I’m Still Not Dead Yet: Return of Inverse Square/Quick Check on Daily Dish follies edition.

So, I’m trying to end what has been a longer-than-usual Wittgenstein moment for me.  Not that it matters, but some sad family news, among other things, knocked me for a loop a bit this spring, and I just haven’t felt much like talking for a while.

But I’m back, more or less, and thought I’d try and get things going with some tunes (see this blog, below) and some more or less science – tinged rage against the follies of the right.  As Andrew Sullivan has gone on holiday, leaving the keys to his blog to guests and his assistants, there are some targets of opportunity there, so I thought, why not.

First up is a bit of Likudnik wankery from David Frum.  There isn’t much that science can illuminate about Frum’s using his temporary Daily Dish pulpit to pump traffic to a post on his own site by Barry Rubin, but what gets my goat is the abuse of both language and sense in Frum’s claim that Rubin “debunks” what Frum terms “the President’s insulting explanation of Israeli mistrust of him.”

Frum and Rubin are perturbed by President Obama’s suggestion that his middle name, “Hussein,” might arouse concern in some Israelis minds.

Rubin’s piece is an astonishing one, if you haven’t spent a lot of time in the universe of those who think taht anything other than unquestioning support for anything Israel does is anathema.  In that looking-glass world, those of us who love Israel and wish to see it step back from what appears to be a pretty direct line to an assisted suicide are often seen as self-hating Jews (those among this camp that are Jewish) or simply anti-Semitic.

I count Obama as one of this party:  not an Israel-hater, but as one who loves it too well to wish it permanently engaged in a war in which, as Israeli leaders have famously said before, its enemies need win only one battle.

That’s clearly not Frum’s or Rubin’s view.  Rubin writes,

“Here’s a note to Jewish Obama supporters: Have no illusion. Among Israelis, and among Israelis who want a two-state solution and peace, concern over Obama is very high. Relatively few would accept the extreme right-wing claims that he hates Israel and wants to destroy it. The problem is rather that Obama basically has no warm feeling for Israel, does not understand its strategic importance, does not grasp the nature of the country and its people, does not comprehend the nature and goals of its enemies, and is just too unreliable and not tough enough.

I’ve no doubt that Israeli concern over Obama is high (though it is notable that the polls in Israel do not paint quite the unequivocal picture that Rubin does). I think they’re wrong, and that Obama could be the savior of an Israel unable to save itself from the long term disaster that it now risks.  (It’s not just simple destruction that is in play.  Rather, Israel faces more subtle existential dangers as well, as this story illustrates.)

But right or wrong, what galls me here is not Rubin’s belief, but his lack of argument:  he doesn’t like the fact that Obama suggests that identity politics, or even, (dare I say it) racism might cloud some Israeli’s ability to trust the President.  So he asserts that it could not be so.  Rather, it is Obama that is the fantasist — Rubin writes

“Obama shows an ability to rewrite history in his own mind and forget what has happened.  This may signal that in six months he will forget all of Israel’s cooperation and concessions, which is precisely what happened last time, between October 2009 and March 2010.”

It’s too easy here to make the charge of projection.  Rubin forgets, for example for Israel has done some things in that time period and since that no reasonable person can construe as concessionary, and it is with the totality of the situation, and not just those events which (some) Israelis and their lockstep right wing American friends choose to recall that the President must deal.

But none of that matters when Obama insults Israelis (and their American/Canadian supporters by suggesting that his name might color the atmospherics of the relationship.  Unpossible! After all, as Rubin notes, Israelis have liked themselves some folks called Hussein in the past.

Except, of course, in the US, as Frum and Rubin must know, rumors of Obama’s alien, Islamic nature have become a kind of political herpes virus, wrapped around the nervous system, apparently ineradicable.  Repeated polls have shown that 1/5th of those polled believe Obama to be foreign born, with the levels reaching almost one third among Republicans.

And so too in Israel, wheremore than a quarter of respondents in a poll taken at the height of US-Israel tensions in March held that Obama is anti-Semitic — i.e. bigoted against Jews as Jews, and for no other reason.  (This is, by the way, Obama selected an IDF volunteer as his chief-of-staff, but never mind.)  Given all that, does anyone seriously doubt that Obama’s name discomforts at least some (and not a tiny sum) Israelis?

That there are other factors in play in the state of US-Israeli relations and perceptions is certainly true.  But the inability to recognize that one is living in an echo chamber of one’s own making is an example of the damage one does to oneself by acting as the colonial power, the occupier is what’s really going on here.

All of which is to say that neither Frum nor Rubin “debunk” anything in their posts.  They assert, but they don’t assemble evidence or construct an argument.  Why then the word?  False legitimacy, of course — which is what got my goat in the first place. They want to win the argument without making it, for if they had to, they would open up the ground for dissent — and that, of course, is terrifying.  (It is also why, confounding neoconservatives, so much of American Jewry stubbornly refuses to accept the meme that criticism of Israel = hatred of same.  But that’s for another post.)

Image:  Nicholas Poussin, “Conquest of Jerusalem by Titus,” c. 1638-9

Explore posts in the same categories: bad writing, Last resort of scoundrels, Middle East, Republican knavery, Uncategorized, words mattter

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3 Comments on “I’m Still Not Dead Yet: Return of Inverse Square/Quick Check on Daily Dish follies edition.”

  1. Andy Says:

    I certainly agree with your point that criticizing Israel does not equal hatred of Israel. On that note, I do have a small criticism of President Obama’s approach here:

    I think what would serve America best in the Arab-Israeli conflict would be peace – some durable peace that both sides can live with permanently. So encouraging both sides to negotiate is crucial, and petty insults that cause one side or the other to get defensive seem to me to be counterproductive.

    That’s why it seems odd to me that the President of the United States would make such an open accusation of prejudice on the part of Israelis, as if they have no legitimate, substantive concerns to address. Even if the President thinks this, and even if he has good reason to think it, nevertheless bringing it up like that seems to me to be an error in diplomacy and worth pointing out.

    • Tom Says:

      I don’t think Obama accused the Israelis of prejudice; in fact I think this kind of language captures part of the problem. It’s not surprising — it’s not even that bad — that (especially in the context of such a long and bitter conflict) some folks in Israel might have a little trouble getting past the atmospherics of Obama’s name. It isn’t a sin, or even an accusation, to point that fact out. Obama has had to spend a lot of time over the last few years making it as clear as he can that he is an American, natural-born citizen, a Christian believer, and not too scary. He knows, as do the rest of us, that he doesn’t look like any other American president, that his name is the most foreign-sounding any such president has ever had (only Kennedy comes close, in that context) and all the rest.

      To assert therefore that Obama was crying “bigot” seems to me an overstatement, at the very least.

  2. Dave Says:

    The argument that Pres. Obama is a “secret Muslim” because of his father is absurd. If you trust, to some degree, Wikipedia, you can find the senior Obama’s religion discussed in the article on Barack H. Obama Sr. as, “Although Obama Sr. was born into a Muslim and Christian family,[14] he became an atheist as a young man.[6]” So, if anything, his influence on Pres. Obama would be against religion, and certainly not towards Islam.


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