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Why neoconservatism is [almost] dead — Notes on the J Post review of my book

Initially, I was delighted to read Jonathan Schanzer’s vicious attack on my book in the Jerusalem Post. Until then, the few reviews out there had been been quite positive (See essays by
Jerome Chanes
, the History News Network’s Murray Polner, and Thomas Mitchell), and I was hoping and praying for controversy of some kind, as books die without any buzz.

But, upon reflection, the zero-sum-game mentality exhibited by Schanzer is depressing, because it is still widely shared in the pro-Israel community. I suggest you take a peek at the review, called “Fleshler vs. Fleshler,” and then return here.

Welcome back. First, it is important to understand how Schanzer earns his living. He is Deputy Director of the Jewish Policy Center, whose advisory board is a veritable neoconservative hall of fame. They are all there, the same people who provided the intellectual foundations of an utterly disastrous foreign policy: Daniel Pipes, Irving Kristol, Irving and John Podhoretz, William Bennett, Michael Ledeen, Ruth Wisse and others. Schanzer’s boss is none other than…Matthew Brooks, who also runs the Republican Jewish Coalition. One of Brooks’ notable achievements was an ad campaign that tried to convince Jewish voters that Howard Dean was an ally of Yasser Arafat. Oh, and Schanzer’s first boss in the think tank universe was none other than…Daniel Pipes.

Let’s leave aside the fact that assigning an employee of that organization to review my book is like assigning Norman Finkelstein to write his impressions of Commentary magazine. What matters is the intellectual bankruptcy of the movement that pays Schanzer’s salary.

Schanzer’s main beef is that “Fleshler contradicts himself throughout the book.”

Here is an example of what Schanzer seems to believe is a contradiction: “Fleshler insists that Israel has a right to defend itself, but castigates it for its “appallingly disproportionate response to Hamas rocket fire’ during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009.”

In other words, if you assert that Israel had the right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, the only recourse you could possibly support is “Operation Cast Lead.” There is literally no room in this mindset for any other approach. Schanzer doesn’t merely disagree with alternatives; he acts as if those alternatives don’t exist.

Another one: “[Fleshler] admits that the `combination of Hamas, Hizbullah in Lebanon and, of course, Iran’s reckless president and nuclear program’ has provided ample reason to believe 1938-type dangers loom for Israel. Yet he sneers at the `hawkish tilt’ of Jewish groups that seek to impose a blockade on Iran until it halts its illicit activities.”

In my book, I identified and sought to explain Jewish fears, and indicated that the dangers Israel faced were real. But I pointed out that there were other approaches to Iran besides the confrontational tack of the Bush administration, such as those of Trita Parsi and Shlomo Ben-Ami. And I lamented the fact that those approaches weren’t even on the radar screen of the organized American Jewish community. But in the world according to Schanzer and his mentors, you cannot possibly be worried about Iran unless you want American warships to enforce a blockade.

And here is his summary: “In a nutshell, Fleshler wants Israel to cough up territory and make other concessions to the Palestinians, even if there is no reciprocity, simply because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. And he thinks that America needs to force Israel to make these concessions.”

Nope. The book asserts that both sides eventually need to compromise to stave off utter disaster. There is nothing in there about Israel relinquishing territory without reciprocity, or forcing Israel to make concessions. But perhaps he believes that I actually did advocate those things. Perhaps when he is confronted with anyone who searches for a middle ground, an alarmist part of his brain clicks in and convinces him that he is confronted with a complete capitulationist. Because there is no middle ground in his world, no room for subtlety or diplomatic nuance.

Doesn’t this sound painfully familiar? This is the school of bludgeoning bone-headed militarism, of Shock and Awe, of all sticks and no carrots, with the credo of shoot-first-and-worry-about-the-TV-cameras-later. It failed so miserably, one would think its advocates would at least keep quiet until they came up with something better. But, apparently, this is the best they can do.

I suppose it’s good news that they can’t come up with anything new to refute Obama’s more reasonable approach to the world, which my book supports. But the bad news is that this mentality is still popular within vocal, still-powerful segments of the American Jewish community

8 thoughts on “Why neoconservatism is [almost] dead — Notes on the J Post review of my book

  1. Dan,

    You are being too polite. I’ve read your book. It had its flaws, but it was very compelling. And well-written. That review was a revolting hatchet job. The J Post should be ashamed of itself!

  2. And as Israel controls almost all of historic Palestine, oppresses all of the people all of the time and refuses to give a solitary inch on anything what more concessions do you think the Palestinians should make?

    Should they all just disappear now?

  3. Marilyn,

    What Clinton called for in his last plan in January, 2001, and what the unofficial negotiators agreed to in Geneva, included “concessions” by the Palestinians as well as Israelis, in the sense of giving in on previous positions. Something close to those plans is the only way out of this. It is not true that the Israelis have refused to give a single solitary inch in negotiations that began in Oslo and then kept going in fits and starts. Maybe they didn’t give up enough to suit you, but there was considerable movement in Israeli positions in the 1990s.

  4. I spent the weekend visiting my son in Crown Heights at a Chabad yeshiva.

    It was interesting, some things inspiring and appealing, some things very upsetting.

    The main rabbi described having a good soul as like a diamond that instead of being used for its unique qualities, is used as gravel in the cement that goes into the foundation of an apartment building.

    At the same time, relative to the outside world, they discouraged nuance at all, instead referring to only limited scope of inter-communal relations, with much more limited options as to how to think about, speak and act in relation.

    I understand the confident and intimate connection to one’s own community.

    I don’t understand the contrast between loving, artful and intimate family life, and less skillful inter-communal relationships.

  5. Dan,
    You’ll be pleased to know that I gave the review only one star in the electronic feedback at the site.

    I’ve had my experiences with the neo-cons. Back in 1979 or 1980 Ruth Wisse wrote a hatchet-job article on Peace Now. I wrote back and I mentioned that Israel had higher ideals to live up to as expressed in its declaration of independence than the PLO had in its Palestinian Charter. Her reply was to call me a “self-hating Jew.” She is so talented she can do psychoanalysis at a distance without ever meeting the patient based on a single letter. Now if she had only known that I’m not Jewish she would instantly have diagnosed me as an anti-Semite. So just bear in mind where this is coming from–a bunch of former Trotskyites and their children who have changed the ideology but not the methods.

  6. As long as former Trotskyites have no influence, they are a minor annoyance. But, at least for a few decades, they had a substantial amount of influence. It was easy to dismiss the kind of mentality that called you a “self-hating Jew,” until we woke up to discover that it infected parts of the Pentagon

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