1.05.2009

greenwald: x is good when done by us and evil when done to us

Excellent reading from Glenn Greenwald.
There are few concepts more elastic and subject to exploitation than "Terrorism," the all-purpose justifying and fear-mongering term. But if it means anything, it means exactly the mindset which Goldfarb is expressing: slaughtering innocent civilians in order to "send a message," to "deter" political actors by making them fear that continuing on the same course will result in the deaths of civilians and -- best of all, from the Terrorist's perspective -- even their own children and other family members.

To the Terrorist, by definition, that innocent civilians and even children are killed isn't a regrettable cost of taking military action. It's not a cost at all. It's a benefit. It has strategic value. Goldfarb explicitly says this: "to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause."

That, of course, is the very same logic that leads Hamas to send suicide bombers to slaughter Israeli teenagers in pizza parlors and on buses and to shoot rockets into their homes. It's the logic that leads Al Qaeda to fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled office buildings. And it's the logic that leads infinitely weak and deranged people like Goldfarb and Peretz to find value in the killing of innocent Palestinians, including -- one might say, at least in Goldfarb's case: especially -- children.

. . . .

I can't express how many emails I've received in the last week from people identifying themselves as "liberals" (and, overwhelmingly, American Jews); telling me that they agree with my views in almost all areas other than Israel; and then self-righteously insisting that I imagine what it's like to live in Southern Israel with incoming rocket fire from Hamas, as though that will change my views on the Israel/Gaza war. Obviously, it's not difficult to imagine the understandable rage that Israelis feel when learning of another attack on Israeli civilians, in exactly the way that American rage over the 9/11 attacks was understandable. But just as that American anger didn't justify anything and everything that followed, the fact that there are indefensible attacks on Israeli civilians doesn't render the (far more lethal) attacks on Gaza either wise or just -- as numerous Jewish residents of Sderot themselves are courageously arguing in opposing the Israeli attack.

More to the point: for those who insist that others put themselves in the position of a resident of Sderot -- as though that will, by itself, prove the justifiability of the Israeli attack -- the idea literally never occurs to them that they ought to imagine what it's like to live under foreign occupation for 4 decades (and, despite the 2005 "withdrawal from Gaza," Israel continues to occupy and expand its settlements on Palestinian land and to control and severely restrict many key aspects of Gazan life). No thought is given to what it is like, what emotions it generates, what horrible acts start to appear justifiable, when you have a hostile foreign army control your borders and airspace and internal affairs for 40 years, one which builds walls around you, imposes the most intensely humiliating conditions on your daily life, blockades your land so that you're barred from exiting and prevented from accessing basic nutrition and medical needs for your children to the point where a substantial portion of the underage population suffers from stunted growth.

So extreme is their emotional identification with one side (Israel) that it literally never occurs to them to give any thought to any of that, to imagine what it's like to live in those circumstances. Nor does this thought occur to them:
I was trained from an early age to view this group as my group, to identify with them emotionally, culturally, religiously. Maybe that -- and not an objective assessment of these events -- is why I continuously side with that group and see everything from its perspective and justify whatever it does, why I find the Dick Cheney/Weekly Standard/neoconservative worldview repellent in every situation except when it comes to Israel, when I suddenly find it wise and vigorously embrace it.

Those who defend American actions in every case, or who find justification in attacks on Israeli civilians, or who find simplistic moral clarity in a whole range of other complex and protracted disputes where all sides share infinite blame, are often guilty of the same refusal/inability to at least try to minimize this sort of ingrained tribalistic blindness.

The whole essay, with links, is here.

I am intimately familiar with the attitude of many (not all!) US Jews that Greenwald writes about: my father was one. He was very progressive, a lifelong socialist. But when it came to Israel, he was a jingoistic dittohead. And I'm quoting him there! He freely admit this blind spot, but he never examined it, and he never backed away from it.

People say, oh, it's complicated, this Jewish response to Israel. It's emotional. It's deep. It's hard to explain.

But in reality, it's not complicated. It's simplistic. The North American Jewish support of Israel's bombing of Gaza are no more complicated than a bumper sticker that says "These Colors Don't Run" and "If You Don't Stand Behind Our Troops, Then Stand In Front Of Them".

Anyway, here's Glenn Greenwald, he explains it much better than me.

11 comments:

M@ said...

I read Orwell's "Notes on Nationalism" on my way to work today, after reading Greenwald's piece last night. I don't think I've read it before and it's simply stunning.

Although many of Orwell's examples do not stand the test of time (Trostkyism and political Catholicism, for example, are not the major forces in intellectual or political thought they were in 1945), his core message is frighteningly accurate when applied to today's politics (as Greenwald demonstrates).

I don't think I own a collection of Orwell essays. I really ought to. I think I'll wander down to a bookstore on my lunch break and see what's available.

redsock said...

Greenwald is one of the best political writers working out there in the tubes. Watching over the entire political scene, he's like a one-man Media Matters with far more analysis.

L-girl said...

I don't think I own a collection of Orwell essays. I really ought to. I think I'll wander down to a bookstore on my lunch break and see what's available.

You can always borrow some of mine. :)

One of my goals in life is to read everything Orwell wrote.

JakeNCC said...

What explains the American support of Israel? I mean Israel couldn't be Israel without the U.S. I've heard alot of explanations from right-wing christian support ( don't understand that one ) to the large jewish population of the u.s. ( don't understand that one either since its still just a small percentage of the overall population ). Some have said they support Israel because it's the only democracy in the middle east. I dont buy that either. And finally here'e what where I really get confused. America or at least the America I've known does things that benefit itself and its empire. Supporting Israel does not help the U.S. or their empire. In fact it has hurt them dramatically the last 50 years with the Arab and Islamic world. SO my question to Laura or any others out there is Why the unconditional support of Israel?

L-girl said...

Jake, good question. I'm sure I can't answer it completely.

"It's the only democracy in the Middle East" has been the cover story for a long time.

Christian Zionism (right-wing fundie pro-Israel stance) is part of it. But that's a more recent influence, I think.

Originally it went back to the cold war - the Soviets supporting Arab nations (as they were all called then), the US supporting Israel. The Middle East was the stage on which that conflict would be fought.

I think the right-wing fundies took over as the cold war died off.

Supporting Israel is certainly part of supporting the US empire. Keeping the Muslim world as enemies of the state works nicely.

Many people answer your question by saying that Jewish people have undue influence on the US government, disproportionate to their numbers. I take it you've heard of ZOG? The Jewish cabal?

According to an assortment of rednecks and paranoids, Jews control the banks, the US government, the media, Hollywood, etc. etc. To that I can only say, where's my share?

Seriously, that's an old anti-Semetic trope. When all else fails, blame the Jews.

That's an incomplete answer, and perhaps other people want to take a stab at it.

L-girl said...

Someone who reads this blog knows a lot about Christian Zionism, its strong influence and its danger. I'll see if I can find him.

David Cho said...

Laura pretty much has it very well covered. This website is an excellent resource.

According to an assortment of rednecks and paranoids, Jews control the banks, the US government, the media, Hollywood

I tell Evangelicals that Jews now control the Evangelical movement, and they should consider deconversion because of that.

They seldom get the joke, but that doesn't keep me from using it :)

liliannattel said...

He explains it very well. Thanks for posting that excerpt and the link. There is a review of a study on ideological responses of Israelis and Palestinians (before the present situation) here.

deang said...

Why the unconditional support of Israel?

What I've concluded from reading Noam Chomsky's and Norman Finkelstein's takes on that question is that Israel serves as another major arm, perhaps the major arm, of the US military in a region the US wants to control because of its oil wealth. Chomsky has gone so far as to refer to all of Israel as a de facto US military base, one that can be used to provide cover for regionally unpopular behavior like attacking Iran: If Israel were to attack Iran using US weapons and US military advice, it would appear that Israel is acting independently to many in the world, when in reality a frown from the US president would likely prevent it from happening, given the amount of military aid the US gives Israel. Chomsky also presents evidence to show that US support isn't unconditional, instances in which US disapproval has resulted in Israel immediately ceasing whatever operation it was undertaking or about to undertake. I can't remember the examples he's used and I'm not a specialist in this area, but he's often asked about this and in response he usually gives examples of Israel calling off plans because of US disapproval. Hope I'm remembering that right, anyway.

David Cho said...

my father was one. He was very progressive, a lifelong socialist. But when it came to Israel, he was a jingoistic dittohead.

Does the term dittohead predate Rush Limbaugh? Hahaha.

Not speaking for your Dad obviously, but I wonder if at the time Israel was conceived as the underdog facing not just her hostile Islamic neighbors, but also the Soviet Union. I am not sure it was all based on the 'they are my people' mindset.

L-girl said...

What I've concluded from reading Noam Chomsky's and Norman Finkelstein's takes on that question is that Israel serves as another major arm, perhaps the major arm, of the US military in a region the US wants to control because of its oil wealth.

Thanks for filling that in, Dean. I kind of meant that but didn't make it explicit, and it's important.

If Israel were to attack Iran using US weapons and US military advice, it would appear that Israel is acting independently to many in the world, when in reality a frown from the US president would likely prevent it from happening, given the amount of military aid the US gives Israel.

Right - it can carry out US policy by proxy.

I wouldn't call Israel a US military base, as the Israeli govt is not just a puppet, they are autonomous and bear the blame for what they are doing. But the two countries' objectives dovetail.