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Tail continues to wag dog

Nicholas Kristof has this right; even Nicholas Kristof! "Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems locked in a self- defeating dynamic in which it feels misunderstood and gives up on international opinion. It lashes out with force in ways that undermine its own interests. It is on a path that could eventually be catastrophic."....for the United States as well as Israel. Will Obama's support of Netanyahu be his single largest step in the wrong direction? Or will he pull a peace agreement from this?

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Hi, Margaret,I saw Kirstof's piece yesterday. I thought that it made interesting reading juxtaposed with David Warren's piece. strength of Warren's piece is that it cuts through the ethical fog engendered by Hamas and its first-world stooges and fellow-travellers, and provides much-needed moral clarity. I find Warren convincing: morally and legally, Israel is right, and 'world opinion' is easily manipulated by those who desire to destroy the State of Israel and all the Jews within it.The strength of Kristof's piece is that he acknowledges this, and yet also points out that it is not enough to be right: Israel needs to learn to be wise as a serpent, playing it smart in a morally corrupt and craven world.That's my view, fwiw.

(Confused by the headline. Who's the dog, and who's the tail?)Interesting letters to the editor in the NYT this morning, imho. From one:"If President Obama really wants there to be peace, he needs to apply real pressure on Muslims to stop the violence and incitement. Israel wants peace. It does not and will not commit suicide to get peace. Would you commit suicide to get your neighbors to stop attacking you?" From another:"Heres a simple idea for the Palestinians in Gaza: Recognize Israels right to exist and completely abandon the pursuit of its destruction."

Gerelyn: beleive the US is the dog, and Israel is the tail.

Jim, Gerelyn, et al.May I suggest that you occasionally read the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It's available free online.Jim, sometimes stooges like Margaret and Kristof have something important to say. If that makes me a "stooge squared" c'est la vie.

Bernard - I included neither Margaret nor Kristof in the "stooge" category, and am not sure why you'd think I would - neither, to my knoweldge, has ever evinced the slightest sympathy for Hamas or any other violent terrorist organization with genocidal aspirations. Nor am I aware that you have, and in a fraternal spirit, suggest you exercise caution in donning that mantle.

"I suggest that you occasionally read the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Here are some excerpts from today's edition, from a piece by Yoel Marcus:"This flotilla was not a humanitarian operation but a public relations campaign that Israel lost because Israel acted exactly as expected: like a bull in a china shop. The global response from friends, and even more so from non-friends, is serious because it indicates our overall situation in the world.People are beginning to get tired of our viewpoints and excuses. "And later:"I dont like that word, but the Palestinians have successfully introduced our image as occupiers into global awareness. And Israel, with steps such as our siege on Gaza, is only strengthening our negative image. When President Barack Obamas America is working to use agreements to reduce areas of tension around the world, Israel cannot behave like the neighborhood bully."And later:"It turns out that you can show contempt for some of the world some of the time, but not all of the world all of the time. 'Something has thinned out in the Jewish brain,' says MK Nachman Shai. 'Every misstep of ours contains the beginning of the next one.'"

It is fairly simple and straightforward - you borrow from Eisenhower in 1956. You confidentialy lay out a plan for Israel- US will recognize the state of Palestine on this date- you outline what this means; e.g. open and protected port in GAZA with US/UN fleet protecting this; any pushback or subversion by Israel results in immediate suspension of all military and foreign aid;- US/UN will work with the new state of Palestine to insure safety in the region - this means a plan that will limit or strike back at HAMAS if they do not respect the defined nature of the new state of Palestine built on partnership with Israel - might include temporary UN troops along the borders of Gaza and key points in the West Bank, Gaza port- give Israel time to respond to this; yet set a date when this will be announced and brought to the UN.Congress - well, that will be tougher than HAMAS.

To clarify headline: tail=Israel; dog=U.S. Meaning: Israel's policies toward the Palesinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza (who are not all supporters of Hamas) trump the national interests (including the moral interests) of the United States.

Kristof also said what needed to be said about Hamas and pointed to the self-defeating behaviors of both the Palestinians and Israel. "Abba Eban, the former Israeli statesman, is famously reported to have said in 1973: The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The quotation resonated because it was largely true...."Yet now, as a rabbi noted on my Facebook page, it is Israel that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

I don't like seeing my country referred to as a dog, or Israel as a tail.And I don't like seeing renowned journalists like Margaret Steinfels and Nicholas Kristof referred to as stooges.

I think the dog and the tail observation goes back to the Greeks. Has its merits as an image.

The Greeks? I always thought it came from Lord Dundreary (he of the big bushy side whiskers) in Our American Cousin.

It's interesting to see how, on the one end of the spectrum, the Pope has more or less condemned the tragedy and, long before the tragedy, the way Gaza is being treated by Israel; on the other end of the spectrum, I keep seeing "conservative American" Catholics consistently presenting the Israeli "we were attacked" explanation as justification for evil.

Henry Karlson, I don't think it is only "conservative American" Catholics who defend Israel's policies toward the Palestinians; I know "liberal American" Catholics who do as well. My reading suggests that American Catholics, in general, defend Israel no matter what, while Catholics in other parts of the world have more diverse views. The Vatican is especially sensitive to the plight of Palestinian Christians vis a vis the Israel issue; but it is also attuned to the state of Christians in Iraq, Lebanon, etc., in a way that Americans Catholics are not. Like many Americans, Catholic Americans do not seem to pay much attention to foreign policy, our own or anyone else's. This means that the prevailing views, often set in stone, are never examined afresh. We (American Catholics) have bought the idea that the Catholic Church always and everywhere has been rife with anti-Semitism. Criticism of Israeli policies (back in a minute!) (Back) is taken therefore by many American Catholics to be a form of anti-Semitism, which charge trumps all reasonable criticism. This doesn't help Israel; it doesn't help U.S. policy, and it doesn't help genuine efforts to bring peace.

Margaret,I see far more "conservatives" especially on the blogosphere openly supporting Israel, and just reporting what Israel has to say. They ignore the Pope, they ignore the Church, they ignore the statements of the Christians there. I am not saying all conservatives do this, but it is within their sphere we find this. The "liberals" might be pro-Israel, but they also tend to also understand justice, and also tend to at least recognize more of the problems.

HenryBeing a dopey conservative I'd really like to know what five things you think Israel should do to resolve their problems or at least make them better?The Israelis giving up on international opinion - I'm shocked, absolutely shocked that they should feel that way after all the support they get.

I se little hope for any successful resolution as long as the Bebe regime remains in power.Twice now, Obam's regime has been caught by Israeli actions just as the Biden meeting and now Bebe's avorted visit here ended up with little or nothing.Obama is committed to both Israel and , I think, the palestinians so he's fundamentally at this point between a rock and a hard place.I wonder what difference it would have made if we had voted differently in the UN??????

"We (American Catholics) have bought the idea that the Catholic Church always and everywhere has been rife with anti-Semitism."----Recent examples would reinforce that notion. ----"Like many Americans, Catholic Americans do not seem to pay much attention to foreign policy, our own or anyone elses."----Or maybe they pay attention but arrive at conclusions different from yours.

After all the second-guessing, the over-intellectualizing, the sub-floor of hatred for the West in general, and America in particular, it all comes down to this: Israel has an absolute right to exist and defend itself against the slavering hordes of Jew-haters wherever they nest. Look again at a map of the middle east: You see a small nation surrounded by entities that thirst after the destruction of Israel and the exterination of all Jews. I stand with the Jews and with Israel, always and forever. If the Palestinians truly want peace, they will immediately rid themselves of Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the rest of that putrescent crowd. Deal with it.

An interesting article in today's Der Spiegel:,1518,698766,00.html

A right to defend itself does not equate to the means of such defense; the means Israel consistently engages are intrinsically evil.

To defend Israel's right to exist is one thing. To defend Israel's actions always and everywhere is quite another thing.I have visited the Holy Land 8 times since 1987 and have seen quite a bit of escalating evidence over the years that Israel has taken a chance on excessive force as a course of action that now has come back to bite it in the butt more and more each day.The US has quite dirty hands when it comes to facilitating much of what Israel does and this is now coming back to bite us in the butt more and more each day.When you lie down with dogs don't be surprised to have fleas.

The Der Spiegel article gets at Hamas's tactics, which, nonetheless, don't justify Israel's blockade. In fact, it sounds like the blockade makes the tactics possible and contributes to Hamas's ability to coerce conformity to its political agenda. Who's the tail here and who the dog?

In case folks are not reading carefully here: I haven't attributed the adjective "stooge" to anyone who posts or comments here. (Examples of stooges for murderous terrorist organizations would surely include some of the Westerners aboard the flotilla, though).I praised the Kristof piece, and in fact usually find him an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.I haven't said it yet, but let me say it now: I have a lot of respect for Margaret's perspective and analysis of the Middle East. I find that she brings a genuinely Catholic sensibility to the issues.

"In fact, it sounds like the blockade makes the tactics possible and contributes to Hamass ability to coerce conformity to its political agenda. "But what would be an alternative to the blockade that wouldn't also result in the escalation of the shelling of Israeli cities and settlements, and/or suicide bombs, and/or the intifada?

When I see these accusations of excessive force I always ask what would you do and what would you expect your government to do if people were launching missiles at your home and your children's school. Then apply that standard to the Israelis. In my opinion, most of the critics don't. They start from a position in which the Israelis inherently have less right to protect themselves than other countries.Even in talking about the laws of war, we apply them differently to the Israelis. What is proportionality? In the case of the Israelis the term is used to mean that the lethality or destructive force of the response should be no more than the lethality of the threat. That, unfortunately, is not what proportionality is or has ever been in the law of war. A proportional response is one which is proportional to the threat. Think of Indiana Jones - shooting the guy with the scimitar is proportional - it's not fair, but it is proportional.They face an existential threat. In the face of that they have shown enormous restraint.

"In my opinion, most of the critics ... start from a position in which the Israelis inherently have less right to protect themselves than other countries."I also think that there is a lot of historical ignorance and amnesia in the West, abetted by television images that provide no historical or political context.

For those who say - like Henry Karlson - that the means Israel employs to defend itself are intrinsically evil, documentation please. And how come that is never said about the Palestinians indiscriminantly lobbing missiles into Israel, not even pretending to take care to avoid innocent civilians? This is such rank hypocrisy. No, there is a very tangible bias against Israel and for the "Palestinians" in this blog; it is so obvious that if it wasn't so infuriating it would be comical. Let me caution those of you who urge "restraint": If the israelis were to show a lack of restraint, your hair would turn white (if it isn't already :))

BobYou need to study things like proportionality and consequentialism. Beyond that, are you serious?! There is a reason why the Pope has consistently condemned what we see going on - collective punishment, attacks on civilian populace -- all condemned.

In addition, the history of the region and even the statehood of Israel is complex. Sorry, but the quote above that roles have changed is very much to the point....Israel is now seen as the "bully."Why are we waiting for Bibi's approval - the US needs to act in consert with other countries esp. the Quartet of Four and have the UN declare two separate states with clear expectations and steps if groups such as Hamas decide to reject Israel's right of existence or continues the use of violence.In many ways, Hamas is behaving exactly as the Irgun and Stern gangs did in 1946, 1947, and 1948 which ultimately led to Israeli statehood. There were legitimate non-violent Jewish or Zionist Movements that were working with the Palestinian Arab population. Unfortunately, the historical racial, religious, and ethnic patterns saboteuged any peaceful evolution and progress. Just as Hamas or Hezbollah have leveraged these traditional patterns, so did some groups within the Jewish statehood movement.There is blood on both sides....but Israel has now moved to almost total isolation given its overwhelming military response to any and all threats. Folks used to see and feel for them because they were seen as the "little guy vs. the big goy"....that is hard to do now. Yes, there are challenges any time you are faced by non-national groups; terrorist organizations, etc. but responding only with military might wins you no battles. Israel needs to learn how to effectively move the playing field - e.g. West Bank has gotten its act together and its economy is growing as it's political and governmental structures. Permanent seige of Gaza will never allow these people to experience or have a change to develop - it only pushes them deeper into Hamas.Obama can try to remain cool and collected but he faces a choice and no political finesse is going to get him out of this. The US has tried to finesse with Israel for 20 years.

Henry: you saidThere is a reason why the Pope has consistently condemned what we see going on collective punishment, attacks on civilian populace all condemned.Besides the fact that the Pope gets Israel's attempts at self defense completely wrong, if he really meant what he said he would attach consequences to the actions of any and all Catholics who participated in or materially aided such actions, as for example excommunication of said Catholics. He doesn't do so becauxse he knows that he is playing the game of mollify the Muslims at just about any cost. Like what happened in Nazi Germany; he danced around the Nazis, trying to keep them from slaughtering Catholics in the same manner as they slaughtered the Jews. He wants to prevent the Muslims from slaughtering Catholics (that is, where Muslims even allow Catholics to worship) so he dances with them, playing the old game. But he knows, he knows the score.

One of the things that always strikes me about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is how very differently the story gets told depending on where one's sympathies lies. I have been following another internet conversation among friends of mine where this week's events around the Gaza blockage were described by different commenters as either: 1) an Entebbe-like raid by elite Israeli commandoes in which civilians bringing humanitarian aid were callously shot and killed, or, 2) frightened young soldiers who panicked when ambushed by a violent mob of extreme radicals with links to terrorism. I find it very hard to understand what goes on in the Middle East; there's not even a commonly accepted narrative.

Narratives: I have often thought that one of the serious and underlying reasons that there has been no resolution to this is: not only is there no commonly accepted narrative, the two (or three or four!) narratives don't even overlap. Among both Israelis and Palestinians, there are different versions of what has happened and what should happen. Rumors of civil war in Israel itself point to at least two stories: the heroic, secular founders and the kubbutzniks are one story, the Greater Israel and the land given by God to the Jewish people is another. Ditto the Palestinians...the majority of whom do not belong to either Fatah or Hamas, but are long-time (even forever) residents, both Christian and Muslim, who have lived under Ottomans, Crusaders, maybe even Romans.

You can't use "Self defense" to justify intrinsic evils. Remember abortion?

Narratives: A book that got a bad press in Israel and not much attention here that gives one of the Israeli narratives is, The Holocaus Is Over; We Must Rise From the Ashes. The title itself is a provocation. It is by Avraham Burg whose mother came from Hebron and his father from Germany (Dresden); the perspective is of an Israeli of European origins and instincts.

"You cant use Self defense to justify intrinsic evils. Remember abortion?"Actually you can. The 773 civilians intentionally targeted for killing by the 91 US airstrikes into Pakistan since January 20, 2009 are morally justified by the doctrine of preemptive self-defense, for example.

Closely related to Israel and Gaza: First Things, an ecumenical Christian journal with Catholic intellectuals among its editors, advisers and contributors, published on its website today an article that makes the case for a pre-emptive war against Iran in order to forestall its nuclear weapons capability. The article is logical, clear and terrifying. Do read it. the comments to the piece is this:"Israelis had moved submarines into the Persian Gulf. Being a bloody-minded ex-Merchant of Death, I did a brief study of Iranian population centers: the 26 largest Iranian cities contain over half of Iran's population. Each of the Dolphins can load out 16 missiles. The Israelis have five Dolphins. Do. The. Math. If Mr Ahmadinejad's threats against Israel are carried out, Iran can without a doubt, kill many, probably most Israelis. The Israelis would no doubt return the gesture, from the grave so to speak. "

Read it, Jim. The news of Israeli subs equipped with nuclear weapons has been zipping around the ethernet in recent days. The Israelis are not denying it, confirming yet again that they have nuclear weapons and that they want Iran to know that (nukes were confirmed as well by a recent document dump in South Africa that showed the Israelis offering nukes to SA's apartheid government). What is intended? Is it a deterrent meant to threaten Iran? Is it meant to steel the UN for the sanctions vote. Is it leveraging the U.S. into attacking Iran?

"What is intended? Is it a deterrent meant to threaten Iran? Is it meant to steel the UN for the sanctions vote. Is it leveraging the U.S. into attacking Iran?"Whatever Israel's intent (and it could be all of the above), it seems the least likely outcome is that the its threat will deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. When a country is threatened by an enemy with nukes, isn't the reaction to accelerate the development of one's own nuclear capability in order to equalize the threat? The point of the First Things piece seems to be, 'we've tried diplomacy and it's failed. Sanctions are a nice idea but the world lacks the will to impose them. What is left except pre-emptive war?'

Another thought: the template for pre-emptive war has already been created by the prior American administration, and from the point of view of regime replacement of a major Middle East nation, it's been shown to be successful. (That the aftermiath is bloody and draining of capital and morale is another story. But possibly the case can be made, 'We've made our mistakes and learned our lessons in Iraq. Next time will be smoother.')Please note: I'm not advocating this train of thought. Just trying to imagine how it could work.

Jim, it's a thorny issue, alright--even a conundrum. There are probably a thousand scenarios in play. Here's one I was mulling and talking about last night. Israel has a deterrent (it's nuclear weapons as well as an array of conventional weapons--even that latter could seriously damage Iran). But Iran has a deterrent too--Hezbollah now said (by the IDF) to be supplied with longer range missles that could reach into Israel. Each side could inflict serious damage on the other; Iran because of its size and its allies could probably do more damage than Israel could do (unless Israel uses its nuclear weapons). Perhaps enters here the United States. But to do what? Pre-emptive war doctrine or no, we are in over our heads in two wars already: managing to get out from one (Iraq) and barely holding our own in the other (Afghanistan). A third front in Iran--even if only an air war--would sink the global economic recovery, endanger our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe send Pakistan into a nuclear tizzy. I don't count out the U.S., Israel, and Iran doing something collectively stupid, but I'm inclined to think not. Or maybe I'm hoping not.

I just finished "reading in on" this live web chat from The Brookings with one of their mideastern experts, Shibley Telhami.It is to my mind a straightforward, middle of the road analysis of what's at stake at least diplomatically. Mideastern Mavens might find it useful:

"Perhaps enters here the United States."If that is the sequence, then I really hope it's not just us. I can understand that the world wouldn't want to jump in with both feet into our little adventure in Iraq, but if it comes to an action to prevent Iran from completing or deploying or using nuclear weapons ... I'd hope we'd get more than moral support from our allies for that.

Except for the Gulf States, who would our allies be?

(Btw, re-reading my last comment, 6/9, 2:43, it's kinda spooky how that line of thought re: allies could have come from a neo-con blog ca. 2002 re: Iraq. AAAUUUUGGGGH!)

"Except for the Gulf States, who would our allies be?"Britain, France, Russia, China ... I'd think there are a lot of folks whose interest would be that Iran be prevented from brandishing nukes. Why not India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt?

Think also of the "cry wolf" phenomenon here. The United States made enormous claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons, which it turned out no longer existed. We lied, misrepresented, etc., cf. Colin Powell. Who will believe us now? Whatever one thinks of Iran, its government, and its human rights policy, lets face the fact that no country, not even its neighbor Russia, has quite the level of paranoia and animosity that we do.

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