superior by virtue of it not being another fundamentalist Islamic stronghold. I have come to see these views as highly biased, and that the reality is much more complex than this.

In short, I don’t have to like Palestinians or agree with what they’re doing in order to see that they are still the victims of Israeli oppression. They may not take it in stride like the Buddhists of Tibet, but I don’t fault a people who refuse to give up.

Regarding the view that I am a contrarian leftist: I certainly might be on some issues, but you should know by now that the left in America is every bit in favor of Israel as the right. Both the left and the right in America have a favorable view of Israel (if they hold any opinion at all), and both the left and the right have those who oppose Israel on various grounds. The Aryan Brotherhood and other white-supremacist groups on the right certainly oppose Israel, and my view all but puts me in the same camp as KKK members and neo-Nazis. If I was trying to avoid being categorized as in the same view as people like Bush or Glenn Beck, I seem to have left the ideological company of the right for an even more hateful, far-right stance.

And yet, my reasons and ideas for solving the problem have nothing in common with brazen anti-Semites.

The fact that you can’t see how stealing the land of hundreds of thousands of people is something I would oppose on principle is strange, and leads me to believe you are trying to write between the lines I wrote. It’s almost as if you have predetermined that I could not have come to my conclusion through any sort of research or careful moral reasoning, but must instead hold my view out of some form of ignorance. That’s a convenient way of ignoring what I have to say, but I think it’s a rather lazy way of just avoiding my evidence.

I have many opinions, and all of those which I have come from years of research and writing, which I have been lucky enough to have been given the time to do without the burden of needing to work for a living. I have had an unusual amount of time and energy to pour into my philosophy, and I see myself as profoundly lucky for having this opportunity given to me by others. There is a lot I don’t know about, from the crisis in Darfur to the world of fashion, and on matters like these, I hold no opinion one way or the other.

I don’t feel compelled to take a stance on every issue, but those which I decide to learn about will inevitably lead me to a strong and pronounced viewpoint once I have a certain level of understanding. To have someone imagine they can negate my efforts to think beyond the popular consensus by hurling hate labels at me or passing me off as some sort of unprincipled malcontent doesn’t so much frustrate me as it does make me sad to count myself as part of the same species.

Regarding Israel, I’ve done the typical things like reading books, keeping up with the news, reading various historical accounts, and even talking to individuals. My wife met a young woman whose grandfather’s land was taken, and it can no longer be given back because Israelis built the Benghazi airport [correction: Ben Gurion Airport] on top of it. I’ve met people whose families fled to the US in the face of Israeli attacks, and these were the lucky ones who could escape.

I’ve also talked to Jews, and some, like my wife, have come to the same conclusions I have after being confronted with the facts which their upbringing shielded them from. But mostly, I meet befuddled opposition from folks (Jews, Christians, and atheists) who are as sure as can be that Israel is the victim of Arab oppression. And most of them just resort to calling me an anti-Semite, without providing any evidence based argument for their view.

I would say, more than those who agree with me, it’s the empty arguments of Israel’s supporters that assure me I am correct in my view, so perhaps in this respect, I am a contrarian, though I hold my view contrary to the majority in nearly every demographic I can imagine (with the obvious exception being the handful of Palestinians I have met).

I thank you for your reply, and I hope you decide to comment on my blog if you get the chance. I would like your views to be made public, because I think anything worth writing is worth being read.

- Bret

[Addendum: when looking up if there was a name for people who prefer dating Jews, I had an interesting suggestion from Google. Pic below.]


  1. For the record I did sit down today and try breaking down my original 6 page correspondence with Bret into a series of comments you can find here:

    Now to the point. I'm still looking for a satisfying explanation for your extremely unbalanced outlook on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Here's another shot in the dark. Maybe you're not an anti-semite or a knee-jerk contrarian. Maybe you're just simple-minded. The kind of person that gravitates to the edges. To one extreme, emotionally charged viewpoint or the other because they can't stomach ambiguity or they're just bored by it. It has to be black and white. Love or hate. You're either on one team or the other. Pick a side!

    Reality with all of its subtle complexities just doesn't do it for you. You've built up a simplified, distorted map of the conflict in your head and now as far as you are concerned that map is the road.

    Thing is, I've lived in Israel all my life. Though I'm not optimistic about its chances for peace I know just how badly Israelis want it.
    They're willing to make big sacrifices. Short of packing their bags and taking a hike. Unfortunately that seems to be the only thing that would truly appease the other side.

    Israel is so desperate for peace that a few years back it even deluded itself into thinking it could pull out of "occupied" regions unilaterally. That turned out so badly (e.g., Hamas Islamic fundamentalist terrorist state) it pretty much destroyed the political left.

    I remember the optimism in the 90s. I remember how people spoke back then about "peace for land". We all wanted so much to believe in the peace process. To break the cycle of violence.
    You can doubt as a smug outsider all you want but it's the simple, lucid truth.

    Why that hasn't worked out is complicated. I don't think the intentional stance is helpful in understanding the situation. Attempts at assigning blame or picking a side miss the mark.

    My pet theory is that it ultimately comes down to incompatibility between cultures that breeds suspicion and mistrust on both sides and makes even the most simple communication difficult.

    But not because Israel is the evil oppressive apartheid you imagine it to be. Maybe that makes for a simpler, more compelling story, but it's just wrong.

  2. Anonymous, your reply is kind of hilarious given Bret's reasoned explanation above. If nothing else, he's at least proven that he's anything but a simple-minded person that gravitates to the edges and sees in black and white. Your inability to recognise this casts doubt on your own pronouncements. Well done, you've identified that there exist contrarian leftists and Christian bigots and simpletons who see in black and white, but you still need practice in determining who is actually deserving of those titles. It seems obvious that if anyone is biased in this issue, it's you ... an Israeli.

    I don't know where you're living now, but I'd speculate you're suffering from a lack of perspective from only ever having lived in Israel and the US, if I had to guess. You seem to think that the truth of things can be gotten at by occupying some kind of middle ground between what you call the false left/right dichotomy; by not supporting one side too often, but rather by supporting whichever side happens to be correct on a particular issue. If that's your thinking, you've got it wrong because that way, your belief of what is right is determined, as Bret so often points out, by the extremes of the debate. Your median view is determined by how far to the left or right someone is willing to push an issue. The true way of finding what is right in any given issue is to ignore the left/right spectrum altogether and look at it on its own merits, not to count up how often you've fallen with the left and how often you've fallen to the right to make sure you're not just a follower.

    Issues in the US are so distorted by its ridiculous far right that opinions that are absurd in the rest of the world qualify as reasonable there. In America, it's a mainstream opinion that public healthcare is a bad thing, while the rest of the world already has it to great benefit. In America, it's a mainstream opinion that the market is being 'strangled by overregulation', but when a conservative American politician featured on an Australian political TV show last week and suggested this, the entire rest of the panel and the audience (including a member of Australia's conservative opposition) literally burst out laughing at the suggestion because if anything, the market is drastically underregulated. It's getting a bit like the Soviet Russia jokes. In capitalist America, money spends you!

    So let's step outside of the fucked-up psychosis of American politics for a moment. Here in Australia, the opinion of any average, educated, 'reasonable', left-leaning centrist is that, of course, both 'sides' of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have done wrong, but that, yes, the Palestinians' land was taken from them wrongfully and that they are being oppressed by the Israelis.

    Also, I've written on the issue of strongly held and voiced opinions Bret was talking about at my blog, lukewarm manifesto, if anyone's interested:

  3. Phillip I agree that choosing the middle ground between two relatively common opposing viewpoints is not a reliable heuristic for truth seeking.

    What I meant was that one side is likely to be right on some things and the other side to be right on others. Not necessarily in equal proportion, but it should take more work to form an educated opinion on a subject than deciding which camp to belong to (e.g., for Israel or against it).

    And of course we are all products of our environment in some sense. I've been influenced by living most of my life in Israel and maybe that biases me towards a pro-Israeli viewpoint, but at the same time it makes me more qualified to comment on Israeli society and culture. For example, it's hard to be really anti-Israeli on the issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict when you know, as a fact, just how much Israel wants peace and just how much of a sacrifice it is willing to make for any credible chance at it that doesn't lead to the state's destruction. So sure, the results of the peace process so far may be tragic, but that's not for lack of wanting or trying.

    Yes, the Palestinian people are oppressed, if by that you mean that they don't have the freedom to realize national ambitions that are in direct conflict with the viability of the Israeli state. But who's fault is that? Wars were fought. As is customary in these matters, the losing side paid a tragic price. That would have been the case regardless of which side won, though I would argue that the Jews would probably have been much worse off had it been the other way around.

    Finally, saying that Israel was formed on land owned by the Palestinians seem to assume that ownership of land is something external to a sovereign state that protects and enforces property rights. But ownership is just a convention in the economic protocol of modern societies. Legal ownership has to be ultimately backed by the force of the state. If the state fails (e.g., Bolshevik revolution) land ownership may be redefined or even abolished altogether.

    I've commented on this before:

    Ultimately the ability of a nation to defend its sovereignty is the only thing that gives it a right to exist. Nations have no divine right to a land. Borders change. The Earth's crust doesn't care which particular tribe of bipedal apes are crawling on top of it. Neither the "Jewish" people or the so called "Palestinians". Jews have exactly the same rights to live in Israel as Europeans have to live in the Americas. Might makes right. Maybe that offends your sensibilities but that's how history has always worked.

  4. "My wife met a young woman whose grandfather’s land was taken, and it can no longer be given back because Israelis built the Benghazi airport on top of it."

    Wow, I did not know that those evil Israelis did even chase people from their homes to build an airport in Libya.

  5. I wrote this when my wife wasn't home. I asked her again and she corrected me. I tried to google what I remembered (I knew it was beng-something) while I was originally writing this.

    My mistake.

  6. You googled it and wrote Benghazi?

    Well, over here in Europe we never believed that you americans were particularly good at geography... ...or languages for that matter!

    You seem to be no exception. You sure you do not want to give the US back to the injuns?

  7. It's sad that a correction doesn't seem to be good enough for your royal highness.

    And if you want to know what we in America think of Europeans... we don't.

  8. Well, it is nice you corrected it, but you claimed that you were a real whizz about this region. Allow me to tell you that this claim is not quite credible.

  9. I didn't say I was a whizz (or a whiz, for that matter, but maybe this "whizz" you speak of is how you perfect Europeans write it, like colour or theatre). I said I have studied the conflict, not that I committed every last detail of it to memory.

    I said what I was told as I remembered it, that a woman made this claim to my wife. I did not conflate it to be anything more than how I heard it. The fact is, you can ignore that one minor detail if you decide it is a fabrication, and the rest of what I wrote still stands. But I will be happy to look into the claim and post whether I find it to be baseless.

  10. OK. So now at least I know what to expect when you claim "I consider myself a bit of a history buff." "Does this make me smarter than the average person?" “Yes.” (while the rest of the world are "idiots").

    It's not about you forgetting that Israel's main airport is "Ben Gurion". It's about you not noticing that Benghazi is a city in Libya (that was all over the news in recent times) when you wrote it down.

  11. BY the way: I am no subject of Her Majesty the Queen of England and English is my third (or fouth?) language.

  12. I didn't claim to be an expert on Libya, so it makes perfect sense to me.

  13. True. But over here you would not need to be an expert on Libya in order to know that benghazi is a city in Libya. It is just part of general culture.

    I suppose it is all just a question of reference values. When you claim that you are smarter than the average person, you probably refer to the average shown here.

  14. So I'm an idiot who knows more about the situation in Israel than you. What does that make you?

  15. I did not say you were an idiot, I would rather say that you are quite pretentious and that there is not much behind your claims of being an expert or knowing your stuff. That's all.

  16. And I would say you're obsessed with me, and you're not adding much of anything to the discussion. Do you have any real opinion on the matter, or did you just come to bitch?

  17. I have an opinion on the matter, but I saw here and in earlier posts that you are not quite receptive for opinions that are not exactely the same as yours, so I do not think it is worthwhile discussing my opinion with you. You do not know much, you think you know it all, and you cannot even sustain a debate in a way adults would.

  18. You mean through passive-aggressive statements and ad hominem attacks? No, I got that covered. I have so much to learn from you... why not share your effete enlightenment?


    @Bret -slow clap-


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