The chimera of democratic peace

Suhaib Salem/Reuters)
Smoke from an Israeli air strike rises over the Gaza Strip (Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

To the governments of Israel and of much of the Western world, the current battle against Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a black and white case of democracy versus terrorism. Israel claims that its sole motivation is the reduction of rocket fire from the territory; defence minister Ehud Barak has declared repeatedly that “our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in the southern part of Israel”. There is no tone of tragedy or sadness in this statement and in others like it, only a stern-sounding bureaucratese meant to evoke a sense of determination and cool professionalism. Yet for those who claim to love democracy, especially for those who claim to see it as the solution to the intractable problems of the Middle East and of the world in general, there is a political tragedy going on, for two democracies are at war. Continue reading

From Selma to Ramallah

Brent Scowcroft is as establishment a Republican as they come: a retired general who served as National Security Advisor for the adminstrations of Gerarld Ford and the senior George Bush, he also was a functionary in the Nixon and Reagan adminstrations. So it’s interesting to hear him talk about the need for reviving the Palestinian peace process with Fareed Zakaria on CNN.

During the interiew Scowcroft implicitly compared the “injustice” suffered by the Palestinians with the “injustice” of America’s racial past. Drawing out the implications of what Scwcroft’s statements, one could say, “As Selma was to us, so Ramallah is to Israel. Just as we have moved from segregation to an Obama presidency, so Israel must deliver justice to the Palestinians.” Pretty radical stuff for an 83 year old Republican.

Apart from whatever else Obama does as president, the simple fact that he’s made it to the White House is causing people to see the world in a new way. It’s given a new currency to the idea that the world can change.

 

Here’s what Scowcroft said:

And I would start that process with the Palestinian peace process as a way to psychologically change the mood of the region, and get the region to start working together rather than at cross purposes, because the Palestinian issue, while it’s not important to many states in the region, it’s nonetheless — it gives the members of the region a deep sense of injustice.
And we have removed in this country, with this election, a lot of that sense of injustice in this country. We ought to try to do it in the Middle East.

National Post Condemns Sans Everything Writer

If you read tomorrows National Post, you’ll find an editorial condemning me. Oddly enough, the basis of the condemnation is an article that was commissioned by the Post itself (which will also run tomorrow). 

Context is everything. The Post had asked me to write about Israel’s 60th anniversary, as part of series of articles by many different writers that were set to run this week.  Knowing that every other writer for the series would be strongly pro Israel, I decided to write an article expressing my doubts about Israeli nationalism and the standard accounts of Israel’s creation (accounts which have been effectively challenged by a new generation of historians). If I hadn’t been writing for the Post, I wouldn’t have expressed myself as strongly as I did in the article I wrote, but I felt that Post readers needed to hear another side of the story articulated as forcefully as possible. So, ironically, the very fact that I was writing for the Post has made me a target for the Post.

In any case, my article can be found here. An excerpt:

Sixty years ago, a 12-year-old boy witnessed the slaughter of his family. His name was Fahim Zaydan, and he lived in the Arab village of Deir Yassin in Mandate Palestine, which was attacked on April 9, 1948, by Irgun and Stern Gang troops, paramilitary forces allied with the right-wing of the  Zionist movement. These troops swooped into the village and started machine gunning civilians. Those that survived this initial attack were then forced by the troops to gather outside.
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When Conservatives Loved the Palestinians

Ronald Reagan awarding James Burnham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1983.

War propaganda often rests on the myth of eternal enmity: the current enemy must be portrayed as perennially and irredeemably vile. George Orwell aptly limned this mindset in his novel 1984: “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.” During the two world wars, Anglo-American historians wrote many a book arguing that Germans have always been stinkers from the Gothic barbarians and autocratic Frederick the Great to the amoral Bismarck and psychotic Hitler. This whole literature of eternal Teutonic villainy was conveniently forgotten when West Germany became a pillar of NATO.

Reading the conservative press now you would think that Arabs and Muslims have always and everywhere been the enemies of Western civilization. We’re invited to imagine that the current troubles in Afghanistan and Iraq are just the most recent manifestation of a clash of civilizations that goes back to Mohammed, the Crusades, and the conquest of Constantinople.

Yet within the lifetime of our parents, conservatives were surprisingly pro-Arab. This was particularly true of the most salient issue in the Middle East, the Palestinian refugee problem. As surprising as this may sound, the mainstream consensus view of American conservatives from the late 1940s until well into the late 1960s was that the Palestinians had been deeply wronged by Israel and deserved restorative justice.

Consider Regnery Publishing. Founded  in 1947 by Henry Regnery, it was the premier publishing house of the postwar conservative renaissance, issuing classic books by William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, Willmoore Kendall, James Burnham and many other writers. During this period it also published a steady stream of books championing Arab culture and sympathetically describing the plight of the Palestinians. These books included Nejla Izzeddin’s The Arab World (1953), Alfred M. Lilienthal’s What Price Israel (1953), Freda Utley’s Will the Middle East Go West? (1957), Per-Olow Anderson’s They are Human Too (1957), and Ethel Mannin’s Road to Beersheeba (England: 1963; America: 1964). Anderson’s book was a collection of photographs taken at Palestinian refugee camps, Mannin’s volume a novel about Palestinian refugees. Utley’s book uttered a sentiment typical for these books: “freedom and justice for Israel depend on freedom and justice for the Arabs.”

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