Category Archives: Politics & Society

Word Crime: War Breaks Out Among Israel Studies Scholars

A recent Haaretz article discusses controversy over a special issue of the Israel Studies journal that criticizes terms such as occupation and genocide used to refer to Israel vis à vis the Palestinians, as well as references to the Israel Lobby and claims that criticism of Zionism is not to be equated with anti-Semitism:

The lead article by Donna Divine, “Word Crimes: Reclaiming The Language of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, introduces the issue and is free on Jstor. (Unfortunately most of the specialist articles themselves have a price tag and I have not yet seen how or even if the issue itself is available for purchase at a reasonable cost.)

Arie M. Dubnov

Matz’s Haaretz article quotes Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University, Arie M. Dubnov,  claiming:

“the [journal’s] ‘alternative dictionary’ appears designed to provide talking points for anti-BDS and pro-‘hasbara’ efforts, and does not serve an academic purpose.”

The journal Israel Studies is “affiliated with” the Association for Israel Studies (Wikipedia article: Association for Israel Studies) but not that association’s official journal, according to information in the Haaretz article. Critics nonetheless hold the Association leadership responsible for the publication of the issue’s contents, and Dubnov in a letter demanded that the Association publish a retraction or cut their ties with the journal. (The association’s official journal is Israel Studies Review.)

Dubnov was further quoted as saying that the journal issue lent support for critics of Israel studies as a special field in academia as

an invented field that is nothing more than a cover for the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Maltz adds,

He charged that the articles published in the journal “make a mockery of academic rules” and would never have passed muster in a serious academic publication.

Gershon Shafir

Another academic, Gershon Shafir,

“This attempt to suppress critical voices and dissenting views within the [association] is a microcosm of the larger assault on liberal voices and institutions in Israel. . . .

“Ironically . . . the [association] itself was created with the aim of procuring a forum where Israel may be analyzed with the tools common to the social sciences and humanities, to free the study of Israel from the bonds of political loyalty and subservience in which it was enmeshed. That accomplishment, academic
autonomy, is threatened now by the repoliticization of the study of Israel through the criminalization of scholarship and assault on academic freedom.”

Ian Lustick

Another, Ian S. Lustick, oberves that

almost all the contributors to the ‘Word Crimes’ issue are members of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East — a straightout advocacy organization.

Miriam Elman

But a co-editor of the special issue, Miriam F. Elman, responded that such criticisms were “an ugly smear campaign” and certain demands of critics amounted to “academic thuggery”:

there will be no caving in to this bullying. I believe we are talking about a very small minority, as very few scholars would run roughshod over academic freedom in this way.”

So what’s in this special issue? As explained at the beginning I only have access to the lead article so I quote a few sections of that. You can make up your own minds, though I will not be able to resist a couple of mumbles of my own.

Excerpts from Donna Divine’s Word Crimes: Reclaiming The Language of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

(Not quite sure why I’m doing this. As I said at the outset anyone can read the whole article for free via Jstor. But for any lazy buggers who can’t be bothered here is my selection of hightlights.)

the Jewish state, today, stands accused of practicing apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and of sustaining itself as a remnant of an outdated and thoroughly delegitimized colonial order.

The language under criticism

identifies Israel not simply as a force hostile to Palestinian interests but also as a major source of evil for the world.

The term genocide

(Donna Divine’s essay also concludes with a discussion of the use of this term in the discussion.)

The United Nations definition of genocide:In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

genocide is now defined as a Zionist impulse. A word that once engendered sympathy for Jews has been contaminated by becoming a rubric describing Israeli policies and a reason to fear Jewish power. . . . .

Think of “Deir Yassin”, the name for Palestinian suffering before the naqba. Millions of people across the globe know something of this village as the site of a massacre and the bonfire it made of Israel’s moral authority in waging its war for independence. . . . .

Tauber’s book [compare blog post] does not remove the stain of war crimes from the Irgun forces fighting in the village, but it does contest the scope of the brutality in that fateful attack in April 1948. Even to raise questions about whether a massacre occurred at Deir Yassin, however, is considered a transgression as Tauber learned from the several American university presses refusing to publish his book, one deeming it “unfit for English readers”. . . . it has had a profound impact on closing down the possibility of following the best available evidence.

From here the article segues into a discussion of Edward Said’s book Orientalism and merges with a discussion of …

The Israel lobby

read more »

“The Most Warlike Nation in the History of the World”, Hidden Empire, Propaganda, and Hope

Jimmy Carter (Wikipedia)

The U.S., Carter said, has been at war for all but 16 years of its 242-year history. (China and Vietnam actually fought a brief border war in early 1979, weeks after normalization of U.S.-China relations.)

He called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” because of a tendency to try to force others to “adopt our American principles.”

The only US president to complete his term without war, military attack or occupation has called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” . . .

Carter then said the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history—1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”

On China and U.S.’s worry that China is “getting ahead of us”, see at point 39:40 Chomsky’s comment on just this point, the trade agreements with China, being “an effort to prevent China’s economic development”:

Which reminds me of a book I heard about via Mano Singham’s blog:

Hidden Empire

During the Second World War, the United States honed an extraordinary suite of technologies that gave it many of the benefits of empire without having to actually hold colonies. Plastics and other synthetics allowed it to replace tropical products with man-made substitutes. Airplanes, radio, and DDT enabled it to move its goods, ideas, and people into foreign countries easily without annexing them. Similarly, the United States managed to standardize many of its objects and practices—from screw threads to road signs to the English language—across political borders, again gaining influence in places it didn’t control. Collectively, these technologies weaned the United States off the familiar model of formal empire. They replaced colonization with globalization.

Globalization is a fashionable word, and it’s easy to speak of it in vague terms—to talk of increasingly better technologies drawing a disparate world together. But those new technologies didn’t just crop up. Many were developed by the U.S. military in a short burst of time in the 1940s, with the goal of giving the United States a new relationship to territory. Dramatically, and in just a few years, the military built a world-spanning logistical network that was startling in how little it depended on colonies. It was also startling in how much it centered the world’s trade, transport, and communication on one country, the United States.

. . . . . .
read more »

“It would never happen the other way around”

Nick Davies (Wikipedia Commons)

Some readers protest when I attempt to convey a Palestinian perspective or concern that I think deserves to be more widely known and respond by stressing the official Israeli version of events as if that is the real truth and all we need to know. Sometimes I try to respond by explaining that their knowledge is shaped largely by one-sided mainstream media reporting. An elaboration of that same point is made by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies. The link is to a Wikipedia article explaining who Nick Davies is.

There is now a network of pro-Israeli pressure groups who specialise in orchestrating complaints against the media. HonestReporting has offices in London, New York and Toronto and claims to have 140,000 members on whom it can call to drench media organisations in letters and emails. . . .  Camera, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, uses street demos, pressure on advertisers, formal complaints and email showers. Giyus, Give Israel Your Support, supplies its members with a browser button which they can hit to send them any article which they deem offensive, and software called Megaphone to assist them in launching mass complaints. Memri (the Middle East Media Research Institute), Palestine Media Watch, Bicom (the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre) and Israeli Embassy staff all supply more energy for the fence. They share aims and⁄or funding sources with the immensely powerful network of organisations which lobby governments and political parties on behalf of Israel.

The result is that some facts become dangerous: to report Palestinian casualties; to depict the Palestinians as victims of Israeli occupation; to refer to the historic ousting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes; to refer to the killing of Palestinian civilians by Zionist groups in the 1940s. The facts are there, but the electric fence will inflict pain on any reporter who selects them. Words themselves become dangerous: to speak of ‘occupied territories’; to describe Palestinian bombers as anything other than ‘terrorists’; to reject the Israeli government euphemism of ‘targeted killings’. Crucially, there is no lobby of similar force on the Palestinian side. The pro-Israeli groups are able to claim numerous victories.

Honest Reporting claims:

‘Since 2000, the organisation prompted hundreds of apologies, retractions, and revisions from news outlets.’

They cite, in particular, their campaign against CNN, which saw them sending up to 6,000 emails a day to the chief executive and which resulted in their being invited to CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta to meet managers who, they say, ‘showed a genuine sensitivity to HonestReporting’s concerns’. They had complained that CNN was failing to describe Palestinian bombers as ‘terrorists’; that too little attention was being given to Israeli victims; and that CNN had been willing to broadcast videotaped final statements by bombers. Following the meeting, they note, CNN.com started referring to ‘Palestinian terrorism’ and ran a special series on Israeli victims, while the chief executive issued a ban on the use of videotaped statements by bombers. HonestReporting also quotes from transcripts of CNN broadcasts in which the anchor in Atlanta interrupts the correspondent on the ground to put the Israeli case.

HonestReporting also claims credit for Reuters’ decision to stop referring to Hamas as a group seeking an independent state and to describe them instead, for example, as ‘Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction’; and for the Washington Post’s decision to change a website headline from ‘JEWISH TODDLER DIES IN THE WEST BANK’ to ‘JEWISH BABY SHOT DEAD ON WEST BANK’ within ninety minutes of HonestReporting starting to complain. The New York Times printed a fulsome apology for publishing a photograph of a pro-Israeli demonstration which showed anti-Israeli protesters in its foreground. A survey by fair.org found that in 90% of references to the Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli Army, American cable news described them only as ‘contested’ or ‘disputed’ or even as ‘Israel’.

The BBC has been targeted particularly heavily, winning HonestReporting’s annual award for dishonest reporting. One senior journalist there told me:

‘The lobby insinuates a sense of fear. If the editor of the Today programme knows that an item will make the phone ring off the hook, he may think twice about running it. Sure, the lobby works. I can think of numerous examples where I have felt the brunt of it.’

One member of staff at the BBC recalls the former press officer at the Israeli Embassy in London, David Schneeweiss, persuading a Today producer to set up a story about Yasser Arafat’s involvement in corruption, even though BBC correspondents in Israel said there was nothing in it.

‘You get correspondents there who will file a piece about Palestinians and be told by London ‘Nice piece, but it needs an Israeli voice.’

And that would never happen the other way around. Two extensive academic surveys have found that the BBC routinely gives more airtime to Israeli voices than to Palestinian and that it focuses more frequently on Israeli victims than on Palestinians. The judgements are there to be made.

Davies, Nick. 2009. Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. London: Random House UK. pp. 123f

Julian Assange & WikiLeaks – Comments

[Daniel] Ellsberg was called The Most Dangerous Man in America by President Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. Now Ellsberg, an articulate and energetic seventy-nine years old, was passing on the baton to Assange—and going one step further. He agreed that Assange was a ‘good candidate for being the most dangerous man in the world’ and he should be ‘quite proud of that’. He also had some advice for Assange. He was ‘not safe physically wherever he is’.

Fowler, Andrew. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-Ups and Conspiracies He Exposed. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

About two days ago I watched this press conference. The editor-in-chief sums up the fundamentals of journalism in a democratic society: If it’s newsworthy, if it’s in the public interest, and if it’s true — it should be published.

So many of knew Julian Assange’s days in the Ecuadorian embassy were imminently threatened but was not expecting the arrest so soon.

I know many readers of this blog have no time for Assange. I cannot deny I find his narcissism very unlikeable. But that’s not the point, of course. (And yes, I know the reasons others loathe him go well beyond his personality.)

A Real Test

https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1116295855122853889

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Important Background

https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/1116285397284290560

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The excerpt of the UNHR document in easier to read size:

The full document is at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24042&LangID=E

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Good Bullshit-free Analysis and Summary

read more »

All the way?

When Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt smilingly proudly boasted that Australia was “all the way with LBJ” — implying that Australia was with. side-by-side, joined at the hip with the U.S. in the invasion of Vietnam, no questions asked, fully 100% — many Australians saw the colour of blood and believed Holt had declared Australia to be in an obsequious, servile, amoral relationship to a foreign power.

So when D.J. Trump twits the following. . . .

I am reminded of how times or something somewhere has changed. . . .

From ANU archives

More than a Simple Mistake in Mainstream Media

The headline speaks of Rachel Maddow but the article is about a systemic failing in mainstream media:

Though she doesn’t often bring it up these days, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow remembers how the media abetted the Bush administration’s lies justifying the 2003 Iraq invasion. That was when elite (in many cases handpicked) journalists spent months serving as stenographers for the push to war, parroting every carefully crafted leak without question. They dismissed skeptics as disloyal and spiked stories that would have raised questions about the narrative. When they got caught, they declared “never again.”

Yet with Rachel Maddow as their poster child (along with David Corn, Luke Harding, Chris Hayes, the entire staff at CNN, and hundreds more), journalists over the last two years repeated every mistake their predecessors had made in 2003.

They treated gossip as fact because it came from a “source” and told us to just trust them. They blurred the lines between first-hand knowledge, second- and third-hand hearsay, and “people familiar with the matter” to build breaking news out of manure. They marginalized skeptics as “useful idiots.” (Glenn Greenwald, who called bull on Russiagate from the beginning, says MSNBC banned him after he criticized Maddow. He’d been a regular during the Bush and Obama years.)

They accepted negative information at face value and discarded information that did not fit their pre-written narrative of collusion.

Buren, Peter Van. 2019. “How Rachel Maddow Turned Into Infowars.” The American Conservative. Accessed April 5, 2019. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-rachel-maddow-turned-into-infowars/.

There’s something seriously wrong here and it goes well beyond any single reporter or commentator:

Though the wars across the Middle East the media helped midwife are beyond sin, the damage done to journalism itself is far worse this time around. With Maddow in the lead, journalists went a step further than just shoddy reporting, proudly declaring their partisanship (once the cardinal sin of journalism) and placing themselves at the center of the story. In one critic’s words, “In purely journalistic terms, this is an epic disaster.”

Very seriously wrong:

There’s a difference between being wrong once in a while (and issuing corrections) and being wrong for two years on both the core point as well as the evidence. There is even more wrong with purposefully manipulating information to drive a specific narrative, believing that the ends justify the means.

In journalism school, the first is called making a mistake. The second, Maddow’s offense, is called propaganda.

 

Australia’s Lost Narrative and Identity

This is a parochial post. It concerns only my little corner of the world. I have liked to think of myself as an internationalist, one who has surpassed all attachment to the accident of the place of his birth, but in my more honest moments I know I still have a special attachment to Australia, for all its ugliness and outbreaks of inhumanity.

So this post is an outline of a discussion among various prominent persons that I watched on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s free-to-air TV program The Drum last Friday, 29th March 2019. The discussion was initiated by Australian government’s decision to inject massive amounts of money into extending Australia’s War Memorial in our national capital city, Canberra. A key participant in the discussion was Professor Marilyn Lake of the University of Melbourne. I liked just about everything she said. She expressed so very much of what had been bugging the back of my mind for years now — what appears to me as a steadily growing nationalistic focus on war and the warrior as core to Australia’s identity.

Lake spoke of the “excessive militarisation of Australian history” over the last twenty years. Yes. Lake was speaking of the government investment in raising war consciousness among Australians, in museums, in the War Memorial, in the new war centre in France, and even the Department of Veteran Affairs’ supply of study guides for schools! (As Lake suggested, curriculum materials should surely be the responsibility of the education department.) Further, we have seen books and films promoting Australia’s warrior history over that same time.

But only the last 20 years? Certainly 20 years ago we saw Prime Minister Keating push to Australia’s consciousness the historic significance of the Kokoda Track campaign in New Guinea in order to delay the Japanese advance towards our homeland. As a boy I had been impressed by the story of the Kokoda episode but I had never heard it promoted to a place of greater significance, for Australia’s identity, than Gallipoli. The context was the political led push for Australia to become a republic. To break all ties with the British monarchy. But after Keating came Howard and a return to all ties British.

Australian nationalism would seem to be inseparable from war, beginning with Gallipoli. That has certainly been the dominant official message for some decades now. But what might be the alternative?

Here Marilyn Lake reminded me of all those history lessons I had endured in junior high school. I had not fully appreciated them at the time but I have been glad many times since that I had them.

The question Lake was answering was something like “What is the Australian story, the so-called radical social democratic experiment, before World War 1?”

The Australian story, pre-WW1 – the social democratic commitment to the common good. 

A long list of social and political legislation begins in the nineteenth century:

  • Manhood suffrage
  • Secret ballt
  • Eight hour day
  • First legal minimum wage (Victoria, 1896)
  • A basic living wage (the Higgins judgment in 1907)
  • Old age pensions
  • Invalid pensions
  • Maternity allowance

And these things were paid for out of general revenue. One did not have to “put in” to “get out” as one did in places like Britain and Germany.

Justice Higgins said at the time that Australia was torn between two ideals: the common good and private greed. (What has changed? In what direction?)

This was the social democratic commitment to the common good.

Yes, there was an ugly side. All of these historic developments were framed by the White Australia Policy — the official policy that excluded non-whites from migrating to Australia to live.

But notice what was happening within.

Women of all backgrounds, and aboriginals and migrants and even earlier Asian migrants and their descendants all participated in extending that founding vision of democracy to much broader one, not just to white males but to include ALL persons.

Schools would do well, for example, to include in Australia’s history the story of aboriginal activism. How many Australians today even know about the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed in the 1920s to push for full citizenship of aboriginals and their land rights.

We need to know the stories of a whole range of people demanding that our nation become more inclusive.

World War 1 —

World War 1, says Marilyn Lake, “broke Australia’s soul”. We know the stats. Out of a population yet not 5 million, 60,000 dead and nearly a half million wounded, gassed or imprisoned. And not the experience of the aboriginals: fought and died alongside whites in the trenches and then when returned to Australia were treated as non-citizens of no account.

Another comparison with the United States

Nearly a month ago I wrote Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

The United States, observes Lake, are devoted to Freedom (e.g. freedom to own guns), but wea  in Australia are more devoted to Fairness, equality of opportunity, — the Civil Rights movement took this Freedom narrative on board. But Australians were demanding equality, not freedom.

Note the American historian Eric Foner.

The alternative story

Though all of this was happening within a “White Australia” it gave a platform for other groups — women, aboriginals, Chinese Australians — to also demand equality or fairness and would become the Australian story of how we sould achieve that ideal of equal citizenship. Women of all backgrounds, and aboriginals and migrants and even earlier Asian migrants and their descendants all participated in extending that founding vision of democracy to much broader one, not just to white males but to include ALL persons.

We need the stories of activism of all these oppressed groups and how they struggled to gain their rights in Australia.

Mention was made of Rebecca Huntley who said that the (relatively recent) global financial crisis precipitated an intensified desire for government to be activist and reformist in the interest of fairness.

Vida Goldstein visited the United States and people from around the world flocked to see this Australian experiment.

Yet how many in Australia know William Cooper‘s story — the only aboriginal to protest Nazi Germany?

Or Pearl Gibbs and Margaret Tucker, aboriginal women who fought for equality?

Vital references:

Australia Fair: Listening to the Nation ((Rebecca Huntley)

Birth of a nation: how Australia empowering women taught the world a lesson

Mapping the massacres of Australia’s colonial frontier

A Call to Reinvestigate American Assassinations

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Signers of the joint statement include Isaac Newton Farris Jr., nephew of Reverend King and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Reverend James M. Lawson Jr., a close collaborator of Reverend King; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, children of the late senator. The declaration is also signed by numerous historians, journalists, lawyers and other experts on the four major assassinations.

Other signatories include G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which determined in 1979 that President Kennedy was the victim of a probable conspiracy; Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas who tried to save President Kennedy’s life and saw clear evidence he had been struck by bullets from the front and the rear; Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower who served as a national security advisor to the Kennedy White House; Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and a leading global authority on human rights; . . . .

(Spartacus Educational via Consortium News)

To mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day a group of academics, journalists, lawyers, Hollywood artists, activists, researchers and intellectuals, including two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, are calling for  reinvestigation of four assassinations of the 1960s.

(Spartacus Educational via Consortium News)

Last year I posted a series covering an interview with John Curington, former right-hand man of Texas oilman H.L. Hunt of Dallas, Texas, concerning the John F. Kennedy assassination.

John Curington has since expressed hopes that the following youtube video of another interview by posted here on Vridar. It appears to have relevance for the call for reinvestigation. Hence this post with the video below.

(I understand concerns of some readers that we are into the territory of recycling conspiracy theories here and my own initial reservations had to be broken down enough to venture into these posts. But the names of those calling for a reinvestigation do lend credibility to the view that not everything has come to light about the assassinations of the 60s, and the interviews previously published, whatever our thoughts of Curington himself, do raise serious questions.)

 

The Golan Heights: the Myth versus the Historical Record

It is an article of faith among Israelis that the Golan Heights were captured in the Six-Day War to stop the Syrians from shelling the settlements down below. — Avi Shlaim

The State of Israel took control of the Golan Heights in 1967 to safeguard its security from external threats. — Donald Trump

Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World writes that Israel’s escalation of tensions on the Syrian front prior to June 1967 was the “single most important factor dragging the Middle East to war”. Prior to the war news stories told again and again of Syrian’s firing at Israeli farmers from the Golan Heights but the full circumstances of those conflicts was not revealed publicly until 1997 when a reporter published notes of his interview with the military commander Moshe Dayan in 1976. In that interview

Dayan confessed that his greatest mistake was that, as minister of defense in June 1967, he did not stick to his original opposition to the storming of the Golan Heights. Tal began to remonstrate that the Syrians were sitting on top of the Golan Heights. Dayan interrupted,

Never mind that. After all, I know how at least 80 percent of the clashes there started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let’s talk about 80 percent. It went this way: We would send a tractor to plow someplace where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance farther, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was. I did that, and Laskov and Chara [Zvi Tsur, Rabin’s predecessor as chief of staff] did that, and Yitzhak did that, but it seems to me that the person who most enjoyed these games was Dado [David Elazar, OC Northern Command, 1964–69].

(Shlaim, 250f)

The Road to War

According to the evidence in Shlaim’s study neither side wanted the 1967 war. There was no conspiracy by Arab states to launch a surprise attack on Israel and Israel had no plan to seize extra territory at the time. War came about as a consequence of political miscalculations and blunders, or a “crisis slide that neither Israel nor her enemies were able to control.”

Stage 1 – careless threats in media interviews

To begin with, Israel made a series of threats against the Syrian regime unless it stopped its support for Palestinian guerillas:

  • 11 May 1967, Israel’s director of military intelligence in a briefing of foreign journalists “gave a distinct impression that Israel was planning a major military move against Syria.”
  • Then the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces dropped a hint published in an Israeli newspaper “that the aim might be to occupy Damascus and topple the Syrian regime.”

Stage 2 – cornered into a show of leadership

The Soviet Union, supporter of the Syrian government, in response sent a report to Syria’s ally Egypt to warn that Israel was moving its forces towards the northern border and planning to attack Syria. Egypt’s president, Nasser, was pressured to take some decisive action to maintain his credibility as leader of the Arab nations:

The report [from the USSR] was untrue and Nasser knew that it was untrue, but he was in a quandary. His army was bogged down in an inconclusive war in Yemen, and he knew that Israel was militarily stronger than all the Arab confrontation states taken together. Yet, politically, he could not afford to remain inactive, because his leadership of the Arab world was being challenged. . . . Syria had a defense pact with Egypt that compelled it to go to Syria’s aid in the event of an Israeli attack. Clearly, Nasser had to do something, both to preserve his own credibility as an ally and to restrain the hotheads in Damascus. There is general agreement among commentators that Nasser neither wanted nor planned to go to war with Israel. (252f)

I have circled the Straits of Tiran in red. Map is from p. 192 of Iron Wall

Nasser decided on three-fold action to impress the Arab public:

1. He sent a large force into the Sinai

2. He ordered the removal of the U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai

3. He closed the Straits of Tiran to Israel shipping

Stage 3 – the psychological hit

It was #3 that rankled in Israel the most since the Straits were the prize gain of the Israeli forces in the 1956 Suez War:

For Israel this constituted a casus belli. It canceled the main achievement of the Sinai Campaign. The Israeli economy could survive the closure of the straits, but the deterrent image of the IDF could not. Nasser understood the psychological significance of this step. He knew that Israel’s entire defense philosophy was based on imposing its will on its enemies, not on submitting to unilateral dictates by them. In closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, he took a terrible gamble—and lost. (253)

Stage 4 – collective psychosis

According to Shlaim the Israeli government was paralyzed for two whole weeks with indecision. The lack of leadership led to public panic:

During this period the entire nation succumbed to a collective psychosis. The memory of the Holocaust was a powerful psychological force that deepened the feeling of isolation and accentuated the perception of threat. Although, objectively speaking, Israel was much stronger than its enemies, many Israelis felt that their country faced a threat of imminent destruction. For them the question was not about the Straits of Tiran but about survival. Weak leadership was largely responsible for permitting this panic to spread from the politicians to the people at large. (253)

Stage 5 – threat of the religious party

Israel’s political impasse was resolved on 1 June with the formation of a national unity government. But the National Religious Party threatened to withdraw from the coalition unless the outspoken and belligerent Moshe Dayan was put in charge of the Defense Ministry.

Warnings against: read more »

Atheists Criticizing Religion, especially Islam

I liked these paragraphs by Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism:

I’ve written a lot about my disagreements with Islam (which are, I shouldn’t have to add, no different in kind from my disagreements with other faiths). However, I hope I’ve always been clear that whatever philosophical or theological differences we have with each other, those conversations have to be built on a bedrock of mutual respect for human rights. When we criticize religion, it should always be centered on protecting the vulnerable and ending suffering and injustice – not on finding an excuse to proclaim our tribe’s superiority or a justification to banish the other from our sight.

That’s a balance the atheist community hasn’t always gotten right, and that alone ought to give us a reason for self-reflection. As I’ve said before, Muslims are human beings who deserve the same rights as everyone else. Anyone who’s willing to abide by the laws of a secular society should have the freedom to live wherever they choose and practice their own faith as their conscience directs them.

It’s times like these that we need to stand in solidarity with them and make it clear that we don’t condone bigotry of any kind. If that means we need to offer our support and protection even to those we have sharp disagreements with about theology, so be it. If anyone ever thinks that anything I’ve written justifies prejudice against Muslims, let alone terroristic violence, they haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.

Dystopia Journal #27: Horror in New Zealand

Trump, Trump Supporters, and Cults

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donald_Trump_supporters_(30018900853).jpg

As many readers know I was a member of a religious cult for too many years in a former life and have since delved into some of the specialist literature by psychologists, sociologists and historians to help me reflect on and understand that experience.

I have mentioned before how fascinated I was when once watching a TV interview with several former members of the Hitler Youth and how some of their accounts of their experiences in that movement echoed so very clearly my own experiences in a religious cult. More recently I have posted on certain strong similarities in the radicalization processes that draw people into radical extremist groups, in particular Islamists, and the gradual “conversion processes” of cult members.

Others have made similar comparisons between the Trump phenomenon and cults. I think there may be something to these comparisons.

The Leader

One of the more striking points in common is the devotion to a charismatic leader. Behaviour that in other persons would normally mean their condemnation and ostracism from society is forgiven and excused in the cult’s leader. Followers will even draw attention to those flaws to “prove” they do not “idolize” the man but “see him warts and all” and are therefore clear and rational in deciding to give him their loyalty. But that is an illusion. We know it is an illusion when we compare the process with the way religious cults will justify the most corrupt and hypocritical behaviour of their leaders by pointing to how God so loved great sinners like King David. Crimes, cruelty, hypocrisy, outright dishonesty are excused. Sometimes flatly denied even despite the clear evidence before everyone’s eyes.

The leader is admired for his “strength”. Such “strength” is contrasted with all who have gone before and all other “would-be leaders” he opposes today. Followers have lost their ability to discern the difference between “strength” per se and bigotry, intolerance and wilful ignorance. Indeed, those who speak up for compassion, for understanding, for tolerance and genuine democratic values are smeared as weak, fifth-columnists, subversives, wreckers of society and all that is good and pure.

Victimhood

And that leads us to the notion of a siege mentality. A persecution or victim syndrome. “Whites and Christians are the most disadvantaged groups in society”, we hear. The leader is speaking up to defend and promote what has been in real danger of being lost to “political correctness”, to “immigrants” — especially those from countries where people have a different religion and skin colour. Both the nature of these immigrants and the reasons for leaving their homelands are lied about to feed into popular (and the leader’s) prejudices. Political correctness is also misrepresented as a tyranny against free thought. There is a failure to distinguish between genuine wrongs and wrong ideas and those that are validly critical of society’s shortcomings. The leader represents a righteous push-back against all that is seen as corrosive of decent society.

“Truth”

And the leader is the primary source of truth. All criticism from the outside is “fake news”. The leader can flat-out lie and followers will remain wilfully unaware, refusing to seriously countenance exposure of his lies and reflexively justifying all his lies, distortions, anti-social bigotry and the rest. It is the critics who are considered extreme, fanatical, wild-eyed terrified of what their leader represents.

The Emotional Factor

And that brings us back to the emotional component. Emotion is unavoidable. It is part of being human. But a clear headed rational debate about political and social problems and solutions is not in the Trump cult agenda. Emotional commitment leads and buttresses the views and loyalties and ignorance and prejudices of the cult followers. Emotional commitment means defensiveness, and defensiveness too often calls for attack. The racism, the ignorant bigotry against those who have long stood for democratic values and a humane society, that attacks are directed against the weak and vulnerable, — all of these and what their true character are hidden from view by the righteous emotion of the cult loyalists. Civil debate, seriously honest and open discussion of the issues, becomes impossible with the loyal followers of someone like Trump.

What has led us to this type of society is also worth exploring. We know what “radicalizes” individuals to join extremist groups and cults. Are there valid wider social parallels? Another post for that one.

Brilliant News

Now this was brilliant news. Before we heard about anything else coming from New Zealand we were hearing of students striking to call on governments to take more serious action on climate change. Now that’s what education is supposed to be about. Educator John Dewey would have been thrilled. The education of the school kids would have been advanced further when they heard later government ministers expressing horror at what the students were doing, predicting the end of an educated society and consequent ruin of the nation if school children just decided to go out on strike every time they disliked something they thought the government was doing! What a laugh it was to listen to such nonsense from “responsible adults”.

Hope for the future! A “woke” generation arising!

The Heaviness of Christchurch, New Zealand

Everything else feels unreal after trying to take in the news from New Zealand this afternoon.

I looked at my collection of books that I had acquired in order to understand Islamist terrorism. No doubt there will be overlapping factors with white supremacists.

I am also mindful of the many people who have over the years through comments on this blog attempted to spread their hatred of Muslims (couched in language stressing their hate for Islam and not the “people” who, they go on to say, would commit rapes and murders if they took their religion “seriously”).

If you are one of those who has such vile views of Muslims, who think you know what Muslims are all about from what you have read and watched on hate sites that profess to present only “the facts” about Islam, stay away from here. Go somewhere else. You are not welcome and will not be engaged with here. I will put you on the spam list without second thought. As far as I am concerned you represent the equivalent of the vilest medieval antisemites.

 

 

Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

Why are Australians more accepting and trusting of the role of government than Americans?

  • The United States was settled primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by people fleeing from tyrannies;
  • Australia was settled primarily in the nineteenth century in a land much harsher and more difficult to settle than North America — government was needed to provide roads, water, finance, health services, to enable people to move and populate much of the land. Government was viewed more positively than had been the historical attitude in America. Settlers weren’t fleeing to Australia from governments, either. They were being transported by governments and relied on governments services for survival.

I’ve also found Australia at times to be a very controlled country, too tidy and neat and orderly sometimes. Australians pride themselves on the larrakin tradition, the disrespectful and self-reliant “digger” of Gallipoli, that sort of thing, which is seen as originating in the convict past, and many of the convicts were Irish rebels. But there is also a stifling authoritarian and reactionary strain in Australia, led by conservative politicians, churches, wealthy businesses and various clubs like the Returned Services League. And that, I have heard it said, might be seen as traced back to the other sector of our convict days, the guards, soldiers, police, brutal applications of power. It’s that second element that I feel has been depressingly dominant for far too long now, especially since it is led by political figures who want to take us towards the American ways of privatization of what have traditionally been seen as public services, such as health care and education.

What are the voting (government participation) differences?

  • Voting is not compulsory in the United States, or course, and voting takes place on a Tuesday;
  • I think many Australians look askance at both of those practices. By making voting compulsory the poorer and otherwise voiceless sectors will have a say and those seeking election cannot avoid taking their interests into account; that’s a good thing. Also by making it compulsory the otherwise “silent majority” will have their say so that radical partisan movements of either the left or right cannot take over the government by default.
  • It is more democratic to have voting on a Saturday. That’s a holiday or half-day holiday for most people so it is much easier for people to arrange to get out to vote. Sunday would have been better but we have the influence of the churches insisting generations ago that Sunday people should be in church and reading the Bible, not getting mixed up with worldly things.

Such are some interesting (to me) reflections inspired by an interview with historian Judith Brett and comments on a recent Drum program by David Marr. Some of the ideas may be myths, but they make interesting discussion topics — well for some of us anyway.