Israel and Double Standards

Monday, January 5, 2009
I'm not an expert on Israel or the Middle East peace process.

I admit that there have been times when I thought the best idea for the Middle East was to wall off the entire region and let them kill each other. There have also been times when I thought that the liberalization of the region is their only hope for peace. Some days I'm just sick of hearing about it, and wish the entire region would pull its collective head out of its ass. We could call it "The Pop Heard 'Round the World."

I'm not holding my breath on any of those things.

As the fighting intensifies in Gaza, and President-Elect Obama prepares to face the first foreign policy crisis of his administration, I'm hoping that this time, they may make some progress. Maybe.

But the longer this goes on, the more I come to believe that the United States has applied a double standard to the Middle East peace process that really needs to be recognized, and addressed, by President-Elect Obama. From where I sit, it seems we apply one standard to Israel, and another to every other Arab country or interest group.

Please note that this does not mean I'm a pre-Arab nutjob. It just means I'm not a pro-Israel nutjob, either. Accountability for bad behavior is an equal opportunity value, and while the U.S. has been quick to try and hold pro-Arab nutjobs accountable for their misdeeds, we've been less diligent about holding the pro-Israel nutjobs accountable for theirs.

I believe Israel has a right to exist. I believe that Israel, as a matter of policy, should have the support of the United States. But I don't believe we owe Israel some sort of backroom veto power over our diplomatic relations with other sovereign nations. The United States' first obligation in our diplomacy should be the United States, not Israel, and allowing our relationship with Israel to affect every aspect of our Middle East policy (to our own detriment) is stupid. No other country in the world consistently compromises their own well-being for the benefit of others in a misguided attempt to be fair and supportive in the way the United States does. We certainly owe our allies consistent support based on our mutual self-interest, but our own enlightened self-interest should be our guiding principle.

And speaking of being consistent, why do we say nothing when Israel disenfranchises their Arab population? Arab citizens make up 14% of Israel's voters, presumably with full rights under the Israeli Constitution, yet they're marginalized politically and socially at every turn. And the U.S., who has engaged in preemptive warfare solely for the sake of "freedom" says nothing. How come it's okay for the Israelis to exclude their Arab minority from participation in a coalition government, but its heinous for any other government to exclude a minority group in the same way? Answer: It's not okay. And saying that the Arabs are excluded based on their status as "communists" doesn't hold much water with me. You're either a democracy, or you're not. Veiling your bigotry in anti-communist rhetoric is transparent at best.

And don't even get me started about the way both sides have failed to address the plight of Palestinian refugees.

I believe in Israel's right to exist. But I also believe in Palestine's right to exist. I think it's fairly obvious to everyone but extremists (on both sides) that a two-state solution is the only acceptable compromise. But if Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu ends up winning the upcoming election, it's unlikely to transpire.

And we'll be right back where we started.

Fabulous.

10 comments:

Jeri said...

Amen. One of the things I admire most about former President Jimmy Carter is is fair and even-handed approach to Middle East politics and diplomacy.

Ilya said...

Just to point out the obvious, Janiece, while you do not deny Israel's right to exist, Hamas does. How exactly do you deal with an enemy who expressly seeks your destruction? You destroy him first.

Janiece Murphy said...

Ilya, I put Hamas and Hezbollah in the pro-Arab nutjob category. Of course, I also put Zionists who deny Palestine's right to exist in the pro-Israel nutjob category, so there you go. Compromise is necessary if peace is to be achieved, and neither of those groups appears to be willing to give an inch.

For the record, I admire Israel and it's demonstrated ability to do what is necessary to maintain its sovereignty, but I don't think it's blameless in this mess. I'm sick of the U.S. refusing to apply our standards in an even-handed way.

And it pisses me off when the U.S. compromises its own interests for the sake of Israel as a matter of policy.

Nathan said...

I have to think a lot more before I respond to this. The short answer, however, is...how long do you soak up rockets being fired at your citizens before you strike back.

I suppose I'm mostly a pro-Israel nutjob.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I did think long and hard about this before posting, mostly because I didn't want you or Ilya to think I had some sort of wacky antisemitic agenda.

I want to make sure I'm clear in my position - I do not blame Israel for protecting their citizens. I do not disapprove of them taking an offensive military stance in order to do so.

I object to the U.S. government condoning actions by the Israeli government that they wouldn't tolerate in other regimes. I object to the U.S. compromising our own security for Israel's sake indefinitely.

Does that mean I'm "pro-Arab" or "anti-Israel?" I really don't see it that way. I just think that compromise should be the order of the day, and asking both sides to do so is the appropriate and even-handed course of action.

This is such a hot topic that expressing an opinion even slightly critical of Israel is seen in some circles as being an antisemitic bigot.

But I truly feel there's enough blame to go around for all the involved parties - including the United States and Israel.

Does that make sense?

Nathan said...

Well, I think your third paragraph slightly contradicts the first two, but I'm far from objective.

I remember a period a few years back when there had been a long period without any violence from either side. Then there was a Palestinian bombing. I wished, at the time, that Israel would have said, "We're not going to respond. For too long, there's been an argument about who did what to who first, so you get a pass this time. But the next time, we're going to pound the shit out of you."

I'm not sure if that makes any sense either, but it would have been an opportunity to break the cycle.

And I had also been thinking about posting something about this but held back because I just get all foamy on the subject. Part of how I see it is that Israel has been soaking up missiles for a few weeks now. Those hundreds of missiles are mostly inaccurate, so, while they inflict terror, they haven't killed many people. Israel, on the other hand, has modern weapons and a highly trained military. What they aim at...they hit.

Janiece Murphy said...

I guess I'm not communicating very well, then.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I don't disagree with Israel's current response in Gaza, I do not think they are without blame for the continuing conflict.

So, in my opinion, they are completely justified in "fighting back" in the current circumstances.

But they are not, in my opinion, justified in marginalizing Arab citizens.

The two opinions are not mutually exclusive - I can approve of certain decisions the Israeli government makes, while simultaneously disapproving of other policies. We do it constantly with our own government, and no one has a problem with it, but it seems to me that expressing such a dichotomous opinion about Israel tends to evoke a rather pointed response.

I do understand why that is, of course - such defensiveness is completely consistent with the history of Israel, and of the Jewish people in general.

So while I'm not insensitive to what a charged issue it can be, I'm still going to express an opinion about how my own government addresses the issue. Our involvement in the Middle East matters to the the U.S. as a nation, in terms of our national (and energy) security. Holding Israel to a lower standard than we do other regimes really isn't acceptable.

Additionally, the hypocrisy involved in an historically oppressed people marginalizing a minority that has citizenship is fundamentally offensive to me.

I'm sorry if that offends you.

Nathan said...

For anyone else reading here...Janiece sent me a private email to make sure I'm not personally offended. I'm not. And the email is appreciated anyway.

I'm very conflicted on this subject but my default position is to come down on Israel's side.

Janiece still rates a hug the first time we actually meet. (if we haven't already met in some kind of nefarious UCF plotting to take down the Tankersleys of the world sort-of-way)

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I understand that there are many people who cannot be objective about Israel (and I understand why).

But no group should really be immune to criticism.

For the record, I consider the bad behavior of Hamas to be considerably worse than the bad behavior of Israel. A rather subjective yardstick, to be sure.

And Nathan, you're on for that hug.

Steve Buchheit said...

I think it's mostly because the nut-jobs on both sides have been the most vocal. The majority of the people on the ground understand compromise and negotiation. Unfortunately the nutjobs on both sides rally the most support in elections (and yes, I think the timing of this assault had a lot to do with Israel's upcoming election).

It's like Ford Prefect said, "They care, I don't, they win. Let's go find a party."

Or as another analysis said, there's agreement on 95% of what needs to happen to bring about a stable two-state agreement. And that's the part we keep going over instead of working on that hard 5% (Jerusalem, right of return, Golan Heights -which I doubt will ever be given back to Syria, there's too much water there for one reason). It also doesn't help that the majority of international efforts only begin in the last two years of any American Presidency, when the outgoing President is looking toward history/legecy.

Unfortunately this war/incursion cannot end in anything but defeat, for both sides. Israel thinks they learned the lessons of the war against Hezbollah, but they're about to relearn that as long as one Hamas leader can stand up at the end of the war, they will declare victory. Hamas believes they only need to survive until the soldiers leave and the reluctant people will support them. This is a struggle that can only be won by compromising the position of the opposition by giving rights and freedoms.