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June 08, 2010

Short Jokes

From over here:

•. One great thing about a Sarah Palin presidency is all the stories about predator strikes will be headlined "Palin Drone"

• The difference between Washington, DC and the Dead Parrot sketch is that in Washington there is no customer

• BREAKING: White House condemns Helen Thomas as "reprehensible" for calling for ethnic cleansing without being Foreign Minister of Israel

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 8, 2010 08:27 PM

In 2006, Helen Thomas spoke at the retirement community my late father Colonel Charley lived in. The World War II veterans who knew her and arranged for her to come are all dead now. She personally autographed (and dedicated to missus charley, m.d. and self) her book Watchdogs of Democracy? The waning Washington press corps and how it has failed the public

The Obama White House was NOT able to condemn the Israeli killings of the Gaza relief flotilla people, but DID promptly abhor Helen Thomas's remarks.

May the Creative Forces of the Universe stand beside us, and guide us, through the Night with the Light from Above (metaphorically speaking.)

P.S. Zionism is racism.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 8, 2010 09:25 PM

mistah charley

Thoughtful, as usual, and I love Helen Thomas, but I wonder about that postscript.

Here's my problem with those three little words you add. Saying Zionism is racism leads pretty smoothly to the statement that Israel shouldn't exist, at least if you mean by Zionism a Jewish state. And I sense that for many Jews, a Jewish state--a state that won't stop being Jewish when the population is 51% Islamic--is both subjectively very important AND what they think they need to be safe. This is the great demographic issue causing so much trouble, and those three little words really come across a lot like an existential threat to Israeli Jews. I even understand why. Jews have been substantially wiped out twice in recorded history--the Roman holocaust and the Nazi holocaust, and it's a big part of their history as a people.

So my feeling is that the slogan "zionism is racism" is going to be inflammatory and raise already hot tempers rather than cool them. This is a big deal because angry and crazy and scared are a bad mix even without nukes, and with them they are a catastrophe waiting to happen. Nobody wins when a whole bunch of people are killed, and Israel is a military power in the region. So I'd say it's a lot better to follow President Carter's lead and mention that the policies being employed by Israel are apartheid policies rather than saying something that sounds almost like Israelis are racists by definition.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 12:17 AM

"P.S. Zionism is racism."

It doesn't matter what people think about it, all that matters is: Is it true?

N E, is it true?

Posted by: Salty at June 9, 2010 12:57 AM

N E: " Saying Zionism is racism leads pretty smoothly to the statement that Israel shouldn't exist, at least if you mean by Zionism a Jewish state." Well, I would state pretty smoothly that Israel shouldn't exist, just as the USA shouldn't exist. But the white people in North America, like the Jews in Israel, have conqueror's rights by now, and it would probably do more damage to end either state now than it would to let them continue but with some reforms.

I'm not sure your conclusion necessarily follows. Would it also follow from "The United States is an aggressor state and the greatest source of violence in the world today" that the US should be laid waste? Not that I can see. What follows is that the US should change its behavior. The corollary for Israel can be left for the reader.

It seems, though, that you are buying into a racist interpretation of Zionism, the idea that there must be a Jewish state in which non-Jews are second-class citizens, however tolerantly they may be treated. The hasbara line "Why should the Jews be the only people in the world without a state?" crumbles under the most cursory examination. Leave aside the fact that many peoples in the world don't have states -- the Kurds, for example, and indeed the Palestinians. If Judaism is a religion, there is no good reason why its adherents should have a state. Should Methodists or Pentecostals or Baha'i or Wiccans have a state? Should they be allowed to take over an already occupied plot of land so that they can have a state, massacre the locals who resist, drive them into refugee camps, blockade those camps, and murder people who try to run the blockades? Because that is what "a Jewish state" means. And it has always meant just that. And if Wiccans were to declare themselves a 'people', a word that is very unclear in its meaning, then drive the Lutherans out of Minnesota (not such a bad idea, frankly, as long as it included Garrison Keillor), acquire a nuclear arsenal to deter any attempts to stop them, then Wiccans would go from being merely religious bigots to being racists. When Jews became a "race," then having their own state became a racist project -- especially given their notion of what that entailed.

Your acceptance of "apartheid" while rejecting "racism" is kinda weird. Most Zionists go berserk over that equivalence, using "arguments" much like yours to justify their hysteria. (Even though I believe numerous members of the Israeli government and military elites have used "apartheid" themselves; I guess it's different when they do it.) Besides, back when racism was the law of the land in the US, not all whites were racist, yet the US was a racist state and "Americanism" is still in large part a racist ideology.

"Jews have been substantially wiped out twice in recorded history--the Roman holocaust and the Nazi holocaust, and it's a big part of their history as a people." You left out the Babylonian "holocaust," which would make three times in recorded history if either the Babylonian exile or the Roman retaliation for the Bar Kokhba revolt counted as holocausts. If Zionists and their apologists are now taking that line, things are getting worse. Yes, Israel was eliminated as a nation after 135 CE or so, with the Temple razed and paved over, and thousands of Jews killed or sent into slavery. Zionists can't really complain about that, though, because a fundamental argument of theirs against Palestine is "Winners keepers, losers weepers": they won their land fair and square by military conquest, so they get to keep it. That could come to bite them on the ass again, and their illegal nuclear arsenal won't justify them, even if it allows them to keep their ill-gotten gains.

All my sympathy for the Jewish people's past suffering tends to weaken when I consider how they behave when they've got the guns. Not the numbers -- there's that 51% 'demographic problem' you mention so delicately, which they propose to solve through pushing the Arabs into the sea. That's not acceptable nor justifiable. (The Germans, if I recall correctly, had similar 'demographic' worries; no one seems to think that they deserve sympathy.)

There's much hasbarista babble about how Israel is surrounded by enemies, seeking 'her' destruction. That is probably true, but I would suppose that a rational and prudent person would not react to being in such a situation by (repeatedly!) invading those enemies and generally hammering on the hornets' nest. Rather it would make more sense to stop the provocations and aim for a real modus vivendi. Given that the surrounding countries do not really care about the Palestinians either, I suspect it could be done. It's Israel that keeps engaging in aggression and slaughter, breaking truces and ceasefires and flouting international law, as well as ordinary human decency. This is what we'd call self-destructive behavior in a person; I think that describes Israeli policy and behavior too. That doesn't win much sympathy from me either.

It's interesting how quickly and reliably nice liberals fall back on Israeli talking points. When the going gets tough, the tough go hasbarista.

Posted by: Duncan at June 9, 2010 12:57 AM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 9, 2010 12:58 AM

p.s. Given that 'demographic problem' along with increasing lack of sympathy for the Israeli rogue state, we should also remember that changing the concept of Israel from a "Jewish" state to a non-Jewish one, though it would end "Israel" as it's currently constituted legally and intellectually, would not necessarily mean that all Israeli Jews would therefore be killed or driven into exile, any more than the whites in that other apartheid state were. And like the whites in that other apartheid state, they would probably end up controlling a lot of the wealth and other goodies, so they could probably get along all right. (That's a major problem in South Africa, by the way, that interferes with the achievement of social justice there. See Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine for a convenient overview.)

Posted by: Duncan at June 9, 2010 01:02 AM

Duncan: NE is right, it does no good to press it. I'm a Zionist and a racist but not so much over Zionisn as I learned my racism in central Alabama. Hopefully WE all grow, I hope I have. But the Israelis in charge of Israel ARE bent on pushing the Arab out and YOU're right, NO ONE around, man nor beast, will lift a hand. U&I have PAID for it and it looks like some of the population has a stomach for it. No sense pressing it, NOT IF YOU really care for the people of Gaza.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 9, 2010 01:18 AM

Manifest Destiny was and is racism.
As late as the 1960s, the US Government was still in the business of dispossessing the original inhabitants of North America (viz. the Oahe Reservoir)

The US has historically treated both indigenous Americans and the Africans imported as slaves far more shamefuly than the Israeli government treats Gazan Palestinians.

We should be keenly aware that we have scant moral standing to lecture Israel.

Posted by: joel hanes at June 9, 2010 02:52 AM

Mike Meyer, those paired "you're right"s remind me of an old Borscht Belt joke about a rabbi and Mrs. Shapiro. I may be right, but I don't think I wrote what you think you're agreeing with there.

Joel Hanes, I think you're overlooking something. True, the US as a nation is in no position to lecture Israel about its treatment of the Palestinians, though it's worth bearing in mind that the US as a nation is doing no such thing -- our government keeps shoving the money and arms to Israel with no more than token complaints about the latest atrocities.

However, as an individual I lecture my own country about its bad behavior, so there is no inconsistency when I lecture Israel on the same topic.

Posted by: Duncan at June 9, 2010 05:21 AM

1. Manifest Destiny is racism.

and also

2. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone....Go, and sin no more." [reference to the parable of the woman taken in adultery]

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 9, 2010 06:57 AM

The only moral argument one can give for a two state solution as opposed to one man, one vote is simply that a one state solution might lead to a massive civil war as happened in Lebanon. Israel only exists as a Jewish state because of ethnic cleansing--it couldn't have worked out that way via any other method and "forced transfer" was part of Zionist thinking from fairly early on, once they realized the Arabs weren't going anywhere on their own. This is also why you hear so much BS about the history--about how the Zionists bought most of the land fair and square or about how most of the Arabs fled because they were ordered to by their leaders (one particular Jewish official in Haifa who really did ask the Arabs to stay is made to stand for the entire Zionist position) and wanted to come back after the war and pillage their Jewish neighbor's property. It's not a good sign when adherents of an ideology come up with slanderous lies to justify it.

NE, what's ironic here is that if you want to talk about entire democratic societies avoiding a truth that stares them right in the face, you couldn't find a better example than the stories told about Israel's founding. They lied to themselves and others and people outside repeated the lies, so breathtakingly stupid and racist they should have questioned them from common sense grounds even before looking at the actual evidence.

As for sensitivity, yes, one should understand that Zionism was seen as the solution to centuries of anti-semitism. But that doesn't justify land theft, ethnic cleansing, and racist lies.

And yes, Israel's history is very much like our own. There's a lesson here--make sure you kill off or in some way vastly outnumber the people you displace, or they will come back and start acting like they are human beings with just as much right to be there as you do. If there's just a small number, no problem. If they match your numbers, then better fall back on the notion that they are threatening your right to exist.

Finally, on Helen Thomas--she was wrong and she admitted it. But anyone who denies the Palestinian right of return is in a pretty poor position to condemn her.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 07:38 AM

NE, Mike Myers,
Zionism is Racism.
Zionism is Racism
Zionism is Racism.

duncan is right. boo hoo some people will be offended.

Posted by: anonymous at June 9, 2010 07:39 AM

David Nesenoff, the rabbi who interviewed Thomas, has a bunch of hate mail up on his site now.

He's also got an article on the history of the I/P conflict (click "article"). It's a good source for the most common lies and half-truths told on the subject.


Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 07:51 AM

"It's a good source for the most common lies and half-truths told on the subject."

Um, to be clear, David Nesenoff is endorsing the lies and half-truths.

What's depressing about this subject is the amount of sheer hatred and racism on both sides. Of course we hear mostly about the anti-semitism, but Nesenoff is clearly a racist himself, just more intelligent than the creeps who are sending him the hate mail.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 07:59 AM

The Zionist entity *should not* exist. That it has existed since 1948 is not an argument for it's continued existence. It is a tragedy that will resonate for many decades that the Zionists, through their 60+ years of theft, murder, dispossession and oppression have precluded the emergence of a secular Palestine. 'Israel' was always a trap for the Jewish people, and the Zionists have cynically used them as cannon fodder in their colonial experiment. And the Jewish population of Israel seems to be ever-increasing of their acceptance of the worst policies of repression and ethnic cleansing.

The usurping entity will one day cease to exist, and there will once again be one Palestine 'from the river to the sea'. I only hope that in the process the Zionists don't leave it a nuclear wasteland behind them...

Posted by: RedPhillip at June 9, 2010 09:23 AM


I don't feel like it's a 'yes' or 'no' question, but if pressed I'd say 'no.' The thing is, racism isn't the only evil around.

I'm no expert on this and don't want to suggest that I am. I really liked Rich Cohen's history Israel is Real, which I thought very effectively made the point that something is lost when a faith becomes a state, and I think highly of Gershom Gorenberg's books, which address the dangers of the Israeli religious right and their desire to create Eretz Israel. I listen to what Chomsky has to say because he knows so much about it, and I've read a few Islamic authors but not nearly enough. But the truth is, I don't even know what 'hasbara' is, so I'm certainly not going to argue about it. I probably have deeper sympathies with Jewish people because the victims of the Nazi holocaust captured my imagination when I was young, and I have a lot of Jewish friends, whereas I haven't known many Palestinians or even arabs. A few, but not so many.

On the other hand, I am very sure that if Janusz Korczak were alive today, he wouldn't think it acceptable to starve children in Gaza in ghettoes than it was to starve and ultimately murder the orphans under his care in the Warsaw ghetto. It doesn't help the Jewish peasants who were murdered in Poland or elsewhere in Europe sixty years ago to let more people be murdered in Gaza, and it isn't necesary to think about religion or race at all to see that. All these ideologies and theologies that help people murder children are sickening. I'm disgusted with it. As a species, we seem to have a design defect, especially on one chromosome, and I wouldn't blame the Creator shining that Light from Above, mixed metaphorically speaking, if he were to decide on a product recall. (Not that I'm going to start praying all the time.)

It has become clear to me in recent years that something has really gone awry in Israel, paralleling US developments, and those who know far more than I do about this seem to have noticed it too. Peter Beinart has started a firestorm with an essay in the New York Review of Books called The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment that has generated so much vitriolic opposition that it actually took me a while to find it on Google. I kept pulling up attacks on Beinart and responses to him and stories about his mother and so on but never his damn article, which seems perfectly sensible and reasonable but has resulted in him being slurred and attacked, of course. Same old same old.

So now answer a question for me, if you will. Why does there have to be a problem with 'Zionism' rather than Israel's present policies, i.e., what it is doing? Short of Armageddon, Israel isn't going to disappear, so why attack the movement that created it as racist? Duncan is probably right that it really would be like American Indians attacking manifest destiny. Super, but the United States isn't going to disappear. My friends the Lakota aren't going to get the Paha Sapa back from us thieving wasichus, so talking about that doesn't lead anywhere. (Not that it stopped us from coining the term 'Indian giver!') All that can be done is to help people, whoever and wherever they are, whether Muslims or Jews or Christians or Zoroastrians or hopless cynics. I think that's easier when people aren't killing each other because they're pissed.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 09:37 AM

N E: Everyone here hates "Zionism" so much because they see it as a crystalized manifestation of everything that white people have done wrong in the liberal narrative of history.

Thus it is a very easy target. Supercreeps like RedPhillip think they are brave and speaking truth to power by parroting a bunch of warmed-over jargon about the usurper entity from the seventies.

The thing is, what state isn't a usurper? Especially in the Middle East. The idea that there is some thriving Arab social democratic movement that would have taken root if only Israel and the US hadn't stomped on it is a fantasy. Where is it? Who are all the great moderate Arab liberals?

Posted by: seth at June 9, 2010 09:53 AM

"Everyone here hates "Zionism" so much because they see it as a crystalized manifestation of everything that white people have done wrong in the liberal narrative of history."

That's close--it is on a small scale the crystallized manifestation of Western sins, but it leaves out the part that in the US we're not supposed to mention the racism on the Zionist side or if so, it's supposed to be confined to criticism of the far right. The deck is stacked against the Palestinians, who are requested to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state as though it's some fundamental moral principle that requires them to endorse their own ethnic cleansing. Then Helen Thomas comes along and says something equally stupid on the other side and the MSM unites in condemning her. And NE doesn't know what the issue is because unless you spend a fair amount of time reading about it you're not likely to see it.

Israel is not the worst human rights violator in the world, but the hypocrisy level on this subject is very high even by normal US standards. Though maybe Beinart's change of view represents a shift.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 10:18 AM

"unless you spend a fair amount of time reading about it you're not likely to see it."

Reading outside the US mainstream, that is.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 10:19 AM

Donald Johnson wrote:

"There's a lesson here--make sure you kill off or in some way vastly outnumber the people you displace, or they will come back and start acting like they are human beings with just as much right to be there as you do. If there's just a small number, no problem. If they match your numbers, then better fall back on the notion that they are threatening your right to exist."

The Israeli Right (it seems increasingly most of the population) feels that they should never trade land for security again, as they did with Sinai, and they are very concerned about Jews remaining the majority of the Israeli population. In my view, those objectives are perpetuating the problem. I think they would basically agree with what you say about history, though you presumably were being ironic.

As for Helen Thomas, she didn't say anything all that unusually stupid. That prick Nessenoff caught her off guard and got her on camera making a dumb remark, but who knows what preceded it. It could turn out to be as outrageously wrong as what happened to ACORN, or it could just be that she's 89 and was in the wrong mood and said what she did because what's the point of being 89 if you can't speak candidly to some obnoxious young punk who shoves a camera in your face. Big deal. Everyone pretends to be shocked and outraged for a little while and then goes back to lying about something else. Poland and Germany weren't the best countries for her to have picked for obvious reasons, but a lot of Jews have indeed moved from Europe to Israel in the last 20 or 30 years, and I think a lot of them have moved onto the West Bank, displacing people who were born there. Gershom Gorenberg really writes well about how this problem has developed.

(Rabbi Nessenoff apparently doesn't realize or care how unseemly it is for religious figures to act like Matt Drudge, which is about all I need to know about him.)

But what I really got a kick out of was something said by Victoria Hearst about Thomas. Ms. Hearst inherited a fortune built mostly on a gold mine on land stolen from the Lakota, the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead South Dakota, which was for a century the largest gold producing mine outside of South Africa and was started in 1876, the very year when the US government broke its treaty with the Sioux and stole back the Black Hills. Ms. Hearst was shocked that someone working for the Heart Press could ever have said something antisemitic, because according to her no one named Hearst had ever done anything like that. On the other hand, I.F. Stone's role model George Seldes wrote that William Randolph Heart had for a time employed a person by the name of Adolph Hitler for very large sums. That's what happens to history, especially it seems in the hands of people named Heart but otherwise too. The ironies and hypocrisy just pile up like snowflakes in a blizzard.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 10:39 AM


"though you presumably were being ironic."


Helen was probably caught off guard. She apologized and it seemed like a real apology, not one of those "I'm sorry if I was misunderstood" ones. I admire her much more than 99.99 percent of her critics.

As for Nesenoff, the NYT quoted him yesterday as being "shocked and hurt" by Helen's remark. A person who wrote the article he wrote on the I/P conflict shouldn't be portrayed as someone capable of being "shocked and hurt"--if they wanted to quote him there are some choice comments in that article they could have quoted that show what he's really all about.

Agreed about ironies and snowflakes and blizzards.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at June 9, 2010 11:02 AM

Donald Johnson wrote: "And NE doesn't know what the issue is because unless you spend a fair amount of time reading about it you're not likely to see it."

I don't know what it is that I apparently don't know. There's so much to choose from.


Watch out before you get too chummy with me. There are answers to those questions you asked, though you asked them in a way that suggested you don't believe it, and also in a way that made me suspect you have never looked for them, which of course makes it really easy to not know them. Aspirations for life, liberty, and equality are universal and certainly have been present in arab and Islamic societies, as they have everywhere. That's what people want, even those swarthy, primitive people in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Along those lines, someone named Mohammad Qayoumi has a photo essay by the name of "Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan" in the June 7, 2010 issue of Foreign Policy that shows in photos the Afghanistan of his youth, before Zbigniew Brzezinski et al decided that turning Afghanistan into a hellish Wahabi theocracy to fighting communism would be a good thing for our National Security. That same thing was done in Saudi Arabia too, lest the Saudi people decide to use their oil for their own benefit rather than ours. That place still IS a colony. And then it was done throughout the Middle East generally to combat Nasserism and any other arab movement for secular social democracy that might compromise our interests. Lord Palmerston once wrote that Britain had neither permanent enemies nor permanent friends but only permanent interests. Well, same for the US, and we aggressively protect them.

"So where are the Great moderate arab liberals?"

They're dead. We killed them. That's not a fantasy, that's a history, and it's not speculative. Plenty of the blanks have been filled in--far more than the broad outlines. To those ignorant of real history, among whom I presntly have to count you, the history may seem like fantasy, but not knowing things can be addictive because it is so reassuring to be right, and it's hard to give up the habit. You may have to do a lot of reading to shake it. Give it a try instead of just making a hobby of provocation.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 11:03 AM

can't we blame the ottoman empire? so many furniture puns.…

Posted by: hapa at June 9, 2010 12:49 PM

@ seth:

For you,I'm more than pleased to be a Supercreep. (Did anyone else hear in their heads, "He's a Supercreep, Supercreep, he's supercreepy!"?)

I don't think I'm being brave in speaking against the existence of Israel, or for a single, secular, democratic Palestine. Courage is running the blockade, or doing one's part in furtherance of resistance to the occupation. I wish I *were* in a position to do something that might actually make a difference.

Another point. Who the hell wants some worthless social democracy or moderate liberalism anyway? For myself I look forward to the return of something like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the peak of George Habash's leadership. I can't help it if that seems too retro, but I take a longer view of the struggle.

Posted by: RedPhillip at June 9, 2010 02:02 PM

Take ALL the Palestinians to MIAMI. GIVE THEM ALL American Citizenship. That way they can fish where dammn well please and go wherever the hell they want.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 9, 2010 03:42 PM

Mike Meyer: Okay, you've had a long and useful career, but you have to apologize and retire effective immediately.

Posted by: Nell at June 9, 2010 04:00 PM

Mike Meyer: That is exactly what I proposed the other day. Let all the Israeli Jews or all the Palestinians come here. The rest of the world's trash has an open invitation (cf. Lazarus) so why not them as well?

N E: Being chummy or not chummy with you is exactly the same thing...who cares?

OK we killed all the Arab social democrats...where are the new ones?

RedPhillip: Your pining for George Habash is just more of your "retro" posturing for a romantic era when Arab terrorists were cool and secular, blowing up empty airplanes. Christian communists like George Habash don't cut it in today's jihad my friend: there is a reason Habash was a non-entity for the last thirty years of his life.

Posted by: seth at June 9, 2010 04:00 PM

Concider the advantages, Nell; Once the have American Citizenship they could go ANYWHERE in ISRAEL they want---even back to Gaza to get an eye poked out, should they so desire

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 9, 2010 04:41 PM

Speaking of Habash, I find Angry Arab's worship of him rather creepy:

Posted by: Jenny at June 9, 2010 05:34 PM

"OK we killed all the Arab social democrats...where are the new ones?"

I never said we stopped, though frankly, once a nasty government is in power, it can kill plenty of people all by itself.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 08:22 PM

Saying Zionism is racism leads pretty smoothly to the statement that Israel shouldn't exist, at least if you mean by Zionism a Jewish state.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Zionism is ethno-nationalism is self-determination is racism. And morally indefensible.

Posted by: weaver at June 9, 2010 08:51 PM


Israel will quit being a Jewish state when Israelis no longer care that it is, which will happen when that no longer seems important to them, which will only be when they stop being paranoid. And that won't happen until a while after they stop feeling like most of the rest of the world and all their neighbors don't really think they have a right to exist. So yeah, it's a bad thing, but not for the reasons most people would think.

That being said, peace seems to me to be a longshot because of that design defect we have as a species and our cleverness at making better and better killing tools.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 09:17 PM

And that won't happen until a while after they stop feeling like most of the rest of the world and all their neighbors don't really think they have a right to exist.

I thought you just said that the infantile question-begging phrase "Israel's right to exist" meant "as a Jewish state", so your argument here is what? Israel will stop wanting to be an ethno-national state that expels non-Jews or treats them as second class citizens when the world agrees Israel has the right to be an ethno-national state that expels non-Jews or treats them as second class citizens?

You know, we killed quite a lot of Serbs in service of the principle that ethnic cleansing was a bad thing. I'm just wondering why some people get a pass.

Posted by: weaver at June 9, 2010 09:31 PM


That Neumann article strikes me as bad. Lansing and Wilson were political enemies with very different views, and the questions Lansing asked reflected his contempt for Wilson's idealism, which he considered naive and dangerous drivel. Lansing was a red-baiter and elitist through and through, and by the way, the uncle of John Foster and Alan Dulles. Wilson was more of a liberal and therefore a mixed bag and never much trusted Lansing, and he was right not to do so, because Lansing betrayed him both secretly and eventually publicly. I guess people might wonder why Wilson chose Lansing as his second Secretary of State, but that's the way politics works. Officials in the same administration aren't all allies. Deals are cut and alliances and compromises forged. True then, true now.

But that's not the worst of it. To turn Wilson's dislike of colonialism and desire to end future European wars over colonies, one of the causes of WWI, into Hitler's racialism is just ridiculous. It's not just dishonest and ahistorical, it's laugh out loud dumb. Neuman can't seriously think self-determination is bad because Hitler said something in favor of ethnic self-determination. Hitler said all kinds of crap, as do many politicians and egomaniacs. Wilson didn't go around espousing "ethnic" self-determination; racialism wasn't his thing. All Neumann had to do to realize that is read the 14 points, but I guess he was being a philosopher and doing something metaphysical instead because his conclusion seems like gibberish to me.

I hope Neumann did more work before writing The Case Against Israel, which I haven't read. It's easy to write a bad article, so his books could well be better for all I know, but that article didn't do anything for me.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 10:46 PM

How can self-determination - where the self here isn't a person but a "people" - be anything other than a cuddly synonym for ethno-nationalism, itself already a euphemism. Your longstanding desire to exculpate Wilson for anything he did is irrelevant here - the notion of self-determination is problematic from the get-go, because it involves privileging one imaginary tribal entity over others within equally mythical ethno-territories. Just a bad, destructive idea, without moral basis.

The argument in The Case Against Israel is essentially the same (it's in the first section), though more detailed.

Posted by: weaver at June 9, 2010 11:09 PM


I won't dispute that this rationale of avoiding ethnic cleansing is used dishonestly. Michael Parenti's To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia is a good book that addresses that dishonesty, and there are several others. But it sounds like you know that.

I'm tired and not that confident in what I think about this. I'm just trying to explain my thinking, partly to myself. I have low confidence in much of what I think about Israel and Palestine, because I haven't looked into it nearly enough. Obviously some people like Rupa Shah know way more about the reality beneath these issues than I do. You may too.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 11:14 PM


I don't need to exculpate Wilson for anything. He's dead, and even if he weren't he wouldn't need exculpation. That isn't what bugs me about people getting the history so wrong. I started reading voraciously some years back because I decided I couldn't believe a damn thing anybody said without knowing a lot more than I did. And I was right about that. People commonly write crap, though some stuff is just exceptionally smart and honest and thorough and fills me with admiration for the author. SOME of Chomsky's stuff, especially that phenomenal early stuff, falls into that latter category. And other books do too, but there's just so much sloppiness and, worse, lying. There is just so damn much of it about just about everything.

I don't know why you view self-determination as meaning more than democracy. That's what Wilson meant. He wasn't talking about tribes and ethno-territories. Sure difficult questions arise like some of those posed by that prick Lansing, especially because you have to pick a geographic unit in which there will be voting (thus raising the legal issue of gerrymandering). Does a state get self-determination? A region? A nation? What if the state doesn't want to be in the nation? That sort of stuff, except applied throughout the world, and making accomodations for the existence of things like the British Empire that couldn't just be wished away. But difficult questions always arise in anything on the margins. The idea that people should be able to determine their own fate isn't complicated, and it isn't immoral. I don't get that at all. That's what I thought was just gibberish, an opinion I'm inclined to stick to the better I understand what Neumann was trying to say.

I think the goal is for all people to have democracy, in Israel and elsewhere. The question is how to get it done with the least bloodshed and risk of monumental catastrophe, what with the dimensions of war nowadays.

I'll skip The Case Against Israel if the foundation of it is the content of that article.

Posted by: N E at June 9, 2010 11:51 PM

MIKE: I would like to suggest that you read up/study on how Israel treats Palestinian Americans. Start with "IF AMERICANS KNEW" website and videos.

They don't get treated very nicely when they go to Israel.

Posted by: Susan at June 10, 2010 01:21 AM

As Neumann makes clear, throughout this period self-determination always meant self-determination of peoples not people. It was the product of romantic 19th century notions of ethnically based nationalism that grew out of the decline of empires in Europe.

Be that as it may, Zionism is certainly that kind of self-determination and not the "simply democracy" kind you think the Wilsonian concept was. And Zionism was the species of ethno-nationalism we were talking about.

Posted by: weaver at June 10, 2010 01:27 AM

Susan: Personally, I think NO American should expect decent treatment anywhere, its underseved. BUT those Palestinian Americans can HONESTLY look those Israelis and say WE own you AND U owe US. THAT'S WHAT EMPIRE IS all about.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 10, 2010 02:36 AM

EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN AND MINORITIES IS A PROGRESSIVE GOAL. Minorities are sometimes become so in the political sense although they be the majoriity in the imediate numerical sense. This is the Palestinians/ Israeli situation. There is nothing more impowering than the backing of the US government, ie. citizenship while one can STILL got to court over the matter.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 10, 2010 02:46 AM


Neumann didn't make anything clear for me, and I didn't get the impression that he knows much about what you call 19th century self-determination. Racialism was the core of the 19th century, along with its twins nationalism and colonialism, which led to quite a parade of horrors around the world. And as the Austro-Hungarian multi-ethnic empire began to collapse, supercharged ethnic German nationalism began to fill the void, and that's part of what led to Hitler and another parade of horrors.

But self-determination wasn't the impetus for ethnic nationalism or colonialism, and it didn't directly even have anything to do with them. (Nobody even thought much about self-determination in the 19th century, which you can verify with Google Books.) After Wilson's 14 points and especially after the Peace Conference at Versailles, there was talk of self-determination for peoples and nations, because of Wilson, and it's only natural that the discussion was of nations rather than individuals. (Otherwise the conference would still be going on.) There was virtually no such talk of permitting weaker nations to determine their own destiny before WWI, or even before Wilson's Fourteen Points. Wilson introduced the concept of self-determination to prevent more European wars over colonies. The idea was that the people of the world should all decide their own destiny rather than be treated as the spoils of war. That's what I meant by suggesting that Wilson considered self-determination democracy. The peoples the world would govern themselves and decide their own fate rather than be fought over by Europeans. I assume you agree that's a good thing and a progressive idea.

Specifically, Wilson's goals with regard to self-determination and the peace established after the Great War were:

"First, that each part of the final settlement must be based upon the essential justice of that particular case and upon such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace that will be permanent;

"Second, that peoples and provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game, even the great game, now forever discredited, of the balance of power; but that

"Third, every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the interest and for the benefit of the populations concerned, and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims amongst rival states; and

"Fourth, that all well-defined national aspirations shall be accorded the utmost satisfaction that can be accorded them without introducing new or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism that would be likely in time to break the peace of Europe and consequently of the world."

Besides, attention must be called to point 2 in the speech made by President Wilson, at Mount Vernon, July 4, 1918, beginning:

"The settlement of every question whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship, upon the basis of free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own external influence or mastery."

Quoted from International Conciliation, No. 137 Issue 143, April 1919 (American Association for International Conciliation, carnegie Endowment for International Peace) at 1226-1227.

Now, those sorts of ideas expressed by President Wilson were considered blasphemy to Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge and the GOP they led and pretty much the whole of the military and probably all conservatives, definitely including Robert Lansing. And later including Hitler, of course. Wilson was loathed by the right for suggesting that anything more than power and the balance of power should govern international relations. Maybe Glen Beck or Hannity or Rush could monetheless make Wilson sound like Hitler or a reactionary, but self-determination was a bold idealistic and progressive stroke by President Wilson, and the fact that Neumann seems to have completely missed that doesn't say much for him as a scholar.

Posted by: N E at June 10, 2010 12:39 PM


As for what Zionism is, I'm not sure. I know a little of the history, but not enough. Ultramilitaristic ideological zealots of all races and creeds and languages and locations remind me of each other, so maybe you're right that Zionism is just another racist ethnic nationalism. But it still doesn't have to be going forward, so helping it morph into something nicer seems smart to me. Having watched the Israeli "we are the world" flotilla video, I have to admit that may not be too easy. Once people start to think things like that are funny, it's not too easy to reach them.

Posted by: N E at June 10, 2010 12:54 PM