Response to Gold and Singer

November 15, 2010 by Peter Slezak
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The debate following Alan Gold’s piece on Anna Baltzer is to be welcomed and Jwire is to be commended for giving space to divergent views that are too infrequently aired publicly in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, one might have hoped for a more productive and appropriate, not to mention more courteous, exchange.

It is assumed by Gold and Singer that those with a different view of political and historical matters deserve to be slandered and misrepresented. This lack of civility among “defenders” of Israel, would not merit comment and might be overlooked as a character flaw perhaps due to bad upbringing. However, its near-universality suggests other causes that do not give confidence about the prospects for rational discussion.

The absurd and racist charge that only Arab lies and propaganda provide Baltzer’s disturbing picture suggests how isolated mainstream Jewish communities and their leaders have become from the world of serious intellectual and academic discourse. Moreover, the charge is easily refuted by consulting Israel’s human rights organization

B’Tselem and, indeed, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Contrary to Gold’s misrepresentations, I did, in fact, deliberately cite Israeli sources which are not “a pipeline” for Arab propaganda and amply document what diaspora communities are discouraged from knowing about.

The insults and derision of Gold and Singer reflect even more poorly upon them when we mention notable Israelis who share the Baltzer’s views and who are unlikely to be “useful idiots” reciting Arab propaganda. These include former Knesset members Uri Avnery, and Shulamit Aloni, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper, the late academic Tanya Reinhart, journalists Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Tom Segev, Akiva Eldar, and historians Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris. We might mention also other significant Jewish scholars such as Avi Shlaim, the late Tony Judt and leading expert on Gaza, Harvard’s political economist Sara Roy, among many others. Of course, these people might be mistaken in their criticisms of Israel, but they pose a challenge that must be taken seriously by Jewish communities.

Instead, Gold and Singer resort to invective and epithets only because they can safely assume that their audience remains unaware of dissent among well-intentioned and well-informed Jews within Israel and worldwide. Gold and Singer attempt to maintain the illusion that Jewish community leaders and Israeli Hasbara apparatus are telling the unvarnished Truth.

Gold has not failed to notice my echoing Anna Baltzer’s plea for upholding international law, humanitarian principles and traditional Jewish universalized ethics. His response is mockery. He refers contemptuously to fulminations from my “moralistic pulpit” from where I cite facts that he dismisses as “boring the pants off” readers because I “trot out” or repeat “propaganda gushing daily out of the Palestinian Victimhood Press.” Apart from anything else one might say about the depths to which such denialism descends, it’s not a good look for Jews who have had a near-monopoly of the “Victimhood Press” and who demand that the world should not deny or forget. It is difficult to know how to reply to someone who responds with sarcasm, scorn and slander when appeal is made to their sense of justice, fairness and humanity.  What can be said to someone who thinks that the suffering of Palestinians for which we are responsible is a matter for derision and ridicule? Above all, it is difficult to know what to say when such reactions are considered acceptable, indeed, widely shared and applauded in the Jewish community.

It may “bore the pants off” Gold to remind him of the cost to the Palestinians when the State of Israel was established in 1948. Gold sinks so far as to even deny a Palestinian identity before 1967. According to Gold, they didn’t exist. Presumably this exonerates us for present, ongoing violations of international and humanitarian laws, since the human rights of Palestinians don’t exist either. We Jews may feel reassured that we having nothing to feel guilty about concerning the 800,000 Palestinians – half the population – who were forcibly evicted amid many massacres from over 500 villages that were destroyed in accordance with Hagana’s ‘Plan Dalet’. If Gold is bored by being reminded of such atrocities, an alternative model of what it is to be a Jew today is provided by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe whose recent book has documented ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. He writes:

I am also part of the society that stands condemned in this book. I feel responsible for and part of the story and, like others in my own society, I am convinced … that such a painful journey into the past is the only way forward if we want to create a better future for us all, Palestinians and Israelis alike. (2006, p. xvii).

Gold’s scornful denialism can only be received with equanimity in the Jewish community because there is no awareness of the dramatic shift in the historical picture that has emerged over recent years, largely to the credit of Israeli and other Jewish scholars relying on official Israeli records. Singer, too, attempts to give a history lesson but simply repeats the very claims that have been discredited by respectable Israeli historians themselves.

The “revisionist” account of the “New Historians” is undeniably shocking and cannot be justified in the pages of Jwire. My point was precisely to encourage Jews to check for themselves. Is B’Tselem to be so disdainfully dismissed? Is anyone, including Zionists such as Judge Goldstone, to be treated with contempt for no other reason than their criticism of Israel?

Similarly, Baltzer’s claims are not to be so contemptuously dismissed as a “propaganda rag” that I have uncritically relied upon since, as I indicated, she gives copious references to the authoritative, often Israeli, sources of her claims.

Serious discussion would not resort to the tactics Gold and Singer, but would begin to confront the radically different story of 1948 and since that has now emerged. Despite some differences among scholars, the broad outline is clear and demolishes the self-serving mythology that we have grown up with. It’s admittedly disturbing to discover that we, too, have been victims of systematic propaganda.

Perhaps the most intellectually and morally bankrupt excuse for the crimes against Palestinians is Zionist appeal to the historic presence of Jews in the holy land. If it were not nearly universal as a justification for the ongoing brutal dispossession, injustice and oppression of Palestinians, it would be almost incomprehensible that rational and otherwise decent people might make such claims.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we fully grant the history lessons of Gold and Singer, how can this justify the cruelty and collective punishment today against the Palestinian people? It is understandable that Gold doesn’t want to be reminded of the horrors of the military occupation and wishes to avert his gaze from the crimes for which Jews are responsible today in Gaza and the West Bank. For example, Israeli Jeff Halper reports that over 24,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 based on information, not from the “Palestinian Victimhood Press” but from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Civil Administration, International Human Rights Watch and other sources. These demolitions, like shooting of unarmed civilians demonstrating in their villages, have nothing to do with the defence of the State of Israel but are among the many forms of oppression and discrimination against Palestinians by the Jewish State in our name.

A striking feature of the exchange in Jwire is the fact that in replies to my criticisms, Gold and Singer entirely avoid these issues I described as urgent moral, factual and political questions facing Jews. This is so striking as to deserve special emphasis. To take just one form of discrimination under the occupation, do Jewish-only roads in the West Bank derive their justification from the purported history that Gold and Singer recite?

Like other decent human beings, Jews would be moved and disturbed if they learned full the extent of the historical and ongoing Palestinian tragedy and the extent of our responsibility for it. Gold’s mockery of Palestinian suffering and his slander of Jews who speak out about it would be of little interest as a matter of his own individual psychology. However, he does the Jewish community a grave disservice by presuming that others share his callous indifference to the plight of Palestinians and their tragic history at our hands. Gold accused Baltzer of ignoring facts, but he didn’t actually mention any himself.  Instead, he relied on personal abuse. Amusingly, when I pointed this out, Gold’s reply was entirely personal abuse.

The issue is not just a matter of civility. The ability of the Jewish community to face well-informed, well-intentioned criticism has predictable effects on others in the wider community. Intolerant repudiation of criticism, vilification and tribal ostracizing of dissenters are giving the Jewish community a bad name.

The importance of someone like Anna Baltzer is precisely that she cannot be so easily defamed and discredited in order to discourage other Jews from taking her seriously. However, Gold was right about one thing: He recognized the significance, indeed the threat, of Baltzer’s youth, intelligence and education. She represents the demographic shift among Jews that Peter Beinart referred to in a recent explosive article in the New York Review of Books (NYRB).

Baltzer represents the new generation of Jews who are no longer wedded to the myths of those referred to as AKZs – Alte Kakke Zionists. (Following Gold’s erudite scholarly practice of citing sources for his insults, I emphasize that the term is Beinart’s and not mine.)

I began by asking how “pleas for upholding international law and humanitarian principles on the grounds of traditional Jewish values can elicit the scorn and gross misrepresentations of Alan Gold’s discussion of Anna Baltzer”.  Neither Gold nor Singer has even addressed these questions. They could hardly have done anything more to illustrate the force of Baltzer’s hand-out slogan “Silence is complicity”.

JWire has made an important contribution by helping us to confront the clash of “narratives” and it is to be hoped that the exchange mightencourage a more open and more productive dialogue. Gold’s articles present us with a choice. We may follow those like Gold who belittle Palestinian suffering and deny our responsibility for it. Or we may heed others like Baltzer and the Israelis and Jews I have mentioned who remind us of the lessons we learned from our own tragedy: First, to universalize our ethical concerns by standing for justice and equality for everyone. Second, of all people, we cannot use the excuse “we didn’t know.”

Dr Peter Slezak

Associate Professor, School of History & Philosophy

University of NSW


4 Responses to “Response to Gold and Singer”
  1. Everett Benson says:

    Looking over the exchanges between Slezak and Singer-Gold, it is really striking to see how verbosely and disingenuously Slezak covers over and simply refuses to address even one of the “five detailed challenges” and other factual arguments made by Singer. This is openly a confession of intellectual capitulation (and to that degree concedes victory to Singer) but also reveals the chiefly irrational sources for the continuing allegedly “moral” anti-Israel stances of Slezak. I was also surprised at the authorities Slezak invoked to support his own views. Almost all are notoriously far-leftist and anti-Zionist people known for spouting the Palestinian propaganda line and echoing their most obvious falsehoods — and this certainly includes Amira Hass, married to a Palestinian and living in the West Bank, Gideon Levy, the Haaretz editor who has called for BDS against the state of Israel in European BDS conferences, Ilan Pappe who espouses a Communist, if not Trotsky-ite anti-Zionism, consorts with Palestinians, not Israelis, and who after complaining that less than 1% of the academics there agree with him (showing how very extreme his views are) no longer even lives in Israel, and so on and so forth. By Slezak’s chosen heroes one can judge him and his credibility. I also wonder at his naming of Benny Morris, since as I suppose he knows Morris has abandoned and revised his early revisionist positions (after Efraim Karsh’s crushing demolition of his revisionist “scholarship” and that of other revisionists, in Fabricating Israeli History: The ‘New Historians’ [2nd ed. 2000]) and now Morris repudiates the sorts of claims Slezak holds fast to, giving pretty devastating disproofs of them in fact, and admitting that he pushed his previous positions largely because he thought the Palestinians really might be willing to live with a Jewish state and only needed to have their anti-Zionist narrative at least partly accepted — but following the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, and Arafat’s response of the Intifada, he finally understood that Palestinian rejectionism had nothing to do with so-called “oppression” nor will it be alleviated by any Israeli concessions, but instead has everything to do with the simple (and repeatedly expressed — in Arabic) Palestinian/Arab/ Muslim refusal to live with a Jewish, or even a non-Arab, non-Muslim state in the Middle East, however tiny it might be (thus the Palestinian stress on the “Right of Return,” and on the non-existence of any Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem, the West Bank nor Israel as such, meaning that all the debates about whether Israel should hand over 90, 97, or 98% of the West Bank are simply irrelevant). On this see Morris’s One State, Two States (2009).

    The nature and substance of Slezak’s criticisms can be assessed by a charge he singles out and particularly reproaches Singer and Gold for not addressing, namely: “To take just one form of discrimination under the occupation, do Jewish-only roads in the West Bank derive their justification from the purported history that Gold and Singer recite?” He evidently does not know that these are actually not even “Jewish-only roads,” but roads accessible to all Israeli citizens, Jewish and other, who wish to visit settlements without having to fear road-side bombs, sniper attacks and the like. Therefore Israeli Arabs and non-Jewish tourists can also use these roads. They were built during the Intifada for security purposes only too often shown to be necessary considering Palestinian terrorism. This obviously did not and cannot occur to Slezak. For him, it is merely “discrimination.” Right there is the problem with his whole outlook.

  2. Peter Slezak’s writing style, logic and humanity is par excellence. Thank you Peter for fearlessly challenging traditional stereotypes. The winds of change are in the air. A new day for Jewish-Israelis, Palestinian-Israelis and Palestinians is coming because of people like yourself. What a wonderful example you give when you cite the work of Uri Avnery, Jeff Halper, Illan Pappe, Richard Goldstone, B’Tselem, Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Anna Baltzer and the like. Thank you.

  3. david singer says:

    Peter –

    I gave you five specific cases of Arab lies and propaganda that you propagated in your article – which I claimed were factually false or misleading. The veracity of these five matters relied on by you are critical to a proper understanding of the conflict, the reasons that have failed to see it resolved for the last 130 years and that are preventing it being concluded at the present time.

    You have not in your latest letter above sought to deny my claim that they are false and misleading for the reasons I fully detailed.

    You, as an intellectual, surely understand that people formulate views on the basis of facts presented to them in material they read. If people are fooled into believing facts that are demonstrably false or misleading then this will have a major bearing on how they view any particular issue.

    Your intellectual reputation and that of the other intellectuals you name – who apparently according to you are sprouting the same five pieces of Arab propaganda – is now on public display and you cannot run away those five specific claims you have made.

    I challenge you to specifically rebut my claims in relation to the five specific examples given by me.

    You further ask – as if almost admitting your five statements were incorrect:
    “Even if, for the sake of argument, we fully grant the history lessons of Gold and Singer, how can this justify the cruelty, crimes and collective punishment today against the Palestinian people?

    Peter – Cruelty, crimes and collective punishment have not been the exclusive preserve of the Palestinian Arabs.

    Jews have also been – and continue to be – victims of this long running conflict that has defied any settlement for the last 130 years and has caused misery and suffering on both sides.

    Jews being blown up on buses or in discotheques or pizza bars cannot be justified either. Jews being slaughtered in the Hebron massacre in 1929 or during the Arab Revolt in 1936 is apparently to be overlooked – not to mention the many wars since 1948 that have seen Jews give their lives to preserve their very existence. Having thousands of rockets indiscriminately fired into Jewish civilian population centres for years on end seems to not concern you. Drive by murders of pregnant Jewish women and Jewish children becoming orphans supposedly evokes no sympathy from you.

    I feel the Jewish pain as I feel the Arab pain. This conflict is not a one sided affair. It needs to be resolved in the interests of both Jews and Arabs.

    We would not be having this argument today – and the Palestinian Arabs would have had their own Jew free independent state long ago – and in an area far greater than they are currently demanding – had they:
    1. Accepted the Peel Commission proposals in 1937
    2. Accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947
    3. Not sent six Arab armies to invade Palestine to wipe out the nascent Jewish State in 1948
    4. Not voted to unify the West Bank and the East Bank in a renamed state called Jordan in 1950
    5. Created an independent state between Jordan and Israel at any time between 1948-1967 when what they are supposedly fighting for today – and more – could have been created by the Arab League at the stroke of a pen in those 19 years whilst not one Jew was living in the West Bank or Gaza.
    6. Refused to negotiate with Israel between 1967-1993.
    7. Rejected offers made by Israel in 2001 and 2008.

    Their refusal to do a deal on so many occasions has been driven by their unyielding opposition to accept that the Jewish people have the right to self- determination in a State where they comprise a majority of the population.

    57 such Moslem countries exist today pursuant to that principle– 21 of which happen to be Arab. Why do the Arabs continue to deny the Jews the same right in their ancestral, biblical and internationally recognized homeland?

    The Arabs must accept the consequences of their actions. Their decisions to oppose Jewish self-determination have come at a very heavy price in terms of continued suffering for themselves – which could have been eliminated had they adopted a more reasoned and compromising approach.

    Blaming their continuing victimhood solely on the Jews – and having Jews argue in that manner based on false and misleading Arab propaganda – is your perfect entitlement to propagate if you desire.

    It is certainly not my viewpoint.

    When I see these false Arab claims repeated ad nauseam – especially by Jewish intellectuals – then I will not remain silent.

    So Peter – if you are prepared to reply to this letter I would ask that you don’t go off on a tangent once again.

    I have made five detailed challenges to the credibility of five specific statements made by you.
    Five responses are required.

    Please let me have them.

    If you wish to specifically rebut the new facts I have presented in this letter feel free to do so and I will answer them.

  4. Paul Winter says:

    Slezak is being precious in complaining at length about the less than fawning tones of Gold’s and Singer’s obervations on Baltzer. One must agree that that pisher is not a “useful idiot”; useful does not apply to her from a Jewish perspective. But that perspective is not one the Slezak can comprehend. More disturbing are Slezak’s sources of authority for his perspective; every one warped, far left, radical anti-Israeli. His arguments in support of Balzer insult our intelligence; they are distorted and dishonest. The Arab narrative is a tissue of lies and no person with any concern for facts can take them seriously, nor fail to be offended by people who identify as Jews only to better ingratiate themselves with their comrades. Finally, Slazak talks of Israel’s failure to comply with international law, when we know full well that Israel complies with the spirit and letter of the law and its enemies who Slezak and Baltzeer support, distort and invent laws to suit their political agenda: destroying Israel and denying the Jewish people self-determination. Worse still, when there are clear laws Israel’s enemies flout them eg Shalit’s kidnapping and incarceration, about which Slezak is silent.

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