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« It's The Culture, Stupid | Main | The Spin And Lies Continue »

Alterman Ego

Instantman points out a particularly odious and mindless piece by Eric Alterman (but you have to forgive him--after all, as Mark Twain once said about someone else of similar cerebral propensity, "I'd brain him, if he had the material for it") about the unfair balance between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian pundits.

He writes this as though it's some kind of Olympic ice-skating contest. As though we all know that there are no objective measures of morality, both sides should be assumed to be of equal weight on the ethics scale (and we certainly can't expect the judges themselves to be objective), so we have to at least make sure that we minimize the stacking of the deck so that both sides have equal punditry numbers and quality of spinning and support.

Well, Eric, I'll surprise you here. While roughly half of my ancestors are of Jewish descent (if I'm to believe the tales told to me in my childhood), I think that Israel sucks in multiple ways. It is a socialist nation. It can sustain such socialism only through the largess of American foreign aid and implicit defense. It is a religious state, that imposes unacceptable (to me) strictures on freedom. It continues to subsidize collectives called kibbutzim (though not as much as in years past) in a vain effort to sustain the socialist vision that led to its founding. It is a fractious country, unable to maintain a coherent policy because it is ruled by a multi-party parliamentarian system, derived from failed European models.

Oh, sorry. I know that someone like you considers all of this a compliment--not criticism, so what's a guy to do, Eric? When one can't even criticize the state of Israel without sounding like a defender of it to socialist journalists, is it surprising that your little enemies list is so skewed?

But the reality (yes, I know, a vile and unfamiliar concept to writers for The Nation) intrudes. I have to conclude that, for all its flaws, it's the only nation in that region of the world that has any hope of providing a glimmer of freedom and prosperity to its people, including its Arab citizens.

Israel occasionally kills some civilians accidentally in the process of hunting down cold-blooded murderers. Some Israelis even occasionally kill Palestinians deliberately, but when this occurs, they are brought to trial, and at least a semblance of justice.

Their enemies, on the other hand, vow that all Israelis must die. This is not just the rantings of a few hotheads, but the official policy of their governments (though it's usually spoken and written only in Arabic, for local consumption). They deliberately target civilians, including women, children, and even babes, in their maniacal hatred of Jews. They suck at the teat of the long-vanquished Nazis, and mourn their passing, and lust to finish the job that they once started. They deny a voice to their own people, filling them instead with an irrational hatred of all things not them, and thus deflect their peoples' righteous anger from their own failings and despotry.

In light of this, what's surprising, and dismaying, is not the imbalance of pundits in favor of Israel, but the fact that there are any on the other side.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 28, 2002 09:03 PM
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Took the post from right under my fingertips.

I am frightened by Isreal's hardline theocracy. People fighting for what they believe in is noble. As well Judaism is a mighty religion which has withstood much persecution and fought off many aggressions. I, a gentile, give it my enduring support. Too my mind, however, Israel is a large cult. The properties of an explicit theocracy are threatening to civil rights and dangerous in other ways, especially medialy(?). To be maintained the dissenters of the state's religion must be squelched. This effectively eliminates the essential human right to believe in whatever (non-)God you want. I don't like the sound of that because conflicts over God are of the worst nature. Throw in some socialist/collectivist affinities in there and a strict police state at war with a different theocracy and we've got serious problem.

Note that I am not critical of Judiasm, I am critical of any hardline theocracy, regardless of the religion in which is it based.

Posted by Iron Man at March 28, 2002 09:58 PM

Rand is right. Israel is imperfect. However, the hostility to Israel shown by people like Alterman (not to mention the Arabs) is reminiscent of old Soviet propaganda attacks on the U.S. for mistreating black people. The open society gets compared to utopia, while the oppressive regimes favored by the attacker are kept, by the sheer volume of the criticism that is thrown at the democratic target, in the rhetorical background. The double standard is odious.

Nice touch where Alterman refers to Israel's "right to existence" in quotes. Maybe next he'll be quoting the People's Daily on "America's so-called freedoms." Jerk.

Posted by Jonathan Gewirtz at March 29, 2002 12:43 PM

Umm... Israel a "hardline theocracy"? Well, I don't know, I haven't heard that it's a capitol offense to be of another religion than the major one, as it is in, say, a certain wealthy oil-producing nation nearby. But maybe I've missed all those stories of Christians being jailed for worshipping at the various holy sites in Jerusalem et al.

Posted by Andrea Harris at March 29, 2002 03:02 PM

Well, "hardline" is in the eye of the beholder. I consider any state that explicitly bases its laws on a specific religion to be one. If you don't like the adjective, I still stand by the noun.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 29, 2002 03:08 PM

I'm all in favor of separation of church and state, believe me. (As an atheist, how could I not be?)

But we have to differentiate the odiousness of different forms of religious establishment. In particular, we've got to make a sharp distinction between establishment and intoleration. Remember, there's still a Church of England. Israel, though a religious state, also has religious tolerance; the Arab states are almost maximally intolerant.

Posted by Daniel Jacobson at March 29, 2002 06:25 PM

It is factually incorrect to call Israel a "theocracy," and rather wildly so. Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a state religion. It is precisely as much a "theocracy" as is Great Britain, and most of Western Europe, all of which are similarly parliamentary democracies with state religions.

The overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens are, duh, secular. There is no religious oversight of laws. There is simply no justification whatsoever for calling Israel a "theocracy" save for, I'm afraid, sheer ignorance.

An example of a theocracy is Iran.

Incidentally, speaking as a general "supporter" of Israel, I must point out that, in fact, when Israelis kill Palestinians, quite often no one is, in fact, brought to trial, and when they are, and found guilty, they are usually amnestied within six months to two years. There are, indeed, plenty of grounds for criticism of Israel in regard to various policies and practices; they simply don't compare in equivalency, however, to the PA or any Arab state (though Jordan is comparatively tolerable, and Tunisia not too awful).

Posted by Gary Farber at March 29, 2002 06:35 PM

Oh, incidentally: "I consider any state that explicitly bases its laws on a specific religion to be one [theocracy]." Uh, what? Israel bases its law on British administrative law left over from the Mandate, plus law passed by the Knesset, including the Basic Laws which make up the constitution. None of this is "based on religion" in the slightest bit more than British law. What are you talking about?

Posted by Gary Farber at March 30, 2002 05:39 PM

Owing to Israel's stupid political system the religious parties milk the state treasury for money for their schools and institutions. They--as well as the Moslem, Christian, and Druze authorities--have mostly great influence over areas like domestic relations.

Property law, by the way, is a mixture of Turkish, Jewish, mandatory, and Israeli law. You really have to be a poet to understand it.

Calling it a theocracy is rather stretching it.

Posted by Alex Bensky at March 30, 2002 07:20 PM

OK, it's a confused and incoherent theocracy. The point remains that opposition to Arab terror and insanity trumps any criticism of Israel, regardless of how rotten and idiotic its government. That is not the same as "unqualified support for Israel.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 30, 2002 09:55 PM

its hard to critizise israel without being sued for anti-semtism, but as a jew, i feel that im entitled to coment on a nation that was crweated for jews.
i think that sharon is a terrorist cuz he uses violence for political reasoning. secoind, i think hes soooo nuch into destroying ppalastine, that hes turned into our own oppresors , a nazi.
its hard not siding up with palastine after these events. and why dont u christians ever stand up for ur churches? that are bieng demolished!

Posted by josh at April 3, 2002 10:59 PM

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