Monday, May 23, 2011

On the Subject of Israel

President Obama recently (as in Thursday or Friday, but I'm too lazy to go look up exactly when) stated that he believed Israel should return to their pre-1967 borders. That of course means that Israel would have to give up the land they conquered and are now holding in violation of a UN treaty that they did, in fact, sign, forbidding the occupation of conquered territory.

As a result, my Christian friends on Facebook have been in an uproar, shouting about how America is going to be cursed because we're not going to "support" Israel anymore.

Number one, dear Christians, the Bible says nothing about "supporting" Israel. It says if someone blessed Abraham, they would be blessed, and if they cursed Abraham, they would be cursed. This promise was only reiterated twice, to Isaac and Jacob, so to some people, it's up in the air if that promise even applies to the entirety of the Hebrew bloodline. Next, it comes down to what a blessing and a curse actually is.

I'm sorry, but I do not think telling Israel that the IDF is nothing but a glorified hit squad and needs to be reformed is cursing Israel. I think that that is trying to save lives. Even if they are Palestinian lives, and obviously worthless in the eyes of God (honestly, I actually had somebody tell me almost exactly that. He later unfriended me because I had the audacity to suggest that the Palestinians and Hebrews were of the same value in the eyes of Jesus Christ). Nor do I think it is blessing Israel to continue playing both sides of the conflict over there and giving them all guns so they can even more effectively kill each other.

More than that, there comes a time when we just have to take care of ourselves, and forget about the rest of the world. Yes, that includes Israel. Israel has proven she can take care of herself without our help. She has the most highly-trained military on the planet, who have proven time and time again that they don't care how many people they kill, even if those people are innocents. Israel will be just fine, I promise you.

Meanwhile, America which is, by the way, our country (I'm not an Israeli, in case you missed that), is facing an ever-mounting national debt that nobody really wants to do anything about, unemployment that doesn't seem to be getting any better despite Obama's rhetoric about how quickly we were going to come back, and other conflicts abroad that were really stupid to begin with. Let's deal with our own problems, and let the rest of the world deal with theirs.

I'm pretty sure we're not going to get cursed for it.


suntzusays said...

There's a difference between backing the existence of an Israeli state, something the US would undoubtedly do if some nation-state or a alliance of such in the region was insane enough to attack it, and backing the expansion of the Israeli state through conquest and property and civil rights violations.

If a friend was acting in that way we would start to consider that friend an asshole and counsel them to lay off the sauce at parties, not encourage this behavior by buying them more booze. The analogy is crude, but Israeli nation-state behavior since 1967 has become on the international pariah side of the line more and more and it makes our defensiveness of it look a lot more like China's support for Myanmar or DPRK or Sudan instead of a proper alliance with a modern democratic state that shares some core values.

The sooner people realize this distinction exists, the harder it would become to defend the latter, and the easier it would be to get most people to leave it alone.

Tragedy101 said...


If seven guys assaulted a friend and he beat them up and insisted they be watched in the future, you think the friend assaulted is an asshole?

Let's see: Israel was assaulted by seven nations? It won against them? It gave all the land back? But land near its borders, from which rockets are still to this day fired into Israel, remains occupied by Israeli troops? Israeli troops of the occupation live in what are called "Israeli settlements"? Non-Israeli military are not allowed to live in the "settlements"? People [not just Israeli military] living in occupied territory can work in Israel?

If my friend acts in such a manner, I hope the government, if it must take sides, will take his side.

suntzusays said...

In your analogy, yes, they were attacked by seven nations (though in most cases this was over 40 years ago, in several longer still). And I agree it should be wary and look to its defence and its legitimate security interests. Israel does not need then to act aggressively and provocatively toward 11 or 12 in response, which is more or less how it has responded since the '73 war ended. It is only appropriate for it to be wary of those which still threaten and assault and it is not necessary that it be obstinate in opposing reasonable conditions for making peaceful arrangements with such enemies where possible as it did with Egypt and as it has, up until recently, with Turkey. Otherwise, it just looks paranoid.

I will gladly take its side against those assaults, or even threats of those assaults. I will not take its side where it goes out of its way to provoke more assaults (the occupation, and especially the economic blockades and settlements provoke assaults). This is the sort of behavior that I'm concerned about. And indeed, the very same behavior that some Americans wish us to engage in relating to international terrorism in the Muslim world ourselves.

suntzusays said...

As to the behaviors that concern me....

The distinction calling all of these people soldiers is rather like the distinction calling everyone who is put away on drug distribution charges a "drug dealer". In case you're unaware, many people who (illegally) "distribute" marijuana do so as a part of a social network of their friends or family rather than operating as a major distribution hub selling to everyone and anyone like a street dealer for cocaine or heroin. Practically everyone who is involved in marijuana can be classified therefore as a "drug dealer" by prosecutors and police. In Israel, practically everyone is a soldier, can be armed, and so on (and for good reasons as you pointed out). This factor seems immaterial to your point. To point out the moral and legal problem with it, we have a 3rd Amendment for a good reason. Israel doesn't have our Constitution, but we don't have to support its actions that we might see as unconstitutional and unsound if we were to do them here ourselves. At the very least we should see it as historically hypocritical and worthy of debate whether such actions are warranted, effective, and necessary, even under the conditions you describe, versus some other combined system of intelligence gathering, tactical strikes, or even general police and security work.

Also where we might claim these are soldiers being forcibly quartered, Israel itself claims these are perfectly legitimate settlements (in violation of international law, but still). They don't seem to be advancing a claim of necessary housing for military occupation.

Additionally I think I was pretty clear that if your friend was attacked, then coming to his defence is fully justified. What concerns me is where your friend is acting in what seems like an offensive, bully-like manner. Justice clearly demands that the Israeli people find and persecute criminals and violent extremists who attack its state and its people (including nation-state actors, which as I said, have not moved openly for a long time now against it, nor while they).

It does not demand that it then persecute and establish second-class citizenship for any non-Israelis who are solely associated with the violent offenders by virtue of their place of birth, their religion, and so on. Many Palestians or Arabs living in Israel itself, not merely in occupied territories where they were often expelled to by force, have limited civil liberties and voting rights in an apartheid like system.

This is guilt by association, a process that Americans have practiced for quite some time in relation to Muslims, and in some parts of the country still actively with Jews or blacks. But it is an inappropriate way to deal with the problem because it treats everyone as an offender. There are areas of the US where merely being Hispanic or black can get you a pat down from police. Never mind the 4th amendment. I should hope you would not advocate this is necessarily an appropriate method for Israelis either.

Tragedy101 said...


What is with quoting the US Constitution on how a nation should behave towards second class citizens?

Is it like a Christians quoting the Bible?

The US is the only nation I can think of without any second class citizens. Why should Israel's system of governance be more or less repulsive than Palestine's or any other nations? They are not the US, why should I hold them to our Constitution? Where does Palestine's system of government vary from our Contstitution? Is it simpler to find the similarities?

suntzusays said...

My point was to demonstrate that the US Constitution is frequently ignored for some of our citizens, and as such that we DO have second class citizens whose rights are not fully protected or endorsed. They're usually living in slums, and they're usually unpopular minorities (immigrants, blacks, Muslims), but we do have them. I do not recall indicating that we are following the 4th amendment, in point of fact I suggested quite literally that it, along with other rights, is frequently ignored for all manner of reasons, but more so for certain groups, as Israel does with Palestinians. US history on this is quite a bit worse in our past (ie Jim Crow and slavery), and what improvements we have made should be examples for other states with serious internal and external conflicts between majority-minority groups, like that of the government of Israel.

I myself cannot think of many countries without second class citizenship, but if I were compelled to list such, I'd look at Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, even the UK, long before I'd say the US has upheld this as an ideal. That's not to say we're terrible on human rights and liberties and no better than China or Myanmar, but we're still very clearly far from perfect here.

I do not suggest we should hold Israel to the US Constitution, but since we are in part allied with them on a theory that they "share our values", then it would behoove us to look into what values Israel actually demonstrates and where it falls short of our ideals, as may be expressed in the Constitution and elsewhere, we should feel free to call them on it. Or at the very least we should not support such policies (as we eventually moved against apartheid in South Africa).

That is the central problem as I see it, that we are supporting policies which we have found through our own history to be damaging to long-term prosperity and security and which are inconsistent with our own values. If our relationship was not military/national security in nature, and had some other diplomatic basis (trade for instance), then I'd say we have less need to concern ourselves with their internal politics and less need to hold some level of standards for common defence. If we are to guarantee Israeli national security and sovereignty, then we should be looking to policies it endorses and practices which may seem to make that security more fragile and tenuous.

I'm not sure what the rest of your series of questions is asking. I don't recall stating much about the government(s) of Palestine for instance. I was pretty sure referring to Israel's as a source of repression and occupation in the region. Palestine's state institutions are not sufficiently strong enough to do the same in a systematic way and are not worth discussing on those grounds (there are grounds on which Hamas and Fatah can be more pertinent, but not this one).

Tragedy101 said...

I am unaware of such discrimination in my state against minorities. Could you cite some proof or examples?

If Palestine's government is not strong enough to even be examined, how can it be reasonably considered in any kind of viable peaceful arrangement?

suntzusays said...

1) Sigh....clearly you don't know very many non-white people personally. At least not very well. I already cited the example of stop and frisk procedures by police. These are so common that many people who would be targeted by them (ie, minorities in poor neighbourhoods) have taken to lifting up their shirts when police drive by so as to avoid the hassle of being stopped and detained. They generally require no probable cause or proof of an imminent threat against the officer or others in a clear violation of the 4th Amendment. There are dozens of similar police procedures which commonly step on constitutional rights and which are more easily applied to unpopular minorities or the poor more generally. Consider a simple traffic stop and its general flow and direction and then imagine it if you were African. Or Mexican in Arizona. Racial profiling might be fine in theory, if our basic Constitutional rights were being observed equally. I find it quite easy enough to offend police officers who stop me by asserting these basic rights, without getting arrested. A black man gets a disorderly conduct charge when that happens (see: Gates, Henry Louis).

2) I didn't suggest it should be. I suggested that Israeli behavior was counterproductive for its security (necessitating additional assistance from us that it shouldn't require) or inappropriate for our friendship and allegiance. For peace talks the only thing I suggested that is that it was rejecting even the possibility of making peace by insisting on demands that are seen not only as illegitimate by Palestinians, but also through international observers like the Europeans and even the US (continuing with settlements for instance). One thing Israel could be doing is not further weakening the Palestinian authorities with the idea being that a stronger state would be in a position to negotiate where the current state is not. Peace was established with Egypt and Turkey where these were strong and stable states. Weak states dominated by powerful sub-national groups (like Hamas or, previously, Hezbollah in Lebanon) are in no position to command respect for their laws. Israel creates weakened economic conditions and thus a weaker state through vigorous blockades of basic goods. Not mere military grade equipment like rockets and bombs which it might be more justified in seeking embargoes on, but things like food and medicine and building materials.

Tragedy101 said...

1) Maybe... Or maybe the problem is a localized one? Perhaps it only happens in certain places that people are discriminated against by virtue of the physical appearance of their naked bodies? Perhaps your view of America is slanted by the news you absorb and the location where you live?

2) In the case that it is a localized problem, your historical reasons would be localized not national. Examine it. You will find places in the United States of America that have no history of discrimination. You will also find places where discrimination has always been rampant.

Your premises are false.

suntzusays said...

1) Stop and frisk is a localized problem, in the sense that it's a lot easier to use it in a shitty neighbourhood. Nevertheless, if there are people who are discriminated against because of the physical appearance of their naked bodies that would sound to me like they are receiving second class citizen treatment. Why would it not to you?

2) There NO historical parts of America that lack for discrimination. None. Everybody hated somebody at some point. "No Irish" need apply, anti-Catholic laws (Prohibiton for example), Jim Crow, unions, anti-natives, nativism, etc. I cannot find places that have no history of discrimination as a result. Perhaps you could identify some for me. Or perhaps not. It is possible to claim on a "localized" nature that there are individuals who lacked for overt discriminatory practices, but this is not the same as claiming that there were not systematic biases at work or being actively applied somewhere else or all around them.