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January 29, 2009

The Process: Understanding Human Cruelty

Ow, my head:

Israeli soccer matches were suspended during the assault on Gaza. When the games resumed last week, the fans had come up with a new chant: "Why have the schools in Gaza been shut down?" sang the crowd. "Because all the children were gunned down!" came the answer.

It's hard to belong to a species that often acts with such berserk cruelty. We don't just cause each other horrible pain; we do it gratuitously, far beyond what's necessary to reach any of our conscious goals, and in fact to the point it's completely counterproductive for anything we believe we're trying to do.


I think the psychological mechanism is straightforward, and is described accurately in this exchange from David Mamet's movie The Spanish Prisoner. Jimmy Dell is played by Steve Martin in an unusual serious role, and Joe Ross is played by Campbell Scott. Ross has invented something extremely valuable for the company he works for, referred to only as "The Process." But they seem unwilling to cut him in on the profits. Dell gives him this advice:

JIMMY DELL: I think you'll find that if what you've done for them is as valuable as you say it is—if they are indebted to you morally but not legally—my experience is they will give you nothing, and they will begin to act cruelly toward you.


JIMMY DELL: To suppress their guilt.

This progression happens over and over in the long annals of human beings treating others like crap. Those doing the oppressing almost always could continue the oppression with far less violence (physical, psychological, or both) than they actually use. But they're unable to help themselves—they seemingly must inflict bizarre, irrational amounts of suffering on those over whom they hold power.

It appears that, for humans, once you've started down the road of hurting someone, you must continue. Indeed, you must hurt them even more to prove to yourself these people deserve to be hurt. That's because our psyche's Prime Directive is to preserve our self-image at all cost.

Due to the Prime Directive, when we hurt others our psyche tell us that our victims are dirty thieves. After all, they are trying to steal our most valuable possession: our self-image. And what do you do to dirty thieves? YOU PUNISH THEM. And when they try to make you feel bad about this new punishment, this just goes to show what giant dirty thieves they are, so you must PUNISH THEM MORE. (This insight courtesy of Mike Gerber.)

Regarding the recent attack on Gaza specifically, Palestinians have done something very valuable for Israelis: given them most of their country. Israelis are indebted (morally but not legally) to Palestinians. This infuriates Israelis, and they unconsciously feel compelled to act even more cruelly toward Palestinians than they have already. Soon they're dropping cluster bombs on UN schools in refugee camps, and singing jolly songs about it in public.

Obviously there a million other examples of this. Indeed, in my experience the process doesn't just work like this between groups; as Jimmy Dell says, it also works exactly the same way on a one on one level. Many times when I've treated people badly, I've found myself filled with a sudden, inexplicable surge of anger toward them. And when people have treated me badly, they've often followed it up by lashing out at me in peculiar ways.

Understanding how this drives human cruelty doesn't directly change anything in the world outside you. But it does change the inside of you, and makes living in the world less painful. It also suggests strategies for lessening human cruelty that may be more effective than what we usually try.

BUT THERE'S MORE: Of course, that's not all that's going on in that exchange from The Spanish Prisoner.

(This includes spoilers that will ruin it if you haven't seen it already.)

Jimmy Dell is actually working for Joe Ross's boss, and is manipulating Ross in an extremely sophisticated way: by telling him something accurate about the world that will make him believe something further that's inaccurate. In political terms, Dell is acting as an agent provocateur: encouraging Ross to preemptively attack Ross's boss (by absconding with The Process), so Ross's boss will be justified in responding with overwhelming force (ie, having Ross arrested).

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 29, 2009 07:57 PM

I think a big part of it is that is being angry that the other put you in a position that you had to be cruel in the first place.

Of course, in reality that could be true or total fantasy or anywhere in between.

Posted by: tim at January 29, 2009 08:37 PM

Sure it isn't that the Jews just don't want to give any land back? That that fact pisses the Palestinian off? That BOTH harbor cruel intent toward each other?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 29, 2009 08:46 PM

Just a pity there's not simply a drug that can make cognitive dissonance go away. Then people wouldn't have to expend so much energy in self-justification, blame-the-victim, post-decision reinforcement, confirmation bias and all the rest of the delusionary bullshit that helps them maintain their positive sense of self.

Posted by: RobWeaver at January 29, 2009 08:52 PM

Sure it isn't that the Jews just don't want to give any land back?

Yes. If that were all there is to it, they could accomplish it in a much less berserk way. But no one ever oppresses another group of people rationally. It drives you crazy.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 29, 2009 08:58 PM

Or is it that in western cultures people are trained to be cruel? I’m not sure that humans are actually born with an innate sense of cruelty rather it is drummed into us from the time we are young. In fact we are trained to be a combination of cowards and bullies to the point that even if we are aware of it and want to change it we find it difficult to shrug off. I think there are many possibilities for the human condition and cultures that nurture ideas like winners and losers, different levels of classes, “there’s a sucker born every minute and to the take them” is only one type of reality but since we are indoctrinated in that manner we tend to assume it is the only possibility. I think that to believe that there is only one possible human condition is a very cynical and narrow view of humanity even if it is true for certain cultures that people are cruel. If people can be trained to be cruel from birth isn’t it possible that the opposite could also be a reality?

Posted by: Rob Payne at January 29, 2009 09:10 PM

Rob, why limit it to "Western culture"? Gandhi is reported to have said, when asked what he thought about Western civilization, that it would be a good idea. I agree, but I feel the same way about Eastern civilization.

Posted by: Duncan at January 29, 2009 09:54 PM


You are right that I should not just limit it to western culture though of course it is the one I am most familiar with. I didn’t intend my comment to be a kind west versus east since there have been many other cultures besides those two and it would also be a gross generalization to think that eastern peoples contains only one type of culture. But that is what I am trying to convey which is there are many possibilities even for western cultures. A long time ago I took an anthropology class on North American Indians and it was interesting that there was so much variance between the tribes. There were war-like nomadic tribes, peaceful non-aggressive tribes, and even one that developed a monetary system which interestingly was the only tribe that also developed different classes like we have in our own tribe today.

Posted by: Rob Payne at January 29, 2009 10:19 PM

I’m not sure that humans are actually born with an innate sense of cruelty rather it is drummed into us from the time we are young.

I don't think humans are born with an innate sense of cruelty either. I think it's actually against our nature. That's why it's hard to stop being cruel once we have started -- It messes us up mentally.

Posted by: cemmcs at January 29, 2009 10:35 PM

they unconsciously feel compelled to act even more cruelly toward Palestinians than they have already.

I'm not sure how much of it is unconscious at this point.

And this post is a great example of why I keep coming back here. Lots of bloggers could link to that story about Israeli soccer fans, add a WTF? or a "These people are animals," and leave it at that. You make the effort to wonder if this is representative of something that affects all people, including yourself, and throw in a movie clip besides.

Nice work.

Posted by: SteveB at January 29, 2009 10:51 PM

Methinks cemmcs is partially correct, and that we're born with an inevitable capacity towards cruelty, as well as a yearning for the opposite. Undoubtedly that tension mucks things up. Got to get ourselves back to the garden, as Joni Mitchell said.

Posted by: The "hey didn't Thucydides say that humans are blah blah blah..." Versen at January 30, 2009 12:15 AM

It really doesn't make a lot of sense historically to talk about "The Palestinians gave Israel most of their country". There were Turks and then Brits involved. And if you want to say that neither of those groups should have a right to say who could own that land, you should probably also say the same thing about the Arabs. It all depends on how far back in time you want to travel to decide the conqueror to reward.

Posted by: Fritz at January 30, 2009 12:23 AM

There were Turks and then Brits involved. And if you want to say that neither of those groups should have a right to say who could own that land, you should probably also say the same thing about the Arabs.

You know, my intuition is that when it comes to the allocation of Palestine, there might be a difference between the legitimacy of the views of the Turks, the Brits, and the Palestinians. I can't quite put my finger on what the origin of that difference might be, however. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 30, 2009 12:41 AM

I don't know, but I suspect that Western civilization is probably most sociopathic, otherwise it wouldn't have been so successful. Not that the others are much different, but they just don't have the edge. I remember I was thinking this when reading Guns, Germs, and Steel. Maybe because it's younger, I don't know.

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 03:27 AM

irony of the day: in the meantime, david mamet has become a hardcore zionist. he has literally entered judged competitions in order to be crowned the greatest apologist for isreal's war crimes, and won.

maybe he should have read his own plays, instead?

Posted by: raincoat at January 30, 2009 04:12 AM

You are missing Mamet's point. Dell is a con-man. He is isn't telling Ross "something accurate about the world.". Dell is using a rhetorically seductive line of reasoning to convince Ross that, in selling what legally belongs to his boss, he is in fact acting in a principled manner.

The argument about people beating up on those they owe things to is designed to appeal to Ross's indignant self-righteous sense of entitlement. See how it works from a narrative viewpoint? The root truth-value of the assertion is secondary to its function-to seduce Ross into chasing his fantasy of getting what he deserves.

This is a key moment in many of Mamet's plays-the mark is made to believe he acting not in self-interest but from a moral stance.
Your literal reading of Ross's con illustrates your own self-delusion and wishful thinking. You want the text to read as something it's not. The moral content is the bait and you went for it. Sucka!

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 06:23 AM

I believe what Rob wrote about people being "trained to be cruel" is generally accurate. One of the major ways they receive this "training" is in the worship of hired killers, taught from earliest babyhood. I mean, of course, the great admiration accorded the military.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at January 30, 2009 06:52 AM

I am sure others are aware of this site and have heard of the Stanford Prison Project...if not check out the site...Its a good explanation of how otherwise good decent people can do bad.-Tony

Posted by: tony at January 30, 2009 08:24 AM

Just move along, no rhetorical analysis here.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 09:06 AM

'He forgets nothing but he forgives everything' – in that case, he will be doubly hated, for he makes doubly ashamed – with his memory and his magnanimity.

- Nietzsche

Posted by: Upside Down Flag at January 30, 2009 09:56 AM

I'm sorry, what was the point of those Qassam rockets? Hamas was walking around with a big "kick me" sign taped on its back. And they put the sign on their own back.

Human cruelty? I'm sorry, weren't Hamas torturing and assassinating their political opponents? Rational thinking? Who in this mess hasn't invoked God/Allah/Yaweh at some point? Which side doesn't want the other side drowning in the Mediterranean? My guess is that cruel chants about Jews can be heard somewhere in Islam if one investigates. Did folks here know that the Heil Hitler chant was based on an Ivy League football cheer picked up by Ernst Hanfstaengl when he was in college? Hanfstaengl had a cutesy nickname, Hooty or Footsy, something like that.

I'm trying to figure out here where the moral high ground is. Israel's greatest sin seems to be doing what the other side does, only better. Kill civilians? Check. Terrorize? Check. Invoke religion as justification for bad acting? Check.

Take a tour of the region. Egypt. Human cruelty? Move along. Lebanon. Syria. Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran. I'm trying to find that shining city on the hill. Maybe in Pakistan. Over the hill in Afghanistan? Maybe in Libya. Maybe in Algeria. Maybe in Somalia. Are we there yet?

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at January 30, 2009 11:10 AM

Bob, let me gently suggest that you seem to be responding to something other than this blog post.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 30, 2009 11:30 AM

Jonathan -- is Arabian culture any more native to the Levant than Turkish? The Arabs were just as much conquerors of that region as the Turks and the Brits. And the Jews also, but you have to go back a bit farther. Unless you want to count the recent changes as a new conquest, which is fine. But if the Arabs want to argue that the land was unfairly conquered from them after they conquered it, perhaps they could lay that charge on the Turks. Or on the Brits, who did not give it to them after taking it.

Posted by: Fritz at January 30, 2009 11:32 AM

A person willing to get a little Marxy might find in Richard Sennett's "Authority" an interesting theory explaining this cruelty as part of being social animals accustomed to authority living in cultures without directly accountable authority structures. In short, if you can't hurt the invisible hand hurting you but you really feel like you want to hurt something, what are you going to do? One option is acting out on others, which conveniently distracts all involved from the motivating cause.

Posted by: lurking gnome at January 30, 2009 12:26 PM

There's also a great illustration of this kind of cruelty in von Trier's 'Manderlay'.

Posted by: scats at January 30, 2009 12:27 PM

Jonathan -- don't get me wrong. The land was taken from them. I guess the difference was that all the Turks wanted was rent money. When the Jews bought the land they actually wanted to move in.

Posted by: Fritz at January 30, 2009 12:30 PM

Growing up in the South, I can tell you that cruelty is passed down from generation to generation. One woman who I went to school with now cannot believe that she used to argue with me - in the late 70s - that "blacks were better off as slaves because they can't take care of themselves." It came straight from her parents, no doubt justifying the Jim Crow South in which they grew up, following directly from the post-Reconstruction South that their parents and grandparents felt the need to justify.

If you don't indoctrinate your kids in your own worldview so they perpetuate the class system you yourself have perpetuated, who will be around to serve you in your old age?

I think turning kids' minds against the fundamental sense of fairness that each child knows in their gut to be right is the most universal cruelty.

Posted by: missy at January 30, 2009 12:35 PM

Territory has always been fought over and won through bitter struggle. Why is it that only the Jews are expected to respect the ancestral rights of the dispossesed and pack up?

Bob is totally correct about Arab imperialism. Talk to Berbers today about the Arab occupiers of Algeria and their imposition of Arab culture on the native population. Ok it happened twelve hundred years ago. So what?

What is the solution? Massive population transfers based on racial origin (cf Abba1 asking for Israelis to move back to Gdansk-nice one!) to rectify historical errors? Mass suicide of the occupying peoples?

Palestinians in the Arab world are denied the ability to assimilate locally on the grounds that this would dilute their identity and reduce their desire to return. This has the cynical effect of keeping them as secondclass residents for decades in countries where they could have thrived and prospered.

One senses that the problem with the Jews is that are not dark enough or poor enough to feel sorry for.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 12:37 PM

Why is it that only the Jews are expected to respect the ancestral rights of the dispossesed and pack up?

Why is it that everyone on earth has green hair?

What is the solution?

What is the solution to it being dark in my room after the sun goes down? Oh, if only there were something I could do about it!

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 30, 2009 12:58 PM

Bob in Pacifica: EXACTLY!

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 30, 2009 01:09 PM

John Caruso:

Right on. And I would answer your home invasion with force, applied by the state, which holds the monopoly on force in our society.
The day that the Security Council has the necessary resolve and votes to expel Israeli settlements by force, that will be the day that might makes right.

Convenient for Euro colonizers of America that the clock starts in 1945-everyone else is grandfathered in I guess.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 01:22 PM

NATIONS take land because they CAN. The rest of the ENTIRE world just stands and watch because there is little they are willing to do. (ask YOURSELF, are YOU willing to travel to some location and fight, as in man a firing position, for the "right" cause.) The Persians seem to be willing to support the people of GAZA in this particular instance, so the SOLUTION IS to bomb Iran into the stonage. (its what U are willing to pay for) The Israelis hate the Palestinians because they FEAR them, they are cruel to them because THEY CAN.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 30, 2009 01:33 PM

Territory has always been fought over and won through bitter struggle. Why is it that only the Jews are expected to respect the ancestral rights of the dispossessed and pack up?

Seth has quite a good point here, and I suspect I see it because I tend to agree to an extent.

Is it because the Israeli's continue to expand? Even though we supposedly live in the 'enlightened' present, they seem to want their own American Indians experience?
Is it because the Jews never really won a bitter struggle to get that land, they were 'given' it? Is it possible that subconsciously the world views Israel as the worst kind of winner, the one who 'cheated'? Let yourself think about where that leads the Israeli mind.

I'll tell you who I really feel bad for, and it's the Jews. They are presented here with a moral dilemma that tests their identity to the core. It would be very tough for an individual to deal with this crisis, for a culture how impossible?
It is going to take a spark of great wisdom for them to do the right thing.

Posted by: Tim at January 30, 2009 01:56 PM

But even if there are no cops around, the fact that there is 'law on the books' means - officially - that one side is the criminal and the other the victim.

You seem to be getting dangerously close to admitting it, Seth. Once you admit it, the next step is talk about enforcing the law, punishing the villains and compensating the victims. So, you better start backing off now.

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 01:58 PM

Quite simply, the Zionists are either unlucky or they have been lazy, waited too long. Ethnic cleansing and genocide have become illegal. I feel their pain, but it's too late, sorry. Ironically, it's an attempt to exterminate their own favorite ethnic group that caused these things to be outlawed. It must be frustrating.

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 02:06 PM

Actually I don't feel bad for them.. this is the kind of thing that makes you strong. But fuck, stop the stupid killing.

Posted by: Tim at January 30, 2009 02:09 PM

I have no doubt that when they get around to enforcing these laws the Israelis will the first and only culprits to be so charged. After that it can be business as usual again.

Those in power make the rules. It always works that way. That's why every sane country seeks nuclear weapons.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:15 PM

Sketchy and unexpected as may be I think Seth's core question "Why is it that only the Jews are expected to respect..." is legit and needs a definitive answer. Not as phrased, which is specious, but why the actions of Israel are subjected to such intimate scrutiny and such adamant partisanship.
Why is it any different for Israel to run an apartheid dominance game on the Palestinians than it was for the US to do it to Native Americans? I think answering that question definitively would move things along.
Otherwise it's a sort of "Okay then! Now we'll all be moral actors on this little world stage. Hymie, you're first."
Musical chairs with arbitrary ethical outcomes once the music stops.
If Israel isn't special, why are we all talking about it? Well pre-Gaza anyway why.
Why should any particular group or state be required to act selflessly, when all around it are the machinations and devices of other selfish groups and states?
One way to answer that might be that contrary to popular mythology we're climbing as a species out of a swamp of ignorance and brutal amorality. Trying to get somewhere we haven't been yet.
That these moral structures are an attempt to gift the humans of the future, our children as it were, with something that can free them up for even higher advancement.

Posted by: roy belmont at January 30, 2009 02:17 PM

Or as Stalin said, "How many regiments does the Pope have?"

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:22 PM

Tim-if you think the Israelis were "given" the land and didn't fight for it or develop it, build it etc., then your history is quite deficient. The UN Mandate gave legal cover to an arduous decades-long process of struggle.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:30 PM

Actually, a precedent was created when the UNSC used military force to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

And that's the business as usual. Arabs/Muslims are the new Jews. Jews are Judeochristians along with the Europeans and Americans.

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 02:33 PM

Roy-ah yes, all Humanity is morally evolving and climbing out of the muck save those nasty territorial particularist "Hymies.". Perhaps some eugenics are in order to save Mankind?

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:35 PM

Or, rather, "along with all other Europeans and Americans"

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 02:36 PM

Yes certainly, Arabs/Muslims are the new Jews...except unlike the actual Jews they possess some 54 nations, not just one new one.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:38 PM

But wait! I have discounted the Andalusian tragedy! The loss of Spain from dar al-Salam has rankled pure hearts from OBL to abba1!

All "new Jews" suffer while Spain remains within the Euro-Zionist claw.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 02:47 PM

Yes, but these days you don't need to run those gas chambers for years to kill a lot of people. There is no safety in numbers anymore.

Also, they are surprisingly meek, peaceful, and good-natured, a vast, overwhelming majority of them. You really have to keep kicking them in the nuts for decades to make them do something; and when they do, it'll be some pathetic suicide bombing.

Posted by: abb1 at January 30, 2009 02:50 PM

I can only assume this has carried on because it provides a handy example of the very lens described in the original post?

Posted by: BenP at January 30, 2009 03:01 PM

It will be a great leap forward if every defender of Israel realizes that Israel's theft of Palestinian land is morally the same as white America's theft of land from the Native Americans. No more pretense, just an open admission that "yeah, we stole it, so what, everybody does it." Then some whining about how only Israel is criticized, which is false. Iraq didn't keep Kuwait, Indonesia didn't keep East Timor, and France (and colonists who'd been there 100 years) didn't keep Algeria, and as for Native Americans, they're not forced to live on reservations anymore. They have a right of return. And btw, maybe some of you youngsters (if some of you are young) don't remember this, but South Africans of the white persuasion used to complain about how their country was singled out, when so many other African countries were run by brutal thugs.

I don't think Israelis should leave--it's their home now for a few generations. And I think a one-state solution right now which just lead to a Lebanese-style civil war. But it's a little boring to read about how Israel is singled out, when so far all this singling out hasn't actually meant that they were forced to stop stealing land and murdering Palestinians.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 30, 2009 03:36 PM

David -- but China is still in Tibet.

And, well, yeah, the white South Africans were singled out. They are gone and most of the African continent is still run by thugs of an appropriate melonin level. So I'm really not sure where you were going with that data point.

Posted by: Fritz at January 30, 2009 04:56 PM

No Seth, all of it, all of us, including "those nasty territorial particularist etc". Everybody. Climbing out of the muck of history and superstition and ancestral moral fall.
You, and no lack of others, try to make your own position more morally definite by making mine less morally defensible, but you have to fake it to do that, and it isn't me you're responding to, or my thoughts and feelings about this.
Donald Johnson sort of answers the why Israel question, by saying it's not true. Sort of. Some cavil could be raised as to what exactly Native Americans would be returning to should they exercise their rights in that regard.
I think a fuller answer as to why Israel seems singularly accused for things it has in common with many other states would point out the criticism in the US itself gets vehement in correspondence to the soft and singularly partisan presentation of Israel in US media.
The Eelam rebels are invisible here, their cause unknown, their casualties unremarked on, even as they fight on to the end. Heroically as far as I'm concerned. The death toll in Sri Lanka's awfully big, but you wouldn't know it from anything I'm seeing. The heinous motives at work there aren't even slightly bi-lateral, it's a clear-cut case of militarist oppression versus freedom and its defenders.
Yet most US news readers don't have much of a picture of what that is or is about. It doesn't seem important to them. Again the media.

Posted by: roy belmont at January 30, 2009 05:01 PM

I know this is like terrible of me to bring up, but didn't the Nazis also have to pull out of countries they'd invaded and occupied and colonized? And pay reparations to the people they'd injured?

A year or so ago I read a book about a notable American Catholic priest of German extraction who became some sort of liaison between the Vatican, the American army (who also, eventually, pulled out of the countries they'd occupied, more or less), and German Catholics. On at least one occasion he intervened (successfully, as I recall) on behalf of Germans who'd been living for a decade in housing expropriated from the Jews, and who couldn't see why they should have to move out just because Germany had lost the war. I mean, they'd been living there a long time, and it felt like home by that time, you know? And the Jews who'd been taken away didn't need the place anymore. A land without a people for a people without a land, y'know?

Oh, and another difference between the Zionists and the previous regimes who'd controlled Palestine before them: the Zionists not only wanted to "move in", as Fritz so delicately put it, they wanted to start a new state that would be for Jews alone, and drive out the Palestinians. The Palestinians hadn't always accepted domination from outside, either -- in 1834 they revolted against Egypt when the viceroy took over Palestine. They were unsuccessful, and about 10,000 were killed, but it wasn't only Jewish outsiders they didn't want to be ruled by.

Posted by: Duncan at January 30, 2009 06:12 PM

Fritz--I was going with the thought that just because the white South Africans complained about being singled out didn't mean we had to sympathize. And not all of Africa is run by thugs--also, most people (maybe not you) would agree that not having apartheid South Africa destabilizing its neighbors by supporting murderous groups like Renamo and Unita (which between them caused 1.5 million deaths) probably makes Africa a less bad place.
But anyway, Fritz, if that's the best you can do I wasn't writing for you, but for anyone who might have taken the "singled out" argument in good faith.

And I agree with Roy's point about the US and Native Americans--we've got nothing to brag about in this country. But if Israel defenders are going to use our crimes as their defense, then maybe they should follow the logic a little further.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 30, 2009 07:05 PM

It's also true that the reason criticism of Israel is so vehement in some parts of the American left is precisely the fact that its supporters in the US have been spreading so much misinformation (to use a polite term--"lying" might be more to the point) about it, and also accusing anyone who goes beyond a certain point of antisemitism. For a while you weren't supposed to sympathize with the Palestinians at all, except as victims of their own leaders (which is where most American politicians remain). Then you could , if you were a Serious NYT-style liberal, criticize Israeli settlements, but not morally equate their real estate practices with the horrors of Palestinian terrorism. Oh, my, that would never do. Then you could say that yeah, the occupation was bad, but not quite as bad as terrorism, and anyway, everything was just fine until 1967. We still aren't at the point in mainstream America where one can just say "Yeah, Israel is the latest case of settler colonialism, with the inevitable atrocities on both sides but they got into the game a little late, so they've had to lie about it."

Which doesn't commit one to any particular solution. But a little honesty would be nice.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 30, 2009 07:16 PM

And to be fair (as I recently told a Christian Zionist friend of mine), the root cause of the I/P conflict is Christian antisemitism. It was to atone for centuries of oppression against Jews that so many Christians have decided that Palestinians who had nothing to do with it should pay for the crimes of Christian bigots.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 30, 2009 07:21 PM

Seth: All those words and only 1 good point. Sheesh.
No reason to feed the trolls people.

Posted by: Tim at January 30, 2009 07:27 PM

I'd say my spot-on analysis of Mamet is worth at least two points.

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 07:40 PM

I'd say my spot-on analysis of Mamet is worth at least two points.

I didn't go to Yale for nothing!

Posted by: Seth at January 30, 2009 07:42 PM

Thanks John.

Save the oocytes--that link brought back memories. Those were exactly the arguments that people made then and not just white South Africans.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 30, 2009 08:13 PM

Rob -- to paraphrase Perry Anderson's words. Without the British providing police protection, Arabs would have slaughtered the Jews who bought land in Palestine and settled there.

I agree.

Posted by: Fritz at January 30, 2009 11:33 PM

Fritz, you're an idiot.

Posted by: RobWeaver at January 31, 2009 03:01 AM

Fritz, why would they suddenly start slaughtering Jews - after about 2 thousand years of not doing anything like that?

Posted by: abb1 at January 31, 2009 05:59 AM

Abba1-see Hebron massacre (c. 1928?)

Duncan-My point exactly. The Nazis were not "made to pull out" of occupied countries through moral suasion or the "rule of law." There was a little conflict known as World War II fought to destroy the Nazi state and force it out of occupied territory. The war killed tens of millions of people. Look it up.

Maybe some fine day the world will awake to Zionist expansion and its threat to the entire planet and launch a total war against the state of Israel. Then your argument will achieve the parallelism you seek.

Meanwhile Koenigsburg (Kallinin) is a Russian exclave and hopes for a Prussian homeland have been extinguished. Sudetenland is firmly Czech (three million native ethnic Germans were expelled). Hawaii is a state. Tibet is overrun by Chinese settlers, as is East Turkistan, both conquered in 1950. Greenland is run by Denmark. The Lapps lack real sovereignty, and South Ossetia chafes under the rule of Tbilisi owing to the whims of Stalin.

Should Israel remove itself to the Green Line? YES!! Is it the worst place in the world? No.

Posted by: Seth at January 31, 2009 08:28 AM

I'm so glad Seth has been able to establish that Israel is not "the worst place in the world." I'll promptly remove that point from all of my anti-Israel propaganda.

Posted by: SteveB at January 31, 2009 09:43 AM

Right, the Hebron massacre. But what about the 2 thousand years (or so) before the Zionist project started? You know, back in the day when people living in Palestine were all Palestinians, and only then Arabs, Jews, Greeks, and Armenians.

Posted by: abb1 at January 31, 2009 09:44 AM

Why would an Israeli chant rhyme in English?

Um... because both lines end in the same word?

Posted by: SteveB at January 31, 2009 11:21 AM

la la la, la la la, more of this is coming without tight resource management plans for sharing and conservation and repair, you can justify anything by holding it up against a fight over holy land, but you only get what you make, whether or not you prayed full price for the materials

Posted by: hapa at January 31, 2009 03:09 PM

Donald Johnson, I think most of the territory on this subject has been covered, but a tip of the hat for your observation about current events having been arrived at from historical Christian anti-semitism. What's going on in Gaza today is essentially a continuation of WWII.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at January 31, 2009 06:41 PM

What happened in 1948 was continuation of the WWII: a persecuted European sect got radicalized, went to the ME, did some terrorism and ethnic cleansing there, and built a colony. Just like another European sect a few hundred yeas before in North America.

But what happened since 1948 is not a continuation of the WWII, because instead of calming down this group keeps getting more and more radicalized, has been for 60 years now.

WWII doesn't explain it. This is deliberate, persistent, laborious indoctrination and inciting, this is a phenomenon of its own.

Posted by: abb1 at February 1, 2009 05:44 AM

For what it's worth, I applaud the spirit of your post here Mr. Schwarz, in it's alarm and integrity, however, I have a hard time believing this story in so far as the Israeli soccer matches chant.

Unless this can be confirmed in Hebrew, I suspect it is an disinformation ploy, a psyop plant meant to under cut moral outrage over Gaza, in others words a set up. Which will benefit the Israeli agenda once it's dis-proven, a game theory ploy to minimize, govern and short circuit the growing backlash.

However, if indeed true, then we are negotiating with insanity...

Posted by: Uncle $cam at February 3, 2009 08:41 AM

Uncle $cam: Its insanity, and its not negotiating with it, WE'RE JUST PAYING FOR IT, straight up. Simply a contractural agreemnt between US and many parties at hand, U-pay-cash-U-get-a-show, like buying a ticket at the corner theater.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 3, 2009 12:38 PM