Thursday, March 27, 2008


Several themes emerge from the 34 or so articles I found sufficiently interesting and informative to save from my Internet reading of the past 10 days. I'm not going to reference every article but will try to direct you to those which struck some cord on reading or rereading.

From liberal to conservative (or Utopianist to realist?):

One of the neo-conservatives (Norman Podhoretz?) was famously reputed to have said that he was a liberal until he was "mugged by reality". Arthur Koestler also underwent the transition from communism (in his case) to conservativism and then eccentricity - to put it gently - as chronicled in The God that Failed and Darkness at Noon. David Mamet, the famous playwright, also describes his own conversion in an article published in The Village Voice
. It's by no means a great article but it describes a transition which I suspect many of us pass through with varying degrees of pain and doubt.

It is an issue specially pertinent to Israel. Israel is an imperfect - yet heroic - society whose origins and continued existence are accompanied by conflict, misery and hardship for Israelis and her opponents. Those of us who believe that the formation of Israel was a natural and legitimate expression of self-renewal for a people trapped in a terrible existential dilemma, also have to face that the methods used and the consequences have been fraught with moral issues.

I am trying to work through these in an article which I hope to post on this blog in draft form for feedback from readers. I hope that in this way it becomes as much of a communal effort as a personal expression.

The Peace Process:

On a different topic, let us start with what many of us regard as the default position: two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, existing (and even cooperating) side-by-side in reasonable harmony with financial and symbolic arrangements to take care of the refugees and some mutually tolerable arrangements regarding the settlements and East Jerusalem. Even given some prickly details, why are we not there already? Who is to blame? Certainly there are those in Israel who do not wish for such a settlement on mainly religious-ideological grounds. They are noisy and potentially destructive but undoubtedly they are still a minority and would be defeated if a genuine peace was on the horizon. An even smaller group of secular Jews may also be opposed to the 2-state option for reasons of real politic: the desire for lebensraum, control over water resources, security considerations in the longer term and so forth. Once again this group will fade if the prospects for a decent peace were credible.

A more substantial group of Israelis (and others), are also extremely sceptical of any purported peace negotiations for simple reasons of distrust. Thus while (given the operation of a magic wand and the credible option of a workable peace) in theory they are not peace opponents, such is their level of disbelief that, in reality, they serve to put the brakes on any movement towards compromise in the peace negotiations. It is this group, rather than the extremists, who constitute the chief political opposition to the post-Annapolis negotiations.

How realistic are their concerns?

A number of articles have appeared which suggest that their position is credible and legitimate. Tashbih Sayyed claims that the correct sequence is to first defeat terrorism before contemplating the creation of the Palestinian state. This theme is explored in a number of informative articles listed below.; * * *

These articles describe a reality which simply cannot be ignored. It may be argued that Israel's actions - collateral damage from political assassinations, unnecessary checkpoints and their associated humiliation and hardship, the security wall, new houses on the settlements, collective punishment of the Gazan population - contribute to the hatred and intransigence of their opponents.

While some Israeli actions certainly deserve scrutiny and censure, this is not the root problem. Any security measure or act of Israeli retaliation can be depicted as brutality to a trapped and brainwashed population. Reading the levels of rhetorical violence, the absolute rejection of compromise (except, transiently, for tactical motives) and the systematic indoctrination of helpless populations makes one despair of any resolution short of capitulation on the part of Israel. The clear tactic of the terror groups (and their sponsors) is to ensure that Israeli military responses to endless provocations and goading, are accompanied by as much Arab Palestinian mortality and suffering as possible. Thus their own populations are the propaganda and cannon fodder in the war against their hated enemy.

Statements from Iran and others which imply a pervasive belief in the moral decay
and fragility of Israeli society, keeps genocidal jihad, martyrdom and misery alive as a viable strategy. I don't know how long this can continue in the face of failure, but the time does not yet right to seek accommodation based on compromise.

If this view is correct, then Israel's only viable option is to grit her teeth and bear the pain and the pressure from her allies, until defeat of the maximalist-Islamist-terrorist position is ensured and a new realism is possible. Given the continued economic success (5% plus growth last year) being enjoyed by Israel this is entirely within her grasp. The challenge will be to keep her politics realistic and free of the corruption which has emerged in recent decades, and to maintain social peace and progress for all sections of her population Special problems are posed by the Israeli Arab sector which tests the boundary between freedom and treachery. This should be a topic for another posting.

Contrary to the pessimistic perspective, is the view that vigorous leadership from the USA in particular could initiate genuine movement towards a credible raprochement. At present I see no prospect that the USA is capable of mustering the kind of sustained purpose (especially in the face of domestic opposition from some Zionist groups, which would persuade Israel to place her future security in the hands of the USA.


Despite some of the bleak prognostications, Israel is faring well on a number of fronts, especially the economic. This is documented in a recent video and in an Economist article which are worth attention.

Brett Stephens argues in the WSJ that some conservative Muslims are rethinking the indiscriminate Jihad being pushed by the radical Islamists. Given the vast reservoirs of angry and brainwashed Islamic youth , I would not place too much store on a rapid conversion of Islamic suicide bombs into plowshares.

Fatah and Islamism

An interesting article by Ido Zelkovitz traces the increasing use of Islamist symbolism by the nominally secular Fatah. Why should we be surprised? The use of emotional symbols in inspiring individuals and collectives to action is also covered by Guy Bechor in YNET.

Are the Jews (including the writer of this blog) too intellectual? Judging from the letters I get and some of my own reactions, we aren't. But we do distrust raw emotion as a justification for behaviour, except possibly in extreme circumstances. Isn't that the mark of civilisation?

But in the face of utter certainty I am not sure a hesitant, half-hearted response is going to do the job. At the end one must get off the fence.

Global Propaganda

A major source of anti-Israeli activism comes from the The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, otherwise known as UNRWA. A good overview of this organisation and its appalling leadership and record was published in 2005 by the Centre of Near East Policy Research. Granted the Centre is a partisan body in favour of Israel (and UNRWA even more so in the other direction), the facts revealed by the review are disturbing.

This seems relevant in view of the continued domination of the United Nations Human Rights Council by some of the most egregious global offenders against human rights and democratic principles. Three recent developments are of concern. Firstly, the proposed "review" of the results of the Durban Conference on Racism, which rapidly degenerated into an anti-Zionist and anti-semitic propaganda fest; secondly, the appointment of an arch anti-Zionist and anti-West activist as Jean Ziegler to the 18 member advisory board; and, thirdly, the appointment of the radical leftist and anti-Zionist Richard Falk as Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. All of these actions perpetuate the blatantly biased and ultimately absurd postion of the United Nations vis-a-vis Israel; absurd and repugnant by virtue of the leadership of this campaign (which includes such models as Libya, Cuba and the Arab despotisms) and the cowardly silence or acquiescence of the EU in particular.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Propaganda, Ideology and Reality

In reality there is no "reality". All views of the world, especially our political views, are constructed through our early socialisation and on-going experiences, sifted through our individual minds.

Propaganda is the deliberate attempt to steer that process in a particular direction. When propaganda is infused with an ideology (that is, a systematic world-view whether religious or secular - like communism, liberalism, conservatism) that tendency is amplified and reinforced.

Even without deliberate propaganda and ideology, social forces and individual psychology tend to maintain a consistent set of beliefs and perceptions in individuals and groups. That is probably to the good, up to a point, since a wildly fluctuating set of perceptions is hardly an effective way to confront the challenges of the world.

But, in the ideal modern democratic state, the individual is (or can be) exposed to new information and different views which allow that person to alter his or her positions in the light of these new experiences. In fact this is one of the fundamental reasons why democracies are generally so much more effective (in both war and peace) than despotisms. The ability to adjust one's view of the world to take into account changing or hitherto novel information is probably a necessary precondition of personal and collective growth.

Propaganda, especially when linked to ideology, is an attempt to prevent such growth and reorientation. In an open and free society such efforts can usually be effectively combated. Where social and political factors limit choice, the re-orientation process is curtailed and constrained.

These general ideas are especially relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab-Muslim conflict. Israel has been so effective largely because of her democratic institutions, imperfect though they are. For those living outside the focal point of the conflict, our views are shaped by the information which comes to us indirectly through the media, through friends, acquaintances and through the occasional visit. Where the media is one-sided, especially through the deliberate use of propaganda, the perceptions of the ordinary person is is distorted.

This is happening in South Africa where both the Independent group and the Mail & Guardian have taken on the role of pro-Palestinian propagandists. Whether this is cynical and conscious or simply the consequence of closed minds and prejudice, the outcome is to limit and distort the perceptions of South Africans fed a steady diet of one-sided information and analysis.

The Pilger article in the M & G of 14 March 2008 is a prime example of outright and extremely cynical propaganda. My letter in response (reproduced below) has been sent to the M & G but remains to be published as of this writing. Besides this, the general tenor of discourse in the post-Apartheid South Africa tends towards a facile comparison of Israel-Palestine with apartheid and anti-colonialism in general. This fallacy has been widely critiqued and exposed (see previous post on this blog referring to the Kadalie, Bertelsmann article "Franchising Apartheid" on Z-word), but one doubts that these contrarian voices are reaching many of the opinion makers, never mind the general population. Besides crusading media and biased public discourse, there clearly exist Muslim groups and their non-Muslim supporters actively disseminating anti-Israel and anti-Zionist propaganda.

This blog is one response to this onslaught. We live in a free though imperfect society and we have the tools to counter these distortions and outright lies. Despite the existence of "media teams", staffed by committed and able people (many of them volunteers), the response of the major communal Jewish organisations is still inadequate. The offending newspapers and media are reluctant to publish views which oppose their own perspectives, or do so in such a way that their impact is minimised.

Rather than pollute the public space with more propaganda from the other (pro-Zionist) side, we need to bring higher quality information and analysis to the attention of the wider, interested community. This requires due space and prominence in the conventional media and the use of unofficial channels. I would like to see the SAJBD and the SAZF take up this challenge more seriously and creatively. Our cause will not be advanced by talking to ourselves.

Letter sent to Mail and Guardian:

So, according to John Pilger, 6.5 million Jews on a tiny piece of semi-desert set amongst 300 million hostile Arab-Muslims is the 4th largest military power in the world (M & G, 14 March). I suppose it all depends on how one defines military power, but Pilger in full propaganda mode couldn’t be bothered with such niceties.

Nevertheless, taking Pilger at face value and that, according to him, "(Israel) used satellite-guided American aircraft and missiles against a population of largely children, most of them malnourished", it is amazing that the Israeli Defence Force only managed to kill 120 Gazans over the course of a week - most of them militants. As we know a single decent car bomb in Baghdad or a crowded Pakistani street market can accomplish that.

Such paltry results implies either extraordinary levels of Israeli incompetence, which makes their standing as any sort of military power absurd or, as Pilger is well aware, it reflects extraordinary skill and a determination to minimise civilian casualties despite every attempt by Hamas to provide a respectable body count for people like himself to exploit.

Contrary to Pilger’s idiotic suggestion that Israel has an interest in the destruction of Gazan society and the creation of more violent militants on its borders, as any sane person knows Israel wants nothing more than to be left alone. For this reason it withdrew fully from Gaza in the hope that the Gazan population would create a viable and peaceful state.

The plain fact is that Israel is constantly goaded and threatened by suicide bombers, rockets and mortars directed indiscriminately at its civilian population by Hamas, Hezbollah and the other terror groups flourishing in that region. Simply stated Israel is at war with people, with significant support in the West as well as locally, who have never accepted the presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East and who are dedicated to its destruction by any means possible - preferably by violence. This is openly stated, and Pilger's role is to contribute to the propaganda arm of this war. This situation also suits some of the states in the region who play the dangerous but profitable game of keeping the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the boil in pursuit of their own regional and global ambitions and to mollify their own restive populations reared on a toxic diet of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism.

But Israel will persist, despite its enemies and despite the fears, doubts and imperfections of its own people, partly because decent people everywhere will eventually turn against the purveyors of hatred and death.

Mike Berger