Far left Gaza Strip Hamas Israel

Sympathy is not a zero sum game

Compared to Realistic Dove, Charles Lenchner’s blog, Peace in the Middle East, tends to attract a higher percentage of far left ideologues. That is because it is housed on the Change.org web site, which wants to be a haven for progressive activists. What follows is a slightly edited post by Lenchner from Jan. 31st, during the worst of the Gaza war. He makes a point that I should have made more forcefully to the Israel-is-always-immoral crowd, even as I was castigating the Israelis for their behavior. It is still painfully relevant and worth repeating, as the tit-for-tat violence in Gaza and southern Israel has not abated. And it is more effective coming from him, since he is able make unequivocal use of the pronoun “we” when addressing the activist left:

Over the past few months, as the progressive blogosphere rallied in support of the Palestinian victims of Israel’s invasion, there has been scant mention of the Israeli victims of the conflict. On one level, this makes sense: the death toll is 1300+ Palestinians compared to only thirteen Israelis.

There is one idea that does get a lot of repetition. It goes like this:

Palestinian rockets are homemade, inaccurate, and have caused such a small amount of destruction; they serve only as a pretext for Israeli attacks, not as a real military threat.

The motives for saying this are understandable. By minimizing the harm done to Israelis, we make its actions in Gaza appear more disproportionate and easier to condemn. In the war of public opinion, any sympathy garnered by Israeli victims is seen as a point scored by the Israeli PR machine, as though sympathy is a zero sum game.

[But]….living with the threat of rockets falling on you or your children is not…insignificant. It seems odd to have to explain this. The Israelis do not argue that rocket fire was a mortal threat [to Israel’s existence].They argue that it was an unacceptable situation for civilians to live with the threat of rockets. Which is true. It is unacceptable…The rockets could have been stopped by talking to Hamas and lifting the siege, as opposed to engaging in a full out assault. [But] to say that the harm caused by rockets is marginal and unworthy of public mention is to say that the Israeli experience of the conflict is not central to resolving it.

That’s just not true. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved when – and only when – there is a broad enough majority of both Israelis and Palestinians to end it. Until that time comes, all efforts to marginalize the experiences of one side only serve to harden positions.

17 thoughts on “Sympathy is not a zero sum game

  1. Richard Silverstein’s writing about the prospect of an “October surprise” with the possible deal for Shalit and an 18 month Hamas cease-fire close to confirmation.

    Meshal in Syria holds the cards to that deal, either allowing it or blocking it.

    Its not an appealing debt if Livni pulls it out from Netanyahu, by Meshal getting her elected.

    Its already a moderating influence on Hamas though, actually having to think in relative terms, rather than their prior ideological absolutes.

  2. Dan-
    The current government is, from your point of view, a “dream coalition”. Kadima came in first promising a large-scale, unilateral withdrawal from Judea/Samaria. They made a coalition with Labor which, under Barak in 2000, offered almost all of Judea/Samaria and most of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The settler parties were left out of the coalition and only one religious party was included (SHAS) mainly as a decoration so it couldn’t be said that the coalition was anti-religious; SHAS had no say on defense or diplomatic issues.
    Like I said, this was a dream coalition for “progressives”. So what did they do? They got Israel into 2 wars within 3 years and killed a lot of Arabs. Did they carry out their promise for a unilateral withdrawal? No. They also went to Annapolis as Bush ordered them to do and openeed negotiations with the Palestinians. Did anything come out of that? No.
    So why are you worried if the Likud wins? Haven’t you learned yet that the Left has no answers and they have only brought death and destruction on both Jews and Arabs since Oslo in the 1990’s?

  3. Y Ben David,

    “They got Israel into 2 wars within 3 years and killed a lot of Arabs.”I’m confused. I thought you approved of those wars. Do you honestly think there would have been no violent conflicts if Likud and the rest of YOUR dream coalition had been at the helm? Might have taken a different form, admittedly. More Arabs would have been massacred earlier.

    “Did they carry out their promise for a unilateral withdrawal? No.” And why not? What stopped them? It was YOU. You and your fellow travellers and allies that have gummed up Israel’s political system so thoroughly that even Jews who openly and proudly violate Israeli law (with illegal outposts, for example) are given a light touch because no one wants to pay the political costs of truly confronting settlers. I accept your apology.

  4. The reason that there weren’t withdrawals from the west bank is because when you look at Lebanon and Gaza the empirical evidence is clear. When you cede land you get missile barrages in return. And if you’ve been to Israel and seen the topography you realize that Israel simply can’t allow Hamas and Iran to dominate the coastal areas.

  5. Richard,
    What happens after Tuesday is that Washington concentrates on saving the American economy while Netanyahu goes about forming a coalition. Once an Israeli coalition is in place, then Washington concentrates on exploring the possibilities of a deal on the Golan that will lead to peace between Damascus and Jerusalem and a realignment of Syria’s foreign policy away from Tehran. Washington can do this either in conjunction with Ankara, or with Brussels, or on its own. I would suggest doing it in common with both.

    Washington will have to manage the Israeli-Pal conflict over the next eight years, but to concentrate on trying to solve it when it is not ripe for a solution is a waste of valuable time, effort, and political capital.

  6. Thomas, I have a different point of view of things here. This “ripe” time really is not going to come into fruition; as a matter of fact, this is the line of thinking of Dennis Ross.

    When things are left alone, this gives ample permission for the stronger power to wield its position in order to gain more with less concessions. In the past instances, I don’t think there really was enough “concentration” and more or less just a passable example for photo-ops to appease the respective constituents. I do understand the pressing need of the domestic situations of both countries but I don’t adhere to Marc Lynch’s thinking on this.

    The more things stay the same, the more imbalanced and the more both sides will push the “moderate” voices to the periphery. It is time to take this seriously and not take the line that only leads us to the same impasse that we are talking about now.

  7. Joshua,

    I concur. Time really is running out now. The Israelis have not stopped taking steps that will preclude the possibility of a 2-state solution that the Palestinians could conceivably accept. The Palestinians have gone a long way towards convincing the Israeli center and even some of the left that relinquishing any territory is a recipe for rockets aimed at the coastal plain. There are ways to address both sides’ concerns and needs, but it has to be done soon or the majorities in both camps that still support a two-state solution, at least in principle, will diminish drastically….

  8. Dan,
    The title of this post is excellent.

    Y Ben David’s prescription of the “current relationship is the best” seems reflective of the likud view.

    Its a savvy political approach, that will likely win in the 50 – 100 year time frame but prohibit the Jewish role in the world in any valid meaning of the term “chosen people”.

    How can a society that turns 4 million from their homes ever earn the status of “nation of priests”?

    It occurred to me that the residents of Washington DC exist in a political status that is similar. 800,000 residents without representation with very conditional self-governance.

    And, we don’t make much of an issue of it.

  9. Richard,
    Where in the world do you get the figure 4 million from? Even the Palestinians in their wildest inflation of figures of those who went into exile in 1948 never claimed even 1 million left.

    As far as Washington DC goes, it was set up by VA and MD both donating territory on the understanding that the balance of power would not change by a new state being created. Those who chose to live in DC do so with the full understanding that they don’t have the right to vote. Congress is responsible for providing supervision of municipal services. Many other countries, including democracies such as Belgium, have special legal arrangements for their capitals.

  10. If Israel annexed the West Bank and deported all the Palestinians, it would be 4 million+ in the 50 – 100 year approach of gradual annexation.

    The options are:
    1. Zionist state (sea to river), Palestinians expelled (Israel Beitanyu)
    2. Zionist state (sea to river), Palestinians surrounded and “bantustan”ed. (Likud)
    3. Two states, configured to construct a current plebiscite (80/20 in Israel, 95/5 in Palestine)
    4. Two states at 67 borders, settlers allowed to stay where they reside, but as Palestinians. (80/20 in both states)
    5. Single democratic state (40/30/30 – civil, sharia, halachic)
    6. Single Palestinian nationalist state – right of Palestinian return (60/40)
    7. Single sharia state – half of Jews deported, replaced by returning Palestinians.

    The only option that seems sustainable in any way is the two-state solution at roughtly 67 borders.

  11. Richard,
    Since you are making a future prediction, shouldn’t you put it in the future tense?

    Benny Begin, whom Netanyahu has brought out of political retirement to rejoin the Likud, is opposed to transfer. I’m sure he wouldn’t have rejoined the Likud if he thought that Netanyahu was going to carry out a removal policy. Israel in the 21st century, or any time in its modern history for that matter, is not like the U.S. in the 1830s and 1840s where it can deport its native population without outside interference. It would have enough problems trying to do this with Israeli Arabs that are legally under its jurisdiction, let alone with the Palestinian Arabs who are under occupation.

  12. To Richard Witty…

    My goodness, Richard…replies to you on this web site are so dramatically different than on Phil’s…I wonder if I have been sucked into an alternate universe. I wonder if you feel that way?

    Just wanted to say hello…and I like the replies here much better (that’s not a criticism of Phil…it is definitely a criticism of some of the self-righteous loonies who comment at Phil’s site).

  13. To reply to Richard’s options, it really leaves out the masses that are languishing in refugee camps not in the occupied territories. Therein lies the problem with all of these proposed solutions: someone is going to lose out, one way or another. Unfortunately, most of the options takes out the refugees and their hope of ever gaining status of citizenry. Only a handful will find relief while the rest will have to deal with permanent refugee living in the camps in Lebanon and that really seems like a bad deal, especially the feeling that is so endemic with the Diaspora that really want to return home even though most are resigned to hopelessness. With a possible solution based on two-states preventing the option for most of them to be integrated into Palestine and Israel, this sees them stateless and the sole hope being a single state which would enable their return. (But we know where the single state argument takes us.) For many, the hope of a single state is the only thing keeping them going: to finally return home.

    Let’s face it, with an incumbent Palestinian state with West Bank and Gaza, it is very limited on numbers it can absorb. That means it’s either the limbo-status they have now where NO state wants them (not Jordan, not Lebanon, not Syria, not Kuwait, not Egypt) or the hope for a return.

    Just one aspect of the conundrums that is the Israel-Palestine conflict where everyone in the Middle East and the rest of the world has a stake to win or lose.

  14. The tragedy of the Palestinians includes the FACT that multiple Arab countries have not permitted Palestinians born on their soil to be citizens of those countries.

    The most conspicuous one is Lebanon, which presents itself as a cosmopolitan state, but in fact is not.

    Its unclear if that prohibition from citizenship is motivated by “solidarity” or by racism or political wariness towards the Palestinians.

    But, it is true.

    Jordan is a notable exception. Residents born in Jordan are Jordanian citizens. Even West Bank residents may travel internationally under Jordanian passports.

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