Israel’s Moral Morass

Jul 31 2014 @ 1:17pm

Joe Scarborough – a former Republican member of Congress who has “always been a 100 percent supporter of Israel” – turns sharply against Netanyahu’s government:

Like Chait and many other American Jews on the left, Ezra Klein, who cares about Israel “personally, rather than abstractly”, has become more pessimistic about the Jewish state:

There’s an … argument that’s made by Israel’s supporters: that people like me, who write about our disappointment with Israeli policy, are “blaming Israel first.” But it’s not about blame. If interest in geopolitics was driven by outrage and horror Israel and Palestine would spend less time on the front page. The suffering there is immense, but the death toll is dwarfed by the slaughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria. I pay unusual attention to what Israel does because, for family and cultural reasons, I am unusually invested in Israel. Focusing on Israeli policy is a byproduct of focusing on Israel itself.

For these reasons, I used to write about Israel often. It felt, even a few years ago, that peace was a live possibility, that Israel had choices — and that some of them might even turn out well. But Israel seems to have made its choice, at least for now, and the results are painful to watch. I haven’t become less pro-Israel. But I’ve become much more pessimistic about its prospects, and more confused and occasionally horrified by its policies. My sense is that’s happened to Chait, too. I notice he writes about Israel less these days, also. My sense is it’s happened to a lot of us.

I’m sorry but I find this position pretty lame. What Ezra is suggesting is that when Israel does things you cannot really countenance, the correct response is silence or avoidance, because it just gets too personal, when you have family etc. But that’s been the whole problem with the American discourse about this for a while, what Peter Beinart called “an epidemic of not watching.” American Jewish liberals have been intimidated or censored themselves into silence, which has only made matters worse. The reason is the need to somehow credentialize yourself as “pro-Israel”, and any criticism is immediately interpreted as being “anti-Israel”. That’s essentially a loyalty test that impedes reasonable debate – and is designed to. Waldman rightly encourages everyone to step out of this credentializing and posturing:

Once you stop worrying about whether you’re pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you can judge the Israeli government’s decisions, developments within Israeli society, and other questions related to the country each on their own terms.

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Sponsored Content Watch

Jul 31 2014 @ 1:03pm


A reader sends the above screenshot:

Perhaps this has already become the style at other prestigious media outlets, but I think it’s somewhat remarkable that the editors at The New Republic didn’t see fit to tell readers upfront that the article is sponsored content. (I apologize if I’m late to the party on this particular advertorial start on the part of TNR.) There’s no real differences in terms of front style or size with the only real tip-off being the lack of a byline. But I’ve interacted with enough smart people online to know how rarely readers, who aren’t themselves writers in some capacity, actually pay attention to, much less search for, the author to an article.

The sponsored status of the “article” is a little more obvious on the front-page:

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Foreign Policy As Machismo

Jul 31 2014 @ 12:45pm

Gopnik ponders calls for Obama to be tougher:

In the current crisis over the downed Malaysian plane, all the emphasis is on how it looks or how it might be made to look—far more than on American interests and much less on GERMANY-CARNIVAL-ROSE-MONDAY-STREET-PARADEsimple empathy for the nightmarish fate of the people on board. The tough-talkers end up grudgingly admitting that what the President has done—as earlier, with Syria—is about all that you could do, given the circumstances. Their own solutions are either a further variant on the kinds of sanctions that are already in place—boycott the World Cup in Russia!—or else are too militarily reckless to be taken seriously. Not even John McCain actually thinks that we should start a war over whether Donetsk and Luhansk should be regarded as part of Ukraine or Russia. The tough guys basically just think that Obama should have looked scarier. The anti-effeminate have very little else to suggest by way of practical action—except making those unambiguous threats and, apparently, baring your teeth while you do.

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Israeli attack kills Palestinian kid in Jabalia Camp

It’s a very long piece – or, rather, a speech annotated with qualifications – an interesting way to put your thoughts down on a screen. And it’s well worth your while. The gist of it is that because Hamas is an almost text-book example of nihilist theocracy and Israel isn’t, Israel is on the right side of the defining struggle of our times – and so not a country Harris will criticize. A related, central point is that the use of human shields by Hamas puts them in an utterly different moral universe than the IDF, in whose interests it is not to kill Palestinian civilians.

This is a crude summary – for there are qualifications on so many points that the piece is almost an explosion of nuance. So, for example, in Sam’s view, Israel cannot be absolved from war crimes either; and should not even exist as a Jewish state. That last point is a pretty huge one – and it comes at the very start of the piece. But if Israel should not exist as a Jewish state, it should not exist at all. This is its core justification – and one of the issues the Israeli government has put at the center of any possible two-state solution. Get rid of the Jewishness of Israel … and you will soon have a Middle Eastern state pretty evenly divided between Jew and Arab and in which future immigration ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT-GAZAwould easily tip the demographic balance toward Islam. And this is where, I’d argue, Sam’s argument begins to unravel almost as soon as it begins: because it is overwhelmingly an abstract statement of abstract principles which fails to account for history in all its particular twists and turns. So he ends up refusing to criticize a state he really doesn’t believe should exist and yet then goes on to criticize it quite potently. You can call that original if you want. But you might also call it incoherent.

Still, Sam is unquestionably right about the theocratic extremism and despicable anti-Semitism of Hamas and its allies. It is much more extreme and central to Hamas than theocracy and anti-Arab racism is to Israel. He’s right that Hamas’ preference for building underground tunnels for war rather than underground bomb shelters for civilians makes them complicit (though far from solely responsible) in the horrifying carnage of the last few weeks. He’s also right about the difference between what Israelis would do if they had all the power and what Hamas would do in the same boat. Israel, with overwhelming power, gives many Arab citizens political rights even as it has penned a huge number into segregated bantustans, curtailed their travel, blockaded them (in Gaza), and surrounded them with theocratic Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Hamas would, in contrast, just kill every Jew it could find as soon as it could. That is an important difference.

But that’s why I absolutely do not support Hamas, and never have. Nor is there any excuse for their war crimes. But the issue here is not one of a choice between Israel and Hamas; it’s between the possibility of a two-state solution and the Israeli government’s refusal to take any of the off-ramps toward it if they would curtail the bid to settle and annex the West Bank. Much of Sam’s argument would hold water if the Israelis had been in earnest about peace, and in earnest in supporting moderate Palestinian forces on the West Bank, and in earnest about taking Obama’s proposals seriously this past decade. But they haven’t been. Settlements are much more important to them than peace. And the settlements are motivated by exactly the kind of theocratic zeal that Sam normally opposes.

But the settlements – themselves a standing war crime under Geneva – do not figure prominently in Sam’s account. And when they do, he offers an unconvincing defense:

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Can Israel “Win” This War? Ctd

Jul 31 2014 @ 12:02pm

Keating now believes that Israel declaring victory and withdrawing from Gaza unilaterally is more likely than a negotiated ceasefire:

Some members of the Israeli security Cabinet may support a long-term reoccupation of Gaza, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably isn’t one of them. There’s little public pressure in Israel to end the operation or accept an internationally proposed cease-fire, but it’s conceivable that things might be different if Netanyahu simply declared that Israel’s vaguely defined military goals had been accomplished and unilaterally pulled back Israeli troops. …

This scenario, of course, wouldn’t address the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza or prevent violence from flaring up again in the future. And it certainly feels like a long shot at the moment. But compared with the alternative—the U.S., Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, the Palestinian Authority, and whoever else finally getting on the same page to establish a framework under which Israel and Hamas would agree to terms they’ve thus far found utterly unacceptable—it feels at the moment like the more likely way for this to finally end.

Although Netanyahu has claimed that the objective of the war is to neutralize Hamas once and for all, and some members of his government want him to go even further, the prospect of what happens if the Hamas government in Gaza is toppled leaves Israel in a bind:

Israel’s ideal outcome would be for Hamas to capitulate to Israel’s demands to disarm and reform into a defanged version of its current self—a troublesome but manageable part of a larger Palestinian political infrastructure. But if Hamas won’t bend, it might break, and that would be the worst possible outcome for Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator now with the Wilson Center.

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The Meh Recovery

Jul 31 2014 @ 11:42am


Jason Wolfers thinks the latest GDP report is “less interesting for its accounting of the second quarter than for what it tells us about the future path of economic growth”:

At first blush, you might think that G.D.P. growth at an annual rate of 4.0 percent points to a brighter future. But in fact, these estimates are statistically noisy, and there’s no guarantee that strong growth today will translate into good outcomes tomorrow. Indeed, the historical relationship between the two is surprisingly weak. … All told, these more meaningful data suggest that the economy is not in the middle of some whiplash, but rather that the past few quarters continue the pattern seen throughout the entire recovery, of persistent growth, albeit at a disappointing rate.

Jared Bernstein puts the report in context with the above chart:

The figure below plots quarterly annual growth rates against year-over-year rates for real GDP over the recovery. The annualized quarterly growth rate for Q2–the one getting all the headlines–was 4%; the more-indicative-of-actual-trend-year-over-year rate was 2.4%.

I see two clear points: first, the annual changes provide a much more reliable view of the underlying growth rate, and second, since the yearly rates turned positive in 2010Q1, we’ve been growing at trend, about 2.2% on average. That would be a fine place to be if we’d first made up the deep losses from the downturn. But what happened in this recovery is that we settled into trend growth before we bounced back and repaired the damage. That’s why the job market in particular has taken so long to recover.

Matt O’Brien deems the economy “meh”:

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Putting A Price On Your Pet’s Life

Jul 31 2014 @ 11:24am


David Grimm ponders the moral dilemmas created by recent advances in veterinary medicine:

When our dogs and cats used to get very sick, we could justify putting them to sleep because it was the only option. Now, in an age of kidney transplants for cats and chemotherapy for dogs, euthanasia has begun to seem like a cruel way out.

Yet not everyone can afford to save their pets. And some go bankrupt trying. … “It’s wonderful that people are willing to spend $10,000 or $20,000 to deal with their sick pet, but ethically it puts us in quicksand,” says Douglas Aspros, the former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the manager of a veterinary clinic in White Plains, New York. “If a client wants me to do a $20,000 surgery on a cat, the practicality has to go beyond, ‘There’s someone willing to pay for it.’ As a society, should we be promoting that?” Some vets, says Aspros, have started to use companies that offer credit to people with marginal incomes—just so they can afford their vet expenses—and the pet owners end up paying very high interest rates. “How much responsibility do we have for getting them into that?”

(Photo of a Dish reader and her dying dog from one of your most popular threads last year, “The Last Lesson We Learn From Our Pets“)

Race And Beauty, Head To Toe

Jul 31 2014 @ 11:02am


Maureen O’Connor reports on the state of “ethnic plastic surgery”:

The people I interviewed differed in their aesthetics, politics, and medical preferences. But they passionately agreed on one thing: No matter what white people say, this isn’t about them. Plastic surgery doesn’t have to be a sign of deference to some master race, they told me. In fact, it could be the opposite.

According to O’Connor, those most perturbed by these procedures are the people you might least expect:

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The Myths Of Gaza

Jul 31 2014 @ 10:42am

Peter Beinart has a relentless rebuttal to several of the talking points by defenders of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. Since it’s paywalled – but you can get around it by clicking the link in the tweet above – here’s my brief summary.

Myth Number One: Israel left Gaza in 2005. It didn’t in any meaningful way, maintaining control over all of Gaza’s borders, identification of all citizens, and squeezing still further the small space Gazans had to live in. It evacuated a small number of settlers in order to pre-empt any serious two-state negotiation based on the then-operative Saudi and Geneva plans. That’s why the US official position is that Gaza is still under occupation – an occupation that somehow allows Israel to pummel it at will, as if it were a foreign country.

Myth Number Two: Hamas seized power. Nope, it won an election, fueled in part by widespread opposition to Fatah’s corruption and incompetence. Now think about that: the Arab world held a free and fair election … in Gaza. The US reacted by fomenting a Fatah coup against it – that led to Hamas’ seizing power in response. That’s how the US reacts to Arab democracy if the Israelis don’t like it.

None of this excuses Hamas’ war crimes, its rocket fire purposefully directed toward civilians, its extreme theocratic essence and its rabid anti-Semitism. But it sure doesn’t excuse Israel’s brutality and contempt and propaganda either.

Kilgore suspects that 2014 electoral victories will make the GOP overconfident in 2016:

In both 2008 and 2012 the GOP managed to nominate presidential candidates with relatively moderate images and demonstrated swing-voter appeal. In both cases, the nominations were in no small part fortuitous following a demolition derby of more ideologically rigid rivals. The odds of the “most electable” candidates winning a third straight GOP nomination have been diminished by the relatively low popularity of Chris Christie (damaged significantly by “Bridgegate” and already controversial for supporting a Medicaid expansion in his state), Jeb Bush (headed for a direct collision with conservative activists for his championship of Common Core education standards) and Marco Rubio (more distant from conservative sentiment than ever as the prime Senate sponsor of “amnesty” legislation).

Linker welcomes this turn of events. He argues that “the best chance for genuine Republican reform will be for the party to nominate a fire-brand who gets roundly and unambiguously repudiated by voters”:

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