Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Liberal heart, Neocon brain

Gershom Gorenberg, a liberal modern orthodox Israeli, and Haim Watzman have an excellent blog entitled SouthJerusalem. They sound like the kind of intelligent, sympathetic people one would like to know and they have put their money where their mouth is by emigrating from the USA to Israel. Gershom is the author of a challenging article (see here) in Prospect UK, a general middle-of-the-road intellectual UK magazine.

In it he argues for a stronger liberal-dovish Israel-Jewish lobby in the USA, reflecting the position of the majority of American Jews according to Gershom, to counter AIPAC which he labels rightwing. He claims, possibly correctly, that they would reflect an Israeli reality which seeks dialogue with Israel's enemies on the basis of a two-state solution and the usual set of compromises advocated by moderate peaceniks.

He sounds plausible and I much prefer the tone of his writing to the xenophobic and paranoidal ring which afflicts so many rightwing (mainly, but not exclusively, religious) commentators. Despite this, I suspect he is guilty of a great deal of wishful thinking with potentially catastrophic consequences for Jews and Israelis specifically. In a comment (accessible here) I said the following:

"Gershom confuses his desire for a kinder, juster world (which most of us share) for analysis. He believes labelling people as left/right or neocon/liberal is helpful in itself; it isn’t. He contrasts “shortterm security needs” with “longterm peace”. But if you don’t have the essential shorterm security the longterm is irrelevant. And who says, that “concessions”, justice, kindness will contribute to peace against opponents (Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran for instance) who are interested in your destruction, not your friendship? Of course justice, kindness and magnanimity can be pursued for their own sakes and not for the political dividends they bring - but that is another matter. What does Gorem say to the argument that the political situation demands a decisive Israeli (Western) military victory, the end of 2-state hopes, the extension of Israel to more defensible borders, expulsion of all those not willing to live in peace in a Jewish Israel and hopefully a raprochement and even cooperation with neighbours who understand Israel is there to stay and that it would be more rational to get along. This would require USA (and Western) longterm commitment of course, and that may be the biggest stumbling block. As much as my heart is liberal my head is a neocon - with some imagination I hope."

This deserves a couple more qualifications. It is entirely possible, indeed desirable, to combine a fairly hardline (realistic) political stance with a liberal, non-racist personal orientation. The political and personal are two different realms. It is not too difficult to understand that the Arab-Muslim threat to Israel arises out of political, cultural and other contextual historical and current realities and does not reflect some intrinsic evil in either the people or in the Islamic religion.

That does not make the threat any less real, and thus my political stance is extremely realistic.

Shlomo Aveneri (in Haaretz) points to the multiple dimensions and incredible complexity of the so-called Israel-Palestine conflict which makes any prospect for a comprehensive resolution highly improbable. But, drawing on examples from the ethnic conflicts in Cyprus, Kosovo, Bosnia and Kashmir, he argues that there is a role for conflict management.

By that he refers to the mix of diplomatic, economic, scientific and other initiatives aimed at reducing the intensity and likelihood of violence while allowing slower processes of cooperation, improved security and political advance to move the parties closer to a viable peace.

Whether this is any more realistic than the hope that empathy and concessions will make dialogue possible is, in my view, dubious. I suspect that at some time it will become apparent both to Israel and the USA (and the West in general) that a decisive military victory (however that is defined) must precede any political resolution. But that recognition cannot be indefinitely delayed without rendering success more difficult or even impossible.

But to reiterate: a realistic political posture does not require uncalled for brutality or racist and xenophobic attitudes. That demeans us and certainly does not advance our interests.

Mike Berger