1) Why Jeffrey Goldberg is so frustrating
I would prefer to ignore Jeffrey Goldberg. He, in many ways, is simply just another leftist writing about the Middle East. It took him a while before he took issue with J-Street. He believes that “settlers” represent the undoing of Israel. But every once in a while he writes an important column.
The focus of his latest is a Ron Rosenbaum essay, “Holocaust obsessed” It’s the new Antisemitic slur. The central question of Rosenbaum’s argument is:
Demonstrating that it has become a widely recognized shibboleth on both sides of the discourse over American Israeli relations, Jonathan Rosen, in his astute New York Times Book Review critique of Peter Beinart’s Crisis in Zion offered a caustic assessment of those self-proclaimed enlightened moralists who accuse others of a “Holocaust-obsessed” mentality.
Much of the recent use of the phrase has been prompted by people comparing Iran today to Hitler’s Germany. I should mention that I am not necessarily in favor of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear capacity. I think the issue is insoluble and either way I see a catastrophe coming. But I just don’t have patience with those who try to exclude the real historical catastrophe from relevance by denigrating any concern with it as “obsession.”
Is it better, then, to be “somewhat interested” in the holocaust, rather than “holocaust-obsessed”? Moderately interested? Temperately troubled? How much is the correct amount of interest one should devote to rapidly receding history? How much should the charge of obsession affect the way we look at the victims of collective hate murders in the present: 9/11, the Oslo slayings and the Sikhs, for instance. Do they qualify for a heightened degree of concern since the killers obviously—had they the means—would have wanted to murder many, many more? How should it affect the way we view exterminationist threats not yet realized?
(I don’t agree with Rosenbaum’s assessment of “American exceptionalism,” but that doesn’t detract too much from the overall essay.)
Goldberg applies Rosenbaum’s argument to current events in greater detail, Are Jews who fear Iran obsessed with the Holocaust? (h/t Yaacov Lozowick):
Regime apologists will note that Iranian leaders talk about the elimination not of “Israel” — a word they generally refuse to utter — but of the “Zionist regime,” which, to the naive and the cynical, implies the replacement of one government with another. This is a pernicious euphemism. Without the “Zionist regime” — which is to say, the democratically elected government of Israel, its armed forces and security services, and the courts and structures of state — the Jews who survived the onslaught that “dismantled” their government would face immediate dispossession, and perhaps much worse.
Rosenbaum, an expert on Hitlerian euphemism, told me that one difference between Nazi rhetoric and that of the Iranian regime is that the Iranians’ words are blunter, especially when compared with pre-Kristallnacht Nazi language. Rosenbaum notes, in particular, the Iranian reliance on epidemiological metaphor when describing Israel: This year, the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Israel is “a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off.”
Which returns us to Rosenbaum’s central question: Is it obsessive for a group of people who not long ago saw a third of their number slaughtered to worry when the leaders of Iran call Israel a cancerous tumor? Or is it the natural and appropriate response of a people who, conditioned by history, choose to err on the side of caution?
In essence, Rosenbaum’s arguing (and Goldberg agrees) that Iran’s belligerence isn’t simply hyperbole, but a threat with possibly immediate consequences. This week an editorial in the New York Times, Iran’s Nuclear Quest argued:
Iran’s continuing activity violates United Nations Security Council demands to halt enrichment, but as one official said, it is “not a game-changer.” The disclosure about the centrifuges is in a report expected soon from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are clearly dangerous to Israel and the region. But the administration argues that Iran is not on the verge of producing a weapon and that the United Nations inspectors will provide warning before it gets to that point.
Washington’s caution is well-placed, especially when set against the overheated statements of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, that time is running out. He has never warmed to the idea of negotiations between Iran and the United States and other major powers. The speculation now is that he is escalating his warnings before the United States election in a cynical gambit to get President Obama’s agreement to act against Iran soon.
Note how dismissive the editors of the New York Times are towards Netanyahu’s concerns. To them the invocation of the Holocaust is simply a cover for Netanyahu’s unbridled aggression.
A few months ago, Shmuel Rosner wrote Playing the Holocaust Card. Despite the unfortunate title, Rosner concluded:
Netanyahu’s “uncomfortable truth” that Iran intends to launch another Holocaust may, or may not, be correct. But this other disquieting notion surely is: the memory of the Holocaust is too fresh and the price of over-optimism too well known for any Israeli to disregard even the most preposterous scenario.
Though I wish his conclusion were more universal (applied not only to Israel) this is in line with Rosenbaum and Goldberg. And it is also the point that the New York Times ignores.
2) The sound of one hand clapping
A few months ago, Thomas Friedman wrote Watching Elephants Fly, his paean to the victorious Islamists in Egypt:
Here are some quotes from Egyptian women on why they voted Islamist: “I love the Muslim Brotherhood; they are the only honest ones. … I want good education and clean air to breathe. … We need proper medical care. … I want my kids to be properly educated. They can’t find any jobs. … The Muslim Brotherhood is not just an Islamist party. It is going to help solve all the problems of the country. … We have to get the youth working and to raise salaries. Education here is only getting worse. … My biggest fear is lack of security. We sit in our homes — afraid. You are afraid your son won’t be able to go back and forth to school without being kidnapped.”
And there you have Egypt today — a four-way power struggle between the army, the rising Islamist parties, the smaller liberal parties and the secular youth of Tahrir Square. All of them will have a say in how this story plays out. “We want to see a new Egyptian government with new thoughts,” said Hassan. “I am ready to go back into Tahrir Square if I have to.”
Indeed, everyone feels more empowered now. The army has its guns and now runs the country; both the Islamists and the liberals have won electoral mandates; and the secular youth from Tahrir feel empowered by the street — by their now proven ability to mobilize and to fight whenever they see things going awry. Even the silent majority here, called “The Party of the Couch,” feels more empowered, having just voted in high numbers in an election where the votes actually got counted. His point was that though the Islamists won the parliamentary elections they would honor their mandate and not impose their views on the electorate. In response, Barry Rubin wrote, Friedman cheers as Egyptians are enslaved:
Isn’t Friedman aware that real Egyptian democrats are rushing to get visas and leave the country? That many Christians are getting out and the rest are trembling?
Within hours of the Friedman statement, the Free Egyptians Party — the most “authentic” liberal party in Egypt — declared a boycott of the remaining elections, claiming electoral fraud. Personally, I don’t think electoral fraud was a major factor but, rather, the party is reacting out of hopelessness, knowing that an open democratic society has no chance now in Egypt and that it cannot depend on any help from Western governments, which support its enemies.
The real moderates and democrats are in despair, knowing what they will be living under. And Friedman cheers their oppressors and says there is nothing to worry about. How is this better than becoming a booster for some Latin American military dictator or African tyrant or ruthless Communist oligarchy?
Yesterday, things finally got out of hand and, in response, Friedman wrote Morsi’s wrong turn:
I find it very disturbing that one of the first trips by Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, will be to attend the Nonaligned Movement’s summit meeting in Tehran this week. Excuse me, President Morsi, but there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran’s people that the world approves of their country’s clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement — the exact same kind of democracy movement that brought you, Mr. Morsi, to power in Egypt.
This is a good reason to criticize Morsi (and Ban Ki Moon, which Friedman does later in the column). John McCain is impressed:
I always knew if I waited long enough, I’d agree with a Tom Friedman column… “Morsi’s Wrong Turn”
I’m not impressed with the column. It’s not that the sentiment is wrong; it’s misplaced. Two weeks ago Eric Trager wrote Egypt’s New President Moves Against Democracy:
On Sunday, having purged top military officials, Muslim Brotherhood veteran and new President Mohammed Morsi issued a sweeping constitutional declaration. It grants him complete executive and legislative power, plus the authority to select the writers of Egypt’s new constitution. Eighteen months after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has a new dictator — and the way in which Mr. Morsi grabbed power says much about what he will do with it.
More important, Mr. Morsi used the Sinai crisis to assume the powers that the junta had undemocratically asserted for itself in a March 2011 constitutional declaration. He thus claimed unprecedented executive power, including complete authority over legislation, public budgets, foreign affairs, pardons, and political and military appointments.
Consider the editors he appointed to lead Egypt’s two largest state-run newspapers. The new editor of Al-Ahram is an old Mubarak regime hack who called last year’s uprising “foreign funded” and lost his column in 2010 for writing anti-Christian articles. The new editor of Gomhoriya shut down a conference on religious freedoms in 2008 and called for the murder of a well-known Bahai activist in 2009. The new editor of Al-Akhbar recently censored an article that criticized the Brotherhood.
In the past month Morsi has fired those who could have challenged his authority, seized more political power for himself and took greater control over Egypt’s media. But none of these actions elicited a complaint from Friedman. Only Morsi’s trip to Iran – which in contrast to the concrete steps Morsi took to increase his own power is just atmospherics – brought about Friedman’s disapproval. Friedman missed the real story and focused on mere imagery.
3) Mistakes I’ve made a few
In writing about the Corrie verdict I made a few mistakes. The picture in this article was not photoshopped as I wrote. It was misleading as it didn’t reflect the conditions immediately prior to Corrie death.
It’s a point worth emphasizing regarding Robert Mackey’s ode to Rachel Corrie, Witness to Rachel Corrie’s Death Responds to Israeli Court Ruling Absolving Soldier. If you pay attention, Mackey refers to the photograph of Corrie standing in front of a bulldozer but doesn’t reproduce it. Even he must have realized that the picture was inconsistent with the story he wanted to tell. Needless to say, Mackey, an anti-Israel activist takes everything told him by ISM members as the truth.
In addition to making a mistake about the picture, I missed a more important point. Yesterday’s New York Times reported:
Ms. Corrie, a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., joined the International Solidarity Movement in January, 2003, and spent the last weeks of her life in Rafah, the Gaza town that borders Egypt. In a Feb. 27, 2003, e-mail home, she wrote that 600 homes had been destroyed there since the start of the intifada. On March 16 she and seven other American and British activists acted as human shields, dropping to their knees between the bulldozers and a home they believed were marked for destruction. The verdict came more than a year after the last of 15 sessions of oral testimony, which began in March 2010. Some of the witnesses, including the drivers and commanders of two bulldozers that were operating in the area that day, testified from behind a screen to protect their identities. Ms. Corrie’s parents or sister attended every session of the trial, spending about $200,000 on travel, translating about 2,000 pages of documents, and other expenses.
The judge’s decision noted in part:
The two bulldozers and the armored personnel carrier were occupied with the clear military operational task of clearing the land in a dangerous area which posed a significant risk. The force’s action was designed to eliminate the danger of terrorists hiding and to expose hidden explosive devices, both of which were intended to kill IDF soldiers. The act of clearing the land was “a war-related action.”
The items in bold – that the activists dropped to their knees and that the IDF was seeking to clear explosives from the area – show the degree to which the ISM activists put their lives at risk. (Whether the did so knowingly or not is another question. It is clear that having their activists killed is something that ISM’s founders saw as a positive outcome.) I missed the implication of this information.
Lenny Ben David has similar thoughts.