Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The strong do what they can...(Israel-Palestine edition)

The latest "controversy" over Israel appears to concern some remarks made by Helen Thomas about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The McClatchy article quotes her as saying:
"Any comments on Israel," an offscreen voice asks Thomas.
“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” Thomas says.
“Where should they go?” the offscreen voice asks.
She responds that they should go home to Germany, Poland or the United States."
Thomes has been forced to resign as a reporter for the Hearst service (a delightful bit of hypocrisy, given the Hearst papers historic tradition of lying about foreign affairs). She has also been forced to issue the usual boilerplate statment of contrition:
"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
Her sudden disgrace is now so complete that even utterly demolished media whores like Judith Miller can take swings at her, ringing in with her American version of Schindler's Law*: "At least she offered Jews some options other than Auschwitz."OK.

You all know my opinions about Israel in general and our role in its creation in particular. And, in this case, I'm getting a little pissed off about this slagging off on Thomas. She had an opinion and expressed it. That's pretty much the essence of "freedom of speech", one of the fundamental principles of this country. Speaking freely doesn't mean you're senile, it doesn't mean you should retire. Even less does it mean that the U.S. government should apologize for the opinion (Gibbs, the White House flack, had to make sure that We the People know that Obama loves him some Zion: "...those remarks...do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here and certainly not of the administration.") Jesus wept, are we THAT spineless and timid?It would appear so.

Thomas' is not a popular opinion here in the U.S., where we've spent pretty much the whole 60 years since Truman's day trying to pretend that the entire business that ended up with a Jewish state on the eastern Med wasn't the result of a bunch of dirty deeds done dirt cheap by the imperialist Brits and ratified by a bunch of Americans all guilt-ridden about the Holocaust.

But to wish the Israeli Jews gone, to wish the entire enterprise of Israel undone, is certainly no more "offensive and reprehensible", no less muttonheaded, than the notion widely expressed in Israel and by Israel-lovers all over the world that the Arab residents of the former Ottoman provinces of Palestine should just "get over it", take their lickings, forget their past and just accept that a bunch of European Jews and their descendants get their and their father's and grandfather's land and all their stuff.I don't have a solution to the problem of Israel. I don't think there IS a solution; two groups of people want the exact same place. But frankly I wish the starting point of this issue wasn't a damn job-lot of head-wagging about how senile and messed up Helen Thomas is because she says straight up how you or I would feel if a bunch of foreigners had invaded our land in our grandparent's day, kicked us out and told us to suck it up and get over it.

We're grownups and need to start acting like it. We live in a world of polities; nations, states, provinces, tribes. Within those groups there are "rights" and "wrongs", laws and agreements that regulate what we can do to each other.

But between polities there are only the collision of values, morals and relative strengths. In a perfect world these would be just and fair. In our real world, the "bad guys" win as often as not.The Normans weren't "better" or "more worthy" than the Saxons, the Europeans than the Aztecs or Shawnee or Inuit, just technically, tactically, or politically more capable.

We need to stop pretending that the people we "like" are always good, decent, just, right and deserving. Just because Israel is a western democracy doesn't mean that its existence is an unmitigated good to everyone, or that its actions are always good and right. If we believe this, or refuse to listen to anyone who tells us differently, or base our actions on that belief, then we are fools and we will act in foolish ways based on our foolery as often as not.

The Israelis - down to the 10th generation - have, and will have, exactly the same "right" to the place that we white folks have to the U.S. We took it from the original owners and keep it by force. So did they. It makes us, and them, strong.It doesn't make us, or them, "right".

Or the Native Americans - or Helen Thomas restating the opinions of the original owners of Palestine - offensive, or reprehensible, or illegitimate, or foolish, or wrong for not liking that.

*(Schindler's Law: "As any discussion on Israel grows longer, the probability of equating dislike of the ideal of, the fact of, or the actions of Israel with the kind of murderous anti-Semitism that resulted in the Nazi extermination camps approaches 1."

Corollary to Schindler's Law: "Once such an observation is made, the discussion is finished and whoever mentioned Nazis, death camps, or the Holocaust has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.")

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