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Friday, July 2, 2010

My essay, published on CIF Watch, responding to an anti-Israel diatribe by Ben White, at The Guardian

Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, who penned an essay in the radical anti-Zionist magazine, Counterpunch, in 2002, in which he expressed understanding and empathy for those who are anti-Semites – describing it as a natural reaction to what he described as the inherent “Racial Supremacy” embodied by the Jewish state – would seem an odd choice to offer insights to readers of The Guardian on the challenges of achieving peace in the Middle East.

White’s book on “Israeli Apartheid” refers, not to the post ’67 occupied territory, but to the 1948 boundaries of the state. Indeed his thesis is that “Apartheid” and “Ethnic Cleansing” was necessary components of the Zionist enterprise. He said, “For political Zionism to come to fruition...it was necessary to carry out as large a scale as possible ethnic cleansing of the country’s unwanted Arab natives. But even in 1948...Israel was unable to fully ‘cleanse’ the land of the Palestinians. As a result, Israel’s fallback position was to implement an apartheid regime of exclusion and discrimination.”

Ben White, like other commentators viscerally hostile to Israel, must begin any analysis of the Middle East Peace Process by mischaracterizing the offer proposed by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton – subsequently rejected by Yasser Arafat. White mocks “the narrative of a rejectionist Palestinian leadership that had turned down an incredibly generous offer and instead opted for a campaign of violence.” As evidence of this “myth”, he links to an essay in 2001 by Ewan MsCaskell, which echoes the Palestinian narrative which argues that “The Palestine that would have emerged from such a settlement...would have been in about half-a-dozen chunks, with huge Jewish settlements in between - a Middle East Bantustan.”

Of course, the continuation of this narrative requires one to ignore incontrovertible evidence offered by, among others, Clinton’s chief negotiator Dennis Ross, as well as President Clinton himself – both of whom have stated categorically that what was offered represented a viable state with contiguous borders, and indeed represented the most generous offer ever presented by an Israeli Prime Minister. In his book, The Missing Peace, Ross includes a map of the final offer which clearly demonstrates that the characterization of Palestinian “Bantustans” was categorically false. The proposal included not only a contiguous Palestinian state, but the inclusion of East Jerusalem as its capital city. 

After undermining past Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood, White – like any good post-colonialist who typically processes history as merely a product of specific relations between “the powerful and the powerless” – sees, as the root of the current stalemate, not the details of a specific offer or negotiation framework, but rather in the “the futility of negotiations between unequals.”

What’s striking about such analyzes of the Middle East – which view the world in this “oppressed vs. oppressor” paradigm – is their almost total failure to acknowledge the role played by the Palestinians themselves, or, more strikingly, the existence of other “powerful” non-Israeli actors in the conflict. As such, nowhere in White’s commentary does he even mention the role of Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria in perpetuating the conflict and creating an obstacle to achieving a final status agreement. 

White’s commentary on Israel, like so many others on these pages, simply refuses to acknowledge that the logic of withdraw – the almost religious belief that occupation is the root cause of conflict and any subsequent Israeli withdraw would certainly ameliorate this condition - represents a political equation has been proven time and again to be utterly without foundation.
Israeli withdraw from Southern Lebanon in 2000, it was predicted, would greatly weaken Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon’s military and political affairs, when, in fact, the Iranian backed terror group has (even after UN Resolution 1701 following the Second Lebanon War) become increasingly powerful, and now is believed to be in possession of some 40,000 rockets – some capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Likewise Israel’s unilateral withdraw from Gaza didn’t dampen Palestinian support for radicalism, as is evident by Hamas’ rise to, and consolidation of, political power and their subsequent bombardment of Israeli civilian communities with tens of thousands of rockets.
Of course, the refusal of commentators such as White to acknowledge the role of malevolent state and non-state actors – movements and governments who have, without qualification, rejected the right of Israel to exists within any borders – in order to maintain this facile David vs. Goliath paradigm, is a staple of the anti-Israel left.

What seems to matter most to such ideologues is advancing a narrative of Israeli oppression, a caricature of a grotesque and manipulative Goliath that delights in inflicting pain and suffering. This defamation has unmistakable parallels to the historical caricature of the ugly, manipulative, conspiring Jewish villain we know all too well. Israel, for many of its enemies, has indeed become the Jew writ large. 

The 19th-century German social democrat, August Bebel, referred to left-wing anti-Semitism as the "socialism of fools.” White’s crude anti-Zionism – masquerading as anti-racism and anti-colonialism – is nothing more than the “anti-imperialism of fools”.

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