by: Zach Dorfman on April 26th, 2010 | Comments Off
When it comes to establishing a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine, should we let the perfect be the enemy of the good? Does a “good” peace even satisfy minimum human rights requirements? Can and should we negotiate with regimes with despicable human rights records in order to ensure regional peace in the Middle East? I take up these questions–some explicitly, others implied–in what follows, where I call for the Obama Administration to engage in a sustained diplomatic push with Syria and Israel in order to create the conditions for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli-Arab conflict has inflamed the Middle East for half a century, and negotiations aimed towards the creation of a Palestinian state have stalled. While we should encourage Israel and the Palestinian National Authority to fulfill their obligations stipulated at the Annapolis Conference, current political and security conditions within both Israel and the Palestinian Territories are not conducive to reaching a final settlement.
This is partly due to domestic politics within both territories. In Israel, powerful far-right pro-settler parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government will seek to stymie any two-state solution, and Netanyahu’s own commitment to a two-state solution appears tenuous. Furthermore, security fears about Iran’s burgeoning regional power are widespread, causing Israel to reorient its foreign policy away from solving the Palestinian question and towards containing Iran.
The sun rises over Manhattan, September 12th, 2001.
I grew up during the decade we are ready to leave behind.
I was seventeen years old, and a junior in high school, when Al Gore lost the presidency by judicial fiat. I remember reading excerpts from Bush v. Gore in the New York Times in the cafeteria, a place that I always thought I’d recall more for its unpleasant and strangely unidentifiable odors than for its role in the formation of my political consciousness. That was how my decade began: as a passive spectator, unable to vote, disturbed by the news that four men and a single woman had decided who the president was going to be. But that wasn’t really the start of the decade.
Norman Podhoretz’s new book Why Are Jews Liberals? (and Leon Wieseltier’s erudite take-down thereof), has sparked a lot of discussion on both left and right. Both pieces deserve a mention at Tikkun Daily. Podhoretz, pulling no punches, argues that American Jews have substituted the “Torah of Judaism” for the “Torah of Liberalism.” Such faith in the power of the state is surely a perverted form of idol-worship, no?
Both Podhoretz’s essay in the Wall Street Journal, which offers a summary of his book’s arguments, and Wieseltier’s response in the New York Times, are worth reading in full. Each offers a glimpse into two competing tendencies in the contemporary thinking of American Jews. (I won’t say contemporary Jewish thought, because as Wieseltier argues, Judaism is so rich a body of knowledge that many, many different political tendencies can be distilled from it. Essentializing “Jewishness” is part of Podhoretz’s problem.)
Podhoretz himself serves an interesting synecdoche for the ideological transformation of a an important minority in the post-World War II Jewish intelligentsia. Originally a liberal, he grew disillusioned with the left in the 1960s and became a hardcore neoconservative, but not before he penned some important pieces about the American Jewish experience, notably “My Negro Problem–And Ours,” an intellectually honest account of Jewish-African American relations in Brooklyn in the 1930s. (In the piece, Podhoretz argues in favor of interracial marriage–and procreation–as a means to end racism.)
When Podhoretz truly decided to abandon the liberalism of his younger days, and why, I do not know. But I am saddened at the ossification of a once fertile mind.
… then anything is possible. A good day to remember that even the most seemingly intractable disputes are transitory. People change. Nations change.
As I touched upon in a recent post, there is a palpable fear and loathing in certain quarters of America. The din has been getting louder; people are livid, shouting down one another at “townhall” meetings; some are making offensive and incoherent claims about President Obama (that he is, for instance, both a fascist and a communist).
As is often the case, the mainstream media has sensationalized the affair. But their coverage has been simultaneously overbroad and underdetermined. Opposition to Obama’s health care plan is portrayed as being rooted in contending ideologies over government’s proper role, with opposition growing organically out of a disaffected electorate.
There is a simmering anger in America, embodying what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” This politics does not define itself according to opposition to, say, the president’s health care or climate-change policies, but by a visceral distrust and resentment of the man himself. During the presidential election, rumors floated around that Barack Obama was a Muslim (implying that that was something inherently pejorative), that he was some kind of “Manchurian Candidate,” that he was not, in fact, an American citizen, and was thus a kind of pretender to the throne.
Many rejected these accusations out of hand. Obama was elected; the American Republic did not crumble; we have not been infiltrated by some kind of fifth column.
However, we must admit that this kind of politics–the politics of othering–is alive and well. In fact, it remains a powerful force in American politics, and we are all the worse for it. Watch the video below. It was recorded at a recent post-election “townhall” meeting with Representative Mike Castle (R-DE). How is dialogue possible when incontrovertible facts are dismissed as conspiracy? How do we find common ground when up is wholeheartedly, and repeatedly, asserted as down? For any kind of real understanding to develop between political antagonists, we must first acknowledge that radically different worldviews co-exist in America; that, in fact, we live in very different worlds.
The Politics of Othering
Since I am “friends” with Mir Hossain Mousavi on Facebook, I receive updates–mostly in Persian–about goings-on in Iran. These photographs, from today’s protests, were just uploaded to the site. I haven’t seen them on any other news outlets. It’s tremendously difficult not to be inspired by the Iranian people. Some pictures, below the fold.
In the last few days there has been some low-level chatter about tomorrow’s prayer service at Tehran University, with the New York Times giving the story its semi-official imprimatur today. But its import has been greatly understated. Tomorrow, I would argue, is the single most important day in Iran since the Islamofascist (and I don’t use the term flippantly) ruling clique baldly stole the June 12th presidential election, robbing the regime of any shred of legitimacy it retained, and squashing the only semi-democratic aspect of the Islamic “Republic.” Tomorrow, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, eminence grise, founding father of the current Iranian regime, antagonist of the detestable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will speak at Friday prayers. The prayers will be broadcast nationally; losing presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi will be attending, making his first public appearance in weeks. Mehdi Karroubi, another losing candidate, will be there. Former president Mohammed Khatami will be there. In other words, ever major opposition figure in Iran–Ayatollah Montazeri excepted–will be there.
What will Rafsanjani say? Will he call for a new election? Address the issue in a roundabout, subtle fashion? The mere presence of all these figures at Friday prayers is a form of protest, the choice of venue a direct challenge not only to the regime but what it seeks to represent. No, it says: you are no longer the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people; your version of Islam is a perversion; the velayat e faqih has been irrevocably corrupted.
Every revolution must end, and tomorrow one of its principal figures will quietly help suffocate a regime that has suffocated its people. How ironic that Trotsky’s dream of a “permanent revolution” has been taken up wholeheartedly by radical clerics from Qom; what awful, terrible hubris.