West Bank Dreamin'
Last night I had the strangest dream...
All of America's wealthy, conservative and safely belligerent pundits had been delivered by a just and beneficent Almighty Power to a Palestinian refugee camp, following the bulldozing of their homes--including vacation homes--and the expropriation of all their possessions. Instead of pontificating between beach walks and vodka tonics in Vineyard Haven, these armchair bombardiers were treated to rivers of open sewage and hopeless lives of beggary. Those who resisted were arrested, tortured and selectively assassinated. Meanwhile, editorial pages across America cheered the "restraint" of their tormentors.
In extremely lengthy articles, the New York Times and The New York Review of Books recently demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Israelis (and the Americans) shared in the blame for the breakdown of peace negotiations and ensuing cycle of violence that now tragically appears to be engulfing the region. To the punditocracy, however, these dispassionately argued, extensively reported stories amounted to an existential insult of near biblical proportions. Marty Peretz's New Republic published a vicious attack on the articles by Robert Satloff, executive director of a pro-Israel think tank. William Safire got so excited, he denounced his own newspaper in a hysterical fit of ad hominemism: "Do not swallow this speculative rewriting of recent events," he warned readers. "The overriding reason for the war against Israel today is that Yasir Arafat decided that war was the way to carry out the often-avowed Palestinian plan. Its first stage is to create a West Bank state from the Jordan River to the sea with Jerusalem as its capital. Then, by flooding Israel with 'returning' Palestinians, the plan in its promised final phase would drive the hated Jews from the Middle East."
Mortimer Zuckerman, in his capacity as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, insisted, "This is just revisionist history.... There is one truth, period: The Palestinians caused the breakdown at Camp David and then rejected Clinton's plan in January." The baldest comment came from the Zionist Organization of America's president, Morton Klein: "Whether their account is accurate or not is irrelevant.... I reject any discussion of what happened."
In the wake of the suicide bombings, three different Washington Post pundits demanded war three days in a row. Michael Kelly, recently seen complaining about too many fatsoes at the beach, advised the Israelis to unleash "an overwhelming force...to destroy, kill, capture and expel the armed Palestinian forces." The more moderate George Will called only for a "short war." (Charles Krauthammer did not specify a length.) To read these would-be warriors, you would think the Palestinians were summering in Edgartown. A reader would never guess that a regional superpower is carrying out a brutal military occupation, coupled with a settlement policy that directly contravenes Article 49 of the Geneva Convention.
No one with any sense would argue that Arafat and his corrupt cronies do not bear considerable responsibility for the collapse of any hope of peace in the Middle East in the near future. And suicide bombers against civilian targets in Israel are as counterproductive as they are immoral (though those who settle in occupied territory are knowingly putting themselves in harm's way and hence share some responsibility when their families are forced to pay for this fanaticism with their lives). Nevertheless, a conflict where "our team" engages in terrorism, assassination and the apparently routine torture of teenagers to defend a cruel and illegal occupation is one in which neither side holds a monopoly on virtue.
Since a majority of Israelis supports a freeze in the provocative practice of settlement-building, the mindless hysteria of the American punditocracy must have other sources than mere logic. It's dangerous to draw firm conclusions without any special knowledge about the psyches of those involved, but much of the materially comfortable American Jewish community has had an unhappy history of defending the principle of Jewish sovereignty over captured Palestinian lands right down to the death of the last Israeli. Because of the sacrifices they demand of others, many American Jews feel they must be holier than the Pope when defending Israeli human rights abuses. The New Republic's Peretz is a particularly interesting specimen. He reflexively defends everything Israel does and routinely slanders its critics. Peretz, who owes his prominence to money, in this case his (non-Jewish) wife's fortune--which allowed him to purchase his magazine--has never published a single book or written a significant piece of scholarship, reportage or criticism. It's not hard to imagine that his self-appointed role as Israel's American Torquemada--seen in his obsession with smearing the world-renowned Palestinian scholar and activist Edward Said--is inspired as much by guilt and envy as by more rational motivations. (I say this as a supporter of the peace process who has respectfully disagreed with almost all Said has said about the conflict in recent years.)
Whatever the reason, the net result is the same. For a brief moment in recent history, when Israel had a government that was dedicated to finding a way to make peace, the warrior pundits were placed on the defensive and the Palestinians received a reasonably fair shake from the nation's elite media. More recently, a review of leading editorial pages by the ADL found that "the major newspapers across the country are viewing the situation in the Middle East in a realistic and objective manner." The authors of the study helpfully defined their terms. To the ADL "realistic and objective" means "critical of and hostile to Arafat...directly blaming him for the continuing violence and creating a climate of hatred" along with the dismissal of all Palestinian peace overtures as "calculated tools for his goal of gaining further concessions from Israel."
In a rational world, the ADL report would at least complicate efforts by Safire, TNR and others to charge the media with "pro-Arab" and "anti-Israel" bias. Alas, I'm betting bubkes...