The Best Of The Dish This Weekend


Nina Arrazello captions a wonderful little art series called Kiddie Arts:

like many children, Dutch artist Telmo Pieper drew imaginative, colorful, creative and not-always-so-anatomically correct creatures and characters when he was 4-years-old. For ‘kiddie arts’, Pieper has reincarnated the drawn works from his childhood as digital paintings, materializing them as realistic figures in intricate detail, vibrant hues and with computerized graphics. The result illustrates the quirky line scribbles as lifelike underwater animals, insects and architecture, each a bit awry in their structural and biological precision.

Love that whale.

I found myself tossing and turning all weekend from the horrible news of the last week. Today, another UN school was shelled in Gaza, killing ten, wounding many more, traumatizing countless others. These civilian deaths even in a place designated as a safe haven simply beggar belief. It is impossible to feel sympathy for either Israel or Hamas at this point. Hamas is daring Israel to kill more innocents; and Israel is eagerly obliging them. How many more children have to die to feed these zero-sum ambitions?

And it is in the wake of last week that I read Michael Oren’s piece on Zionism. As over 200 Arab children lie dead, Oren can’t contain his enthusiasm for the staggering success of the Jewish state. No reflection; no circumspection; just a long celebration until you get to this: “And there is the issue of Judea and Samaria—what most of the world calls the West Bank—an area twice used to launch wars of national destruction against Israel but which, since its capture in 1967, has proved painfully divisive.”

He means painfully divisive for Israelis. The views of the occupied do not merit any attention. And notice the reflexive victimology. This is not an area where the original inhabitants are ghettoized behind barbed wire and checkpoints, where Jim Crow exists alongside new and aggressively anti-Arab settlers, where millions of Israel’s inhabitants have no vote, and where a Russian emigré right off the plane has more rights than someone whose family has lived their for aeons. It is and always will be a existential threat that justifies permanent occupation and settlement, in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions. This victimology is why when, in a war zone, a soldier is killed, the first word we hear from the Israelis is that he may have been “kidnapped”. Kidnapped? He was killed in battle. But even if Hamas had seized him, he would be captured in battle, not kidnapped. But that would require some sort of understanding that the enemy is also human, some kind of equal. And that seems to happen less and less. What you see in Gaza is Cheneyism fully realized.

Some relief from the Dish’s weekend: a church sign for the ages; Martin Amis’ plea for agnosticism for his friend Christopher Hitchens; why we hate the dentist; the evolution of dick crit; and the collapse of Catholic religious marriages.

The most popular post of the weekend was Why Sam Harris Won’t Criticize Israel; followed by Church Sign Of the Day.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 23 more readers became subscribers this weekend – bringing us to 29,848. You can join them and get us to 30,000 subscribers here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. One writes:

Just upped my monthly to $4.20. Thanks again for all your hard work. The NYT and the Dish have been my go-to news sources for years. If you would only cut back on the Sunday god talk a bit, I would double my contribution. But that would be most un-Dish like, so keep doing what you do. It is appreciated.

See you in the morning.

Our Number One Ally Update

We discover that Israel was intercepting John Kerry’s phone calls during the Mideast peace negotiations – according to Der Spiegel. We also learn that prime minister Netanyahu’s responded to American pressure for an end to the mass killings of children thus:

In a phone call with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro about the breakdown of the short-lived UN- and US-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vented his anger, according to people familiar with the call. Netanyahu told Shapiro the Obama administration was “not to ever second-guess me again” and that Washington should trust his judgment on how to deal with Hamas, according to people familiar with the conversation. Netanyahu added that he now “expected” the US and other countries to fully support Israel’s offensive in Gaza, according to those familiar with the call.

Now give me that annual $3 billion, another $225 million for the Iron Dome, and shut the fuck up.


The Best Of The Dish Today

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The articles Lisa Goldman refers to above are as follows: “Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become A Nightmare” by Gabor Mate; Liberal Zionism After Gaza, and The Liberal Zionists, by Jonathan Freedland; and Zionism And Its Discontents, by Roger Cohen. Here’s another decent human being and a friend, the legendary newsman, Jon Snow:

We can all heave a sigh of relief that a humanitarian cease-fire appears to be imminent.

On another matter related to the welfare of stranded children, I’m trying to get something straight. For the last couple of months, the right-wing noise machine has described the surge of refugee children at the border as a crisis of Biblical proportions. They have also excoriated all of president Obama’s executive actions on immigration. So now, after dismissing Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the refugee children, they cannot pass a bill to authorize even $659 million to take care of the crisis. And what do they urge president Obama to do instead? To take executive action to handle it! I swear I am not making this up. In Boehner’s words:

There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.

So, yes, the president is once again damned if he does use his executive powers and damned if he doesn’t. And the Republican Congress has shown that it can pass nothing – even in the midst of what it has described as an epic crisis – because it is so divided within itself. The idea that these shambolic excuses for legislators should actually be rewarded with more seats this fall tells you something is deeply awry with the political system. This is a party fit for cable news and not for government.

Today, I engaged my friend Sam Harris on Israel, Hamas and Jihadism; noted new shifts in the Israel debate – not in Israel’s favor; had a frank and frisky conversation with Rich Juzwiak about sex, gay men and the Truvada future; and marveled once again at the seriously unsafe sex life of the octopus.

The most popular post of the day was Why Sam Harris Won’t Criticize Israel; followed by Deep Dish’s Andrew Asks Anything: Rich Juzwiak.

Many of today’s posts were updated with your emails – read them all here.  You can always leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish. 23 more readers became subscribers today to make our running total 29,843 – so close to 30,000 we can smell it. You can help us get there by subscribing instantly here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here. Dish t-shirts and polos are for sale here. One new customer writes:

I have been a reader for longer than I can remember and an early subscriber, but I have never written in before. I enjoy reading the debate without ever feeling a need to jump in and add my views.  However, with the excitement of buying a polo, I couldn’t help myself.  We are meant to be on a strict budget at the moment, due to building work at home and holidays, but the suggestion that the next batch of shirts may not be such good quality has forced my hand – quite happily I should add.  I look forward to being able to proudly wear my polo around Seattle and being able to identify myself to those in the know.

Keep up the good work please.  The blog is great and goes from strength to strength.

See you in the morning.

The Shifting Israel Debate, Ctd.

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.

You can also make judgments about the conflict that are freed from the necessity so many feel to continually compare the Israeli government’s actions to Hamas’ actions, or the opinions of the Israeli public to the opinions of the Palestinian public, with the only important question being which side comes out ahead. Those comparisons end up dulling your moral senses, because they encourage you to only think in relative terms.

If you’re still stuck being pro-Israel or anti-Israel, you end up asking questions like, “Which is worse: for Hamas to put rockets in a school in the hopes that Israel will bomb it and kill a bunch of kids, therefore granting Hamas a momentary PR victory; or for Israel to bomb the school anyway, knowing they’re going to kill a bunch of kids?” If you’re pro-Israel, you’ll answer that Hamas’ action is worse, while if you’re anti-Israel, you’ll answer that Israel’s action is worse. But if you’re neither, then you’ll give the only moral answer, which is: who the hell cares which is worse? They’re both wrong. Questions like that end up only being used to excuse one side’s indefensible decisions.

Which is an apt description of some of the themes in Sam Harris’ recent post. Max Fisher also despairs of such comparisons, particularly when they fuel the desire to pin blame for civilian deaths exclusively on one party to the conflict:

The argument over moral responsibility for civilian Palestinians often makes a fundamental mistake by assuming that culpability is zero-sum: that either Israel is responsible because it uses unnecessarily overwhelming force in civilian areas or Hamas is responsible because it attacks Israel from within civilian communities. This fundamentally misses the point; both sides independently bear responsibility for the degree to which their tactics lead to civilian deaths. If one side abdicates that responsibility then this does not absolve the other. Both sides, by treating moral responsibility as zero-sum, are giving themselves permission to overlook their own role in driving up the civilian casualty rate, and thus continuing the killing.

Amen. Israel is responsible for these civilian deaths, but Hamas is deeply complicit. Noah Efron considers Israel a victim, as it were, of “moral bad luck”:

The very notion of moral luck seems paradoxical, because we are used to thinking that we are only morally accountable for things that we control. But that is not quite true. Like well-meaning American whites who never questioned segregation, sometimes we end up culpable for choices we never made.

Hamas is a factory of moral bad luck. Its leaders aim to trap Israel in situations from which only bad can come, either dead Israelis or dead Palestinians or both. They began their barrage of rockets on Israel because they knew Israel would respond, killing innocent Gazans, including kids, along the way. They unleashed their evil because they knew that Israel would, in response, unleash evil of its own. …

[W]e can conclude that there is no place for righteousness in the conflict. When we fight this war, as I think we have to, we must do so with grim knowledge that every violence done to civilians, and their homes and schools, is a tragedy in which we have a hand. Equally, those who piously condemn Israel should know that, were they in our position, they could scarcely act differently than we do.

I disagree with that, for reasons I’ve articulated for quite some time on the blog. And besides, Israel and Hamas are not sold separately. As Ishaan Tharoor reminds us, before it became a security threat, Israel helped the Islamist group grow:

To a certain degree, the Islamist organization whose militant wing has rained rockets on Israel the past few weeks has the Jewish state to thank for its existence. Hamas launched in 1988 in Gaza at the time of the first intifada, or uprising, with a charter now infamous for its anti-Semitism and its refusal to accept the existence of the Israeli state. But for more than a decade prior, Israeli authorities actively enabled its rise.

At the time, Israel’s main enemy was the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, which formed the heart of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Fatah was secular and cast in the mold of other revolutionary, leftist guerrilla movements waging insurgencies elsewhere in the world during the Cold War. The PLO carried out assassinations and kidnappings and, although recognized by neighboring Arab states, was considered a terrorist organization by Israel; PLO operatives in the occupied territories faced brutal repression at the hands of the Israeli security state. Meanwhile, the activities of Islamists affiliated with Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood were allowed in the open in Gaza — a radical departure from when the Strip was administered by the secular-nationalist Egyptian government of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

And the beat goes on …

The Myths Of Gaza

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.

Correction Of The Day II

It’s an honorable apology and correction. But it’s hard not to see in the eight tweets that David sent out questioning the integrity of these harrowing images of grief and murder a desperate need not to see what is in front of our noses. The mind-boggling trauma and terror that Gazan civilians are now experiencing is so very hard to watch, when this country is partly financing it. For those attached to Israel, the experience must be particularly wrenching. Denial is a perfectly understandable response when confronted with nearly 250 dead children.

The Shifting Israel Debate

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

It’s hard to recall now but Tony Judt was once ostracized and vilified for writing this (among other things):

We can see, in retrospect, that the victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state’s very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country’s shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, “targeted assassinations,” the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists.

Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish – which means that Israel’s behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society – built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats – still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.

For these heterodox views, Judt was banished from the New Republic masthead, and targeted by the ADL and American Jewish Committee. He subsequently sighed: “I didn’t think I knew until then just how deep and how uniquely American this obsession with blocking any criticism of Israel is. It is uniquely American. Apparently, the line you take on Israel trumps everything else in life”.

No longer. I doubt Judt would recognize the kind of debate now raging – that so many tried to stop. I offer one example today – Matt Yglesias attributing the lockstep support in Congress for anything Israel does as a function in part of donors whose litmus test is support for Greater Israel. The leaked internal documents of Michelle Nunn’s campaign for the Senate – which show that she has to adopt a maximalist pro-Israel stance if she is to get anywhere with Jewish donors – is the latest proof. Money quote:

Jewish donors are very important to Democratic Party finances, some of these donors have strongly held hawkish views on Israel, and the financial clout of AIPAC is the stuff of legend. At the same time, talk of rich Jews throwing their financial muscle around to influence policy in favor of Israel touches far too many anti-semitic tropes to be regularly mentioned in political discourse. But the concrete world of political fundraising doesn’t leave a ton of time for beating around the bush, so we get a little window here into how it looks to the finance people: if Nunn wants to maximize her donations, she needs to take the right stance.

Note the core point: not so long ago, anyone saying that Jewish donor money made an even-handed approach to Israel-Palestine a pretty dead letter would be deemed ipso facto an anti-Semite.

More to the point, such a view would not be allowed into print in any mainstream outlet. It would be regarded as an anti-Semitic trope – even if it were factually true. It’s as if a libel law did not allow for the truth as a defense! Heads we win; tails your career is over. Now of course these distortions of the fundraising process are not restricted to Israel. Think of the Cuba lobby, for example, another toxic force against a sane foreign policy. But it strikes me as a good thing that the truth can now be told and a more normal set of rules for debating the state of Israel is beginning to take shape. And so the extreme anomaly of the US Congress can come into greater relief:

While much of the rest of the world watches the Gaza war in horror and scrambles for a cease-fire, U.S. lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to take no action that puts pressure on Israel to halt its military operations.

There aren’t many military actions that kill scores of children that the US Congress is enthusiastic about. But at least the incongruousness of this – and the moral coarsening it reveals – can now be better exposed. And the web surely has something to do with this. At Vox, Yglesias does not have to answer to a bunch of boomer editors still traumatized by the self-censorship of the past, and has grown up as a writer with the kind of freedom of expression that blogging allows for. And reporters from the scene can actually express in real time – outside the usual pro-Israel self-censorship that has existed for years at the NYT and WaPo – what they are actually witnessing. David Carr has a great reflection on all this – and how the sight of such unbelievable carnage and cruelty has altered the global debate, intensifying Greater Israel’s international isolation.

It’s also a matter of record, I think, that there is no way I could have written or published anything along these lines before the blogging era. Having my own space to think out loud, outside the parameters of an existing institution, without all the caution around the subject that was baked deep in Washington journalism, was critical to my changing views in response to changing facts. The intimidation had an effect. It was designed to. And one huge benefit of a site like this – now entirely funded by readers – is that I am only accountable to you, and fear only being wrong.

(Photo: An Israeli soldier seen walking in the dust near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. By Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.)