Monday, 7 June 2010

“Please Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts”: Thoughts on the Flotilla Absurdity

The following is an article that I wrote on the flotilla incident of last week to be published this week in The Jewish Tribune (Toronto).

The events of the past week seem like scenes from the Theatre of the Absurd. First there was the rhetoric that Israel attacked a boat filled with ‘unarmed civilians’. But, how were Israeli soldiers then injured? So the move was on to rhetoric #2 that while there were individuals on the boat armed with pipes and even knives, the force of the Israeli response was clearly disproportionate. But how then were Israeli soldiers injured through gunfire? In any event, how were the Israeli soldiers supposed to determine what is ‘appropriate’ given that they did not know what they were facing? Weren’t these boats, knowing that they would face the blockade, still presented as peaceful? Once the soldiers recognized that they were facing a lie, what were they supposed to do? In our world, of course, defending yourself is now a problem. If you really want to avoid the label of applying ‘disproportionate force’, make sure that you have more casualties than your enemy.

Then there was rhetoric #3 which admitted that the Israeli soldiers were fired upon and even that there were indeed a small minority on one of the boats that were preparing for violence – but still the Israeli response was inappropriate for the vast majority on the boats were peaceable. Israel should have considered that and withheld their response. And with the same logic we should protest against the Canadian government for ‘wasting’ one billion dollars on security for the upcoming G20 summit for, after all, 99%, even 99.9%, of the people who will be in downtown Toronto during this time will be non-violent. In the same vein, we should stop ‘wasting’ money on airport security for the vast majority of passengers truly have no intention towards violence. Absurd is indeed the one word that comes to mind.

The question, though, still emerges; what are these vocal critics thinking? The ridiculousness of their charges, the clear evidence from videos of what happened—how can people still present such divisive and unsupportable arguments? Of course, this rhetoric from those who hate Israel is to be expected; we don’t expect the facts to get in the way of their agenda, of what they want to scream. But can we project this motivation, an inherent anti-Semitism, as the sole basis for this rhetoric? Many from the West, who, at times, have supported Israel, also continue to advocate for this absurdity, joining, it would seem, in this declaration– ‘please do not confuse us with the facts’. What this may reflect is a broader problem of which we must be aware.

At issue is the perception of oppression as the main motivation for violence with the subsequent view of a potential utopia if oppression is defeated. Buttressed by the words of Marx, many want to believe that violence, and subsequently modern terrorism, is basically a response to oppression. The argument thus is that with the end of tyranny, the violence will also end; even these vicious terrorists do not really want to act in this manner, they really want to be peaceable. So the solution for bringing about peace is always deemed to be through the instrumental end of oppression – after all why would people be violent if they are not oppressed? All we have to do is eliminate oppression; all people are basically good and we all desire peace. The problem is, though, that in order to apply this model you need an oppressor and an oppressed.

It is this mistaken utopian view that is challenging us. If oppression is solely that which leads to negative behaviour, then there is a potentially easy solution to the challenge of peace: remove oppression and everything will eventually be fine. This dominates how many look, and wish to look, at the situation in Israel. It is not surprising that South Africa becomes the model, no matter how different and much more complex the situation is on the banks of the Mediterranean. As long as Israel can be labeled the oppressor, this vision of humanity and a harmonious world can be upheld. Recognize that Israel is not an oppressor and you have to find another reason for the violence and you have to confront a much more difficult truth.

The reality of the devastating effects emerging from the theology of radical Islam thus, for example, cannot be accepted by proponents of this rhetoric. They will retort that people are only turning to radical Islam because they are oppressed. There may also be an additional intent not to assign any real power or value to religious influences or desire. In any event, the overriding need, in order to maintain this utopian hope, is to maintain the picture of oppressor and oppressed. It must be maintained above all else – and please don’t confuse advocates of this perspective with the facts.

The Arabs understand this and thus recognize the value and possibility of maintaining, no matter how flimsy the argument, this perception of oppressor and oppressed. And as much as Israel may take action to help the average Palestinian, the Arabs will act to block that aid – the goal is to maintain the image of oppression. And with such a perception, certain segments of the media will continue their slant; to portray another problem will challenge their whole vision of the world and life. Terrorists, it must be maintained, really do not want to hurt others; all people—except of course, they’ll admit, for some psychopathic individuals – really just want to live in generic peace. Individuals with this surmise do not want to confront the reality of a growing radical Islam which adheres to a dissenting view of life, humanity and vision of utopia. Our response must be, though, to challenge individuals to start seeing what is really happening and to start recognizing, no matter how destructive it may be to one’s specific dream of a utopia for humanity, what the truth is. We must make it clear to them that abiding by, allowing, this Theater of the Absurd will just engender a new violence against any restorative ambitions and hope. If you see what you want to see and not what is there – you are a terrorist. Your victim is truth and your victims are the innocent


Sontaran said...

I'm amazed Netanyahu couldn't see this massively-obvious political trap. In the past, Israel has been more astute about this kind of thing. Netanyahu is no Meir or Begin.
There are a number of possible clever things they could have done.
At minimum, they could have blockaded the ships from entering Israeli waters and stalled them until they could arrange a multinational team to inspect the ships, and put the ball back in their court, with the message:
If you really want to give aid, what's the harm in an inspection by a neutral party if you have nothing to hide?

The IDF website on this:
Now the IDF has to cover their behinds -- what they are calling "weapons" they found on the ships were hand weapons: slingshots, hatchets, kitchen knives, sticks and various improvised hand weapons, plus a couple of pistols -- things you'd expect to find on ANY ship that typically travels through international waters where they can get hit by pirates. In fact, I'd say they were UNDERarmed given the value of their cargo.
IF Netanhayu HAD to board the ships, he should have waited until they were in Israeli waters, where he had jurisdiction, not international waters
where Israel has none. The attacks by the passengers were nothing short of what you'd expect if they were being boarded by pirates, which, because of Netanyahu's miscalculation, they were.

Israel offloaded the cargo in Ashdod, has gone through it. There were no rockets, mortars, automatic weapons, grenades, sniper rifles, C4, Semtex, or any other military or terrorist weapons.

IDF says: "An average of 10,000 tons of aid are imported into the Gaza Strip weekly in coordination with international organizations through the land crossings from Israel."
But now nobody's going to remember that; they'll only remember this high-profile stunt !

Netanyahu ought to consult more with Israeli military think tanks who understand these strategic issues better, or he's going to lose even more international allies. Like any small country, Israel needs alliances to survive.
Right wingers live in a fantasy world where they think that all they need is chutzpah, but in the real world, only give-and-take will lead to international friendships. The era when Israeli chutzpah inspired
people ended in the 1980s. Now, it's just seen as giving the global community the finger.
If Israel wants to survive, they have to get out of this "us versus the goyim" attitude. Otherwise they will even end up on the bad side of nations who have never even heard of Jews until this past century, with whom there has been no history of repression.

With a view to the strategic picture rather than merely the tactical one, Netanyahu could have easily prevented the incredible mess Israel is now in, as a result of this trap that should have been obvious even to a small child.
This is easily the biggest strategic miscalculation of his political career.

Instead of blaming the passengers for attacking the IDF boarding party, Netanyahu would do better, for himself and for Israel, to take it like a man and admit his mistake.

Shimon M. said...

I agree with the comment by Sontaran.

Indeed, I regularly find myself in situations where I feel compelled to defend Israel against criticism, and am generally happy to do so. But when an Israeli leader botches something up this badly, it makes my task -- and the task of all us defenders of Israel in the diaspora -- that much more challenging.

I really don't want to be left in the position of defending stupidity. Please, Bibi, make my job a little easier!

Anonymous said...

Good article, but I think it's to the wrong audience. It should be in the three main Toronto dailies, the Montreal Gazette, and papers in Calgary, Edmonton Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Deena said...

But wait... Unless this rule you wrote about doesn't include Jews, then the rule itself creates a vicious cycle. Because the world keeps saying that Israel is too violent. According to the rule, that means we have oppressors. Who are our oppressors?

In other words, the supposed oppressors in any given situation are usually violent which means that they obviously have oppressors too because otherwise, according to the rule, they wouldn't be violent.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Good question.

My perception is actually based upon what I believe is an attempt to see the world within a Marxian perspective. Within that perspective, there are two basic motivations for violence, dependent upon whether it is practices by the oppressor or the oppressed. The oppressors use violence to maintain his domination over the oppressed. The oppressed use violence in their attempt to throw off the domination of the oppressor. As such, those who want to read a Marxist perspective into Israel, want to define the Jews as the oppressor with the intent of their violence to maintain the oppression while the Arab violence is that of the oppressed with a motivation to throw off the oppression. Within this pespective, the Arabs will keep looking good even as they perform violent and terrorist acts because they are the oppressed. In the same vein, the Jews will always look bad for, even if their violence is justifiable as acts of self-defence etc., they are still the oppressor.

Of course, my whole point is that applying this Marxist perspective is in itself ridiculous.

Deena said...

But still one can ask, who decided that Israel is the oppressor and the Arabs are the oppressed? And, how did they come to that conclusion? Someone can very easily come to the opposite conclusion and still believe in this philosophy.

Still smells of anti-Semitism to me.

I feel like I had something else I wanted to say but now can't remember. Maybe it'll come to me. :)

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Let me first clarify that I did not say that anti-Semitism has no role in all this. There are of course anti-Semites who further this rhetoric.

What I was saying though is that not everyone who is spewing this rhetoric need be an anti-Semite. This, though, does not necessarily make them any less culpable for what they say or do. What I am trying to identify is actually a different motivation, albeit also inherently problematic and shamefule, but nonetheless one we should be aware of in phrasing our position. It is in this regard that I point out the intent of framing the the conflict in Israel in terms of oppressor and oppressed. The challenge is, and this is in response to your point, the optics favour an attempt to define the Arabs as the oppressed. They live in worse conditions that the Jews in Israel. Doesn't that point to them being oppressed? The fact that their culture supports maintaining this type of standard of living and that, even perhaps more importantly, their leaders want to maintain this optic and thus keep them at this standard of living, is just ignored in the desire to describe the conflict in these terms.

Rabbi Ben Hecht