Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Social Free Discourse of Opponents




I have been engaged in a back and forth with Off the Derech in regards to my last post. I argued that the actions of the anti-Israel students at UC of Irvine are the rejection even of dialogue let alone peace. They are the charge that representatives of the State of Israel are satanic. This is not an enemy that you can ever hope to talk to. Furthermore there is the implicit issue of intimidation. Those students are not only refusing to engage in the dialogue of a free society, they are holding the rest of society hostage. This makes them a threat not just to Israel, but to liberal society at large. OTD objected to my defining Israel as a Jewish State on the grounds that Judaism is a religion. Furthermore he argued:

I think your analysis of the students is extremely unfair. But calling them a threat to liberal society at large and butchering their argument by claiming they think Israel is "satanic" is a bit rich. You don't agree with them, but can't you show some respect? As some people like to say, "can't we all just get along?" From their perspective they're doing the right thing (as you are from yours) and don't they get to be judges by their own criteria, rather than their opponent's?

Jews are both a religion and an ethnic group/culture. Israel was founded as a homeland for ethnic Jews. Germany also has had their own right of return laws used for ethnic Germans living in Eastern Europe. I see nothing racist in this. This does not preclude equal rights for non-ethnic German citizens of Germany. Yes there is a religious component to Israel, which I personally oppose. I think Israel is a good example of the sort of trouble that even a well meaning secular liberal state will get itself into if it does not have a firm separation between Church and State.

One of the things that my readers know about me is that even if you disagree with me, I operate according to specific principles and will operate according to these principles even when they go against me. I would say the same thing if Muslims, joined by Christians and Jews, were to do to Richard Dawkins what was done to Ambassador Oren.

For free speech to function in practice, addition to government protection, there also needs to be a social component where we are inclined to view our intellectual opponents as people who, while wrong, are well meaning, deserving of dialogue and to be respected for the courage of their convictions. For example I have my views on health care. I accept that there are reasonable rational and much smarter people who believe very differently. That is ok. We can debate this in the public sphere and I might win or lose. Regardless, I value the process of this open discussion above its ability to give me the results I want. There is a point at which I would shut down this social free discussion (but not the political free speech rights). I cannot possibly freely debate the proposition that I am not acting in good faith as part of this free society. I cannot prove that I am not a member of the Elders of Zion and any serious discussion of this proposition serves to exclude me from the social free society. It would frame me as a "satanic" figure, which knows the TRUTH but rejects it anyway. Thus if my university were to invite David Duke precisely to talk to students about the threat posed by Jews as individuals, I might engage in the sort of tactics used by these students. This is a full on declaration of war and the consequences are real. It would mean that the university itself had chosen to declare war on its Jewish students. (This is why in general you may have noticed I am so hesitant to launch into ad hominem attacks or anything that challenges the legitimacy even of my opponents.)

Ambassador Oren was not challenging the legitimacy of Muslims to take part in the social free discourse. So what does it mean that these Muslim students acted in such a way as to inhibit his ability to present his ideas? (I would have no objection to peaceful demonstrators outside the building or even people in the hall holding up signs.) It means that they are willing to even come after people, who by all rights should be legitimate opponents. Thus they reject the very distinction between legitimate and illegitimate opposition. This is the breakdown of the free social discourse and a blow to the free society.

9 comments:

Off the Derech said...

Thanks for the link.

One quick point: how does it help your case that Judaism is also an ethnicity/culture? Countries have been doing everything they can the last few decades to distance themselves form discrimination of any kind, and how does saying Judaism is an ethnicity as well as a religion mitigate discrimination against non-Jews? It just doesn't register.

Official discrimination based on ethincity/race/gender/religion etc etc has been increasingly taboo in countries around the world. Israel might do well to do everything they can to be as concerned with human rights as they ought to be. Heck, how different is saying it's "a Jewish state" from it's an "apartheid state?" Or a *Christian* nation? Or a black or white nation? No, affirmative action is not all it's cracked up to be. Enter the Holocaust Industry, which is as creepy as it is deceptive.

Incidentally, I recently read Israeli Apartheid by Ben White. It's an easy-to-read and informative critique of Israel's policies.

Recreational Musings said...

OTD, I think he said Judaism is an ethnicity/culture in response to one of your comments on the last post. He is pointing out that comparing the Jewish state to the French state is a legitimate analogy. Pointing out the Judaism is an ethnicity/nationality is a matter of scholarly debate over the past century or so, and while it doesn't help to mitigate discrimination against non-Jews in Israel, it does not in any way discriminate against non-Jews either. I see nothing wrong with it...

Calling Israel a "Jewish state" does not imply a menace to other peoples. "Apartheid" implied segregation, an upper and lower class people.

And while it may be interesting, I think the title of the book you read gives away the fact that it is completely biased from the get-go.

Off the Derech said...

>Calling Israel a "Jewish state" does not imply a menace to other peoples. "Apartheid" implied segregation, an upper and lower class people.

I see. There is no inequality in Israel. Why there are illegal Jewish settlements, military outposts and exclusive highways, and why Israel is constantly in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and UN Security Council resolutions is anyone's guess then.

>the title of the book you read gives away the fact that it is completely biased from the get-go.

Oh, and "The Case for Israel" doesn't?

You don't get to call out one side for bias if you're unwilling to do the same for your own. Pot, meet kettle.

Izgad said...

I certainly agree that Western States have been moving away from the nation-state model for the past few decades and there are many on the left who reject the nation-state as inherently racist. This puts Israel in a difficult position. Now here is where the targeted demonization comes in; it is unjust to single Israel out as a nation-state when countries like France still maintain elements of a nation-state and even of a cultural religion. As long as Sweden is allowed to have a cross on its flag, Israel should be allowed to have a Star of David and it should not be viewed as causing any physical harm. I support Israel being a Jewish State only to the extent that it has a law of return for Jews, uses Jewish symbols and holidays and places itself as protector of Jews across the world. None of these things cause any direct physical harm to non-Jewish citizens.
Calling Israel an Apartheid State is an example of demonization. I have no problem with people arguing against settlements, the separate roads systems or against Israeli military policy. These should be placed within the context of Israel being a liberal democracy attempting to balance such difficult issues as civil rights in a time of war and maintaining a multi-ethnic society. The believer in the liberal democratic free multicultural society, which I count myself as, does not do himself any favors by pretending that these are simple issues to be solved with a wave of the hand or by singing a song. Once you throw in the apartheid charge you go from the legitimate opposition model, where Israel does things you disagree with and even believe are morally wrong, to a delegitimization model in which Israel becomes not just wrong but satanic. It also should be noted that if you assume that Israel is an Apartheid State then attacks of terrorism become if not supportable then at least something to be placed within the category of legitimate opposition.

I do not see the title “the Case for Israel” as something inherently biased in contrast to calling Israel an Apartheid State. One can be pro-Israel and still support Palestinian rights and a Palestinian State. Most importantly, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are invited to take part in this dialogue as equal partners. I may disagree with them, but I am willing to accept the legitimacy of their viewpoints. Tagging Israel as an Apartheid State forces Israel out of the conversation, leaving them as the naughty children for whom the adults are to stand in judgment to decide their punishment. The very legitimization of one’s opinion requires that one respond to delegitimization in kind and place such opposition outside of the social discourse. Because of this it is not only justifiable, but necessary, for example, that the dialogue we have about the place of Jews and blacks in this country actively exclude the voice of white supremacists, who believe we have no place.

Off the Derech said...

> it is unjust to single Israel out as a nation-state when countries like France still maintain elements of a nation-state and even of a cultural religion.

Yes, but cultural religion is not the same as legal religion. And especially laws that clearly discriminate against those who belong to the inferior class, or religion in this case. Having a Star of David on the flag is not a big deal. Kicking people out of homes is.

> I support Israel being a Jewish State only to the extent that it has a law of return for Jews, uses Jewish symbols and holidays and places itself as protector of Jews across the world. None of these things cause any direct physical harm to non-Jewish citizens.

Because the law of return discriminating against Palestinians doesn't physically harm them? I guess, we're not putting them in ovens, so what's the big deal? Besides, they suffer great financial losses from laws like these.

> Once you throw in the apartheid charge you go from the legitimate opposition model, where Israel does things you disagree with and even believe are morally wrong, to a delegitimization model in which Israel becomes not just wrong but satanic.

Who's talking about satanic? There are merely strong criticisms of Israel, which if true, suggest that Israel has similaities with apartheid states. Why does everyone have to agree from the outset that Israel is perfect? Are pro-Palestinians insisting Palestine has nothing to do with terrorist states? I don't think so. I think most reasonable people are willing to concede that the blame doesn't lie 100% with any one side. It's not black and white. Each side has done good things and bad things. The question is just to what extent is each side guilty. But it's not all or nothing.

>I do not see the title “the Case for Israel” as something inherently biased in contrast to calling Israel an Apartheid State.

Give me a freaking break. Neither of the books are academic textbooks. They're both highly-opinionated, subjective, political and highly controversial. Oh, and in Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein demolishes most of Dershowitz's claims. Mind you, Dershowitz defends high-profile crooks like O.J. Simpson for a living. Between him and Garnel, you couldn't find a better duo of bullshitters on the planet.

You say calling Israel an "apartheid state" is a deligitimization. Would you agree that calling Israel a "Jewish state" is a delegitimization of the Palestinians?

Also, you say "civil rights in a time of war." Assuming you believe Israel is in a perpetual state of war, thus they're hardly responsible for any atrocities they may commit, would you extend the same clemency to the opposition and absolve any and all Palestinian terrorist attack/rockets etc etc because, hey, war's war?

> One can be pro-Israel and still support Palestinian rights and a Palestinian State.

Like Norman Finkelstein?

> I may disagree with them, but I am willing to accept the legitimacy of their viewpoints.

You're not even willing to listen. I've pointed out that you've had your students read strong arguments in favor of Israel and instead of doing the logical thing and telling them to read the *counter-arguments*, you ask them to make up nonsense and basically parody the opposition. Accept legitimacy, my ass.

Izgad said...

I will go down for the record here and do so when I am teaching about Israel, that Israel is hardly perfect when dealing when dealing with its Arab minority. This is something that Israel is going to have to continue to work on. Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled against discrimination laws in housing. Thankfully Israel, as a liberal democracy has the process for dealing with these issues.

One could make a plausible case that the allocation of government funds for aid for law of return immigrants would be problematic because it would mean that non-Jewish citizens would be paying tax dollars for a project designed specifically for helping Jews. A general offer of citizenship would not be a problem because there would not even be a direct taking of money. I would defend the offering of moderate levels of aid on the grounds that the world community has a moral obligation to deal with refugees so Israel stepped forth to take on the burden of one part of the problem. (This would not cover Zionist Americans living in comfort in the States.)

Izgad said...

As to the issue of apartheid, I think you are being naïve about the charge of apartheid. I do not believe that Israel is perfect and am willing to acknowledge that it engages in discrimination. You have to ask why anyone who uses the charge of apartheid chooses those words instead of my formulation. (This is beside for the issue of why Israel is singled out of all states that engage in discrimination.) I think that most reasonable people would agree that the white racialist regime in South Africa was inherently illegitimate; the very structure of the state needed to be changed. So when we accuse Israel of being an Apartheid State we are not just accusing Israel of being a State that commits evil actions, but of being an evil State, hence the satanic charge.

In my experience Palestinian activists (I am not committing myself to any blanket judgment) do not seriously denounce Arab terrorism as something inherently wrong. When the motions of denouncing terrorism are gone through it is usually accompanied by relativist denunciation of violence on both sides. (As if there is not a strong moral difference between acts of violence committed by established States and private groups and as if there was no difference between attacks in which civilians were killed by accident and attacks that specifically targeted civilians.) There is a reason for this. The use of “satanic” charges against Israel implicitly legitimizes extreme actions against Israel. You protest regimes that discriminate against you; you us violence against regimes that try to enslave you. On the flip side terrorism itself is a satanic charge that serves to delegitimize. So to admit that the Palestinian side has a illegitimate terrorist element means that at least elements of the Palestinian side are illegitimate and that Israel is justified in going the extra step to fight them.

I did not say that the Case for Israel is an academic textbook. I would describe it as a lawyer’s brief. (Big coincidence, that Dershowitz writes like a lawyer.) I was referring solely to the title itself as not being biased. I do not hold Dershowitz up as some sort of saint or role model. Outside of Israel he and I would agree on very little. He is a very good lawyer on behalf of Israel. I particularly like him and am using him for my class because he represents a bare bones defense. He defends Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, not any claims to them being perfect or for having a right to the West Bank and Gaza.

Putting him at the same level of evil as Garnel sounds extreme, particularly when you turn around and hold Norman Finkelstein up as some sort of model.

I do not see a Jewish State as a denial of Palestinian rights. I believe in a two state solution. I actually care about Palestinian rights. They deserve to be compensated by the State of Israel and the Arab States that forced them into refugee camps and be made citizens of the countries in which they reside.

I would say that it is you who is not listening. I told you from the beginning that I am having my students read counter arguments and that this assignment is only one small part of the entire course. Give me the benefit of the doubt or I might stop giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Off the Derech said...

>I would say that it is you who is not listening. I told you from the beginning that I am having my students read counter arguments and that this assignment is only one small part of the entire course. Give me the benefit of the doubt or I might stop giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Fair enough. You sound reasonable, and I apologize for assuming you were unreasonable. Although to many a pro-Israel advocate, any criticism of Israel is highly frowned upon and labels like "self-hating Jew" are thrown around awfully quickly, so perhaps my assumption was justified.

>Several years ago the Supreme Court ruled against discrimination laws in housing.

Laws mean nothing unless they are enforced.

>Thankfully Israel, as a liberal democracy has the process for dealing with these issues.

I think calling Israel a "liberal democracy" borders on the absurd. Any nation that has systemic discrimination and again, one set of standards for Jews and another for non-Jews is hardly a democracy, let alone a liberal one.

I don't see why the charge of apartheid is misplaced. I agree that Israel does many things right. We both seem to agree that Israel also does many things wrong. You haven't specified in too much detail, but my understanding is there is plenty of discrimination against non-Jews. I don't see why the charge of apartheid would be too much of a stretch from there, much like the charge of "terrorism" on much of the Palestinian power structure is valid *to an extent.* According to the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid is defined as "inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity 'committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.'" How is Israel *not* an apartheid state?

Izgad said...

“I apologize for assuming you were unreasonable.”

Thank you

Laws on the books are important because they set a legal high ground. In the State of Israel you cannot simply refuse to let an Arab buy a piece of land with a straight face. A few years ago there was even a controversy over JNF, which buys land for the specific point of having Jews own the land, being allowed to not sell to non-Jews. This tells us what sort of conversations are going on in the public sphere in Israel. This strongly contrasts with the Palestinian position in which Jews are officially not allowed to be sold land and less officially Palestinians can be murdered for doing so.

The Palestinian position is that they have a legal right to the land as a people. The moment you believe in a race existing not just as an arbitrary construct, but with the reality to even have a legal status to be recognized by others then you have crossed a line into racism. Individuals can own property, States can own property. A race or a people cannot own property. I agree that there are Jews who believe that Jews as a race should have some sort of legally recognized right to the land and this is racism and I have no problem saying this, to my students or anyone. The difference is that Israel’s case does not fundamentally rest on such claims. For the Palestinians to give up on such claims would mean that they have to behind Tibet, the Basques and the Cubans in attempting to get their claims answered and they would lose much of their moral force. Remember there is no legal right for refugees to return to their homes and kick out present day occupants. At best they can ask for government compensation.

I would be willing to apply the label of liberal democracy to mid-twentieth century America, which was far worse in dealing with its minority situation. I see liberal democracy as a set of beliefs to things like the right of legal opposition, freedom of religion, and property. The important thing is intent. If Israel was really out to enforce a racialist regime I would expect them to point blank force Arabs into different schools, back of the bus and deny them the right to vote. Since Israel is not doing this I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This explains why I do not go for the Apartheid charge. If Israel is trying to be an Apartheid State they are doing a very bad job of it. I could run a much more effective Apartheid regime.