Sunday, January 18, 2009

Our Day for Joy

I stopped by Edina's Edinborough Park yesterday to do the survey I mentioned several days ago. A little backstory:

I backed the Iraq War in 2003 and have since come to rue that support. And so before supporting any new cross-border military attacks, I go through a checklist making sure the proposed action passes muster. Before launching a military assault, we ought to engage in democratic deliberation in which the pros and cons are assessed. If the people supporting military action refuse to seriously acknowledge easily-foreseen negative consequences, that ought to put us on guard.

The 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict came out of the blue. We were aware of the problem of Hamas' illegal launching of Qassams aimed at civilians in southern Israel, but I don't recall any public deliberation on what a reasonable Israeli response might look like. Once Israel started its Gaza attack, public discourse in the US resembled a loyalty test. Few supporters of Operation Cast Lead (as the Israelis call it) felt it important to analyse the predictable negative consequences and engage in reasoned discussion as to whether it made sense. No one was putting forward a morally-serious rationale for the attack and easily-foreseen, undisputed negative consequences weren't even being discussed--so I opposed the action.

The local and national response has had a strong McCarthyite odor. Minnesotans seeking to congratulate Israel for its assault held (on January 12) what might fairly be described as a '100% Loyalty Rally' at the Sabes Jewish Community Center. As the bombs fell on Gaza, Michele Bachmann told the crowd, 'This is our day for joy, our day for rejoicing--because we join together with the great freedom-seekers and peace-seekers of Sderot and of southern Israel, who have said "Here I stand for peace and for freedom". And now we stand with them also. That's where freedom begins--when we stand together.'

Similarly craven 'pro-Israel' statements and mutual congratulations were issued by Mark Dayton, John Kline, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty and Al Franken too--though we might note that Franken showed some concern for the people on the receiving end of Israel's bombs. Given the clearly McCarthyite ideological environment, the rally intended to inform Minnesotans there can be no such thing as legitimate discussion on whether or not you support Operation Cast Lead. You either strongly support it, or you're disloyal. Hence, no discussion of the predictable negative consequences was necessary. Discussing the negative consequences would legitimize thinking--and our political class agreed that thought had to be banished. It was a particularly disgraceful moment in our public life.

On the national stage, Congress passed a resolution apportioning blame for the conflict: 100% of the blame ought to be borne by Hamas, Erik Paulsen et al advised a scoffing world.

Prior to December 27, 2008, over six years Hamas had killed fewer than twenty Israelis with the Qassams. During the 22-day Operation Cast Lead, Israel killed around 700 civilians in Gaza, not to mention the additional 500 paramilitary and military Gazans who were killed--many of whom likely had very little say in their own participation. So it should surprise no thinking person that our political class' 100%-0% box score did not appear obvious to observers viewing the matter from outside their McCarthyite biosphere.

So I went to the indoor jungle gym park in Edina and asked at the front desk if surveying was allowed. Cool, I was told. (The First Amendment kicks in again when you leave Eden Prairie, I learned.)

And there (at the play area) I found dozens of moms, dads and grandparents waiting while their kids climbed--and I gave them my survey. The survey provides a brief statement of the conflict and asks respondents to apportion blame for the recent violence between Israel and Hamas. The survey is of course unscientific. Perhaps five people refused to take the survey--and four people who accepted the sheet returned it to me blank. But I got 22 of them back completed. Here are the results:

Hamas' blame - Israel's blame

80 - 20
70 - 30
60 - 40
50 - 50
70 - 30
75 - 25
50 - 50
50 - 50
60 - 40
50 - 50
50 - 50
50 - 50
99 - 1
100 - 0
98 - 2
75 - 25
50 - 50
100 - 0
60 - 40
45 - 55
70 - 30
80 - 20

Average:

68% - 32%

**

In my blogging on Gaza, a few people have strongly criticized me. So I thought I'd ask someone who actually knows what he's talking about--and knows the history of the region. I emailed Carleton College [my alma mater] History Prof. Adeeb Khalid--a published expert who knows much more about the Middle East than Mitch Berg or I do, asking for a reaction to my Gaza posts. Here's Adeeb's response:

I agree with you completely. The situation in Gaza is appalling. The violence is completely asymmetrical, out of all proportion to the alleged cause (Qassam rockets being fired into Israel) and will do nothing to enhance the security of Israel or to win it (or the US) any friends. The usual arguments, that the Israelis are doing it to defend themselves, etc., are premised on a completely false notion of any symmetry or equivalence between the two sides. Israel is a rich, militarily powerful, nuclear-armed state with powerful friends all over the world. Gaza is an overpopulated slum which is penned in with checkpoints and completely at the mercy of Israel. Also the fact of military occupation is absolutely central to how you look at the situation, but is seldom mentioned by those who would defend Israel 110% of the way.

And I publish Adeeb's response--with permission--not to pat myself on the shoulder, but to remind folks that this is the obvious moral intuition of the vast majority of non-US observers. To people looking at the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict from outside of our ideological vortex, it just doesn't look very defensive. And my survey results were somewhat interesting, because they show that even within our unusually 'pro-Israel' environment, lots of middle class parents and grandparents appear resistant to the 100% - 0% scoring that Erik Paulsen--and sadly, Al Franken--want us to accept without discussion.
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