Accusing the other side in a debate of a hidden agenda never gets us anywhere. So let’s just not.
In the Israel/Palestine debate, there’s a trap that both sides fall into, repeatedly – and I’m no exception – which makes it more of a mud-slinging event than a discussion. In a nutshell, the trap is claiming the other side has a hidden agenda.
I find myself, for once, at loss for words. Despite growing up in what is essentially a warzone, I have had the ridiculously good fortune of never experiencing the horror of war first hand. In a thoughtful and powerful piece of writing, Chris Hedges has managed to transport a small taste, which I can only implore you to read if you haven’t yet. And you’ll want to sit down first, I think.
Meta comment: I haven’t been posting lately – these link posts don’t count – not for lack of ideas or words, but mainly because I’m spending a very big chunk of my waking hours in (academic) writing and having a hard time finding the time to properly formulate blog posts. I hope and assume that I’ll get posting again at some point soon, but no promises.
I just talked with my mother about a certain Israeli-Palestinians protest movement which people she knows are involved in but she has decided not to take part in. Like many such discussions, it came down to a general question of what the goal of non-violent protest is supposed to be. Is it supposed to be about changing the minds of the Israeli public? Is it about informing people about wrongs being done in their name? Is it about giving the world an alternative to the official narrative? Is it just about generally getting the authorities to overreact so as to draw attention to their abusive behavior?
I think this is an important debate to have, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of actually doing something. My thinking in the past months has been that one very important goal is indeed re-education of anyone who’s willing to listen. Israelis are taught that we have a highly moral army used only for defense; it took me years to realize how inaccurate that is. Most people accept the occupation as a necessary evil without knowing quite how ridiculous, abusive and petty it has become. A lot can be achieved by just making sure concrete, current examples of this are out there. Many who accept the occupation might change their mind once they realize what it has made Israel become.
But there are problems with focussing on the ills of the occupation. First of all, it’s a hard thing to sustain. Following these abuses eventually just gets you down. What’s worse, many Israelis are disinclined to believe it when lefties report this kind of thing. They are distrustful and take us for dupes under hostile foreign influence. So if any change is to happen, the left certainly has to do a better job of creating public debate, and we have to be more convincing to average Israeli nationalists.
I don’t know. What do you think? Comments are open.
This excellent TED talk goes along the lines of what I’ve been thinking lately regarding Israeli politics and Israel/Palestine politics. Talking to the other sides is crucial in all conflicts, on whatever scale, internal or external — in a school, in a town, in a state, or between states. “Otherizing”, as Lesser calls it, is the seed of continued conflict and violence.
The Enlightenment achieved many things, some good, some bad. About a year ago, in a conversation, I realized that one of the good things was eliminating the role of religion in public discourse and policy in Europe. One of the bad things, perhaps, is stigmatizing spirituality in the personal sphere, an unfortunate side-effect of its elimination from the public sphere.
You see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people having faith in something supernatural, so long as they know their belief is their own business. In Israel, the Jewish religious establishment tied in with the state has never internalized the Enlightenment. The establishment, and the mainstream Judaism to which the secular majority belongs (together with some of the orthodox minorities) rejects the Enlightenment outright, denouncing it as “Hellenizing” and foreign.1
This is no accident, of course, as religion provides some of the classic arguments for the Zionist project and the resulting existence of the state. And indeed, when one views Israel through a naive Judeochristian lens, it’s really pretty amazing that a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem exists today. This fact, particularly in isolation, has tremendous emotional power, and the state clearly cannot afford to shut up about that kind of thing.
The problem is that religion-oriented political discourse has been losing currency in the developed world for a couple of centuries now. In most of Europe it’s a thing of wacky backwards foreigners and the crazy past. That the United States re-elected George W. Bush seven years ago is evidence that in America this is still a divisive issue.
Israel is swimming backwards in this current. Where the founding generation’s Judaism was a secular nationalism with some religious symbols, religion has been creeping into politics for decades. In recent months it’s been getting positively scary. As such, it’s probably too much to hope that Israel will realize sometime soon that in today’s world, you sound like a crazy person when you claim the Bible as an authority in your favor in a dispute over land.2
And as long as hasbara goes back and forth from sounding like an attempt to change the subject to sounding like the politics of a time predating the invention of the airplane, Israel will not convince the world of anything.
I remember there used to be a load of public outcry amongst the Israeli secular and reform regarding religious coercion (kfiya datit). What ever happened to that? Is that simply a battle we’ve already lost?
Ironically, certain well-known European fascists called the Enlightenment a Jewish plot. All nationalist projects need an outside force to associate universalism and humanism with, so that they may be rejected. One cannot see all human beings as equal and at the same time consider one’s own nation especially important. [↩]
Consciously or not, this is using an excuse that has little direct bearing on most people’s current reality but is used to justify gross injustice towards large groups of people. As such, it is morally reprehensible and should be rejected outright. [↩]
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