Public Comment

Commentary: Both Mideast Commentaries Were Wrong

By Ehud Appel
Friday August 11, 2006

The Aug. 8 edition of the Daily Planet featured two appallingly ludicrous commentaries about the Lebanon war. One was an exercise in the most indulgent of national mythologies: “We are morally superior to Them.”  

The other article used a morally and intellectually bankrupt framework to analyze the current war: “How is this war the expression of unique and timeless Jewish characteristics?” 

Howard Glickman asserts, “[Executive Editor Becky O’Malley] should consider that when the IDF accidentally kills civilians in a military operation, the operation is considered a failure, and everyone in Israel mourns the loss of innocent life. When Hezbollah kills civilians, the operation is considered a success and a cause for celebration.”  

While Nasrallah’s attacks on northern Israel will earn him and Hezbollah no admiration or moral absolution from me, Glickman’s contrasting portrait of Israeli society is pure fantasy. I would like to see some evidence of these national days of mourning in which “every” Israeli grieves the loss of innocent Lebanese or Palestinian life. Indeed, a certain percentage of Israelis do mourn the loss of innocent life. A certain percentage of Israelis will celebrate it. A larger percentage will immediately start combing through the photos and videos, looking for inconsistencies that “prove” Israel bears no responsibility for the deaths. A still larger percentage will feel nothing: We are under attack, how can we be expected to grieve for Them? Dehumanizing the Other does not require “teaching kids hate,” the explanation Israel’s Hasbara agents often give for why Palestinians are so angry at Israel. All it requires is a convenient myth which places a moral barrier between a society and the Other. All societies tell themselves these lies, including Palestine, including Lebanon. But Glickman is foolish for claiming Israeli exceptionalism from this phenomenon. Entering a debate with the supposition of inherent moral superiority precludes rational discussion about policy.  

Kurosh Arianpour declares that Israel has been ravishing Lebanon and slaughtering its civilians (terms with which I agree) because “they think they are the Chosen People [and] can murder Lebanese and Palestinian children at will.” Now, I am a Chosen Person myself, and find the concept of “Chosenness” to be among the silliest aspects of my religious tradition. As a formalized concept, it is—at least in common perception—unique to Judaism. By ascribing the racist and militaristic discourse fueling Israel’s actions in Lebanon to “Chosen Peopleness,” Arianpour suggests that certain behaviors—including this type of racism—are unique to Jews. He takes it a step further by implying that racism exhibited by Jews is of an entirely different nature than other forms of prejudice, such as racism towards Jews. He argues that racism towards Jews has always been “caused” by “Jewish attitudes,” including the racism displayed—euphemistically—“in modern times [by] Germans.” Jews, however, carry their racism with them, from place to place, from era to era. Arianpour uses a rather flimsly Jewish “cultural trait” to explain a miraculous scenario of transgenerational, universal Jewish consistency that could otherwise be explained only through biological determinism. To quote the wonderful Jeff Halper reacting to similar arguments: “[This] inane not even sophisticated racism. It’s just plain old-fashioned stupid racism.” 

Let me offer a different explanation: Israel, since its inception, has been dominated in the political arena by its military elite. Military elites tend to be at the forefront of dehumanizing the Other. It makes it easier to kill them. Nasrallah knows this, and so does Dan Halutz. When a government whose discourse largely originates from the military establishment (and this describes a ton of governments) has the unlimited support of the world’s richest and most powerful nation, the results are all too predictable. Hasbara spokespeople will often say that any country in Israel’s position would act the same way. I’m inclined to agree. Racist arguments like Arianpour’s have no place in the struggle for justice for Palestinans and Lebanese, and should be given no legitimacy. Propagandistic arguments like Glickman’s have no bearing in reality and thus no relevance in the quest for regional peace, coexistence, and the safety of all peoples. 


Ehud Appel is a student at UC Berkeley.