Friday, December 12, 2008

Last Try on Settler Riots...


I have not had a reply to my response to Nathan Geffen's "open letter" addressed to me on 6 December. This raises the question of why he bothered to write in the first place. Here below is a second letter from me to Geffen raising just that point amongst others. Of course all this may just be a bizarre and absurd form of theatre of obscure motivation and even more obscure purpose...who knows.

I enclose a definitely tongue-in-cheek wish list of 12 items in my letter below, but on a more realistic note I wish everyone an enjoyable and safe holiday season and I hope that this has a far greater chance of realisation than my other 12.

I will end this Intro with a short list of recent articles which some of you may wish to read (Google them):


If this Isn't Terrorism, What Is? By TOM GROSS. From today's Wall Street Journal Europe December 2, 2008

Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist. By Leonard Fein in Dissent Magasine.

Human rights & wrongs. Dec. 10, 2008, THE JERUSALEM POST
Security First. U.S. Priorities in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking. by J. D. Crouch • Montgomery C. Meigs • Walter B. Slocombe, Ben Fishman, Rapporteur • Michael Eisenstadt, Advisor


Dear Nathan

You first wrote (an "Open Letter") to me on 6 Dec challenging my position vis-a-vis the "settlers" and Israel, which you equated with the stance of "Official Jewry". I presumed at the time that an "open letter" has as its chief purpose the initiation of debate; otherwise it is difficult to see the point. A number of responses from, amongst others, Joel Pollak and Steve Magid were sent to you and I also replied on 8 December. In my letter I commended you for the polite tone of your original letter, but challenged you on a number of substantive issues.

Since then we've heard nothing, which is puzzling to say the least. If you do not respond, what was the point of the first letter? Do you feel aggrieved or despondent that we have not immediately reached some form of consensus? Do you feel that you have been misrepresented or maligned? Please explain.

I would also point out that although your letter was free of personal abuse you certainly made some comments to which I could legitimately take offence.

For example you say: "You, as well as the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation are a small part, but nevertheless a part, of this system. It is not only the settlers that have put the Zionist enterprise at risk; it is the unconditional support for Israel --irrespective of the crimes committed or sanctioned by the state-- by the dominant form of Zionism in the diaspora today. A crucial element of this system is its dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs. That's what creates the environment for pogroms to take place. We learnt this from Jewish History."

Besides the substantive errors in this comment, you strongly imply that I am guilty of the "dehumanisation of Muslims and Arabs". I strongly deny this imputation. I have absolutely zero animosity towards either Muslims or Arabs and anyone who knows me would also know this. What I do recognise is that major elements within both categories, are strongly anti-Israel and often anti-semitic for a variety of reasons. As such they pose a very real threat to Israel. This is not dehumanisation; it is simply reconition of a basic reality. Failure to acknowledge this is not admirable - it is simply denialism.

You also said, "You also compared Palestinians to Nazis (without even realising it)." This is a pretty ugly accusation wholly unsupported by any evidence in your letter. Yet you have failed to respond to my request for the precise statement on which you base this assertion. Do you think that contributes to trust or to dialogue?

On rereading your letter I am struck by the unfocussed and sweeping generalisations which inform your position. They range from accusations regarding Reform Jewry, to alleged support for Greater Israel to unconditional support for all Israeli actions - as though silence or conditional condemnation equates to support. In addition, you conflate a host of different entities (the two Jewish organisations, myself and unnamed others) into a some rightwing conspiracy which tacitly seeks a greater Israel and dehumanises Arabs and Muslims.

In failing to focus you seriously undermine your central alleged concern, settler violence and the "occupation", and perpetuate the polarisation of debate around labels and straw men.

In my own response I attempted to set this straight. In so doing I too may have used labels which are not productive. I used the word "shrill" for example. While parts of your writing are indeed "shrill", others have been balanced and deserving of consideration. I have myself written of the difficult issue of personal morality in the arena of political conflict.

I also used the words "moral crusade" which you may see as offensive labelling. But again I do so because of your emphasis on selected and uncritically accepted accusations against Israel and Israelis in the absence of realistic contextualisation. I attempted to remedy what I saw as a major defect in your position. This is related to your rote condemnation of violence and anti-semitism, which is not integrated into the position you actually adopt - namely, is intensely critical of Israel.

The whole SAHRD project reflected the failure to adequate conceptualise these dilemmas and conflicting realities - more specifically the hostile media environment and anti-Israel agitprop in certain South African circles. This immediately played itself out on the return of the delegation with a slew of critical articles and public comments in which Israel was cast as the central villian. In particular, I pointed out this is the context in which I operate and which conditions (to a significant extent) the public position I adopt. It does not allow the luxury of moral righteousness unrelated to hard existential realities.

I could go on, but once again, if your original letter was a genuine desire to engage in debate, I invite you to respond. Otherwise people will draw their own conclusions.

In the meantime this is my wish list for a better world:

1. I wish that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai did not find it necessary to specifically include the minute Jewish population in its list of targets or fund it necessary to torture them before killing tham.
2. I wish that the dangerous and hateful Jihadist philosophy together with its foundational Islamist doctrine would rapidly pass into the dustbin of history never to re-emerge.
3. I wish that no-one would resort to brutaility and violence to achieve their personal or ideological ends and that the conditions which encourage such responses could be eliminated.
4. I wish that instead of hurling bombs or abuse at one another that humans everywhere could discuss their differences over a pleasant glass of wine after showing each other pictures of their families and friends.
5. I wish that the politics always came second to debate over the best soccer, rugby or cricket team.
6. I wish that all people were rational, tolerant and wise and were free of the sins of pride, stupidity, cowardice, cupidity, sadism, envy, conformity and ignorance at all times and everywhere.
7. I wish that Islamists would stop persecuting Christian Arabs and that Palestinians who sold their land to Jews could do so without fearing death.
8. I wish that belligerant Jewish clerics would cease spitting on people with whom they differ, would stop defacing their graves or other religious or national symbols and turn away from extremist rhetoric which spills over into violent action.
9. I wish that the problems of the Middle East would be solved through rational discussion in such a way that the reasonable hopes and aspirations of all the people living there could be accommodated.
10. I wish that those not living there would demonstrate greater restraint and modesty and refrain from imposing their own ideologies, biases, ignorance and psychological obsessions on an arena remote from their legitimate interests and experience.
11. I wish that commentators would read beyond the inflammatory literature supporting their own position to more serious studies dealing with the complex, multi-dimensional realities which influence the flow of events.
12. I wish that people had deeper insight into the vast scientific literature which deals with the way people construct perceptions and make decisions in the political arena, since such knowledge could translate into greater rationality and less emotion.

And I've only started...
Mike Berger

No comments: