Debating a Supporter of U.S. Aid to Israel

By Damon Krane
September 4, 2014
Blog Post
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During “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s July-August 2014 attack on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis. 61 of the dead were Israeli soldiers. Five others were civilians, including one child.

A precise number of Palestinians killed in the offensive is harder to come by. But according to most sources, Israel killed more than 2,000 Palestinians during Operation Protective Edge. Roughly two thirds of the dead were civilians, and about 30 percent of the total were children.  

Shortly after the early August ceasefire, a friend posted on his Facebook wall a report about the U.S. decision to increase financial support of Israel’s missile defense system. The decision came despite the many atrocities committed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge (including bombing multiple hospitals, schools and shelters, as well as children playing soccer) and despite Israel already being the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” my friend asked rhetorically.

After several people responded to my friend’s post with similar disapproval of expanded U.S. aid to Israel a supporter of that aid chimed in, and a debate between the two of us followed.

I have reproduced the text of that debate below. In it, my opponent is designated as “DOI”, an acronym for the popular but arguably inaccurate title “defender of Israel.”

While I don’t assume my opponent is a typical example of someone who takes this position, I am curious to know how much his tactics of choice (attempts at intellectual intimidation, obfuscation and false accusations of racism) coincide with those encountered by other critics of settler colonialism, state terrorism and mass murder who have entered into their own debates with so-called defenders of Israel. 

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DOI: Its good to know that all of you are OK de-funding our support of one of the only things stopping the rockets, grenades, and mortars flying into a major democratic ally’s civilian territory.

Be frustrated by the death that is happening there. Weep for the loss of life and of humanity. But before you start acting like you have a glimmer of understanding about how to fix the situation, please, I beg of you, try to educate yourself on the root causes of this conflict. The world has enough under-educated demagogues ranting about every topic under the sun as though they had decades of experiential know-how. Its amazing how much confidence a sourced, alternative news site or one semester studying political science can do for an ego.

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Me: DOI is right. It’s not enough to condemn Israel’s latest terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment. They ought to be seen within the context of their “root causes” — namely 65+ years of Zionists conquering and colonizing places where people (of the wrong ethnicity) already lived — most of which could not have been possible without US tax dollars.

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DOI: I would really love to get into this with you all, but the level of ignorance and bias against Israel (and likely Jews in general) has been made abundantly clear. There appears to be no interest in hearing an alternative perspective. The notion that you might not be educated on this topic well enough to speak intelligently about it drove immediate “oh yea” responses that only proved my point to begin with.

This conflict is more complicated. I never said Israel was perfect. I never made any claims of guilt on either side of this. I did say that there are plenty of under-educated demagogues who feel like their internet searching skills qualify them to inform the public about the “truth.” Those who do would be laughably wrong.

Thanks for the laugh.

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Me: Thanks, DOI. Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism, your baseless insults, and your disingenuous claim to not be taking any firm position are all stunning testaments to your opposition to demagoguery and love of honest, informed debate. But if you’re not laughing too hard to provide a counter-argument to my claim that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as well as Israel’s most current crimes) is Israel’s settler colonialism, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who’d like to hear it.

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DOI: Damon, I will keep this simple. I have, for the last 32 years, been deeply in touch with this conflict. I have family and friends on both sides of this, have been exposed to and have tracked all aspects of this conflict for as long as I have been able, not just as some trendy news item to champion ignorantly. I have no freaking clue what the solution is.

I do know that your stance is quite firm and to the point. You almost approach it as a matter of fact. There was a reason that I did not offer my opinion. I do not find myself qualified enough to offer short meaningless explanations of “why” on Facebook that will inevitably not do this very serious issue justice, literally or intellectually.

My comments fixated on the demagoguery because there is no intellectual contribution being made. Hence my baseless insult about a lack of education on the topic in question. It is too complex an issue to be meaningfully addressed in this kind of venue or with talking points from an article or two.

So, am I going join this witch hunt? No. I will instead continue educating myself on the issue and if I do make a contribution to a discussion, it will likely be in the form of asking questions of people who seem to have more knowledge on the topic than I. Educated people, who have enough of an understanding of the conflict and who know that there is more to know. Getting into conversations with people who enter into them firmly touting that they already have the answer is fruitless and tiresome. If you want to engage in an honest, informed debate, do not start it off with a preconceived notion of what is right. Test an idea with the intent of gauging its truth, not to pummel the other participants with your foolish demagoguery.

And as I cannot possibly let the “Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism” line go unmentioned… Why choose Israel as a focus? What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like “terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment” as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others? Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you? Perhaps it is because of the specific group of people involved… Crimes that dwarf Israeli and Palestinian violence are happening in a neighboring country, no more than 100 miles away. Graves being dug for hundreds of people, filled with people, then executing them. Why dig a grave and move the bodies when you can have the dead walk there before you kill them? Why not talk about that? Not villainous enough for you? Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general. If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…

Is the issue you have more in line with the “occupation” aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.

The conflict in Israel/Palestine is devastating and horrendous. The issues that are represented in this conflict are infinitely larger than Israel and Palestine. Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise, it comes off as something else…

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Me: DOI, I decided not to accept your invitation to argue semantics on the vitally important matter of debate etiquette. Instead, I’ve responded to what little you’ve managed to write about the issue at hand – i.e. the questions and claims you begin posting in your fourth paragraph.

Q — “Why choose Israel as a focus?”

A — Because it’s what we’re talking about.

Q — “What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like ‘terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment’ as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others?”

A — Yes. In “Operation Protective Edge,” as in “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” as in “Operation Cast Lead”, as in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been and continues to be the disproportionately belligerent, disproportionately criminal, disproportionately civilian-murdering party. Would you like to debate that, or would you rather stick to accusing me of anti-semitism?

Q — “Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you?”

A — A “personal” issue? Geez. You make it sound like the feminine hygiene aisle at the supermarket. Is it a “personal” issue for me because I’m talking about it? Because I have an opinion? And is that suspect and likely racist because… why again?

Anyway, in direct response to your question rather than your beloved vague insinuations: No, it is more a matter of cause than effect. As an American, I am a citizen and taxpayer of the only country in the world that, while masquerading as some neutral mediator, in reality enables Israel’s rejection of a political settlement with the Palestinians and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society. Consequently, I have a responsibility for Israeli atrocities and a potential to stop them that I do not have when it comes to many other atrocities around the world, such as the Syrian situation to which you presumably alluded. For those astoundingly obvious reasons I believe I should prioritize this situation over those in which I am less involved and have less ability to affect positively. The key factor is not the scale of the atrocities (which is bad enough in this case), but the personal culpability and personal opportunity I have vis-à-vis these atrocities. That’s what makes it a “personal” issue for me, and for every other American.

So, do you agree that we should be more concerned with those things in which we are more involved and have greater opportunity to affect than with those things in which we are less involved and have less opportunity to affect?

If so, do you agree that Americans play a greater role in and have more ability to affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they do the Syrian civil war?

You can answer if you like, or you can keep charging me with anti-semitism.

Claim — “Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general.”

Response — Yes, DOI, that would be an excellent way for us to stop talking about Israel, wouldn’t it? For the record, I DO object to both the specific scale and, more importantly, the specific applications of U.S. military spending. For the record, I also like Annie Hall much more than Woody Allen’s other movies and Life of Brian way more than anything else Monty Python ever did. But I’m going to stick to talking about Israel here.

Claim — “If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…”

Response — So is your implication here that I’m unrealistically frugal when it comes to pursuing imperialistic American objectives in the Middle East? Because resisting those objectives is my intention, not pursuing them. So it’s not a matter of fiscal conservatism for me, just basic morality. But in all fairness to you, I may be attributing far more substance to your comment above than it actually contained.

{Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – Something I failed to add at the time but should have: Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israel’s beef is with Palestinians in general. That is why this conflict pre-dates Hamas. That is why this conflict exists in the Fatah-controlled West Bank as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza. That is why this conflict exists within Israel itself with regard to the “Jewish State’s” minority of non-Jewish citizens. And finally, that is why Israel is currently massacring a civilian population of Palestinians in Gaza much more than it is targeting Hamas.

Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israeli propagandists and their U.S. counterparts, including President Obama and most of Congress, are merely using Hamas as a convenient scapegoat to justify longstanding U.S.-Israeli policies of Israeli expansion at the expense of indigenous Palestinians. Your attempt to portray the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, or U.S. support for Israel in general, as “conflicts with Hamas” shows that you belong to this camp of propagandists, whether knowingly or unwittingly.]

Q & claim — “Is the issue you have more in line with the ‘occupation’ aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.”

Response — Human history is repulsively violent, and there’s a lot that’s wrong (in both theory and practice) with all modern nation-states. But not every modern nation-state was formed as a settler colony that required the removal of most of the region’s indigenous population. Nor does every nation-state that was formed in such a way continue to confine the remnants of the indigenous population to impoverished cantons. Nor does every nation-state subject millions of indigenous non-citizens to military occupation. Nor is every nation-state currently pursuing, as we speak, Manifest Destiny-style expansion of its territory. Israel is a country ¼ the size of Ohio. Israel is not the world. I didn’t realize erasing meaningful distinctions and trying to mystify fairly straightforward matters is what it means to “up” one’s “intellectual critique.”

Also, I don’t own a time machine. My opposition to settler colonialism is across the board. But it has the potential to do more good for the Palestinians than, say, for the millions of Native Americans that were conquered, displaced, and/or exterminated before my birth. But perhaps the idea that temporal distinctions also matter merely speaks to my level of ignorance.

DOI’s Conclusion — “Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise it comes off as something else…”

Response — My goodness, you make a sleazy argument, DOI. And here’s why I say that…

Since you’ve brought up racism, repeatedly, I want to share a personal story with you.

I grew up in a very backwards, white supremacist area. Shortly after I began developing an anti-racist consciousness, I discovered something odd. Whenever I’d try to talk to other white folks about the marginalization and oppression of African Americans, they’d always say “Well, what about the Native Americans? They’ve had it so much worse, haven’t they?”

Since this was the only time I ever heard these people express concern for Native Americans, it soon became clear they weren’t at all concerned with Native Americans; they were concerned with diverting the discussion from ongoing institutionalized and cultural racism against African Americans.

Now, note that “ultra conservatives” (i.e. American white nationalists / white supremacists) take this one step further and accuse the person trying to talk about anti-Black racism of “reverse racism.” That is, of hating whites.

Then fringe white racist groups take it further still. When the person criticizing white supremacist racism is themselves white, they have a name for that. I learned it at the first political rally I ever participated in – an NAACP march in response to a cross burning intended to scare a dark-skinned southwest Asian man out of an otherwise all-white Pennsylvania town where I lived in 1997. The Confederate Flag-waving Klansmen and masked, swastika-sporting neo-Nazis who protested from the march’s sidelines taught me that name when they applied it to me. It’s “race traitor.”

Now, I believe this personal story is relevant with regard to two things I find very troubling about your last post. The first is that your modus operandi is very much like those white folks who used the plight of Native Americans as a ploy for evading a discussion of anti-Black racism – yours is just a more sophisticated variety of bullshit, and it goes like this:

Damon, if you’re not simultaneously talking about every atrocity/human rights abuse/etc. as well as certain other mysterious issues I’ve referred to but haven’t named, then you don’t have any right to talk about this issue. So you can either attempt the former, which is impossible and therefore proof of the utter incomprehensibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even for a mind as brilliant and well-informed as my own, or you can just shut up. Either way, one thing is for sure – you won’t be talking about Israel, and I will have succeeded.

Thus all you offer is evasion, obfuscation and a feeble attempt at intellectual bullying – those fallacious appeals to authority which aren’t exactly made more persuasive by the fact that the authority to which you’re appealing is none other than the authority you yourself claim to possess. There is absolutely nothing of substance in either the short or long versions of the exceedingly pretentious and otherwise vacuous comments you’ve seen fit to offer here as Israel continues to kill a disproportionate amount of disproportionately civilian Palestinians and lay waste to Gaza. That’s an epic fail. At life.

The second troubling parallel I see is that Zionists defend Israel in exactly the same way white supremacists defend their ideology. Just as white supremacists accuse their opponents of “reverse racism” (as though opposing white supremacy is the same thing as hating whites), Zionists accuse critics of Israel of anti-semitism (as though being opposed to Israel’s settler colonialism, human rights violations, war crimes, and apartheid policies is the same thing as hating Jews). Further still, whereas white supremacists deem their white opponents “race traitors,” Zionists have a name for Jews that step out of line, too: “self-hating Jews.”

Of course, this is just a broader right wing tendency. It’s why U.S. “conservatives” call their domestic political opponents “anti-American.” It’s the fascistic concept that the state and its policies embody the essence of a people, so you can’t criticize the former without condemning the latter.

Thus it’s not surprising that the most recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans 65 and older support Israel’s current massacre of Palestinians, the same is true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18-29. In other words, the classic Zionist defense that you’ve employed here – i.e. that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-semitic – doesn’t really fly these days with many Americans outside of the Fox News demographic. And the reason it DOES fly with that demographic is that its part of their political playbook, too.

Now, since we’re talking about right wing ideology and racism, let’s talk about your support for Israel.

I’m not opposed to Jewish nationalism per se. Particularly in the years shortly after the Holocaust, when Israel was founded, I think the desire among Jews for a national homeland was exceedingly justified. Had Israel been carved out of Germany, then I’d most likely be a Zionist.

But there is no moral justification for Palestinians paying such a steep price for a sense of… I would call it “Jewish security,” except that the so-called “Jewish State” is no more synonymous with the global Jewish population than Israel is pursuing security. Much like the U.S. in its so-called “War on Terror” (and in conjunction with the U.S. in that war) what Israel is pursuing is expanded geographical dominance at the EXPENSE of its population’s security. And that’s not worth the confiscation of Palestinian life and land.

Since Palestinians don’t owe Jews Holocaust reparations (although others certainly have and do), Jews have no entitlement to Palestinians’ land and resources – unless, of course, you feel that Jews are more deserving on racial or religiously chauvinistic grounds. But what has Zionism become by now, if not a fundamentally chauvinistic, right wing ideology employed to rationalize a kind of gradual genocide?

That’s not where I want to see my tax dollars go. That’s not something I’m comfortable seeing done in my name.

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DOI: Disappointing. You had so many ways to respond, so many opportunities to take the moral high ground. I am genuinely disappointed. At least you didn’t make vague claims at having Jewish friends to justify your stance… The only thing that would be more wrongfully placed than the balance of your second “response.”

Why is my desire to talk about the root cause of this problem construed as pro-Israel? Because I am the only person in this lynch mob questioning the reasoning behind it? A cute notion, but not true.

So, am I pro Israel? Lets get your base-line assumption about me addressed up front, since you clearly lack a capacity to understand why anyone would want to focus on solving the conflict and not fixating on talking points and haphazard and flawed moral arguments. Yes. I am pro-Israel. You are failing miserably in not seeing that I am pro-Palestine just as strongly.

The only thing that cutting off funding to Israel will do is increase Israeli casualties. The Iron Dome that Austin wants us to cut funding to is defensive. The ONLY thing it does is intercept attacks made on Israeli soil. Wanting to even out loss of life to both sides of a conflict is not taking the moral high ground. It is blood-lust. Guess you did pick up some habits from growing up in a white supremacist area after all.

Or, do we want to actually address HOW to stop the violence? (I am sure that was a frequent conversation with your white supremacist childhood friends) Does that even matter? When we stop funding Israel, will anyone give one damn about Palestine? Jesus, how can so many be so painfully narrow-minded?

Now to get to my “classic” Zionist defense of Israel… I am so amazed that this is still a thing. Why not just reference the “problem of the Jew?” I did not defend Israel’s actions. Once. I hate what is happening. I actually want it to stop. Lowering the budget for their defense system will make them more desperate for severe action. To expect anything else is kinda silly and naive. Unless it is only a desire to remove your personal culpability… Then hurrah head-in-sand!

The people of Palestine deserve better champions than you…

And if you want to go tit for tat with personal stories of discrimination, we can have that conversation elsewhere. I am very happy you are championing civil rights issues. It is a tragedy that they still need to be addressed. I guess too many people are fixating on the people exhibiting racism and not trying to change the ideas behind racism…

I do, however, really hope you approach it from a slightly higher moral standard than you have shown here… Telling a Jewish nation not to defend itself in a post-Holocaust world, or to cut funding to its defense tool… Why not just tell them to move to the US, there are plenty of spaces at the back of the bus…. Jesus…

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Me: I’ll make you a deal, DOI. If anyone else reading this comment thread wants to point out anything in your previous two comments that they found persuasive or in any way meriting a response from me, then I’ll address it. Otherwise, I don’t think your attempt to double down on your favorite absurdity is anything I haven’t already refuted.

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DOI: Or you could explain how cutting funding will actually address the problem. And you could back up your claims of Israel’s intent behind its actions. Or…
[At this point, DOI attached a link to Sacha Baron Cohen as “Borat” performing the song “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”

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Me: As I said, “anyone else.”

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DOI: Zzzzzzzzzz

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20 days pass (August 3 – 23) without anyone commenting.

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Me: OK. Looks like nobody took me up on that offer…  

But since I don’t like loose ends, I’ll respond to that bit about the missile defense system you brought in at the end, DOI. Why shouldn’t U.S. taxpayers pay for it? Here’s why.

I.) VIOLENCE REDUCTION / PEACE

Because I believe all human life has equal value, I’m interested in acting to achieve a net reduction in violence and oppression. While there is violence and death on both sides of this conflict, the vast majority of violence is coming from the Israeli side while the vast majority of deaths are happening on the Palestinian side – and that’s even more the case if we’re talking about the deaths of civilians, and even more still if we’re talking about the deaths of children. Therefore, anyone concerned with a net reduction of violence is going to prioritize reducing violence against the people who are suffering the bulk of it – and in this case that’s the Palestinians.

This begs the question: Why is the U.S. funding a missile defense system for Israel instead of one for Gaza? Israel already has one and needs it less. Gaza has none and needs it more.

At the very least, we might wonder why the U.S. isn’t funding missile defense systems for both sides, seeing as how the U.S. is such a neutral mediator and all.

Sadly, reducing the violence of this conflict is not the driving goal of President Obama or virtually any member of Congress – Republican or Democrat. And that says something very chilling (but hardly surprising) about the U.S. socio-political system.

But in contrast to the garbage of debased humanity that rises to the top of our political system, people with fundamentally decent moral values should want a net reduction in violence. And there’s no way to argue that such decent people should prioritize funding Israel’s missile defense system over providing aid to Palestinians.

II.) PEACE & JUSTICE

Of course, decent people aren’t just concerned with violence reduction or “peace.” They’re also concerned with justice. “Peace and justice” get lumped together because they’re inseparably linked, but they’re two words because they are nonetheless distinct. This situation illustrates all of that quite well. So let’s bring justice into the picture, too.

Israel isn’t only the belligerent party because it is disproportionately violent at present and over all. Israel is also the belligerent party because its longstanding policies of settler colonialism (and more specifically, ethnic cleansing) are the root of the conflict.

Even if Israelis and Palestinians were only fighting with water balloons, the fact would remain that Palestinians are fighting to keep their land and Israelis are fighting to take it. One cause is just, the other is not. So once you add a sense of justice to a desire for peace, the argument for supporting Israel gets even weaker.

Bringing justice into the picture also makes something else clear. That is, if you really want a net reduction in violence, work not only toward protecting the predominant victims and constraining the predominant perpetrators, but also work toward eliminating the structural source of the violence. In this case, the structural source of the violence is Israel’s settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

But all that said, wouldn’t a better Israeli missile defense system still save (Israeli) lives – particularly those of (Israeli) civilians? And isn’t that a good thing?

Of course it would. And of course that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean U.S. taxpayers should have to pay for it. In fact, anyone concerned with peace and justice should be opposed to the U.S. or any other country besides Israel paying for it. And here’s why…

III.) THE COSTS OF COLONIALISM

Settler colonialism has its costs for the settlers, too. The resistance of indigenous people is predictable, as is the fact that it will sometimes take very ugly forms. There are cases of Native Americans massacring noncombatant European settlers, including children. There are cases of black Africans doing the same in Europe’s former African colonies. Rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza and suicide bombers are just more of the same. We don’t have to support any of these atrocious acts to recognize their predictability or their root causes. Because oppression isn’t reserved for angels, the resistance it engenders will not always be pretty. Those horrors are a cost of colonialism that settlers have to pay – in terms of defending themselves against it, even if not in terms of actually suffering it.

And that’s why if Israel wants a better missile defense system to protect itself from the costs of its own aggression, then Israel should pay for it. Especially since Israel CAN pay for it. We’re talking about an unusually affluent country, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, that the U.S. has been pouring billions into annually for decades.

Israel can afford a better missile defense system; it just might need to sacrifice other projects and programs in order to get it. That’s the nature of cost. But so long as American taxpayers are paying the financial costs of Israel’s settler colonial project and Israelis are enjoying so many of the benefits for free, we can expect Israel to stay its present course – a course which is far more likely to result in a net increase in violence than a net reduction in violence.

IV.) REBUTTAL?

Now, DOI… as much as I enjoyed your unintentional self-parody in that Borat clip… (i.e. using the fictional anti-semitism of a Sacha Baron Cohen character to illustrate the fictional anti-semitism you attribute to me) …you are still welcome to break with past practice and enter into a substantive discussion by responding directly to some of the many points I have made in this and previous posts. After all, I think I have responded directly to each and every point you’ve attempted to make up until now.

Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – I posted the entry above on August 23rd. To date I have received no response.

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