Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silly Statements on the Left and Right Show How the Middle East Drives Men Mad

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By Barry Rubin

It is really amazing how dealing with Israel and Jewish issues makes people stupid. And that’s true on both sides of the political spectrum. Indeed, statements are made that are so obviously and ludicrously wrong in the fact of easily visible evidence that it is downright astonishing that people aren’t laughed at for making such statements.

Here are two from recent hours.

Oliver Stone, left-wing filmmaker suggested that it is absurd to talk so much about the Holocaust since more Russians than Jews were killed. (Perhaps Stone is a racist—I’m just being ironic—since the nation that suffered the greatest losses from fascism was China.)

According to Stone the reason for the focus on the Holocaust is:

“The Jewish domination of the media….There’s a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years.”

Note the easy way that Stone (it’s called antisemitism, by the way) conflates Israel and the Holocaust. There is no lobby over the Holocaust, now is there?

Moreover how can Stone—like many others such as Walt and Mearsheimer—talk about a pro-Israel domination of the media while the media has been, arguably for the last thirty years, so antagonistic toward Israel?

We constantly hear that anti-Israel views are censored and rare when anyone with eyes and ears can see they are in the overwhelming majority in academia and the mass media. The fact that these people cannot convince the majority is not due to a conspiracy or repression but to the inability of their weak and false arguments to convince Americans otherwise.

The most powerful lobby in the United States is the American people and as polls show—despite all the elite efforts mentioned above—overwhelmingly pro-Israel.

And how can one speak of Israel’s domination of the U.S. government at a time when there is the most (I’ll explain the awkward phrase in a moment) un-Israel-dominated presidency in memory?

I won’t take the time to point out in detail here the ludicrousness of saying that Israel has dominated U.S. policy but I’ve talked about that in numerous books.

Now at almost precisely the same time we get another statement that just doesn’t hold up. I am not comparing the two in moral terms but only in the ease with which they can be shown to be wrong and how they illustrate the two ends of the political spectrum.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center has announced the launching of a major campaign, “Warning Americans about the consequences of President Obama abandoning Israel.” The announcement adds:

“Israel's very existence is at stake and the threats of a second Holocaust have never been greater--all at a time when America, Israel's one great trusted friend and ally has embarked on a course of outreach to America's and Israel's enemies. The American people must be alerted to the dire nature of this threat.”

While I certainly have my criticisms of Obama’s policy he is scarcely abandoning Israel, a country not about to collapse by the way. U.S.-Israel defense cooperation has continued at high levels. Bilateral relations are in good shape now and this will probably remain true for many months to come, though not necessarily for the rest of Obama's current term in office.

The United States has indeed reached out to enemies in a self-damaging way. But let’s put it in perspective. The engagement with Iran wasted a year but failed and has been abandoned in practice. The reaching out to Syria has led nowhere and is fairly inactive at present. While the administration has helped Hamas by forcing changes in Israeli sanctions, it has not engaged with Hamas or Hizballah.

If you talk to Israeli policymakers and officials in private, whatever their concerns and discontents, they are far from panicking about bilateral relations.

Part of the reason, of course, is constraints on the Obama Administration which fall far short of Stone’s fantasies but are real: congressional and popular support for Israel being the main one.

There is also the extremism of those enemies which forces even the Obama Administration to recognize large portions of reality. Iran refused any compromise and insists on being provocative; Hamas and Hizballah won’t moderate; Syria continues to support terrorists in Iraq and acts aggressively against Lebanon. All of these factors have maintained or even increased their hate-America propaganda even under Obama. For that matter, the Palestinian Authority won’t even listen to Obama’s pleas for direct talks with Israel.

By the way, the extremism of the extremists has been a major factor in U.S. policy, far in excess of any Jewish control. Remember that a lot of Arab regimes sided with the USSR in the Cold War, for example, which had a big effect on U.S. policy, as did the aggressive policies toward other Arab states of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran. These are points that Stone in his ignorance has no clue about.

What is needed now is sense in analyzing the Middle East, not engaging in fantasy stereotypes based on ideological preconceptions.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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